Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘Youth Development’

Discretion and Discernment: A Call to Action on Behalf of Our Young People

In Advocacy, Community Strategy, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Organizational Development on February 24, 2019 at 12:07 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about discernment and discretion in the past few weeks. I’ve been thinking about 9/11, Sandy Hook and Parkland and about the processes we put in place since then. I’ve been mulling what happens in the worst cases and the best cases of our policies being realized.

After Sandy Hook, schools across the country became lockdown facilities, even though Sandy Hook was a locked facility and it didn’t help. We had to do something! Hand wringing, prayers and fear weren’t getting us anywhere and many of us were devastated. Locking the doors was one roadblock we could erect.

After Parkland, many schools put in school resource officers even though Parkland had an officer outside who did nothing AND there’s ample evidence to suggest that the introduction of a school resource officer criminalizes behavior that otherwise would stay at the school level. It’s another roadblock, though I’m not convinced it’s the right roadblock.

We have reporting policies and after 9/11 have “see something say something” policies. We need those policies. We also need discretion and discernment in assessing the information that gets reported.

In an era when we have police officers being dispatched because there’s a random black person in someone’s neighborhood or a college student asleep in the common room of his own dorm, we have to have a conversation about discretion and discernment.

Sensitive content warning:

Many years ago, when I ran a program for school age youth in Texas, I had a young staff member who heard the youngest of three boys in a family use the word blowjob. She immediately decided that that meant that kid was being sexually abused at home and she called Children’s Services.

This is one of those (countless) incidences when where you sit determines where you stand. She was young, right out of college and new to the field. Would a more experienced staff member have read the situation the same way? Would you have?

What happened when Children’s Services showed up at that family’s door? Does a kid with two older brothers using the word blowjob automatically indicate sexual abuse? How could that family prove the absence of child sexual abuse? Children’s Services had to make that call. They have processes in place to help them to do so. It’s an impossible position.

The law requires staff that work with youth be mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect. We have to report and we should!

But there should also be some discretion on the part of the person who takes the call of asking follow-up questions before they deploy resources.

This is hard. I don’t harbor any illusions that this is not hard. How do you decide from a phone call what’s really a threat and what is not? How do you decide who is in danger or who just has older siblings or was allowed to watch a show that perhaps he shouldn’t have been?

After that incident we added an addendum to our reporting policy that employees should speak with a supervisor before they made such a call. That policy (and the law) was very clear that the final decision was still the employee’s and we would never stop an employee for making that call but we did want to have a conversation around discernment.

Every time we deploy police officers, children service workers or security staff, we disengage the people whom they’re questioning. We put those people in the position of defending themselves, sometimes rightly; sometimes not.

We know that once the door opens to the criminal justice system, it can be a one-way door – especially for families that are already living on the edge.

How do we not get to that door for people who don’t need to walk through it? How do we protect the kids we are entrusted to serve, and hold accountable the people who are trying to hurt them? How do we respect the dignity of visitors and not feed the racism or fear of those who want to decide who “belongs?”

How do we protect our young people – and everyone – by putting in place the right policies to keep us safe, while also protecting people’s dignity and right to be heard? How do we not create spaces where fear breeds and every stranger is a danger?

We have to figure out how to deploy our resources in the right places, for the right reasons and not further alienate those we are also entrusted to serve. We have to build policies to take into account and discern actual harm from rumor, speculation, racism, implicit and explicit bias.

I understand and support the need for locked schools. I believe in roadblocks. We can never 100% protect against a threat but we can put as many roadblocks in place as possible. I support policies that keep people safe.  But I’ve also seen too many incidences of leaders hiding behind a policy that made something worse in an uneducated attempt to respond.

We’re the grown ups and the leaders. We decide what’s safe for our community’s children and what’s not. We decide what’s a reasonable policy and what’s rife for abuse. We assess what will protect us and what will get in the way.  Let’s have the policies, but, please, let’s also have a conversation around discretion and discernment. 

What are your ideas to introduce discretion and discernment?  Have you been successful in your community? What’s your experience creating policies that protect and also discern?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

The Words We Choose

In Advocacy, Leadership on January 19, 2015 at 7:17 pm

One Easter many years ago as I was training my replacement, we were walking through the building and a child asked me my favorite part of Easter. I replied I didn’t celebrate Easter. The new exec, shocked, asked me why I didn’t just say the eggs. I replied “that wasn’t the point.” It also wasn’t the truth. We need to teach our children that not everybody believes what they believe. It’s one small way that we can each contribute to building a pluralistic society.

I’m reading Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel. I’ve only just begun and I already know that if you work in youth development, or in an agency that serves multiple faiths or races or people with diverse thoughts, it’s a must read. In it, he quotes to W.E.B. Du Bois as saying “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” Mr. Patel believes the “question of the 21st century will be shaped by the question of the faith line.”

I am a member of a minority faith. Most of my adult life I have been the only Jew in the room, being expected to serve as the sole representative of my faith to people who know nothing about it. I am not alone. My experience is shared by most people who identify as a member of a minority group. I cannot explain the decisions of Israel or of a Jewish leader any more than an African American man or woman can explain the actions of President Obama or any other African American leader or non leader for that matter.

Some of us “pass” in a larger world that assumes we’re something we’re not; some of us don’t, because of our skin or our features gives us away. Some of us choose to out ourselves, which to some degree is what I’m doing today in this intellectual pursuit I am undertaking trying to figure out how it all connects. How we can look at all the levels of our society and build some bridges between so that we can all understand that one decision in one place has a pebble effect and creates implications in places we’d never expect?

I’ll be the first to tell you it takes a certain amount of courage to out yourself. It’s scary to stand up and say I’m different; I don’t believe what you believe. In fact, I’m a bit scared to publish this piece. Yet I know if we want to affect change, courage is required.

Studies again and again have proven that kids that are engaged in an after school program, extracurricular activity or sports are less likely to get involved in dangerous behaviors like drugs, crime or premature sexual activity, to build bombs in the basement or move to the Middle East and become a jihadist. Those are each varying levels of terrifying with varying levels of impact on the larger society, and they have all happened and continue to happen.

And yet, with that as a backdrop, the small development in which I live is having a debate – and a vote in February – on if our holiday party, as the association board has elected to call it, should instead be called a Christmas Party.

The intersection of religion, race and academic studies operate at the macro level in a society. The party is at the micro level. Both answer the quintessential question of who gets included and who does not. Who’s us and who’s other? Who’s the majority and who’s the minority? Who’s in and who’s out?

The answers have the power to determine who joins a team and who joins a gang.

All of those questions and their answers roll up into the larger question of how can we protect our own children and our community’s children? How can we keep them safe? How can we raise them to be self reliant, self sustaining, healthy, happy and contributing members of our society?

There are a million ways kids – especially kids who belong to minority races or minority religions or who for whatever reason are perceived as “other” – get excluded.

If the goal is belonging and community – and we’re people, so at some level that’s always the goal – there’s another million ways to save a kid. The first step is to create somewhere for them to belong.

We, as a society, have to decide how and to what degree we can engage all kids, and especially those who are more likely to be excluded, to become productive and engaged.

While we are deciding that, some members of my community are advocating excluding those who don’t celebrate the holidays they themselves celebrate. Now the truth is, no matter what we call it, it’s going to have a Christmas theme. There’s going to be a tree and sleigh rides and a Santa. There isn’t going to be any reference to Chanukah, or Kwanza or any other religious or community holiday. So to some extent, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck, even if you call it by its broader name of bird.

Yet, there is a small amount of kindness in calling it bird, or in this case holiday. It says “we know that many, maybe be even most, but not all, of our community celebrates our holiday yet some celebrate their own holiday. Our goal is fellowship. Join us.”

Join us. Maybe we’ll save a kid. Maybe we’ll save ourselves.

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