AMTP Core Beliefs and Values
Ethical Guidelines for Practice and Planning:
- Peer group connection is vital in the lives of adolescents. One of the most important contributions of the AMTP is to promote friendships among and between adolescents from different communities and different backgrounds and with different skills.
- Societal perceptions of teens and teen peer groups often reflect stereotypes and prejudices about teenagers and their families and communities. The AMTP works toward promoting a positive awareness of youth as valuable, creative, and important contributing members of the community. Through community service projects and youth-to-youth mentoring, AMTP provides opportunities for teens to contribute their skills and knowledge to the community.
- Moral development is a life-long process. The AMTP has a responsibility, through role modeling, mentoring, and guidance, to teach children and youth how and why to make ethical, morally sound decisions. Adult moral leadership may be lacking or inconsistent in the lives of some AMTP participants. Therefore, “second chances” are important and within the boundaries of the AMTP community, “zero tolerance makes zero sense.” With proper and consistent guidance, children and teens can and do learn from their mistakes, make good choices, are agents of their own change, and can create a positive future for themselves. We are opposed to the emphasis on punishment rather than reparation as a means of disciplining youth for most offenses. Rather, we seek ways to respond to the young person in trouble, by teaching reconciliation, compassion, reciprocity, and responsibility.
- Change happens at different paces for different people. Our practice is developmental and designed to meet children and teenagers where they are.
- Performance, behavior, attitudes, and outcomes are highly influenced by social, economic, and cultural conditions (i.e., racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, etc.) and these conditions place many youth and families at risk. We do not believe in focusing on adjusting the behavior of children, youth, and families without also engaging in a clear analysis of the conditions of their lives.
- Effective, meaningful, sustainable change in a person’s life is the product and process of hard work, and personal power, ability, agency, self-determination, and motivation. It is our job to help youth construct a sense of self that is capable of self-determination, choice, and change.
- The heart of our work is in the healing power of trustful long term, committed, mutually respectful relationships with youth and families. We work to enable schools and agencies to build respectful, reciprocal relationships with youth and their families, and we encourage teens to build respectful relationships with their peers, their teachers, their families, etc. We know that our work can be emotionally hard. We make an effort to understand how our work impacts us on a personal level. We practice in ways that permits respectful, ethical, long-term involvement that is productive, fun, and healthy for both participants and staff.
- Knowing the “rules of the game” in all AMTP activities gives teen participants a healthy sense of safe limits, socially and physically. Clear, consistent communication with teens and between AMTP staff help prevent misunderstanding.
- Children and teens need guidance in interpreting the culture and, while we strongly believe in respect for individual and family lifestyles, values, choices, and cultures, we also believe that they need to know the “rules of the game” in terms of academic, vocational, behavioral, and interpersonal expectations. Without knowledge and understanding of employment and educational expectations, participants have their choices for college, employment, and lifestyle dramatically restricted.
- Young people in the AMTP bring issues to us that are important to them, especially issues about fairness and relationships. They need for us to respond in ways that help them interpret what different issues mean to them. They need help in making sense of a world that may seem strange and hostile at times. Not only do we reaffirm the knowledge they have about their own experience, but we also recognize that we have insights and experience that are useful to them. In mutually trusting relationship with participants, we bring our experience and knowledge together with their experience and knowledge in order to broaden all of our perspectives and make our understanding bigger and more flexible. We do not try to undermine the participant’s meaning-making, but to expand his or her world by offering new information and insights.
- Resistance–demonstrated through behavior, emotion, silence, and defiance–is a survival skill. Resistance is often a response to the cultural disconnections, lack of meaningful relationships, and experiences of oppression, abuse, and marginalization. Resistant voices in institutions and communities, when taken seriously, can serve as the conscience of the institution or community. Part of our work is to help the community redefine and understand youth resistance in the context of social, economic, and political realities.
- Youth need to feel safe, loved, powerful, important, valued, intelligent, and cared for in order to develop in a healthy way. Youth who do not have these qualities in their lives sometimes respond with anger, frustration, self-hate, hopelessness, and sadness. These feelings may erupt in lashing out at others or these feelings may turn inward resulting in depression, thoughts of suicide, and becoming vulnerable to victimization.
- Young people want and need to be seen as capable people with good prospects; they need opportunities to contribute valuable and necessary resources in their schools, families and communities. They need opportunities that instill a hopeful and ambitious orientation to the future. An important part of our job is to help youth and families to be self-advocating and to become decision-makers in schools and communities and to encourage institutions and communities to view every child as a capable person with good prospects.
- Concepts like family, success, fairness, caring, mean different things to different people. The way that we describe and use these concepts must allow for a range of definitions and meanings. We must use our language carefully so that we do not reinforce popular cultural myths (i.e. the nuclear family, the American dream, universal heterosexuality, etc.).
- AMTP is a local, community-based, grassroots program that is a dynamic, “learning” organization, rather than a “conforming” organization. Program development is guided by the needs, skills, strengths, and conditions described by participants, staff, schools, families, and communities, within the bounds of our mission statement. We recognize the influences of funding, politics, trends, and time constraints, but AMTP program development, policies, and practices are not determined primarily by these influences. Rather, program development, policies, and practices are developed through thoughtful reflection of our past, community needs assessments, the requests for services made by youth, parents, and community members, program evaluation, and a commitment to the ethical guidelines and mission of the AMTP.
- “Don’t teach against your conscience.” Good practice is also the result of critical reflection, mutual support, professional development, and taking care to meet personal needs. Good practice requires regular and honest assessments of our resources and limitations as staff members and as an organization. We try to balance and integrate: practice and reflection, individual and group needs, staff-centered policies and practices, participant-centered policies and practices, play, and discipline.
- The spoken and written language we use to describe the AMTP and on forms, program information, and reports, must reflect our ethical beliefs. We are careful to speak about participants and families in the way that they would speak about themselves. Respectful and more accurate language means that we do not describe families as “dysfunctional,” nor do we describe teens as “troubled,” “disadvantaged,” or “at-risk.” Likewise, we do not portray youth and families as helpless victims, nor do we portray them as a threat to society. It is important to explain this policy to news reporters, and to check each other’s written documents.
- Sometimes we are asked to carry out disciplining efforts on behalf of the state, community, or school, and sometimes these efforts are contradictory to the way staff and participants understand the AMTP mentoring relationship. Likewise, we are sometimes expected to report information to school and agency staff about participant behavior and performance in school that is a breech of confidentiality in our relationships with participants and families. It is important for us to find ways to maintain respectful, confidential relationships with participants and families and at the same time maintain open, honest, and productive working relationships with the staff of schools and agencies. We share information only with the permission of participants and parents and only for the purpose of improving services or when sharing information can prevent harm. In most circumstances, we discuss this breach of confidentiality with the participant and, when it involves the family, we discuss the information being shared with the parents/guardians.
- Some youth are particularly targeted for harassment and abuse: children/teens that come from low-income families; children/teens who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or simply do not fit “acceptable” gender expectations; and children/teens that have physical/cognitive styles that are “different.” We believe that the lack of understanding, acceptance, and support for these children sometimes causes them unspeakable suffering. We have a special responsibility to advocate for these youth, to promote community awareness of these issues, and to provide a very safe AMTP community where diversity is embraced as positive and where everyone can participate fully.
AMTP’s statement of ethical beliefs and values was articulated during a discussion in April 1996 among Harvard Graduate School faculty consultants, AMTP Board members, and AMTP staff. It was agreed that staff members would discuss and reach consensus on the Core Beliefs and Values that support their practice. This written document was generated at a January 1997 staff retreat with Michael Dower, Holly Manoogian, Jeff Martel, Anna Birch, & Donna San Antonio present and discussed by the board of directors 10/97. It was reworked 6/97, 2/98, and 5/03. In June 2008, staff members Dan Kusch, Ronda Fernald, Kelly Ulrich, and Donna discussed this statement; minor changes were made. We use it for training and orientation of new board members, staff members and interns and it serves as our guiding principles which we reflect on and discuss on a regular basis.