Support of school instrumental in long-lasting success for young New Zealander
Jacob was only 13, but he had a history of arson, marijuana use, solvent abuse and shoplifting. He associated with anti-social peers, was medicated daily for ADHD and was only attending school for two hours each morning—during which he was frequently sent home due to disruptive behavior. He had been to the board of trustees twice already. A third serious incident of disruptive or unsafe behaviour would likely end in exclusion (expulsion). That’s when he was referred to Multisystemic Therapy (MST).
When I first became involved with the whanau (family), mum was feeling very negative toward most professionals she was dealing with—and there were quite a few: paediatricians, Ministry of Education, the school, Police Youth Aid officers and CYF (the State Welfare Organisation). She struggled to engage with these professionals as she often felt blamed for her son’s actions and became defensive quickly. What’s more, mum was frustrated as her struggles with Jacob had been ongoing for at least four years, and she had already tried several things. She had removed all aerosol containers from the home and kept petrol for the lawn mower at her mother’s. Mum had also instructed Jacob’s older brother, Brian, to keep his marijuana and paraphernalia locked in his room and out of sight. She also told him not to share with Jacob.
Collaboration with school key to success
Her frustration began to turn around shortly after treatment started when Jacob’s school hired a new principal who was able to approach mum without any baggage from past encounters and offer a sympathetic ear. The principal was very proactive in helping mum get Jacob to school. When he refused to attend, the principal would drop everything, jump in her car and drive to their home to bring him to class. The principal made a point of listening to mum and looking for strengths in her parenting to acknowledge.
In another attempt to keep Jacob enrolled, he was removed from his class and spent the two hours each morning with a teacher’s aide and started taking part in an alternative curriculum.
The school was fabulous in their support of mum and Jacob, as well as supporting the MST team. They allowed us to use their boardroom to hold meetings with the whanau and were 100 percent committed to keeping Jacob in school. We worked with Jacob’s teacher and the special education coordinator, with a lot of input from mum, to together create interventions targeting disruptive behaviour.
Next, a safety plan was quickly developed to minimise the risk of Jacob bringing a weapon or combustibles to school to prevent exclusion. That had to be done before we could even begin work on increasing attendance. Mum met with the teacher’s aide, the SENCO (special education needs co-ordinator), the primary teacher and principal regularly to develop plans by sharing the things she did that worked to de-escalate and prevent her son’s aggressiveness. She also made sure the school staff were following the plans we developed.
Incentives further improve progress
Mum also started to put in place incentives for Jacob to earn—small amounts of money for each school period where he met behavioural expectations. This really worked for him. He was soon attending school for four hours a day and was completing a full day of school after approximately a month. Even better, he returned to his classroom for the final week of the term without incident.
It has been a few years since Jacob’s MST treatment. He has moved on to secondary school and has completed almost two years. He is achieving, and while there have been behavioural struggles from time to time, he is still enrolled. This in itself is an achievement for a young person who had largely been written off by the community and was expected to be entering the youth justice system either on or the day after, his 14th birthday. The success of treatment was largely due the school’s support of the whanau, particularly from the SENCO teacher who was instrumental in motivating staff to continue their support of Jacob. The school has even become a champion of MST, in general. Together, we found a way for Jacob to have the chance to work toward the best possible outcome, and the hard work paid off.