International Child and Youth Care Network
Controlling or Managing Behavior:
Jack Phelan, Edmonton, Alberta
Every Child and Youth Care agency, every Child and Youth Care supervisor and indeed every Child and Youth Care practitioner has to constantly decide which of these two approaches they choose to believe in as an effective way to deal with children and youth. Unfortunately, people on the same team working with youth can have different beliefs and approaches based on those beliefs, and this creates some typically frustrating discussions at meetings.
Youth in our programs experience the demonstration of these differing beliefs and can accurately describe who is on each side of this metaphorical fence. I like to describe it as the choice between having a treatment program or a justice program.
Programs based on controlling behavior typically are problem-focused and describe the goals for youth as eliminating the specific behaviors which are problematic. Treatment plans are quite linear, detailing problems and describing how the youth will be ready to leave when the problematic behavior has ceased to occur.
These programs tend to adopt a mantra of “consistency” and try to treat all similar behaviors with the same response. Even when a youth doesn’t require a controlling response, for example when some behavior is created by anxiety or impulsivity rather than deliberate choice, the behavior is punished because justice must be seen to be served by the other youth and staff.
A metaphor that may be useful: Child and Youth Care staff can picture themselves as being the lifeguard at a pool, sitting on a high seat and blowing a whistle when they observe inappropriate or unsafe behavior, or they can picture themselves in the pool with the youth, creating safety and useful behaviors by being with the youth.
I believe that both types of beliefs are constantly vying for prominence on most teams and in many agencies. It is important to bring these differences forward in a clear way so that the issue can be openly discussed. My hope is that more people will opt for managing behavior and treatment programs, but either way, at least everyone can be clear about the program goals.