More on punishment
Punishment and the way it reinforces CYC staff by reducing anxiety is the topic I would like to continue from last month.
I attended a CYC conference in Ontario in June and a keynote speaker, Keith Lindsay, made a powerful impression with his remarks. He stated that CYC staff in most agencies typically divide into three types. The first type is the informed and professionally motivated people who are trying to influence the team to be creative and theoretically focused. The second type is people who have little interest in thinking or learning new ideas, and just want to get through each shift with a minimum of discomfort. The third group, about 50% of the team, will follow whichever of the above two types is more influential.
The use of punishment as a typical style of response to youth is directly connected to the influence exerted by these types of staff.
It is amazing to me that CYC practitioners will usually agree that punishment and other forms of external control have limited usefulness, since most youth revert to old patterns of behavior on discharge from our programs. The development of self-control and motivation to change is rarely built on experiences of punishment and control. So why use this response when it is clearly ineffectual in creating the results for youth that our agency’s mission and mandate so eloquently proclaim?
I believe that when the staff is influenced to get through each day with a minimum of discomfort, the focus inexorably shifts from youths’ needs to staff’s needs. CYC team meetings focus on good order and compliance with rules and routines, because these behaviors make the day go smoothly. Certainly there is a basic level of safety and predictability that requires an emphasis on these things, but when this is the main focus, effective treatment does not happen.
Some indicators of staff comfort being a higher priority than good practice include programs that have a “quiet time” as soon as the youth return from sitting all day at school, so that staff can have a shift exchange meeting, punishing a youth who is too impulse driven to have good self control because you want to send a message to the other youth about behavioral expectations, or just punishing a youth because something had to be done about that behavior, even when you know that it is not a useful response. Overuse of external control approaches, easily seen by visiting CYC practitioners, indicate an agency where staff needs are the priority.
CYC supervisors have the obligation to push back against this dynamic, but they are often doing just the opposite, because for many good behavior means good programming.
Creative, relational CYC practice does not include punishment, except in very small doses. Competent CYC staff do not need punishment to relieve their anxiety, since they are self-reflective, competent and supportive of each other.