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ONLINE JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 105 OCTOBER 2007 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

historical

Child management

Editors' Note: For those who must work with larger and/or difficult groups, for instance in youth justice or secure environments, and where order and predictability are necessary to a program, we are reminded that simple, practical and time-honoured methods of management are helpful. This document was compiled twenty or more years ago by Masud Hoghughi. The program concerned is not named.

1. Line Ups
Lining up children is a helpful group management technique. It is particularly useful before moving children from one situation to another. The benefits are:

(a) Sets a tone of order before departure;
(b) Aids distribution of children to escorts;
(c) Allows staff to state expectations clearly;
(d) Aids reception of expectations by children;
(e) Easy head count.

2. Calling Together
Calling children together at any time can defuse/resolve difficult situations. Quite simply if any aspect of individual or group behaviour is of concern to staff the group can be called together and presented with this concern. It is often the case that children are reassured when they know that staff are aware of emerging situations and will often compensate or self control when given the opportunity.

3. Phase Completion
In this place it is often the case that by nature of the intake and resources that daily life is hectic, and staff are subject to massive demands, often as a result of requests from children.

In such a situation staff can be bustled/rushed into decisions or action. This can leave them flustered. Phase completion reduces this possibility. Simply put, ‘phase completion’ means completing one task before embarking on the next. This particularly applies to early morning routines. The message to children is: “When we’ve done this — we’ll do that”.

4. Setting Expectations
Setting expectations is simply laying down prerequisite guidelines to children. This can usefully be employed for meal times and activities but can be central to the management of children in any situation. Examples might be:

“I want you to sit at the table quietly”.
“When we return to the house I want people to hang their towels on the rack and sit in the lounge”.
“When this film finishes I want people to tidy the lounge and go to their rooms”.

5. Tone Setting
Tone setting is directly to do with staff image. The image and attitudes displayed by staff have a major effect on the attitudes displayed by children and the prevailing atmosphere of the House.

A graphic example could be seen at bedtime and pre-bedtime when it is necessary to settle and calm the House. Noisy or boisterous behaviour or horseplay by staff with children would set an inappropriate tone — a tone which might be better applied during early morning call. Manners, the tone of voice and mode of addressing children, demeanour of staff, vitality etc., can all be consciously employed to directly affect the tone of the House, and resultant behaviour and demeanour of the children.

6.Individual Instruction
While there are many indirect techniques of child management inevitably there is the need for direct individual child instruction. This will be most noticeable at times of individual unacceptable behaviour when children must be told directly TO STOP. Staff should not shirk the responsibility of this direct intervention nor should staff see this as the only available technique through which they establish water-tight authority.

7. Adult Intervention
The ‘extreme’ nature of this program's intake often means that children have been through a succession of placements. Four to eight placements is usual. Many children will have been through the same establishments at different times. Some will have been in the same establishments at the same time. This can result in the arrival of an established ‘culture’ among children based on their previous experiences. Many children, after a residential career, are lost in the expectations of peers. It is essential to ‘break them out’ of such expectations and role conformity.

Adult intervention is necessary for a positive, stable and ‘secure’ culture in a house such as this. The often bizarre, impulsive, frightened and aggressive intake can produce a negative, unstable, unsafe culture rooted in bullying, thuggery, rudeness, madness and fear. It is essential that staff intervene when they see the emergence of such negative influences. This interference can be achieved by any of the range of management techniques described in this section as seems appropriate to prevailing circumstances. However direct statements/instruction/action observable by children (often victims) can be the best strategy for overall house stability.

An essential aspect of adult intervention is to be practically aware, through file information, when children have had previous contact and to sense when the resultant ‘culture’ occurs and to interrupt the ‘culture’. This intervention/interruption can be achieved by practical methods:

(a) Manipulating meal time seating;
(b) Keeping such children separate by bed plan;
(c) Manipulating seating in group meetings;
(d) Manipulating seating for T.V.
Manipulating: “You sit there — You sit there”.

It is not essential to give reasons but often the simple explanation based on the above and the need to assess the individual make sense to children. While there is often verbal and initial resistance to such interference (often based on maintaining role image for peers, since that is the known ‘safety’ factor) most children are relieved by the break in established ‘culture’/behaviour pattern.

A final area of adult intervention concerns noise level and excitement. Our type of intake will often thrive on and seek a chaotic environment and be resistant to or incapable of ordered thought and daily living. Noise and extremes of excitement level can be symptomatic of such children. It is important therefore that staff limit noise level and directly break up in activity of children who are getting over-excited. The noise level of radio, tapes and T.V., is included here.

8. Early Intervention
Early intervention by staff in managing children’s behaviour is often necessary. While it is possible to allow unacceptable behaviour or squabbling/fighting to run their course within boundaries protected by staff, early intervention in situations can avoid the escalation of behaviour into a serious incident category. Early intervention avoids:

(a) Escalation in intensity of behaviour;
(b) Additional members of the group participating in the behaviour;
(c) Deterioration in house atmosphere;
(d) The need for heavier management techniques.

Early intervention is particularly appropriate where children’s behaviour patterns are well known/established and where escalation is inevitable. Many of the range of management techniques are suitable.

9. Adult Protection
There are occasions when children are engaged in activities with other children or staff or merely sitting on their own when other children harrass them. Adults should protect the boundaries of such activity by direct intervention.

10. Diversion
Diversion is a child management technique which can be used to break down boredom, suspect pairings or groups, excitement etc. It is not necessary for children to observe or understand what is happening. Diversion can be employed across the spectrum of daily living. Diversion tactics include engaging in conversation, introducing newspaper articles, or an activity or asking for help with some chore.

11. Confronting — Not Confrontations
‘Confrontations’ are an inevitable corollary of living with disordered children. ‘Confrontations’ tend to be explosive with physical or verbal outbursts, they arise when child management techniques have not been employed, or when they have failed. Confrontations are not always avoidable and staff should not be personally over concerned when they do occur.

Confronting, though not ‘Confrontation’ is a child management technique. Confronting, simply put, is describing/detailing to the child his/her behaviour, and where necessary the effect of that behaviour on other people. Confronting children with their behaviour does not mean a heated argument; neither is it personal attack on the child. Ideally confronting children with their behaviour should be a calm descriptive exercise which can be used with individuals or in groups. It can be used after behaviour has been observed, or in an analysis of a current situation. When children realise that they are not being ‘picked on’ or blindly criticised they can be very receptive to this form of management, which though establishing control, reduces conflict.

12. Counselling
“Counselling” appears in social work as a term which covers many themes from a cosy chat to psychotherapy. Counselling in this program involves practical discussion of behaviour and difficulties presented by individual children. It is likely to be a response to:

(a) Adjustment to placement here.
(b) Questions asked about future placement;
(c) Implications of past behaviour for future;
(d) Aspects of present behaviour and their effects;
(e) Avoiding confrontations;
(f) Ways of resolving confrontations;
(g) Preparation for future placement;
(h) Adjusting child to management techniques;
(i) Aiding child’s recognition of patterns of behaviour.

The skills of counselling in this context are mechanical and deliberately simplistic in nature. Lengthy, involved discussions are likely to do little other than confuse the children. However, if opportunity arises, listening to the children is likely to help them begin to analyse their own history and problems. The elements of such basic counselling would include:

(a) This aspect of your behaviour in this circumstance leads to this outcome.
(b) This aspect of your behaviour taken from this situation will lead to this outcome.

Counselling often involves asking questions to try to establish the factors which affect the stability or circumstances of the child.

13. Isolating Out/Cooling Off
There are many “heat of the moment” situations between children, or with individual children which necessitate their being separated from each other or from the group. This isolating out action is to be used to give children a chance to ‘cool off’ and to regain their self control. This action should not be confused with a longer term additional measure of control nor would it automatically constitute or be followed by a sanction. In many instances the ideal end result is an early return to the group. Isolating out is best used with follow-up counselling before a child is restored to the group. Situations where isolating out might be appropriate are:

(a) After a physical confrontation between children;
(b) After a child’s refusal to follow an instruction or conform to other child management technique;
(c) When child is wanting to opt out of activities or education;
(d) When a child has been particularly boisterous and seems unable to self control.

14. Use of Humour
Humour and general cheerfulness can have a markedly positive effect on individual children and groups. Care should be taken to use humour at appropriate times, however. Humour can short circuit a limit setting action by another staff distracting from the focus of attention on that staff, or desired tone of house at specific times.

Inappropriate humour in terms of content should also be guarded against. Lewd jokes or jokes with an overt sexual or swearing content are not helpful to tone setting. Resist the temptation to be a ‘good bloke’ through such humour. Do not ridicule children.

15. Daily Living Routines
Daily living routines are well established here. They should remain so. While the routines are inevitably institutional in nature normality within routine rather than forced routine should be worked for. Smooth running daily routines bring order to the day and predictability to children’s lives. The relevant routine sheets should be adhered to.

16. Use of Ears and Eyes (Awareness)
A major aid to child management is simply staff keeping their ears and eyes open. It is possible to heighten hearing and observation skills and when children realise that staff have high awareness ability much unacceptable behaviour can be prevented. Staff awareness is a key skill and one which the new or experienced staff should constantly work at. The inexperienced staff may lack confidence in pure child management techniques but he/she has eyes and ears which can provide information for more experienced staff to work with.

Our staff should liken their work to driving a car. It is very simple to drive in top gear very fast on the motorway. There is seemingly little danger in driving through town at 39 m.p.h. The good driver, however, is always looking ahead and preparing for the unexpected, but predictable hazards which experience teaches can arise. An alertness to the likely unexpected always allows for avoiding action.