Blog Post

EPE Blog & Events Calendar

Posted in:

LiftEd Podcast Episode 6 - Peter Smyth

Posted: Nov 29, 2023

Scott McKeen

Peter Smyth

Subscribe and see the full list of episodes on Transistor.

Peter Smyth has a novel suggestion for helping at-risk and high-risk youth.

Try patience and kindness instead.

Smyth, who worked 30-plus years for the Alberta Children's Services, says society’s punitive bias towards kids and teens is reflected in their government care.

Client behaviour is largely corrected through coercion or punishment, which only confirms everything the traumatised kid already feels about the world and the adults who run it.

Smyth, who sat down recently with Erick and Scott for the LiftEd Podcast, was prepared at one point to leave government service. He couldn’t reconcile his more empathetic philosophy with the bureaucracy’s.

A big point of contention for Smyth was limits on time he as a social worker could spend with a kid in his care. No one goes into social work to stare at a computer, he says.

The work, he says, is best done after building a respectful and trusting rapport. So Smyth fought the bureaucracy and, to his surprise, gained more freedom in how he ran his caseload.

The point, he says, is that at-risk and high-risk youth have seen little in the way of love or loyalty in their lives. Why wouldn’t they act out against the world?

So they get a new social worker — and another risk of being rejected or abandoned — and test the newbie to see if they’ll hang in.

He tells the story of one youth who kept testing Peter’s patience over months. Peter didn’t give up on her. He still hears from her occasionally today, though she’s now in her 30s.

Peter believes a broader understanding of childhood trauma is helping change attitudes. The same can be said for generational trauma. A majority of the kids in government care are indigenous and suffering the trickle-down effects from residential schools.

But there’s still a long way to go in changing societal attitudes. It’s like a rite of passage into middle age for people to express their distrust of the emerging generation and their disrespect.

Aristotle himself thought children irrational.

Mind you, he also said adults must be good role models and that a child’s education should be enjoyable.

Peter Smyth would agree on those last points.

“Punishing them (youth) into compliance is an odd way to do it,” he says.

About Peter Smyth
Peter has been a social worker with the Organization for the Prevention of Violence since February 2021, and was a consultant for OPV starting in 2016. Previously, Peter was the overseer of the High Risk Youth Initiative with Children’s Services Edmonton Region. He developed a practice framework and philosophy incorporating non-traditional intervention methods to better meet the needs of complex, troubled and street-involved youth population. Peter has written a book, book chapters and articles about issues confronting youth. He provides consultation, training and workshops on engaging and working with youth. Peter is a sessional instructor at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Social Work, and at the MacEwan University Social Work Program. The second edition of his book High Risk Youth: A Relationship-Based Practice Framework, will be released later this year.

Peter Smyth
Peter Smyth

Posted in:
Urban background people 01