VOLUME 12 NUMBER 3
Editorial: On the Fear of
Contact, the Need for Touch, and Creating Youth Care Contexts Where
Touching is Okay / Thom Garfat
1 Sanctioning Violence in Parenting: Canada's Ongoing
Discrimination Against Children / Tammy Schilbe
15 Child and
Youth Care Work in Schools: The Tale of Four Widgets / Duane K.
Application of Play / Don Pazaratz
and Illness in a Residential Care Setting and Their Implications for
First Aid Training / Donovan Hoggan
Healthful Effects of Laughter / Christine Puder
Toward Awareness: Self-Awareness in Ethical Decision-Making for Child
and Youth Care Workers / Iris Elsdon
Processes for Interventions: Working with High-Risk Adolescents and
Their Families / Mary Ballantyne, Grant Macdonald, and Leslie
Children are our most important resource. Youth are the caretakers of
tomorrow. In these and other platitudes we sing the praise of youth. But
how do we treat young people when writing laws in this country? In Sanctioning
Violence in Parenting: Canada's Ongoing Discrimination Against Children,
Tammy Schilbe challenges these platitudes through an examination of how
we fail to protect children and youth from legally sanctioned violence.
It is a political and provocative read.
We often hear reference to
school-based youth care work, but those of us who work in other
environments wonder about some things. Who, for example, is the
school-based child and youth care worker? 'What does this worker do? How
are widgets relevant? These questions are answered by Duane Seibel in Child
and Youth Care Work in Schools: The Tale of Four Widgets, based on
his master's research in British Columbia. Are the results relevant to
other locations? Ah, there's another question for someone else to
Young people play all the time.
It is part of human nature. But do we play with them enough ourselves?
And why would we? What would be the purpose of doing so? In his article,
Therapeutic Application of Play, Don Pazaratz attempts to
answer these and a few other questions through a case example of his
work using play and playfulness.
How frequently do young people
in care, or staff, get hurt or become ill? And what kind of illness
and/or injury do they experience? Knowing the answer to these questions
could help us to determine what raining staff need. In Injuries and
Illness in a Residential Care Setting and Their Implications for First
Aid Training, Donovan Hoggan sets out to find an answer to these
questions in his own setting. As well as offering some interesting
information, this article demonstrates how simple in-house research
projects can help to answer important questions about where and how our
resources should be distributed.
As well as playing, we should
learn to laugh with young people and their families. In her article, The
Healthful Effects of Laughter, Christine Puder helps us to
understand a little more about how laughter is a therapeutic influence
Self-awareness is commonly cited
as an essential element of effective youth care practice. In Educating
Toward Awareness: Self Awareness in Ethical Decision-Making for Child
and Youth Care Workers, Iris Elsdon argues for the importance of
including self-awareness training as part of the basic education for
child and youth care workers. Her article is also a nice example of
drawing from current experiencing to develop theory and recommendations.
Across the country child and
youth care workers are being asked (and demanding) to be involved with
families. In Fundamental Processes for Interventions: Working with
High-Risk Adolescents and their Families, Mary Ballantyne, Grant
Macdonald, and Leslie Raymond highlight some of the essential
characteristics necessary for workers to be effective in this area. Once
again, relationship, the essence of effective youth care practice, takes
In Travels with My Unit,
Garth Goodwin offers some timely advice for those of us thinking about
undertaking a voyage with the youth in our care. It also points out some
of the potential value of such an activity.
We also include our regular
features: Ask Charlotte, Views from the Field, and Journal
Thom Garfat, PhD.
All across this country youth
who live in group care, and many others involved in professional
relationships with youth care workers, are being deprived of a basic
human necessity � physical contact. As the years have gone on, and the
incidents and accusations have mounted, youth care workers in group
homes, residential centres, schools, and other care-giving programs have
begun to move away, physically, from the youth in their care.
Fear seems to drive us; fear of
accusations, fear of losing our employment, fear of having to give up
this work that we love. I understand that fear. Many of us have
colleagues who have been dragged in to the quagmire of accusations about
inappropriate touch. So we become afraid, back away, and withhold. We
back away from the youth and withhold the most basic human experience,
the experience of being touched by another person.
I want to make a distinction
here: between those who would touch youth in the most normal and healthy
of ways; a pat on the back, a touch on the shoulder, a comforting hug
when the world is a difficult place, a hand held in a moment of crisis,
and those who use the opportunity to touch a young person as an
opportunity to satisfy their own needs and desires. Like many of you, I
have no patience for those who use children and youth for their own
gain, to satisfy some obnoxious need that they cannot meet in a healthy
manner in their own lives. This isn't about them. This is about us, you
and I, and our colleagues who are in this work for the right reasons,
not to satisfy the needs we can't meet in the other, personal, areas of
our lives. This is about the healthy majority, those who care for
children and youth because it is the right thing to do, because it is
part of what makes us human, draws us to this field and ultimately gives
us the satisfaction of feeling that we have made a contribution to the
lives of others.
How the world has changed. Ten
years ago I would not have even felt the necessity to make that
distinction. But we have become so afraid, so paranoid (dare I use the
word) about others mis-interpreting our meaning in this area of physical
contact that I feel these days, the need to be careful. To make sure. To
be safe. And it seems wrong to me that I should have to do this. But
this feeling is rampant in our work.
Look around you. See the
political safety and the paranoia in action. Additional staffing so that
staff of one gender aren't alone in a unit with youth of a different
gender. Hugs from the side. Conversations with the doors open. People
asking permission of other people to touch them on the shoulder.
Children pushed back when they reach out for the most basic thing, human
Soon we will be running around
the units, schools, and family homes in space age contamination suits.
Our sight will be shielded by blinders like an old work horse trudging
through the fields. Our every move monitored by cameras. Acceptable
distances for appropriate interactions will be detailed in policy
manuals. Conversational words will be chosen from a list on the wall.
Touch will be filtered through a sense-denying rubber glove.
The contact of human flesh,
because it is forbidden, will become another of the taboos, sought
after, not because it is normal, but because it is forbidden. Youth will
sneak off in to corners to touch flesh � even just hand to hand �
the way they sneak off to smoke, drink, or engage in conversations which
are offensive to their caretakers. By forbidding something we make it
mysterious, an object of curiosity, attractive.
We have to stop this nonsense.
I know there is a danger in what
I am saying. Some of you will think I am off the wall, advocating the
return of touch to our work. Some of you, perverted in some
unexplainable way, may take this as permission to satisfy your needs by
touching inappropriately. But can we all be led by the devil in our
midst? Must all of our behavior be shaped by the worst among us? Does
control of this basic human element of relationship have to be left in
the hands of those who are evil in their intentions?
Must all children and youth
suffer, because there are a few inappropriate people in our profession?
Must all youth be denied contact because a few have mis-used their power
or position? Because that seems to be what we are in danger of doing.
It seems to me that we are
tackling this problem in the easy way and it is causing us problems.
Rather than taking on the challenge directly and weeding out those who
are inappropriate, rather than developing pro-active, positive training
which protects the staff and meet the needs of youth, rather than taking
our responsibility seriously, we have chosen the easiest route. We have
chosen the route of rules which forbid, regulations which make it easy
for incompetent supervisors, staff who are afraid to confront one
another, schools which are unable to teach, trainers who shy away from
the tough questions, and books that avoid.
Especially, we make rules. Rules
which cause us to ignore the needs of children and youth. Rules which
make it easy for management to set simple expectations. And this is the
easy way out. Setting the expectation �don�t� is always easier
that setting, and ensuring, the expectation `do'. Because there is no �how�
We are in the business of caring
for troubled children and youth. This is what we have chosen to do. This
is what is expected of us: to care for troubled children and youth. Let
me ask a simple question.
Have you ever been in a caring
relationship that didn't involve some form of touch? If touch was absent
and a person said they cared, could you believe it, unless that touch
was restricted by a physical characteristic on one of the partners to
I was in a workshop the other
day and a mother told the following story.
And this from a six year
was having trouble in school when she was only six years old. All year
long she told me how she didn't feel good about her teacher. They
never seemed to connect and much as I would try, going to meetings,
asking the teacher what was going on, we weren't able to figure out
what was wrong. Finally the year ended and we looked forward to
another teacher and another opportunity.
progressed. One day my daughter came to me and said �I know what was
wrong with my teacher last year�. I listened curiously, aware that
she had obviously been thinking about this for some time.
long,� she said, �he never touched me. Not once. I thought he
didn't like me.�
We all need to be touched. It is
part of being human. It is part of how we form attachments. It is part
of how we, as a race of people, express caring. It is one of the ways in
which we say to another person `you are of value, you are important, you
are worthy of being cared for'. It is a part of our culture and the
reality of the world we live in. I could quote to you the studies but
you already know that this is true. Besides, you've read the literature
about the importance of human touch in facilitating development, about
the feeling of isolation and rejection which people experience when
touch is withheld, about how touch is a necessary component in
developing experiences of attachment or, about how touch is one of the
ways in which we experience �connectedness� with one another.
So, what are we doing? Why are
we insisting in behaving in a manner that we know is contrary to the
growth and development of the youth in our care? Because we are afraid?
Because we are unable or unwilling to do our job? Because we don't know
what else to do?
There is another way. A way that
protects children from the inappropriate among us and still meets their
needs. A way that protects staff and still meets the needs of those in
our care. There is a better way, but it requires courage.
One of our major tasks is to
create environments of safety and security for young people;
environments of trust within which they can learn to relax, let go of
their fear, discover new possibilities for being in relationship and
move on to a different phase of their life, hopefully with less pain and
greater confidence. So, lets start there. Let's create environments of
trust where they, and we, can feel assured that young people will be
treated with dignity and respect and not have to worry about someone
taking advantage of them. Let's create environments where we can be
assured that touch is about health, not abuse. Let's take our
responsibility seriously. How? In no particular order, here are a few
1. Hire people who can be
trusted to be with young people.
There are tools available to help us do this. It means, of course, that
all new employees have to be carefully screened. There are child abuse
potential tests, police checks, hiring procedures that select in people
with the characteristics associated with being good youth care workers,
psychological tests which screen out people who have difficulty with
power and power in relationships and, personality profiles which
pinpoint people with distorted views of people, youth and relationships.
There are in-depth interviews which can be focused on who you are and
how you are in relationship rather than where you went to school, where
you worked, and what you know theoretically. And finally, take reference
checks seriously. Ask difficult questions of the person making the
reference, like were there ever times when s/he struggled with issues of
power in relationship with youth or; when personal business and needs
came up, what did the staff person do? Trust and the therapeutic
relationship go hand in hand; both are essential components of effective
youth care work. Youth need to be able to trust the people who are
working with them and to feel confident that trust will not be violated.
The characteristic of `being trustworthy' belongs in the hiring process.
Screening people in to, or out of, the field does not guarantee the
safety of youth. It is not enough to implement screening and then just
sit back and say �Oh, All our staff are screened�. It does not
provide another easy way out for those who would not take other
measures. It is not the escape from responsibility some would make it
appear. It is only one piece of the solution, not the solution itself.
2. Provide appropriate
supervision, both scheduled and on-the-floor.
Supervision lets the supervisor know how the staff are being in
relationship with young people and this has to be the most important
element. After all, most inappropriate touch happens in the context of a
relationship, and �in relationship� is where we see the elements on
the inappropriate use of power, the deference or compliance of youth,
and the distortion of boundaries between young people and workers. This
supervision, however, cannot just be of the common garden variety taking
place behind closed doors away from the relationship between youth and
workers. It must also be of the �on-the-floor�, �while they are
interacting� variety where the supervisor actually sees what is going
on, not just hears about it screened through the experiential frame of
the worker. Appropriate supervision provides an additional set of eyes
watching what is going on between youth and staff; sometimes in the
morning, sometimes in the day; and sometimes late in to the night. But
supervision does more than watch. It also provides support for the
worker, a place to sort out the sometimes confusing experiences the
worker has with the youth, a place to process feelings, thoughts, and
actions. A place to check in, to be sure, to be safe. And a place for
the supervisor to monitor the interactions between youth and staff.
Supervision and safety go hand in hand.
3. Have a zero tolerance
policy with regard to disrespect.
Disrespect is not just about abuse. Respect or disrespect is in
the little things, like labeling, disregarding opinions, being
inappropriately abrupt in responding to someone, or not seeking input.
Disrespect is about power. It is about whether or not we believe that
�other� has power in this relationship. When staff treat youth with
disrespect, they signal to the youth that the youth is of no value, or
only as much value as the �dis-respecter� cares to award to the
youth. In our work with young people we should tolerate no disrespect
towards the youth. They have frequently come from worlds in which they
were de-valued, or disrespected, on a daily basis. We don't want to
continue this experience for them. It is contrary to the very purpose of
our work: healing. When people are hired in to this work, our
expectations and guidelines should be made extremely clear, just as they
are if someone is going to work in medicine, education or any other
field. There are certain protocols which apply � if, for example, you
are going to work in an operating room, there are clear expectations
about dress, hygiene and performance and if you are going to work with
youth, there are protocols regarding self, relationship and respect
which apply. Once the guidelines are clear it is reasonable to expect
people to follow them. If a person cannot find it in themselves to
follow such guidelines, they should be working someplace else.
4. Create climates where
youth speak up if they don't �feel good�.
Young people in care sometimes speak of the group care environment, or
relationships with helpers, as a place where �nobody listens
anyway�. Sometimes young people talk of having tried to tell someone
something difficult only to have the worker focus on some aspect of the
form of communication rather than the content. If they aren�t being
heard, why should they speak? We need to create environments of trust,
support and the opportunity to be heard. It is not enough to say we
listen. We must also have vehicles, formal and informal, for youth to
communicate their concerns to us. Group meetings, individual
conversations, complaint procedures, abuse reporting procedures, peer
advocates: these are a few of the options available to us. And we need
to make sure that youth and staff know how to use these resources; that
they are clear, accessible and useful. We also have to be careful of a
sometimes unfortunate tendency to disregard what youth have to say
because the youth �is a liar� or has �made unproven accusations
before�. Just because it was not proven last time, does not mean it
did not happen this time. Each complaint needs to be reviewed in its own
light. But most importantly, youth must know that someone is hearing
what they have to say and the best way that I know of to create that
experience is to do something when youth bring a concern to you. It
doesn't have to be a big concern. It could be about the menu, the types
of activities, their experiences at work, their concerns about another
youth, feelings about how they are treated at school. We start with the
`everyday'. Once youth experience us as listening to their everyday
concerns, they may come to think we will listen about the other, bigger
things; like not feeling good or safe with someone on staff.
5. Teach staff how to
read, respect, and respond to feedback from touches.
Feedback is all around us. It is in the little things that people do:
how they move; the look on their faces; the slight hesitations in their
speech. Unfortunately, we don�t always pay close attention and, even
when we do, we often assume that we know what is going on, what is meant
by the feedback we experience. Seeing the feedback, for example, is one
thing. It simply requires that we be observant and know what we are
looking for. Respecting it, however, means that we must be interpreting
it accurately. And that requires help in interpretation; help from the
person who is giving the feedback. So, one of the things people need to
know how to do, is how to ask for help in interpreting the feedback.
Like when I touch a youth and the youth shies away. If I don�t ask for
the youth for help in interpretation I might assume the youth is
frightened, or shy, or physically uncomfortable, or any one of a number
of things. When I ask for help in interpreting the reaction, however, I
may come closer in my understanding of the meaning of the youth's
action. Once I am confident that my interpretation of the feedback is
more accurate, I am in a position to respond to the real meaning of the
feedback, not just my own speculation about what it means. The bonus to
this approach of checking out meaning, is that youth may come to realize
that you care about what they experience, and what their experience
means. This, in turn, opens up the door for more difficult discussions
and sets the stage for you to be wondering with them, what their
behavior means. Finally, if a youth seems to express an avoidance to
being around a certain person, we need to ask why.
6. Make psychological
safety and security a priority for staff and youth.
Often in working with troubled youth we talk about our concern for the
safety of the youth. Usually, when we do, we are talking abut the
physical safety of the young people. And if someone working with the
youth was to expose the youth to physical danger, we would be quick to
respond because of how we have prioritized physical safety as a concern.
We need to put psychological safety in the same place on our list or
priorities. Change that policy line from �the physical safety of young
people� to �the physical and psychological safety and security of
young people�. Once psychological security becomes a high priority,
then we will become more focused on it in out work. And this alone will
help to create a safer environment, psychologically as well as
7. Be careful of which
staff needs are not being met in relationships with youth.
We all have our own needs. We all work to have our needs met.
Most of our needs are met in the context of relationships with others.
We need to ensure that the people working with youth know that there is
the danger that they will use their relationships with young people to
satisfy their own needs. We need to help staff be self-aware enough to
recognize their own needs and when they are trying to have those needs
met. And then we need to help them to understand how this might happen
in their relationships with young people and what they should do if they
notice this in their work. Part of a supervisor's role is to help people
reflect on why they are doing what they are doing, and that includes
paying attention to need-meeting behaviors. I know that we are all
meeting our own needs in working with young people and their families:
the need to be helpful; the need to feel that our lives are meaningful
and; the need to care for others, for example. This is normal and even
healthy. It is how these needs are met that is important. And of course,
we must be concerned about staff meeting other, less healthy, needs in
their relationships with youth. The caring and treatment for troubled
youth is about meeting youths' needs, not the needs of staff. This, and
this alone, should be our primary goal.
8. Teach people to touch
There are such things as �good touch and bad touch� and everyone,
both staff and young people, need to be able to make this distinction.
We need to spend time educating everyone about the difference so that we
all have a common reference point when having discussions about what is
appropriate and what is not. As well, we need to remember that not
everyone likes to be touched in the same way. Not all gestures are
interpreted in the same way by different people. Some people enter in to
relationships without taking the time to discriminate how things, like
touch, have different meanings to different people. Part of touching
appropriately, is touching in a discriminate manner. Part of touching
therapeutically, is also knowing when not to touch.
9. Hold each other
I don't know why it is that we seem so hesitant to confront one another,
to challenge the practices of one another or to simply intervene when we
feel that one of our team mates is being inappropriate. I don't mean
confrontation about the really big things. I mean with the little
things, the things that are the precursors to inappropriate touching.
Like violating boundaries or misusing power or simply being verbally
inappropriate with youth. I believe that if we were to hold one another
accountable our programs would be a safer place for children and youth.
Really, if you think about it, every time we fail to confront a
colleague who is doing something which is not in the best interests of
the child we contribute to the creation of inappropriate, and possibly
abusive, environments. So, we have an ethical and a moral responsibility
to monitor, and provide feedback on, the performance of our colleagues
and to accept their feedback on ours. Every time we avoid a
confrontation that is necessary, we send a message that the
inappropriate behavior is okay.
10. Eliminate people who
don�t feel right.
Now there is a thought destined to strike fear in to the hearts of those
afraid to do their jobs. No. No. Don't tell me why it is impossible.
I�ve worked in those environments for over twenty-five years and I
know that, if it is truly in the best interests of children and youth,
it can be done. I had a mentor once who said �if that person shouldn't
be with children and you don�t get them to leave, you are responsible
for whatever follows�. Who would want to wear that guilt? If the youth
consistently don't feel good around someone, that person shouldn't be in
the field. Unionized or not, people who don�t feel good to youth
shouldn't have the opportunity to work with them.
I know that the foregoing is not
going to eliminate all the incidences of inappropriate touching, but it
will help to create safer environments for youth and staff. Youth will
feel safer and staff will feel more secure. And if we all feel a little
more safe and secure, we can all begin to relax a little, and we can
make sure that what we eliminate from the field is only inappropriate
touch, not all touching.
Remember, touch is part of human
nature, touch is developmentally necessary, touch is part of healing,
touch is a form of communication and touch builds bridges. And remember
what the little girl said:
long he never touched me. Not once. I thought he didn�t like me.�