The Year-2000 model: Child and Youth Care Worker User's Manual
Merle Allsopp and Brian Gannon
Congratulations on the acquisition of your new child and youth care worker. Obviously you have taken great care in the selection of this model, and provided that you follow the guidelines in this User's Manual, she should give you many years of satisfying and trouble-free service. Improper handling will shorten the working life of your child care worker. It is recommended that you apply these guidelines consistently; sporadic application will not yield the same results.
Note: Depending on your own experience and level of skill as an employer or team leader, you may need to make greater or less use of this Manual. In any event, a survey of its contents may help remind you of aspects you have forgotten — or perhaps even grown over-familiar with.
Placing your child care worker
The child and youth care worker requires a prepared and established operating environment. It is assumed that she will be placed in a physical and professional situation which is conducive to the good care and growth of young people, and that the facilities, resources and infrastructure she needs for her work will be available to her.
Place your child and youth care worker in a position where there is room to grow: her functioning becomes stereotyped and stunted if there is no space for her to discover and develop herself.
Do not keep her in the dark: best results are achieved when she has optimal information about your organisation and the children she works with.
Care should be taken that your child and youth care worker is properly installed. This implies that she is formally commissioned with an employment contract and a clear job description. Ensure that she is correctly connected up to the lines of authority and information in your organisation.
This unit has not been run-in on the factory bench. Attention to the running in period of between one and three months will ensure better operating performance in the long term. The child and youth care worker needs the opportunity to familiarise herself thoroughly with all other components of your service. Mere introductions are usually insufficient, and you should program her running in period in such a way that she comes to understand the functions of all others on your staff. This contributes to good team functioning.
The new care worker should not be placed under a full workload immediately. A period of working alongside an experienced worker exposes her safely to knowledge of your organisation's working methods and its clientele, and assists her with the personal adjustments she is making in her new job.
The on-off switch
The child and youth care worker requires particular help from your program and timetable in being turned on and off. Whenever possible, when not specifically on duty, the unit should be firmly switched off. Leaving your child care worker in a vaguely defined "on call" or "stand by" position for long periods exposes her to "trickle" levels of stress which are often more tiring than full duty periods. Your child care worker should know clearly when she is expected to on on-duty, on stand-by and off-duty.
Your child care worker is designed to operate in a number of operating modes. These include domestic (otherwise called household or primary caregiving mode), paperwork, educative, recreational, therapeutic, consultative and learning modes. The child care worker flourishes when given the chance to develop all of these operating modes, and through this may also come to recognise and cultivate special skills of benefit to your organisation. At times, two or more of these operating modes may be selected simultaneously, for example, around the dinner table she may be operating in domestic, educative and recreational modes. Nevertheless, due regard should be given to her need for specific scheduled time for each one of these modes. For example, if you expect her to do paperwork in the form of reports or logs, she should be switched firmly to this mode and be regarded as on duty — not expected to squeeze her paperwork in when working in another mode. The same is true when she is in learning mode: her attempts to improve her knowledge and skills are ultimately of benefit to your organisation and its clientele, and should be provided for in your time scheduling.
Input and output sockets
Your child and youth care worker is equipped not only with output sockets — which deliver her service to your organisation and children, as well as her communications and interactions with others. The input sockets are equally important if you wish to derive maximum service from the worker. It is not sufficient to use only the Salary input socket and the Rules and Regulations socket. Good results are obtained when adequate use is made of the Information, Teaching and Personal Caring sockets.
The child and youth care worker rapidly becomes debilitated when run for long periods using only the output sockets, and in such circumstances the unit could actually burn out.
The child and youth care worker will not work well in isolation and is uniquely equipped to network with a number of peripheral systems. These include her colleagues, her superiors, her own life systems and her family, the wider community, as well as the child care profession at large. The interface links with all of these systems should be unobstructed and regularly monitored. A child care worker who has no links with the social, cultural and spiritual systems in her community becomes impoverished and unstimulating to the children. A child care worker who does not have regular time for interaction with her own family and friends becomes over-involved and even resentful.
The child care worker will deliver best service if run for evenly-spaced and regular duty periods. Overlong duty periods, or running for too long in only one operating mode, result in the build-up of fatigue and emotionally toxic residues which affect her performance. A child and youth care worker in this condition demonstrates poor fuel efficiency, in that while she may appear to be "on duty", you are getting poor service for your money.
Your child care worker is equipped with a number of indicator gauges and warning lights, but it often requires an experienced employer to read the variety of signals emitted.
You may assume that the GREEN LIGHT (all systems functioning satisfactorily) is shining when your child care worker interacts with adults and children in the community with normal and friendly social competence, communicates well verbally, and demonstrates enthusiasm about her personal life.
The ORANGE LIGHT (system malfunction warning) is on when she is frequently too busy to attend all meetings or training sessions, when she begins to spend too much time hidden away in her unit or communicates negative feelings non-verbally (with sighs, gestures of despair, slamming of doors, etc.) or aggressively (shouting at children, being impatient).
When the RED LIGHT (system breakdown) lights up, the unit must be switched off and taken off-line immediately. The red light condition is indicated by inability to negotiate or compromise, by hostile communications, by frequent excuses and defensive behaviour — and indirectly by an increase in difficult behaviour from the children in the unit.
Note: Attention must also be regularly paid to the FUEL LOW and OVER-HEATING indicators.
The unit should not be unnecessarily exposed to extremes of emotional weather, and when extremes do occur in the course of her work with troubled children, adequate shelter, protection and guidance should be available. The unit needs regular polishing and shining up, using a good quality of recognition and praise for work well done (which includes routine work as well as special efforts during difficult or busy times). Regular exercise is important, as is stroking.
Routine minor servicing
The unit should be taken off-line at least once per week for a status check which takes place in the supervision period. Here it is ascertained that the unit is performing tasks as allocated and functioning according to plan. At the same time guidance may be given as to any skills and methods needed for the proper performance of those tasks, and further learning needs identified. For example, the child and youth care worker may for the first time be encountering a particular emotional or behavioural problem in a child in the unit, and may be referred to some reading, or even a course, to improve her knowledge of the problem. This is a time when future plans and developments may be communicated and discussed, so that the care worker is prepared for and not taken by surprise by changes or new tasks. Supervision is also the time when gauges and warning lights are checked, to ensure that she, as a person, is coping adequately and happily with her stressful job.
The unit should also be switched off (see on-off switch) at least two full days of every week for a short B.R.E.A.K. (see Major Servicing for explanation of this word). Some child care workers resist the need for this weekly B.R.E.A.K. and compulsively remain in a "standby", or worse, an operational state during this period. In this event employers should act decisively and pull the child care worker's plug out.
At least once a year the unit should be given a major service. This includes two components :
Review and evaluation. The child care worker requires an annual check during which professional and personal growth and performance may be scrutinised. Some agencies require staff evaluation for the purposes of salary increments, but in any event an evaluation, in which both worker and supervisor participate. is an essential annual rite. Feedback from weekly supervision is summarised and consolidated, and planning for the coming year can be done.
B. R. E. A. K. (Battery Recharge in Environment Away from Kids.) After eleven months of work in a children's unit, the average child and youth care worker's indicator and warning lights start to give confusing and conflicting messages, due to erratic power supply or even battery failure. This is remedied by disconnecting the entire unit and sending it away (anywhere) for at least three weeks. The child care worker should function perfectly on full power after a BREAK. If not, check for environmental and operating faults.
Child and youth care workers are highly complex and it is not possible to give an exhaustive list of problems with their diagnosis and solutions. A few are given here as examples:
Problem: Child care worker appears grumpy with children and colleagues or gets snappy or sarcastic. Often due to overload and irregular minor servicing. Check workload — not just visible task and time allocation but also emotional intensity of tasks. Check worker's capacity for seeking guidance in supervision, and also her personal time-management skills. Reprogram where necessary. Check recreational patterns and assist if necessary.
Problem: Child and youth care worker operates rigidly or defensively, making excessive demands on children and on herself. Due to inadequate job description or unrealistic task allocation. When child care workers feel they cannot live up to agency demands, they often go into an automaton-like pseudo-operating mode which seeks to demonstrate their coping ability rather than to do the job itself. Check networking interfaces. Restate clearly the agency's or team's responsibility for the children's problems and behaviour and the realistic intervention goals you are setting.
Problem: Child care worker fails to deliver on time: reports late, study avoided, appointments not kept. Caused by unclear time scheduling or inappropriate time allocation to specific tasks. Check Operating Mode switch. Is adequate agency time (on-duty time) devoted to paperwork or study? Check supervision process: is worker avoiding new tasks by over-emphasising those she can manage? Also check whether child care worker is perhaps needing to specialise in an area where she really has a lot to offer the agency, but is prevented by being kept in an inappropriate post, e.g. spending "too much" time in creative, recreational or cultural activities to manage other aspects of her present position.
Problem: Child care worker is hostile and unco-operative with superiors. Often caused by poor connection to authority and communication lines. Ensure that information is being fully shared and that worker is included in planning. Also caused by inadequate facilities in working environment ("How can you expect me to ..."?). Are materials, transport, domestic assistance, provisions and resources adequate to support the work expected?
Replacement and trade-in value
The time will come when you have to replace your child and youth care worker. The condition of the child care worker who is leaving you is of great significance to your agency, and is noticed by both her colleagues and by the newer model who replaces her.
The best reasons to be able to give for replacing a child care worker include: she is going to further her studies; she is going to retire to her cottage by the sea; personal or family reasons (e.g. her husband is to be transferred) make it necessary for her to relocate. Newcomers to your agency, and colleagues, are inspired and encouraged when your old model leaves in as good or even better condition than when you acquired her. This indicates to them that you looked after her, encouraged her to grow, and generally followed the maker's instructions as set out in this User's Manual. You will find that her trade-in value (calculated in terms of the contribution she made to the children, the profession and society at large) is high.
Trade-in value is low when your child care worker leaves you in poor condition, tired, disillusioned, hurt or resentful. That often means that users have been remiss about use of the input sockets, have not encouraged professional and personal growth, and have largely ignored the temperature and pressure gauges. This may say something about your agency's caring — to newcomers, to other staff and, above all, to the children.