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Trevor and his Restorative Experience

What we heard on the grapevine Monday morning a few months ago was- a kid trashed Susan’s office! He even broke her computer! Can you believe it?

Trevor worries about everything. He loves his mother, and his worrying may have started very early in life when he observed her being beaten by his biological father. His anxiety continued to mount as his mom’s mental health problems have caused her to have extreme, fluctuating moods, at times feel suicidal and need hospitalization, and often need a lot of help from others. Trevor blames himself whenever his mom is unhappy or having trouble. His stepfather tries to take care of Trevor, but his rigid standards result in him using discipline such as tying Trevor to the bed and stuffing socks in his mouth. Trevor worried when one of his brothers died and worried when another was placed out of the home. Trevor knows this is all just because he is a bad kid.

 Trevor wants to be good. He tries to please everyone. Yet he gets so anxious so fast, and at age 14 he becomes completely overwhelmed by sudden changes, uncertainty, unpredictability, and things going wrong. The pressure in his mind is so intense that he resorts to behaviors such as head-banging, self-cutting, screaming and physical agitation.

 So when another kid, Marvin, broke off the antenna of Trevor’s new remote control car, the one his mother gave him on her last visit, it was more than Trevor could bear. Aside from being angry that the car wouldn’t work and sure that it could never be fixed, Trevor believed that his mother would blame him for not taking better care of this expensive present. It was her hard earned money and already it was broken! One more example of how he could never do anything right.

Trevor could not stand how horrible he felt, and so he started screaming– and the staff were just making it worse by talking to him. So Trevor ran off the unit and outside. As he was storming around the yard he noticed an office window that was open right over a porch roof. A refuge! He easily climbed up and got in the window, closed and locked it, and found himself in the secretary’s office– but staff saw him! They couldn’t get through the now closed window, but they were knocking on the door and trying to unlock it.

Trevor knew that if they got in all sorts of horrible things would happen, people would yell at him, he’d be kicked out, he’d have to go to jail, and he’d never see his family again…so he decided to barricade the door. He began moving furniture frantically towards the door. As he pushed the desk, the computer monitor fell off and broke. A whole lot of plants toppled over. The fax machine fell and shattered. When he moved the bookcase, lots of papers scattered around. But he kept pushing furniture towards the door- he had to make himself safe.

The staff became worried. They could not get the door open. The banging continued. And the sounds Trevor was making made them wonder if he was hurting himself. So, they called the police for help. The staff were able to disable the door, and with the police present opened the door, and Trevor moved some of the furniture so they could get in. The staff and police decided Trevor needed to go to the ER. The policeman told staff that he would call later about whether or not Klingberg wanted to press charges.

So- a kid did major- in fact VERY major- property damage, and destroyed the office of someone we all love. What should we do?

Susan was surprised when her boss, the Vice President of Treatment Programs, met her at the door on Monday when she came in. He wanted to warn her before she opened her office door. And when she did, she was horrified. Who could have done this to her? And why? She was always nice to the kids and in fact she had had some pleasant conversations with THIS kid.  Why would he target her? And all the work she was going to have to do to clean this up and restore order!

Susan was a little apprehensive when the team suggested that Trevor would need to work with her when he returned from the hospital. Would she even be safe with someone who could do all this? What on earth could she have him do? What should she say to him? Should she talk about what happened and her reactions, or not? And besides- she was quite angry that he had caused all this devastation and she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to be around him.

Susan talked all this over with the team. They validated her feelings and encouraged her to talk to Trevor about her reactions and listen to his experience of what had happened. She agreed to participate in the restorative process.

Meanwhile, the team discussed whether it would be helpful to have Trevor arrested for the property damages he caused. For some kids, being arrested could provide a deterrent next time. Yet when the team talked it over, this did not seem to be the case for Trevor. His main problem was that he worried too much, and gets over whelmed by anxiety about all the ways he has disappointed everyone and all the bad things he knows will happen. Being on probation would probably make that worse, cause him more panic and make it more necessary for him to do something to escape his horrible feelings. So the team decided not to press charges.

While Trevor was in the hospital he did not really want to come back to Klingberg. He was so ashamed of what he had done, and he did not want to see people who knew about it. He assumed they all hated him now; in fact he was surprised he was even allowed to come back. He was especially worried about seeing Susan and said “I thought she would yell at me.”

Trevor was scared when he started working for Susan. She had him carry some heavy boxes of files to the downstairs storage area. He was proud of how much he could carry! He was afraid he would do it wrong but soon saw that he was actually helping her. The next day they started to re-pot all her plants. During this process they talked a little about what had happened. Susan told Trevor how upset she had been walking into that mess. He apologized and said he had just been so scared.

Susan says that the experience of working with Trevor made a difference in how she thinks about this event. “I realized he was not attacking me. I could see he was just so scared. And it meant a lot to see how genuinely sorry he was. He even brought me back pictures from a trip he went on. I am not left with anger or fear. I don’t feel like I am working with a bunch of dangerous kids. I feel sad about how scared Trevor is and I hope we can help him feel better.”

Trevor says that he liked working for Susan. In fact, he kept doing things for her and making her things long after the restorative tasks were over. When asked if he thought the fact that he liked doing the tasks would encourage him do something wrong again in order to be assigned new pleasurable tasks, he looked puzzled and couldn’t get that concept. “Maybe it would work that way for some kids” he said “but not for me. Not for me.” (Clearly, he’s never taken a course in behavior therapy!) When he imagined just being grounded instead of doing the restorative work, Trevor said “then I would still be worried and nervous and I’d still be feeling so bad about what I did. Now I am friends with Susan.”

Trevor is leaving Klingberg soon and going to a therapeutic foster home. When asked if he thinks he has changed, Trevor says, “Oh yes, now I can use some coping skills.” What are those? “Art- I really like art. And music. I have a guitar now. And drama- did you see me in the last school play? And I am going to be Jack in the next one.” What helped him most were “the staff- not the kids so much-although some kids helped me.” He thinks that the kind of staff that help kids are the kind that “listen and don’t get an attitude,” although he does feel they should be “strict.” And Trevor says that it has helped him that staff have been his friends- especially Susan.