A Guide for Youth Engagement

– By Paula Heath, Teen Feed Advocate

Life is slippery. Here, take my hand. – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

As an Advocate with Teen Feed, our role sounds pretty simple: establish a safe zone for conversation from 7-8 pm; elicit information, whenever possible, about the Youth’s present situation that can be used by Staff to help them meet their goals and improve their circumstances. Note that our role is not to become a Youth’s new BFF. That is deliberate – and a good thing. But it’s not for everyone: it takes the right fit, and some understanding of the core principles of social work.

Teen Feed is here to ‘restore and enhance’ the Youth’s ‘capacity for social functioning.’₁  We Advocates, who are not social workers, use our own life’s knowledge of people, attained through personal experience, to learn about the Youth’s condition and life objectives. During a one-hour meal in a bustling atmosphere. When conveyed to case workers at the end of each meal, this type of information can expedite assistance for the Youth toward their goals.

But a challenge can come into view if attachments form. When a Youth and an Advocate become too attached, it can be counterproductive and unhealthy for both, so boundaries and reminders of Social Work professional ethics are important. Admittedly, it can be hard to see the ‘line’ which should not be crossed. For example, for both Advocates and Staff, we can’t help to create success for the Youth without building rapport and gaining their trust…Two qualities Wiki uses to define friendship are trust and mutual understanding. Is it unhealthy to be friends, then?

The safest rule of thumb is to think in terms of ‘professional closeness’ when you walk into Teen Feed. Remember the importance of objectivity and clear thinking to success, and the productivity possible in the absence of potentially damaging irrational emotions. And use Staff members as the best source for any questions in the areas of exchanging emails, friending on Facebook, and meeting out of program (Note that all of these examples could be outside the ethical boundaries).

A friend in need is a friend indeedProverb