Monday, September 15, 2014

Mentoring Kids from Hard Places

Matt Vassar, Ph.D., and Mentor
I work with a challenging population.  I work with kids from hard places.  My kids all have troubling stories related to neglect, abuse, abandonment, drugs, incarcerated parents, or academic failure.  

At some point along the way, their living environments were deemed unsafe, and these kids were removed from their homes and placed into a system of transitory living. Foster homes, emergency shelters, psychiatric hospitals, and group homes became their world.  

Imagine for a moment, a world of constant change – a new set of rights and wrongs, a new family, a new school, and a new religion every few weeks or months.  Imagine the difficulty in forming an attachment to one single person in a world where everything seems temporary.  

That’s where I come in.  I am a mentor.  

My personal ambition is to develop that relationship, to be something more permanent in a life of revolving doors and brief acquaintances.  

And it’s challenging.  

Reactive attachment disorder runs rampant.  Kids bounce from placement to placement.  Some return to their families.  Whatever the case, it can be hard to maintain a long term relationship with kids from hard places.  

But despite the difficulties, there is something special, something rewarding, and something that drives me to keep going. Perhaps it is the stories that these kids have overcome, or perhaps it is seeing an untrusting kid begin to trust again.  

Maybe it is the wisdom and perspective I receive from these kids, or maybe it is simply the ability to take a break from grown-up life and play for a while.  

But whatever it is, it drives me to want to encourage others to become mentors to kids from hard places.  

With over 10,000 kids in child welfare services, it seems to me like the need is great, yet the workers are few. I certainly don’t think that mentoring kids from hard places is for everyone. If you are picturing some idealized version of a Michael Oher story from The Blind Side, this gig is probably not for you.  

But if you are able to put aside your expectations and meet these kids at their level, on their terms, then you might be the perfect candidate. 

Matt Vassar, Ph.D.
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Matt, whose academic specialty is statistics, is a mentor at the Tulsa Boys' Home.

Personal communication, 9-5-14

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