Topic:  Working with children, youth and families with complex needs: 20 skills to build resilience – Professor Michael Ungar

Resources: You can download Michael’s slides and you can watch a video of the first part of Michael’s Forum:

Session Summary:  When working with children and adolescents from emotionally turbulent or physically dangerous backgrounds, we often focus too narrowly on the individual’s complex needs and problems – like delinquency, anxiety or conflict with caregivers – and miss the broader sources of healing and resilience in young people’s lives. This forum will present a strengths-focused, resistance-proof model that makes therapeutic interventions more effective and change more sustainable. It demonstrates 20 skills that mental health professionals and educators can use to nurture the resilience of those with whom they work. With ample case studies and fascinating explanations of research, Michael shows why we need to work just as hard changing the environments that surround children as we do changing children themselves.

Forum participants will learn how to identify and enhance access to protective and promotive processes that exert a positive influence on young people’s wellbeing. These include relationships with adults, a sense of personal self-control, agency and power, experiences of social justice and fair treatment, belonging and purpose, spirituality, and cultural rootedness. Michael will also discuss how to contract to achieve useful therapeutic goals that are culturally meaningful, and participants will leave knowing how to help their clients successfully transition their success in clinical, residential and community settings back into their “real-life” social environments at home.

This ecological approach to counselling builds on best practice knowledge borrowed from both formal mental health work and studies of resilience among populations who face significant adversity around the world. This model of intervention creatively combines clinical practice with aspects of case management and advocacy making it ideally suited to the needs of mental health professionals working in community mental health clinics, addictions treatment centres, correctional settings, schools, residential settings and home-based family support programs. The core principles of the approach, navigation and negotiation, can be integrated with other therapeutic models to effectively intervene with children, youth and their families. This workshop explores 20 practical techniques for clinical intervention and case planning while providing participants an opportunity to discuss the most challenging children, youth and families with whom they work.

Objectives: Specifically the learning objectives for this workshop are:

1.    To understand how individuals and families with complex needs use “problem” behaviours to enhance their resilience and wellbeing when more socially acceptable solutions are not available;
2.    To become familiar with 20 skills associated with a social ecological approach to individual and family intervention informed by research on resilience;
3.    To develop strategies for working without resistance with hard-to-reach, culturally diverse children, adolescents, and their families;
4.    To discuss ways services can be structured for children, youth and families that make resilience more likely to occur.

Biography:  Dr. Michael Ungar wears many professional hats. He is equally well known as the author of books for parents and caregivers as he is for his world-renowned research on the topic of resilience. As a writer he has adapted ideas from his research and clinical practice into best-selling works like Too Safe For Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive, and his most recent release, I Still Love You: Nine Things Troubled Kids Need from Their Parents. In total, he has published 14 books, 125 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and maintains a blog on Psychology Today’s website. In another of his many roles, he is the founder and co-director of the Resilience Research Centre that coordinates millions of dollars in research in more than a dozen countries. That work has inspired many of Michael’s books and articles for mental health professionals and researchers, including Working with Children and Youth with Complex Needs: 20 Skills to Build Resilience, and The Social Ecology of Resilience.

When not on the road and back at his home in Halifax, Canada, he is the Killam Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University, Scientific Director of the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network, and a family therapist who works with local services for homeless and at-risk young people. In 2012 Michael was the recipient of the Canadian Association of Social Workers National Distinguished Service Award.

Michael’s work has inspired a generation of professionals and researchers to broaden their understanding of how and why young people do well in different cultures and contexts. Furthermore, he has shown through his research, writing, and clinical practice, that resilience is something that can be nurtured and sustained among even the most disadvantaged young people, their families, and their communities.

Who might be most interested:  Academics, practitioners, researchers, students, parents, carers, community workers, volunteers, public sector workers, young people and service users.

Key Reading:  Any of Michael Ungar’s books – there are piles of them. To view a sample of Mike’s work, please go to his website (external link).

This session took place on Wednesday 28 January 2015.

The Resilience Forum is for ANYBODY (with a pulse!) involved with or interested in resilience research!

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