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No bad children: only bad circumstances

by Fay Evans

Recently, one of the mentors in my program and I went to a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting for one of the children we serve which was held at one of the Hartford Public Schools. When the meeting was over, the young man looked at his mentor and me and told us in front of everyone in the room that he loved us. He also said, “Ms. Fay, Star Mentoring is not a program, it is a family!” For the hundreds of times I have heard our children say this to us over the years, tears still come to my eyes. It is as though I am hearing it for the first time. Most of the children we serve have not experienced a family until now. The concept of family or feeling a sense of belongingness is foreign – even for those children we serve who have parents.

For us at Star Mentoring, our familial approach derives from a very simple “We” concept. The “We” concept means:

  • We love our children without condition and we tell them so.
  • We care for our children with compassion and empathy.
  • We accept that our children need help and will help them no matter what time of day or night it is or where they may be.
  • We commit to helping our children succeed even in the face of adversity.
  • We never give up on our children because they need a chance to hope for a brighter tomorrow.

As a team, we understand that when we prioritize the spiritual, emotional, social and physical needs of the child and remain consistent, we witness positive revolutionary changes in children that society has often labeled and thrown away.

Working to change perception:

Children with emotional and behavioral disabilities need more attention and more visibility must be given to these children. While we have seen progress towards this goal, there is still a serious problem. There is not enough emphasis on finding solutions and implementing preventive measures that can protect our children from life in the streets, juvenile detention or prison.

Often, people aren’t fully aware of the severity of these problems or they inadvertently don’t pay attention. I refuse to believe people just don’t care. The city of Hartford has thousands of students with emotional, learning, mental, or behavioral disabilities. Without the adequate familial style care and concern from adults around them, most of these children will end up in all the wrong places – dropping out of school, unemployed, pregnant, committing crimes, experimenting with drugs, and in general, draining community resources. In as much as this is a harsh reality, it doesn’t have to be this way. One of the first things we can do to stop this trend is to change our perceptions and stop labeling children.

At a workshop we led that focused on young boys, I asked how many of them have been told they were “bad” and every child in the room raised their hand or said “YES.” I reassured them they were not “bad.” The boys in the room had a look of disbelief since this was the only thing they had ever heard.

Labeling any child as a “bad” child puts a boy or girl on a path that spirals downward toward destruction. When you label, you are enforcing negative behavior in that child. You are selectively seeing a child one dimensionally. When you call a child “bad,” you are blinding yourself to the real causes of their behavior and the circumstances that led them to where they are. You are absolving yourself from responsibility to bring out the good in that child. We must stop the psychological crime of labeling children as “bad” by attacking the problems that surround them and start to heal them from what may be hurting them.

To help our children, we cannot always place 100% blame on the parents. We can’t assume a child with severe problems must have parents who don’t care. Some of these children don’t even have parents. Some have parents with disabilities of their own. Some parents are intimidated and/or afraid to seek services for their child because they believe they will be blamed for the child’s disability. Let’s not tell the schools or the parents or the neighborhood or anyone else what they should do. Let us try to seek what “WE” can do.

Working together to see results

For older children with emotional and behavioral disabilities, changing to the “we” mindset aforementioned is probably the number one need. Teachers need to go beyond their concern for academics and classroom behavior and embody a spirit of compassion. Families and neighbors can go beyond concern for the child’s behavior at home or in the community and demonstrate true understanding. The juvenile justice system must go beyond its concern with crime and locking kids up and work towards proactive and preventive solutions.

Everyone involved in a child’s life – parent(s), teacher(s), mentor(s), neighborhood, doctor(s), and case worker(s) must unite and work organically to meet the totality of the child’s needs.

We need to simplify the process towards love and caring. If we want children to improve their Connecticut Mastery Test scores, besides badly needed quality education, we need to find out if the child has eaten in three days or has not been told a kind word in weeks, months or years. It is about being emotionally intelligent; motivating a child by caring about their emotional needs. Simple things – like providing a smile, a hug, a listening ear, a caring attitude, or some time goes a long, long way toward beginning to heal a child.

At Star Mentoring our formula, coupled with activities designed to raise the standard of well-being for our children, has improved academic performance by 75% and behavior by 50%.

I’ve seen so many of these special children whose core, whose spirit has been broken before it’s even fully developed – all because someone labeled them “bad.” Children, all children, react in overwhelmingly positive ways to love, care, concern, discipline, and attention. You and I need to consistently show all children that they have value; that we expect them to do good things(and know they can); and that we will listen to and care for them always.

When WE perform these simple everyday tasks, then and only then, will these children blossom and grow into wonderful, positive, productive people. Let us ALL join together and make this happen for our children.


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Fay Evans, Founder & CEO
STAR Mentoring Services, LLC
Hartford, CT 06106

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