Changing the Way We View Conduct Disorder
by Brandon Yarber

Historically, the theme of stories told by those who have had encounters with conduct disordered kids, or the programs that house them, have all started with anger, which then led to aggression, which climaxed in violence. These stories pretty much have the same plot, one episode after another. Eventually, people tired of making up excuses for the vast population of kids who are misunderstood and labeled them “Conduct Kids.”
Today, the Conduct Kid still exists; he is your brother, cousin and friend. He is every teenaged kid opposed to the norms of society or the directives given by a parent and/or seeks to evade the long arms of the law. He has the potential to be wise but chooses to be misunderstood. He has the potential to be loved but chooses to be distant. He chooses nothing because, oftentimes, he has never been given a choice – or at least that’s how he sees it.

At KidsPeace, The Fulton House of the Inventor Center is changing the way that we view Conduct Disorder and challenging the belief that the Conduct Kid really exists. Traditionally, Conduct Disorder Programs have been staffed with very large, very muscular staff members who could ensure that Conduct Kids did not hurt anyone. Today, we staff with highly intelligent counselors who can reason with the boys in the Conduct Disorder program – big minds and average size bodies. We surround our kids with staff who are sensitive to their needs, experiences and interpretation of life. Our staff addresses behaviors in a non-punitive manner because we are careful not to compete with kids on turf that they know best. Additionally, we dare to expose them to a gallery of appreciation, praises and trust.

We advocate that, by building relationships with kids from the moment they enter our doors, we are instantly identified as helping agents and are allowed to aid our kids in beginning the process of change. When our kids are struggling, we do not combat the problem by offering punitive measures as a solution. Instead, we offer incentives to help our kids bounce back from sporadic episodic behaviors.

We unified both clinical and behavioral approaches to target and address the needs of Conduct Disordered kids. Treatment interventions such as Thinking for a Change, Anger Management, Motivational Interviewing and Trauma Focused Therapeutic techniques are all helpful tools. We recognize that the realities of past trauma and various social barriers affect both kids’ vulnerability and capacity for effectively dealing with change.
We are flexible and open to programming each kid differently. We do not offer any uniformed approaches to addressing our kids’ needs. Conduct Kids are intelligent (in their own right), and, therefore, we assess their interests thoroughly, despite their efforts to deter us through displays of inappropriate behaviors. We regard much of their negative behaviors as defense mechanisms or ways of communicating their discomfort or, in some cases, enjoyment.

How does the Fulton House staff use a non-confrontational/non-punitive approach to address our kids’ behaviors? We utilize a point system with realistic ratings specific to each child’s level of functioning and capacity for change. If a child has earned a consequence, staff will create incentives for them to bounce back and engage in regular programming (i.e., extra chores). Why? To avoid helping kids dig bigger and inescapable holes for themselves. By helping kids reach positive levels, we are promoting the incentive for kids to do well, providing them with a goal and offering them hope.

Currently, the Conduct Kid is involved in a painting project that allows him access to the community and offers him the chance to learn a craft that will one day help him enter the work force. He is volunteering weekly at a family farm in the community, to help him understand the importance of giving back. He is attending weekly sessions at the local DoJo to help him learn self-discipline and healthy exercise habits. He attended a college tour, which allowed him to sit in during a class lecture and experience what very few kids in his peer groups will witness. He attended the Empire Beauty School to explore his interest and learn the steps to achieving one of his personal goals.

With our continuous efforts to assist him with his problems and shaping his identity, we even decided to stop calling him The Conduct Kid, because he is starting to look so much like a kid and behave like a young adult, we just decided to call him a success.|

Brandon Yarber is the House Manager of the Specialized/Conduct Disorder Program at the KidsPeace Fulton House in Orefield, PA. Brandon has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and has been with KidsPeace since 2008. Before joining KidsPeace, Brandon worked with hundreds of adolescents from DC, NJ, CT, DE, CA and NY, helping them to deal with difficult life experiences and challenges. He is currently responsible for program operations and the Child Care Counselors who are assigned to his program. Brandon works side by side with multi-disciplinary team members to individualize treatment plans for each adolescent and offer opportunities that help clients change the way they view things. He provides limits, structure and a safe/secure environment that offers all clients the support they need to work on their treatment issues.