NUMBER 223• 10 MARCH 2003 • RELATIONSHIPS OR SHORTCUTS?
INDEX OF QUOTES
While conducting training for the entire group residential care staff of a state’s youth services division recently, I asked them to complete the following two sentences: "In a word, what do you want most from the adolescents you serve?" and, "In a word, what do adolescents want most from you?" Over 70% of roughly 450 participants, ranging from grounds keepers to executive directors, responded "respect" and "attention."
Most acknowledged that attention could only be "paid" and respect "earned" through the medium of staff-resident relationships, yet the way they went about their jobs prevented this from happening. Many nonprofessional staff indicated that they had been instructed not to discuss topics with residents that were beyond their (the workers’) expertise, which seemed to be everything but the weather. Shift workers recognized problem situations as intervention opportunities but admitted to passing them on to the next shift in order to keep their unit control records "clean." Several female staff in an all-boys institution said they avoided casual contact with boys on campus out of fear that either the boys or management might interpret such interaction as seductive.
And so it goes.
With relationship technology effectively in mothballs, the door has been opened to a search for substitutes, particularly "quick fixes" promising better, cheaper and quicker results than can be obtained by "out of date" relationship-based methods. In short order, we have tried scaring them straight, loving them tough and seducing them with rock/jock role models. We have manipulated them with reward systems like so many black boxes, warned them "no pass/no play," asked them to’ just say no" and, when all else has failed, introduced them to a sanctioned world of drug use aimed at preventing everything from pregnancy to paranoia. In doing all this, we have reformulated the equation influencing children’s behavioral competency development. In exchange for paying less and less personal attention to children’s developmental needs, we are earning increasing doses of disrespectful and incompetent behavior.
The message in this seems clear: If children’s needs are to be kept paramount, relationship technology must be revived and retooled.
Thomas, G. (1989). Four Benchmarks for Assessing Program Prepareness. Child & Youth Care Quarterly. Vol. 18 No.2 pp. 89-90