Letting Down the Mask

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After working with angry, injured, neglected youth for over 40 years, I am accustomed to having a mask presented to me when I first meet a teenager who psychologically is “in the world alone.” Indeed, he usually prefers to brandish a mask at the initial introduction.

See, I’m crazy.  Really, I am bad. 

If brave enough, the young person searches my eyes, seeking to know what I have already heard about him, if I have read the usually thick case record which documents his noncompliant behaviors, his diagnoses, or worse yet, his family’s betrayal. A few moments of silence. Then, in return, I always respond: You are safe here. I know that you are not bad and you are not crazy. You are just a kid. I smile. The look I get back is a puzzled one, but that was my purpose. Catch the youth off guard.  Make him curious, attentive. So where do you want to go when you leave? I ask. Our relationship begins with his answer. Home…Independent Living… I don’t know.

So I was not surprised when the 18-year-old rushed into my office unannounced, with staff following closely. Interrupting my meeting, he protested that he had waited too long for his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) update and his special education placement in an alternative school. The mask was down. He went on to say, “It is easier to go to jail than to do what is right, and get into school.”  I sat up and took a long look. Now he had my attention. I recalled his history. He had been abandoned before he began kindergarten and bounced around in countless facilities and jails. Now in his last year of high school, he wanted to be like the other residents. Despite his special needs, he really wanted to go to school in the community.  I picked up the phone. It was time to expedite the process.

It is easier to go to jail than to do what is right, and get into school.

Those words continue to echo. When the youth actually does let the mask down, he is highly vulnerable to adult betrayal. Once again, or maybe for the first time, he is just a kid. As responsible adults, we will ensure that he is assigned a school placement that meets his needs and delivers academic success. Perhaps, then, he will never again need a mask.

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Author

Name: Dr. Sheryl Brissett Chapman

About: Dr. Sheryl Brissett Chapman, Executive Director, is a passionate, internationally recognized and award-winning advocate for children, youth, and their families, who struggle with extreme poverty, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and disabilities and related trauma. An author and expert in child and family welfare, she believes in the sheer power of “community” as it reinforces unimaginable resilience when it provides the basic support to those in its midst who have need. Dr. Chapman envisions a healthy, happy childhood for each and every child, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the socio-economic status of their family.

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Founded in 1915 as an orphanage in the District of Columbia, NCCF is a private, nonprofit child and family welfare agency with a commitment to serving poor, disadvantaged, abused, neglected and/or abandoned children, youth, and their families.

Current program services include emergency shelters and transitional housing for homeless families, a high-intensity therapeutic group home, therapeutic and traditional foster care and adoption, independent living for youth transitioning to adulthood, teen parent services, and community-based prevention services that promote academic achievement, parental involvement, economic and vocational stability, and healthy families. Our programs have become social service models, redefining both NCCF’s reputation and the agency’s position in the human service continuum in the Washington Metropolitan Region.

blog-sidebar-aboutUs-logo

Founded in 1915 as an orphanage in the District of Columbia, NCCF is a private, nonprofit child and family welfare agency with a commitment to serving poor, disadvantaged, abused, neglected and/or abandoned children, youth, and their families.

Current program services include emergency shelters and transitional housing for homeless families, a high-intensity therapeutic group home, therapeutic and traditional foster care and adoption, independent living for youth transitioning to adulthood, teen parent services, and community-based prevention services that promote academic achievement, parental involvement, economic and vocational stability, and healthy families. Our programs have become social service models, redefining both NCCF’s reputation and the agency’s position in the human service continuum in the Washington Metropolitan Region.

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