Supporting Youth in Crisis
When young people are in crisis, they often reach out to people who they have talked about high stakes content with and who they feel they can trust. CSE educators often fit this description. While many educators are fully aware of what they can offer participants in person and in non-crisis times, when a crisis emerges, the stakes and the need both increase substantially. Educators may find it even more difficult to find and deliver resources and to set critical boundaries for their own bandwidth in these situations.
Providing for participant emotional well-being in digital CSE is very similar to providing for participant emotional well-being in in-person CSE:
- Check-ins and Check-outs: Taking a moment at the beginning and the end of the session will allow the educator(s) to assess the wellbeing of the participants so they will know who might need additional support.
- End with Resources: Make sure all participants have additional resources at the end of each session. This list can include email addresses, websites and local professionals.
- Partnering with Mental Health: CSE organisations that are able to partner with mental health organisations will allow participants to reap the benefits of a full range of services.
- Setting the Scene: Educational activities are not intended to be therapy sessions and this should be made clear at the beginning of the sessions. If participants begin to process their own experiences and feelings it is important to remind them of the goal and let them know you will share resources for mental health support at the end of the session.
Boundary setting for facilitators
There are times when participants want and need help that a facilitator is unable to offer. Their needs can range things far outside of a facilitator’s purview (like a need for a car to transport them to and from work) to items that are closer to what a facilitator has to offer but are still outside of their capacity (like an unhealthy relationship that a young person insists on staying in but frequently requests help in navigating). Here are some questions that may help educators decide where that boundary is:
- Is the problem about a lack of information? (This is something that an educator can help with.)
- Is the problem about a long term, physical need? (Educators cannot help with this and need to refer out.)
- Is the problem about a short term, physical need? (Unless the need is something readily accessible to many educators like condoms, educators cannot help with this and need to refer out.
- Is the problem about either long term or short-term mental health needs? (Educators are not mental health professionals and should always refer mental health needs to appropriate professionals.)
- Is the problem negatively impacting the educator’s mental health or wellbeing? (No professionals are required to put their own wellbeing at risk in order to support the youth they work with. This is a time to refer out.)
Many educators find it difficult to set boundaries even when they know that it is an appropriate time to. They may find it even more difficult during a crisis when people’s needs, including their own, can become so much more dire. For example, while an educator may be experiencing the same crisis that their learners are, they will ideally keep their own traumas private rather than sharing them with the learners. This allows the space to remain focused on the learners’ experiences rather than through a shared trauma bonding experience. In the online space, for example, this means that the facilitator should ensure, to the degree that they are able, that their camera is tightly focused on them and a wall rather than a chaotic or difficult living situation. Thus, setting boundaries with participants is necessary – and even teaches them a critical lesson because they will need to set their own boundaries with people in the future. Doing so with a kind, assertive communication style where you make sure to connect participants with other resources where they can get their needs met (to the degree that you are able) is a gift to them. Educators need to make sure they are meeting, and continuing to meet, their own needs before they try to meet the needs of their participants. Otherwise they will burn out and not be able to support youth in the future.