39 Reasons: What if


Fil was usually alone – he wore an oversized grey coat and scurried away after saying hi, cracking his poker face with a bright smile revealing his teeth and dimples

A caring youth worker and myself watched Fil go from dreading the lonely moments after-school, being troubled and eventually becoming the bright young man we know him as today

In just 6 months, Fil suddenly had plans after school and his nights that once felt endless were now booked up into the weekends

After getting re-acquainted with his mom and missing home, this felt good

He met new people at every party and his network grew

Fil’s face changed, he was connected and happy and carried himself with confidence

His friends were too good to be true, so much so that they used his longing for friendships and connection to engage him in dangerous activities

We asked him how he made these friends and he said he met them on the skytrain on the way to school

The opportunities to see him and say hi became less frequent – when we did see him his answers were short and he was reluctant to talk with a distant look in his eyes

I knew that his youth worker was worried and wanted to step in and I knew this had to be done in the right way that was respectful of Fil and his readiness for help

We decided that first-language check-ins and invitations to talk were the best way to stay supportive, even when Fil felt distant

I knew that Fil’s youth worker had to be consistent, after all he is the only safe adult that could speak his language at his school – weekly check-ins would be as much as we could afford being spread between several schools

I knew that Fil’s youth worker had to be different from other adults, to reserve judgement, refrain from blame, and keep an open mind in order to understand Fil’s reality

His caring and persistent youth worker, who spoke his mother-tongue, understood his culture and the importance of a big brother asked again, how are you?

Fil was in trouble

His friends were too good to be true

They too spoke his mother-tongue and understood his culture and importance of a big brother, so much so that they used his longing for friendships and connection to engage him in dangerous activities

Before he knew it, he was in too deep, he wanted to get out, but needed someone who understood

His youth worker helped him make a plan, change routines, create new patterns

He engaged Fil as a leader and he responded – with his youth worker and his peers he learned how to use film to share his story, he planned for his future by owning his past

It worked

He got back on track and finished most of his courses and graduated after upgrading

Together, we helped Fil find his confidence and find his smile again

What if we had the resources to check in with Fil more frequently, to support Fil with the tools to identify and create safe circles? I wonder how many kids like Fil we’re not able to see and who don’t have someone to check in with? I wonder how much more invisibility kids like Fil can endure.  

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  • Jennifer Reddy