In October, Get IN Chicago invited our technical assistance provider MENTOR Illinois to meet with SYNC mentors  for a session about establishing healthy boundaries to support work with acutely high-risk youth.  Besides mentors, these recommendations can benefit any service provider working with high-risk youth.  MENTOR Illinois has generously agreed to let us share highlights of their presentation here.

Many young people in Get IN Chicago programs are dealing with a variety of challenges and stressful situations that can complicate a traditional mentoring or youth/provider relationship.  Setting boundaries can help workers support youth in a positive way without disenfranchising them.  Further, healthy boundaries can help workers manage their emotions, apply their best judgement, and ultimately provide the best possible experience for a young person.

MENTOR Illinois specifically outlined three types of boundaries to keep in mind during interactions with high-risk youth:

  1. Physical boundaries refer to the area around a person, and healthy physical boundaries respect personal space. Stay attuned to any discomfort or avoidance of physical contact on the part of young people, and remember that care and empathy can be expressed without touching.
  2. Mental boundaries include various aspects of life, such as, beliefs, thoughts, and the ability to learn and process information. Rather than giving a young person direct answers, respect a young person’s agency and empower him or her to take personal responsibility for decisions and make healthy choices.
  3. Emotional boundaries refer to a person’s self-esteem and feelings. Many at-risk youth are emotionally vulnerable, and workers should recognize the power dynamic (adult – youth) and always model professional, respectful care.  Be mindful when sharing personal information – being open and authentic is achievable without full disclosure. Recognize that jokes and being playful can help facilitate communication and enhance rapport, but it can also alienate other youth in the program that do not have a similar relationship with you.

Part of managing boundaries includes knowing when to seek outside assistance, either through a referral or a report.  If a young person is demonstrating one of the following, MENTOR Illinois notes that these behaviors may signify a mental health situation:

  • Threat to him/herself (cutting, suicide ideation, etc.)
  • Not eating or rapid weight loss
  • Excessive eating or rapid weight gain
  • Despondent, weepy, or depressed
  • Disengaged from social interactions
  • Chronic pain, such as stomachaches or headaches
  • Flashbacks and intrusive memories of trauma
  • Losing touch with reality (conspiracy mindset)
  • Threat to others

In these cases, MENTOR Illinois recommends contacting a clinician or therapy team (such as Get IN Chicago’s SYNC CBT organizations) or utilizing SASS (Screening, Assessment, and Support Services) and its crisis and referral hotline: 1-800-345-9049.  Though not a replacement for professional help, Crisis Text Line is also available as a resource to offer support and de-escalate a crisis, 24/7: Text HOME to 741741.

And as always, in cases of abuse and neglect, MENTOR Illinois reminds everyone that the State of Illinois requires mandated reporting by law for all individuals working with youth.  If you suspect abuse or neglect, you have a social responsibility to report it to the  24-hour Department of Children and Family Services hotline: 800-25-ABUSE (800-252-2873).  Training for Mandated Reporting is free and available on-line, and the pre/post-tests and interactive training takes approximately 90 minutes.

We thank MENTOR Illinois for sharing their expertise and helping service providers across the city improve our collective efforts to create brighter futures for Chicago’s youth!  For further information and resources, we encourage you to check their website or use it to contact their team directly.