Archbishop visits St Xavier’s*
March 22, 2018
Not without the dust, the palm*
March 22, 2018

The Silent Saviours – Part 2: Catalyst*

Man and woman engage each other at the wrist

By Laura Ann Phillips

Last week, we briefly explored how youth-care workers kept themselves encouraged, continuing their work of hope and healing, while knowing that not everyone under their care will be a success story. This week, we focus on some of the original pain of the youngsters who find themselves on the wrong path.

Where do they come from, these young men involved in crime and violence? What were some of the telltale signs we missed, telling us that something was wrong?

“One of them is family dynamics,” said Earl Joseph, a youth-programme developer at Marian House in Port of Spain – a Living Water Community development programme for adolescent boys.

He cited the common case of a child having his mother be part of his life, but not his father. Then, mother gets a new boyfriend or re-marries.

“Now, the husband of that mother may not want the child at the home,” explained Joseph. “So, what does the mother do? The mother chooses the ‘significant other’ over the child. So, that child is left on the streets or to fend for himself.”

That rejection by, initially, his biological father then a step-father, has deep and far-reaching consequences.

“When I look into the mirror, what I see is a man rejected by a man, a broken image of my father – the one who rejected me,” explained Brother Kyle Dardaine, moderator and co-founder of the Companions of the Transfigured Christ (CTC).

CTC has been ministering to adolescent and adult males for almost 18 years.

“The rejection, the pain, the disappointment, the deceit, the absence, the ambivalence – they all affect men in different ways.”

Abandonment, along with physical and sexual abuse, could leave the child or teenager with a propensity to “act out” and with a natural distrust of adults.

“We’re always quick to label the child as being disrespectful and disobedient,” noted Joseph, “but, it’s not the child’s fault. It’s learnt behaviour and defense; every human being has that innate ability to want to protect itself.”

“Children nowadays have a lot of pain,” mused Sr Roberta O’Flaherty, executive director of the CREDO Foundation for Justice. That’s the parent organisation of CREDO Development Centre and CREDO Sophia House, development centres for boys and girls, respectively.

She noted a relatively recent development among young men, in particular.

When CREDO opened its doors back in 1993, it was to boys who were found wandering the streets. They were offered meals, showers, changes of clothes and, eventually, a place to stay.

“Over the years, our population changed,” said O’Flaherty. Most CREDO and Sophia House residents are now placed through the Children’s Authority, and come from various parts of Trinidad and Tobago.

“What we have noticed with young people, in recent years, is how many of them have mental problems and are on medication for mental conditions,” she said. “Even in the early days, when the kids came in off the streets, they didn’t have as many psychological problems as the children nowadays.”

Nor is age a factor.

“We’re seeing children coming in with mental issues from as young as eight, nine and being put on medication,” said Dale Bartholomew, administrator of CREDO and Sophia House.

Some of whom were birthed by mothers with mental health issues, themselves, she added, and subsequently left to wander the streets.

When such children are brought to the centres, it can be difficult to get a clear family history “because there are so many gaps missing,” Bartholomew said.

“When you have a destitute person or someone heavily on drugs, they can’t tell you what they have been doing for the last five or six years.”

So, experience can be invaluable in spotting indications of these and other traumas, right from the initial entry interview, said Joseph.

But, experience can also spot areas of hope before science backs it up.

“One of the things we have at Marian House is the IDP – Individual Development Plan – where we can recognise the child’s ability, the child’s weaknesses, the child’s strengths,” explained Joseph.

Using that information, “we can help the child map out what are his gifts, what kind of job he would like to do, how he’s going to get there, the space of time,” he said.

And the type of accompaniment needed on the way.

CTC has recently begun a mentoring programme at Marian House. They intend to offer individual mentoring, eventually, said Dardaine, but will conduct group mentoring sessions at first.

“When people are in the first-stage they learn best in a ‘pack’ environment,” he explained. “So, we’re doing group mentoring… thrashing around ideas and sharing experiences.”

And doing so in an environment of mutual respect. In a word: listening.

“Listening through the experience of the mentors and the mentees. We are not coming to tell them that this is a man’s world or this is the masculine experience, because we only have half the masculine experience in the room,” he said.

“The other half of the masculine experience lies in these mentees who are living life; they are men who are coming up in a new time, in a new generation, (with) new realities, new social experiences.”

O’Flaherty echoed a need for mentors for her young charges, as well. Private companies and groups currently provide some mentoring, she said and, of the four workers on CREDO’s evening staff, three are men.

“Other than that, these young people don’t have male models,” she lamented. “These young people need mentors, especially the young men.”

Of the ilk described by Dardaine, who envisages: “Mentors rising up all over this society, from all parts of the country, who take an interest in becoming ‘second-chance’ fathers.”

Selfless men who, by their active presence, demonstrate to these high-risk boys what it means to live as a responsible man, “reaching out and putting their lives – the vulnerability of their lives – on the line; to touch, to hold, to challenge, to give perimeters, to put up boundaries, to re-structure, renew, to love, to affirm.”

All with a view to healing and renewing these troubled souls.

“We always say we measure our success by the children’s ability to be happy, learning and improving in their ability to socialise,” reflected O’Flaherty.

“To handle the past trauma of their lives and to try to work through it, so that it isn’t crippling them all their lives.”

In Part Three, we’ll see more of the issues that challenge the progress of high-risk youth and the continuing work of some Catholic agencies to help them thrive.

Find “THE SILENT SAVIOURS – Part One” at