Last week we got a call from Child Protective Services—they wanted Walker and me to sit in on what they called a “Team Decision Making” meeting regarding the current life-situation/ circumstances of an RCC youth. Honored to finally have a seat at the social-services table, we accepted the invitation.
We drove to the Community Services building off Hull Street on the Southside of Richmond; in attendance were the youth, representatives from Child Protective Services (CPS), Social Services, Foster Care, school administration, two family members, two newly appointed youth guardians, and Walker and me. In total, there were a dozen of us. A moderator facilitated the meeting with poster-boards listing “Strengths vs. Weaknesses,” “Outcome A, B, C,” and “Means of Support” plastered to the wall behind.
The meeting lasted an hour and half, and it wasn’t until 45 minutes into the meeting that a representative from Child Protective Services spoke up and asked for the ‘two gentlemen from RCC to share with the group their experiences with the youth.’
We outlined our time with the youth member in attendance and all that the youth has accomplished within RCC: the art the youth has produced, the designs people all across Richmond and beyond are willing to pay money for, and the front page newspaper story the youth made on Christmas Day. Cheers and elation erupted, as it was obvious that no one in the room knew the success and accolades of the youth sitting in front of them—they’d only known a youth who was under-performing in school, who was being disruptive, and who was bouncing from one residence to another.
It became evident that RCC was the ONLY facet of the youth’s life that was stable, successful, structured, and—to be blunt—working. But, It seemed just as soon as we earned a seat at the ‘Team Decision Making’ table, it was taken away.
Walker and I came under a bit of scrutiny from the group regarding our practices of youth outreach—or more directly, our lack of licensure of being ‘youth outreach professionals.’ All of the social-professionals in the group had laminated photo ID badges from various agencies that adorned their belts, lapels, or hung around their necks. When I explained to the group how the youth in our program tend to share their lives with us, more so than with any therapist, counselor, mental health professional, parent, friend, or guardian, the first response from the meeting’s moderator was “Are you licensed to be counseling youth?” My response was that “the mandatory counseling by ‘professionals’ obviously wasn’t working, and since the voluntary counseling the youth sought was with us—we must be doing something right.” For the remainder of the meeting, the moderator referred to RCC as simply “the bike club.”
We weren’t surprised with the group’s reaction to RCC—we were more surprised to be sitting there to begin with. Plucked from our Can’t Stop-Won’t Stop-Purpose Statement on the RCC website is a dynamic battle cry in which we attest that “We will not become tangled in red- tape, policy, politics, and talking heads.” We were sitting amongst layers of bureaucracy, which although well intentioned, was not working, and generally runs against the grain of how we operate.
At one point a representative from Foster Care suggested that ‘the bike club’ be taken away until the youth’s grades improve. I quickly chimed in that we couldn’t disagree more: “Why would you take away the one thing that is working towards the youth’s development as a source of punishment?” I tried to explain that we may want to look at an approach that is working [in this case, the rapport RCC has with youth members], and try to cross-pollinate that approach into other facets of the youth’s life that are not working (i.e. school, home).
Without a laminated badge around my neck, this idea was not received well. The representative from Foster Care had to leave the meeting early. Sitting immediately to my right, I leaned in to ask her for her contact info before she left—what I thought made sense in sustaining the ‘team’ component of the “Team Decision Making” process. The representative refused to give me her contact info until a representative from CPS shouted from across the table to “Give the man your phone number!” It was embarrassing, and a stark message that we are akin to second-class citizens within the landscape of social outreach—at least among ‘agency professionals.’
Time and time again, RCC has been stonewalled by social-agencies and schools from delivering our results-proven outreach into other facets of our youth’s lives. So much so, we finally met with one of our [incredible] lawyers last week to see about maneuvering around such bureaucratic hurdles.
Don’t get us wrong—we get it: most every social agency, organization, and establishment, especially in working with youth, is in CYA mode. This is understandable, due to the sensitivity around youth, legal systems, negative blow-back, and the easy sensationalism of a world where anything can go viral.
Fortunately for our youth, RCC works. Unfortunately for RCC, we work because we employ common sense, passion, and forward thinking—a recipe that often clashes with the cookbook of standards and procedures, regulation, and systematic channels.
At 7:30 the next morning—less than 24 hours after the meeting— Walker got a phone call from one of the youth’s newly appointed guardians. The youth had missed the school bus and needed a ride to school. Later in the day— and because of the previous few weeks’ housing issues—we had to provide a bicycle, transportation, and clothing to accommodate the youth at their new job. Just last week, RCC supplied a new cellphone and monthly cell plan for the youth—a requirement of their new job.
Time and time again, RCC is on the front lines gaining trust, delivering action, and working tirelessly so that the RCC youth break the welfare cycle. Bicycles are in the forefront of this organization, but we only use such a means to reveal character development, to modify behavior, to establish accountability, and to elicit personal responsibility and responsibility to others.
Who knew the ‘bike club’ was so complex? In the meantime, we really need to get some laminated ID badges….
Founder & Director of Development