Strength-based approach offers hope

For years, elements of the youth-serving community employed problem- or deficient-focused models in dealing with many youth and families. Given the nominal effectiveness of these approaches, many youth serving organizations have, for some time now, shifted their focus to "strength based" strategies.

"We process all Person in Need of Supervision and Juvenile Delinquent cases utilizing the YASI or Youth Assessment Screening Instrument," explained Scott McDonald, Essex County Director of Probation. "We inventory and input the individual's protective factors and strengths from within the individual and the assets around him, such as support from family, neighbors, clergy and school personnel. These inputs allow us to construct a service plan that is based on individual strengths and risk. The strengths-based perspective promotes an important paradigm shift when considering individuals, families and communities."

Rather than addressing only the difficulties confronting an individual, family or community, an assessment is made of the talents, capacities, capabilities and possibilities from within the individual and of the personal assets around them, however nascent they may be. Embedded within the strength-based approach is much needed hope and hope can be a powerful thing.

While everyone that is alive is facing some sort of challenge, there are those among us that are facing extraordinary challenges. The challenges may be caused by the lack of money, health insurance or employment. A divorce, a health crisis, substance abuse, mental illness, legal problems. Often a combination of these factors can turn a young person's world upside down.

In his uplifting book, "Lessons for Lifeguards," Dr. Michael Carerra explains that hope may be one of the most powerful inoculations that we can offer to young people. His reasoning is that youth that have a hopeful future are less inclined to risk it by participating in a variety of unhealthy behaviors. Robert Louis Stephenson said, "Life is not so much a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes of playing a poor hand well."

The strength-based approach recognizes that people are capable of making positive changes and that almost everyone is redeemable if given a reasonable opportunity. Almost everyone can learn to play a poor hand well or at least somewhat better. The nice thing about hope is that no special requirements are needed to help someone else to see hope in their own lives. Do you know a young person that could use your support today?

Remember, all kids count.

Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at hurlburt@wildblue.net

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