NUMBER 7 23 APRIL 2002 NEW BEGINNINGS
INDEX OF QUOTES
My introduction to child care work was swift and abrupt. I arrived at 6:45 A.M. on my first day and walked to the second floor of the treatment center where I was greeted by several emotionally disturbed boys ages nine to 16. After telling them that I was new and could not answer their requests for toothbrushes and sheets, and fumbling my way through a few nasty comments and threats from them, I went into the child care office where I found my colleagues having a last cup of coffee. We introduced ourselves and then divvied up the children and tasks according to a formula that seemed both familiar and frustrating to the workers. Eva would put away linen. Nick would take the eight boys on the west end of the hall, I had the nine boys on the east end, and so on. Then we went off to get the children dressed and ready for school, tasks that I had absolutely no preparation for, and for which my colleagues were unable to offer much help because they were overwhelmed with their own duties.
The job in those days was utter chaos. We never really knew which boys wed have on any given day. Success, it seemed, was getting through a shift without anyone getting hurt and with everyone fed and clothed. Activities were conducted to occupy time. Discipline was the primary method of intervention. Chores and daily living routines were troublesome necessities. We were custodians most of the time.
Treatment plans were supposed to be compiled at weekly two-hour staff meetings where about 20 staff members tried to talk about 36 children. This, of course, was impossible. So these meetings usually resulted in having the psychiatrist, who had seen each child for perhaps one hour in a six-month period, prescribe individual plans that most of us either never grasped or quickly forgot.
A few months after I started, the director, who had been with the agency about a year, finally convinced the board of directors to approve a team approach to working with children. We had been discussing the new concept at staff meetings and when approval finally came, everyone seemed excited.
After two or three training sessions, we were each assigned to a team, with each team having three child care workers, a social worker, and a teacher, who were responsible for six children and their families. Our new role was to design by consensus, and implement individual and family treatment plans. Psychiatrists and psychologists would be our consultants.
For many of us, this system immediately changed our attitudes about our work. We felt valued. We had more autonomy and control over what we were doing. We had a manageable group with which to work, and we were with the same children every day. We could see how the way children made their beds, the meals they ate, and the activities we chose were related to their treatment plans.
The work was still very demanding, but in a much different way. Rather than struggling through the day with little purpose other than gatekeeping, we now had to work at consensus building, support, and confrontation. I had to hold my team members accountable, and they had to do the same in relation to me. There was conflict, but it was the type of conflict that could ultimately lead to more growth.
Krueger, M. Child and Youth Care Organizations. In Krueger, M., and Powell, N. (Eds. ) Choices in Caring: Contemporary Approaches to Child and Youth Care Work. Washington DC: Child Welfare League of America