Talking with Youth by GAL Sarah Yarborough

Sarah Yarbrough has represented the best interests of Colorado children and youth as a GAL in Arapahoe County for eight years. Sarah has consistently received positive feedback about her efforts to engage and empower the children and youth whose best interests she represents.

Read below to find some of Sarah’s tips for talking with youth.

  • The most important thing to remember is that there is no one right way to talk to children. Every child is different. Every child may need a different thing. Find out what works best for each child and be willing to adapt to what they need.
  • Don’t be offended if you have to repeat yourself. Kids can be forgetful, and the stress of their situation can make them even more forgetful.
  • Build trust. Do not lie. Follow through with what you say you are going to do. Own up to your mistakes. We are all human and we all make mistakes.
  • Try not to compare your life to theirs. Children, especially teenagers, do not care if you had the same life or even a similar life. Their life is hard right now and they do not want or need to hear your comparison.
  • Talk with them in a similar language. Do not use big words. Try to learn their lingo. Having a child make fun of you after you try to use their lingo is a great way to build rapport. 😊 Explain legal terms in words children can relate to. A few examples follow:
    • I sometimes describe a judge as a principal and a magistrate as a vice principal.
    • I sometimes explain “best interests” through an example. “I want you to go hang out with your friends. You want to come home at 2:00 a.m. I think it is best for you to come home at 11:00 p.m. Either way, you still get to hang out with your friends.
    • I sometimes explain confidentiality by saying “I cannot keep your secrets.”
    • When I am working with a Case Consultant, I use a team example. I explain that my case consultant and I are a team. Anything a child tells my case consultant will get back to me, and vice versa.
  • Food is always a way to get children to open-up and start talking!
  • Make sure that someone on the GAL team has contact with each child at least once a month. Such contact can be in-person, over the telephone, over text, Skype, etc.! I try to communicate with children the way they want to communicate. As an example, I frequently communicate with teenagers via social media platforms and/or text because social media and/or texts are their preferred means of contact.
  • Be willing to compromise. Make space for children to come to you with ideas. Even when their ideas cause you concern, listen and try to compromise. Doing so allows children to feel heard and shows children that the answer will not always be no.