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A question that one of my counsellor friends asked me the other day set me thinking and I decided to write about it so that perhaps other counsellors like her who might also have the same question might find some answers.

Her question to me was, “I would like to work with juveniles but where do I find these children and how do I  go about counseling them ? “ So here are some of my thoughts on finding   the juveniles to counsel and a few pointers on how to engage with them once you have found them!

Volunteering to work with juveniles could be the first step towards understanding the world of children who have come into conflict with the law. By taking such a step you could begin to understand the complex circumstances, precipitating factors and triggers that led to this situation, his/her family conditions and how you can be part of this world of the child and help him /her cope with and gradually make sense of it.

Of course, in order to do this, you would need to have access to juveniles who are alleged or found to be in conflict with the law. Unlike in regular counseling settings, where the client comes to you seeking your help or service, in this case, if you wish to offer such counselling services to juveniles, you would have to go the juvenile and offer your services at the Observation Home (OH) or Special Home (SH).

So what are these institutions?

An Observation Home is an institution for the temporary reception of  juveniles alleged to be in conflict with the law during the pendency of any enquiry against them  under the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (JJ Act) while a Special Home is an institution for the reception and rehabilitation of juveniles alleged to be in conflict with the law.

As these are statutory institutions, you would need to write to the District Child Protection Officer, (DCPO), under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) in your state, or the Director of the Department of Women and Child Development for permission to offer your services to the children at the OH /SH in your district. Alternatively, you could also write to the Juvenile Justice Board in your district and  offer your  services to them.

You could also find out which NGOs have been authorized to provide any kind of service to children in these statutory institutions, and offer to work with and through them. This will also provide you the back-up support you may need to work in this legal context.

Another option is of course is applying for the post of a Counselor in any of these institutions, under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), which is a paid position, rather than volunteer your services.

Another great way to be a part of the solution to the crisis related to the lack of mental health services for juveniles is to apply to be a member of the Juvenile Justice Board itself, sitting along with another social work member, and the Principal Magistrate as a bench. This is a unique opportunity to use your professional domain knowledge to inform judicial decisions that make a dramatic impact on the lives of children and their families.

Here is a set of guidelines developed by the Centre for Child and the Law,  (CCL), to inform and enable counselors take the first few steps while engaging with juveniles at statutory institutions. These guidelines can also be used by any professional wanting to work with juveniles.

CCL’s 10 golden rules while engaging with juveniles

 

As a counselor who has volunteered to work with children, you might be a young professional with a keen desire to learn about children or you might be a professional with a rich experience of already having worked with children. In any case, here are a few guidelines that would help you engage with juveniles in a statutory institution:

  1. Permission:  Always seek permission of the concerned authorities at the institution ( Superintendent OH / SH) to meet with the juvenile. Carry a copy of the permission letter from the Department of Women & Child or the JJB. Always seek permission of the juvenile on all aspects of your engagement with him/her. Specifically seek consent and involve the child in decisions affecting the juvenile in any way.
  1. Respect the rules and regulations of the institutions /organizations where the juvenile is being kept, especially with respect to timings, dress codes, safety rules, use of mobile phones, and so on. For example: A child may ask for your phone to call his home. Much as you might feel that you are helping the child, kindly desist from doing so as it would be against the rules of the institution to do so.
  1. Problem solving : Seek to understand the issues and challenges involved before rushing in with solutions. Seek to work on and arrive at multiple and creative options to resolve issues and challenges.  Juvenile justice and issues relating to juveniles is a complex area so it is good to remember that problems may have more than one solution and that sometimes some problems might not have easy or any solutions at all. Understanding the limits, possibilities and one’s own limitations would be essential to your work as a counsellor in the juvenile justice system.

 

  1. Confidentiality :  Maintain confidentiality about the work and the children you are working with. Names, details, case histories, etc of the children should not be revealed or discussed with anyone in your family, place of work, friends, etc. If you need to discuss the case of a child for a specific reason with a specific person / professional, do so with the permission of your supervisor and /or the JJB, as the case may be. You will also need to bear in mind that the JJ Act specifically prohibits violation of confidentiality by any newspaper, magazine, news-sheet or visual media that leads to the identification of a juvenile, and that an amount of Rs. 25,000 can also be imposed against them in such situations.

 

  1. Physical contact :  Do not make any physical contact with the child. Seek permission of the child before offering a hug or any other appropriate physical expression of affection or comfort. Remember that this group of children you are working with are vulnerable and might have already gone through abuse or experiences that violated their personal space or safety.  Respect their boundaries and show your affection / concern through words and action.
  1. Safety & Privacy:  Do not meet / interact with a juvenile alone in a closed room. When you need to have a private conversation with the child, use the counseling room (if such a room exists within the institution) without bolting the door for this purpose. In the absence of a designated counseling room, an alternative space like the classroom or dining room could be made use of.  This is essential to safeguard the child as well as your own safety.
  1. Gifts and giving :  Avoid giving personal gifts, food and /or money to the children or their families. If you wish to contribute, you could however, organize gifts in the form of clothes, toys,  books, food, personal use items, etc. for a group of children at the institution. Any such contributions should be informed to your supervisor and routed through appropriate channels at the institution.
  1. Asking for help : At any time of engaging with the child if you feel overwhelmed by what the child is sharing with you or are unable to find appropriate ways to cope with any situation, seek the help of your supervisor, seniors in the field, the social work members of the JJB or experienced members from amongst the institutional staff.
  1. Learning and self growth :  Equip yourself with as much information about children, their development, laws relating to children, child rights based framework etc. Share your knowledge and experience as you interact with and learn from other professionals working with children.
  1. Being a positive change agent : Be aware that you are an adult with a tremendous potential to change and influence the way a child looks at the world and at adults. For a child who has been let down by adults, once too often, you might be the adult who brings hope and makes their world alright again. It is your responsibility to create positive experiences for yourself and the child you are working with.

I hope our 10 golden rules have helped in understanding some basic guidelines while engaging with juveniles. I  invite you to share some of your experiences, and your own ‘ Golden Rules’ that you find useful, while engaging with children in general and juveniles in particular

Prepared by Ms. Kalpana Purushothaman, Senior Professional Counselor, Juvenile Justice Program, Centre for Child & the Law, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

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