Workshops focus on at-risk youth


Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Alyce Kemp-DeWitt, 70, took the stage and took off her red jacket. Beneath it was a tattered shirt and a black skirt. Kemp-DeWitt, the keynote speaker for "Serving Youth: Strategies That Work," was giving an example of how stress isn't always apparent.

The event, a series of workshops sponsored by the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida's Project Payback, was intended to give advice to people who work with at-risk youth.

Kemp-DeWitt's speech was primarily about how social-service workers can move beyond getting stressed to the "desserts" in life. Her advice: Stay motivated, maintain a sense of humor, don't be afraid to cry and know how to communicate.

Kemp-Dewitt, a South Carolina Department of Mental Health community resource director, used her own tragedies, such as losing her 23-year-old son in a car crash, as an example of how to overcome stress.

"(It's) not easy, but possible for the sun to shine again," Kemp-DeWitt said.

Kris Kelly, program coordinator for Project Payback, said Kemp-DeWitt was invited to help people with their personal lives, instead of work.

"You deal with a lot of tragedy (in your personal life)," Kelly said.

The 12 workshops were held at Trinity United Methodist Church, dealt with working with at-risk youth.

Lt. Sherry Schlueter, section supervisor for Special Victims and Family Crimes with the Broward County Sheriff's Office, spoke on how animal cruelty can relate to people committing violence against other people. A study by the FBI shows that serial killers often had a history of abusing animals before committing their crimes, she said.

Schlueter said it is important to act if a child is cruel to an animal. The way a pet is cared for can also be a good way to find out more about a child's family situation.

"This question can be extremely revealing: Do you think your pet is safe?" Schlueter said.

In some cases, a parent may threaten a pet's well-being in an attempt to ensure a child does not seek help from an abusive situation, she says.

Dr. Theresa Harrison, executive director for area abuse shelter Peaceful Paths, said there is a correlation in behavior between a child who is suffering through domestic abuse and a violent adolescent. Harrison led a workshop about the effects, causes and handling of domestic violence.

Harrison said the first reaction people may have when they hear an account of domestic violence may be to tell the child exactly what to do. That isn't necessarily the best idea, she said. Rather, it is better to give that child options and listen instead of just trying to tell them what to do, Harrison said.

However, the workshops dealt with more than just giving advice. Mary D. Richter, executive director for Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, said her objective was to learn as much as possible.

She discussed the flaws and possible solutions to how social workers can deal with at-risk youth and their families. Her advice to these social-service workers: Don't give up.

"We're all in this together and we've got to pull together," she said.

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