May 06, 2022

Not Just Communicating, but Seeing Eye-to-Eye

A Friend in SF Bay Area expanded capacity by working with clinicians to provide trauma-informed, evidence-based mental health interventions to a youth in need

Being a paid, professional mentor to youth – a Friend – for 12+ years no matter what takes building trust and communication. It can also mean empowering youth who face great obstacles that weigh on their wellbeing and mental health, such as foster care, housing instability, and food insecurity. Cedric, a Friend with Friends of the Children – San Francisco Bay Area, takes part in a mental health consultancy program where he meets monthly with three licensed mental health professionals and other Friends to gain knowledge and advice on working with youth. Each month they discuss stories of connection and get practical, specific advice.

Cedric mentors a 10-year-old boy named Alex who has a big personality. Alex is hard-working, highly motivated, and believes everyone should always do the right thing. Sometimes this leads to trouble at school with him holding schoolmates accountable. Or he can feel terrible guilt on an outing with Cedric when he gets a snack or reward and wants to ensure his mother and siblings at home get the same. These feelings can build and lead to challenging behavior.

Last December, a week before winter break, Alex was out in his neighborhood with Cedric. He was having a terrible day—he wasn’t listening well, was acting out, and even ran into the street which brought the attention of neighbors and the police. After ending the outing early, Cedric connected with Holly, one of Friends – SF Bay Area’s mental health consultants, and the two of them discussed Alex’s behavior and how to keep him safe. Holly helped Cedric understand that reaching Alex meant Cedric had to express his own emotions in a clear and simple way—so Alex could understand his actions have consequences and impact how others feel. It wasn’t just about communicating with Alex, it was seeing eye-to-eye that mattered. After the discussion, Holly also gave Cedric a book that helped him communicate more clearly with Alex and also understand the feelings that Alex might be expressing even if he wasn’t able to verbalize them.

Holly also suggested finding a licensed mental health professional in Alex’s community so that he could have another adult in his life who he could trust—someone working in tandem with Cedric. Cedric arranged for Alex to enroll with a licensed mental health counselor at his school, offering him a safe space and new connection. Alex began to meet with the counselor regularly, and slowly but surely, he began to be able to better process his feelings – both at school, and with Cedric.

Talking with the school counselor and working with Friends – SF Bay Area mental health team has helped Cedric strengthen the connection with Alex. More than respect and trust, Alex shows that he also values how Cedric feels—and he doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. Cedric and Alex can now safely have regular outings again in the neighborhood, which warms Cedric’s heart. Expanding access to other mental health resources can be a significant role for a Friend—working with clinicians to provide trauma-informed, evidence-based mental health interventions to support youth wellbeing.

“I’m thankful for the great advice of the mental health team at Friends – SF Bay Area, and the work of the counselor at school,” says Cedric. “But more than that, I’m really proud of Alex and his courage—that he’s taking the time to own and process his feelings and connect with me.”

*The name of the youth has been changed for privacy