On Wednesday afternoon, October 4th, Stewart Bowerman (Community-wide PBIS Coordinator) led a workshop for the staff at Youthcare’s Rainier Beach location, on creating a safe, positive environment for youth. At a place like Youthcare, where young people experiencing homelessness are living in community with one another, you can imagine the importance of the conversation. 

Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) teaches us that when creating a positive space, it’s necessary to clarify what safe, respectful and responsible behavior looks like in practice within the space itself. It’s important to clarify this, so that expectations for positive behavior can be established and communicated. Sadly though, society isn’t very good at establishing these expectations and communicating them. More often than not, when someone isn’t being safe, respectful or responsible, they just get kicked out of wherever they are for whatever they are doing; and that’s unfortunate – because kicking someone out provides little guidance, and probably doesn’t help the situation they might be in. Or, if expectations for positive behavior are communicated, they tend to be defined in terms of what people should not do – no running, no yelling, no rough housing, etc. While this does offer some guidance, it would be more effective to communicate how to be safe, how to be respectful and how to be responsible. PBIS also teaches that once safe, respectful and responsible behaviors have been clarified, how the behaviors are being promoted and encouraged should be considered. Are the behaviors posted on the wall? Being explained? Being modeled? Is there an intuitive design that subtly encourages them? Is there a positive reinforcement system? Or are additional supports available for those who need more guidance? 

During the workshop at Youthcare, we explored these ideas together. What does safety, respect and responsibility at the shelter look like in practice? How can the staff actively promote and encourage these behaviors? We talked about being mindful of one another’s triggers, communicating with compassion, having creative outlets to process big feelings, and leaning on one another during challenging times. And we talked about ways the staff can use positive reinforcement to gently guide the residents in these ways. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the discussion is that these behaviors are just as important for staff as they are for the residents. 

To wrap up the workshop, the staff at Youthcare committed to build a system of positive reinforcement within the shelter – a great outcome when building a safe community of belonging, where people feel supported. We’re thankful for Youthcare’s partnership making Rainier Beach a beautiful, safe place for youth.

We are happy to facilitate a similar workshop on creating at your organization as well! Email Stew@rbactioncoalition.org to inquire.