The WAY I SEE IT: ‘I care’ makes the difference

A caring adult in a child's life goes a long way towards a healthy self-esteem and a productive life as an adult

There are many ways to make a connection with someone and I have been struck this week with two very different scenarios around relationships.

Over the past week I have been researching tele-health medicine for children with mental health and substance use services. In the course of that I read a literature review from UBC, newsletters, articles, reports, etc.  I am very impressed with the potential to provide specialist and physician support to rural and rural remote areas through this technology.

Many people love living in rural remote areas and this is important to them and to our province. My first experience living in B.C. was as a 15-year- old working in Radium Hot Springs. To get anything at that time we had to drive to Invermere or beyond; for serious medical support it would be to Cranbrook. Take this further to even more rural or remote communities and the drive or transportation pathways are longer, more time-consuming and expensive. My experience was a long time ago and many smaller rural communities have lost their medical centres due to centralization, or had the services provided drastically reduced, or in many cases some services are never available.

We need our rural communities for the numerous benefits they provide including agricultural, natural resources and recreation to name a few.

In the 21st century, with a good bandwidth connection, we can move into the remote areas and receive many services online. The tele-medicine can bring a physician and specialist to the community who works with the local physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, clinicians to provide assessment and follow-up support. There are tremendous options here and it is just going to get better for all types of medical and social issues.

In a discussion this week with a northern service provider I learned that youth  respond very favourably to the tele-health support as they are very comfortable with the technology and able to build a relationship and connection with the specialist. They enjoy not having to leave home or school to go to a medical appointment, deal with the family stress or expense. It feels normal. One of the studies identified that when tele-health support was provided in schools it also had favourable results. (UBC medical literature review).

So this leads to my other scenario and a discussion around zero-tolerance for students who are caught drinking or using drugs being kicked off their sports teams, drama groups, bands, etc. and suspended from school.

I personally think suspension or  kicking off teams is not the answer. When a friend of mine’s son was suspended she brought him to work and he did grunt labour jobs because staying at home watching TV or being on the computer was not a discipline, it was a holiday. It was the only time he was suspended.

The McCreary report  talks about protective factors for youth and the importance of students with substance use issues staying connected to schools. As a parent and someone who has spent a career working with youth and families I heartily agree. I agree with having codes of behaviour, expectations, and I think we have to look at options beyond removal.

High school teacher and coach Mr. D mentored boys after school who were on the edge whom he saw had some basic level of athletic potential  and sensed a need to belong. As a teacher and coach he worked hard with them, believed in them and gave the boys opportunities to play basketball, football and wrestling they wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. I’m sure they came to school stoned sometimes, but less and less as they built a relationship with him and his good favour was important to them. I saw kids who might have dropped out of school, walk taller, be part of a team and experience that important connection of belonging in their high school years and graduate. Mr. D was tough, he was a yeller, demanding, and cared deeply, and he involved families. He never kicked a kid off a team; they might wash all the sports equipment, sit on the bench, do extra training but letting them out of his sphere of influence was not an option.

I asked him why.  Sports had kept him in school when he too wanted to drop out of it, he was that kid who had  an alcoholic father, felt he had few options, and a teacher made a difference. So much so that he became a teacher and a coach.

It was all about the relationship. How we create those spheres of influence and relationships are changing, but the fundamental core is still the same. I care.

Michele Blais has worked with families and children in the North Okanagan for the past 28 years. She is a longtime columnist for The Morning Star, writing on a variety of topics and appearing every other Sunday.