CANEI is an established, award-winning, multi-pronged program that provides care to male and female youth between the ages of 12-18 with histories of aggressive, defiant or violent behavior. It supports both individuals and their families on an ongoing, intensive basis. CANEI is a program that seeks to transform youth in mind, heart and soul. CANEI, properly implemented, touches youth at the deepest level; a core objective of CANEI is that it be the last formal treatment program that at-risk youth will ever need to complete.
CANEI has been implemented in a clinical and social work setting and is viewed as one of the most advanced treatment programs for youth-at-risk in the United States today. CANEI was recently named the Innovative Program of the Year by the Council on Accreditation, a widely respected organization that sets exacting standards for human service agencies As powerful a transformative program as CANEI has proven to be in this setting, the Center believe that it’s greatest potential both in transformative capability and in cost-effective reach, remains untapped.
CANEI is the creation of two individuals who’s life stories embody forgiveness, nonviolence and compassion. Azim Khamisa’s world was shattered when his 19 year old son was randomly shot by a 14 year old as part of a gang initiation. Azim’s spiritual training allowed him to grasp that there were victims at both ends of the gun. He reached out to the perpetrator’s guardian, forgave his son’s murderer and gave up the comfortable life of an investment banker to establish programs that help thousands of school children understand that there are alternatives to violence and the cycle of destruction it brings.
As a young child, Mubarak Awad saw his father killed in a Middle East conflict. His mother had no resources so he was placed in an orphanage. But he never forgot her words which stopped him cold when he was reaching for a gun to go after his father’s Israeli killers: “So you would make another child suffer like you.” Mubarak came to the United States and has dedicated his life to helping kids, keeping them out of institutions and to the promotion of nonviolence throughout the world.
Azim and Mubarak are principals in the Center for Peace and Youth and actively inspire CANEI workers, youth and families with their personal stories. They both wish to see the program expanded from a narrow clinical context and offered more broadly, using the resources of organizations of spiritual practitioners. In this way, CANEI can become more deeply transformational, more cost effective and more widely available.
The Elements of CANEI
The program is built on three pillars: spirituality, restorative justice, and literacy.
- Spirituality – The spiritual component of CANEI is not associated with any particular religion or even any religion at all. “Spirituality” in the CANEI context is a structured exploration of one’s values, attitudes and place in the world. Spirituality in this context is the discovery of self-worth, inter-connectedness, forgiveness and compassion. Using a variety of mediums, CANEI nurtures personal growth by helping young people develop conflict resolution skills and effective decision-making philosophies. Youth learn how to accept responsibility for their choices and actions. Meditation, journal writing, expressive arts, tai chi, even African drumming, are examples of techniques that can be used in this program component. The behavioral, emotional and neurological benefits of practices of this nature have been amply documented.
- Restorative Justice – Restorative Justice is a recovery model that recognizes that a single incident of aggressive or violent behavior affects both the victim and the perpetrator. Justice requires making the victim(s), or the society at large, whole (to the extent possible) and integrating the perpetrator into society as a contributing member while healing the community.
- Literacy – The essential skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are the building blocks of successful participation in the workforce. We do not learn to read and write, but we read and write to learn a life-long process. All youth involved in the CANEI program participate in educational opportunities to master basic skills.
CANEI is committed to helping youth develop a culture that demands honesty, personal accountability, and service to others as well as providing the opportunity for individual growth and recovery. Personal insight is essential to the development of healthy relationships with family and friends, increased positive performance in school, and a marked desire to make positive contributions to society. Helping youth build a foundation of honesty and resilience is key.
CANEI’s model involves working with youth in small cluster groups. While participants are encouraged to develop trusting relationships within these clusters (with staff and other youth), the goal is not for them to become dependent on the group, Youth who participate in CANEI are part of the larger community and must learn to function within multiple groups (home, community, school, etc…) in order to be successful. The CANEI program helps each youth develop the skills and positive self image that encourages continued growth after graduation from the program itself.
During the first phase of the CANEI program, each youth will begin to describe his or her life story as a way to begin their own therapeutic healing and to take a positive first step to accept help from other youth members who face similar challenges in life (and eventually to reach out to others). The second aspect of this Life Story phase is for the youth to share their interpretation of their problems. This is to begin to build an understanding of the roles of accountability and personal responsibility as well as to continue to increase the youth’s personal insight and awareness of issues that created unhealthy behaviors.
Also during this phase, where applicable, the staff’s role is to advocate for the courts and the local child-placing agencies to transition CANEI youth out of institutional settings and into community/family-based placements.
CANEI participants spend two hours each week in a group session with up to 15 other youth for twenty six to fifty two weeks. At least two additional hours weekly will also be devoted to the literacy component and time is also allocated for service learning (restorative projects), meetings with the youth’s family and special sessions that are developed to help the youth meet his or her need in an open society. These meetings, and other activities, are facilitated by trained staff we call “practitioners”. Each practitioner will be assigned three or four youth.
Youth during this phase will experience improvement in educational function as well as functional success in their family setting. Depending on their family situation, many youth in this phase will return from their out-of-home placements and begin to function more successfully in their home communities.
In this same spirit families and communities come together in support of one another and the youth in the CANEI program, which helps restore trust and respect in the home and larger community. Much emphasis during this second phase and in the third phase is placed on addressing and improving family relationships so that youth can begin to prepare to deal with future relationships.
Relationship within the Family and Community
CANEI youth further develop their plans to successfully re-enter their communities and the challenges they will face. Critical to this plan is developing coping mechanisms for when they are no longer supported by a CANEI group. Each youth will prepare and present to their family foster parent a “personal relapse prevention plan” that identifies triggers for negative behavior. Alerting parents to the warning signs of relapse provides added support for the youth. It opens the lines of communication for families to work together to prevent relapses in behavior. CANEI participants also learn skills during this phase to help them develop positive friendships and end destructive relationships.
In preparation for successful re-entry into their families and communities and as CANEI participants begin to internalize the culture of personal accountability and growth, youth are encouraged to work with others who are in different phases of the program. Where appropriate, they will be hired as advocates to work with other CANEI program participants.
Staff Structure and Evaluation for the CANEI Program
CANEI staff are trained in each of the phases of the program, as well as intensive training in group dynamic, conflict resolution and nonviolence.
CANEI staff also work with the foster parents (where applicable) and caregiver environment to support the family in developing a culture of change so that youth will be less likely to experience relapses. Each group coordinator and practitioner will be supervised by a Team Leader who may work with the youth in other areas such as mental health, drug or alcohol treatment, and any other specialized treatment that contributes to the therapeutic plan.
Staff are evaluated regularly and their group meetings are monitored in order to help them improve their performance. Supervisory staff, including Azim and Mubarak, provide assistance to CANEI to ensure youth participation and motivation and improve family support and coordination.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson