© 2019 by Nicole Steward, MSW 

Advocating for Youth When it Makes Adults Uncomfortable

March 25, 2018

One of the things I learned very quickly when I entered the social services as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), is that if you truly advocate for the rights & needs of children, you will not make many adult friends.  This initial awareness has been reinforced again and again as I've moved through the social services, juvenile justice worlds, and most recently into the world of public education.

 

Let me explain...

 

While I have no empirical data to support this, I'm convinced that an unfortunate number of people who work in jobs that involve youth (social services, education, juvenile justice, etc.) don't truly care about the youth they serve and simply don't want to do their jobs.  They bask in the adoration of others who say, "Wow, you're so amazing to work with 'those kids'..." or "You have such a hard job...you're a hero."  

 

When someone asks questions or holds them accountable for doing their job and appropriately serving youth, these adults tend to get a bit butt hurt about it.  They'll lash out, but in passive-aggressive ways (like procrastinating on providing assistance, sabotaging your work, or giving you a bad evaluation), because they know they can't expose their own incompetence by complaining out loud.

 

Some of you know what I'm talking about.  

You've experienced this too, haven't you?

 

It's frustrating as hell but it never gets easier when the realization hits that the person we're working with or for is one of these people.  When those we work with/for aren't carrying their weight and/or are actively keeping us from doing what we know is right for those we serve, we end up picking up the slack or being a lone wolf, which leads to obvious vulnerability and overwhelm.

 

Beyond the overwhelm, there's also the realization that advocating for what's best for youth isn't always the priority, even in organizations dedicated to youth. This is also one aspect of this work that leads to burn-out.  Hitting wall after wall of resistance or incompetence and getting push back for doing what's right is a clear disconnection between the work we singed up for versus the work we're being asked to do.   

 

It can be easy to succumb to the stress of this disconnection, feel the burn-out, and leave our current professions. Leaving our professions due to burn-out is one option and may be the best option in some cases. But the challenge is that when we leave our chosen profession, the passion we had for our work is lost. And the youth we serve are without a fierce advocate.

 

This is why self-care is so vital to this work.

 

Rather than succumb to the burn-out and leave our work, we can begin to develop a deep practice of self-care so we can handle the stress and overwhelm. But here's the magic of self-care...it won't stop there. Yes, we'll be better able to handle the stress of our work (and co-workers), but we'll also become somewhat impervious to this kind of stress in the first place.  

 

Self-care practices act as a preventative shield to stress.  

 

This doesn't mean we won't feel stress or other emotions in our work (anger, grief, sadness, etc.), it means those things impact us less & less and we can use our energy to focus on solutions and opportunities for those we serve.  This makes us even better advocates and allows us to shake off the negativity of those who aren't here for the kids.

 

How do you handle dealing with other adults who aren't there for the kids?

What self-care practices help you through this?

 

In Solidarity,

xo,

n

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