NUMBER 555 • 26 JULY • CONTRACTING
A crucial first step following the development of a treatment plan, is to gain commitment to the plan form all concerned. Treatment is essentially a transactional activity which concerns a number of people, but always at least two: the therapist and the client. Staff members will generally be committed to a treatment plan if they have been party to its development. The same is true for the child. We have learned that treatment is not something that we ‘do’ to a child, but a process which we will go through with the child, together. Contracting makes clear what the programme can offer to the child, but equally makes clear what the programme expects from the child, and the extent to which the child retains responsibility for his own life.
All who have studied the technique of establishing logical consequences with children, will know the role of contracting. Behaviour modification also makes use of contracting. Contracting is an important part of the structure of treatment for a number of reasons.
Contracting, though not appropriate in all situations, can be a valuable method of clarifying the respective roles and continuing responsibilities of the therapist and the child in the treatment plan. Assessment and treatment planning which excludes the child himself can be antitherapeutic in so far as it may be prescriptive and externally motivated. A child in a drug dependents’ unit In Minnesota was asked why she was making progress in the present agency and not in previous ones: "I think the only thing that is really different now is the fact that I want to do it. Before, whenever somebody tried to help me with it, I didn’t want to. I thought they were just a big joke, and now I want to do something about it — and I see the problem".
Powis et al. (1987: 4-5) offer a number of points regarding contracting. Too often it is we adults who want to change children’s behaviour to suit our preferences, rather than wanting to help children build their own attitudes and competence to manage their own life tasks. Children always want to know the "results" of any evaluations or tests which concern them. There are instances, however when our sharing of evaluation findings with a child must be very cautious, perhaps only emphasising strengths and underplaying problems and weaknesses, mention of which may be less motivating than actually confirming guilt-feelings or negative self image.
Contracting has a place in behaviour issues which a child has some control over, or which he himself has raised by asking for assistance, or which are frankly anti-social or illegal and constitute a danger to himself or jeopardy to others. (For things which the child has no control over, for example, lack of self confidence, contracting is gratuitous, and indeed in such cases the treatment plan is most helpful when it is "invisible" to the child and operated in the child’s interests from "behind the scenes".)
Contracting is a helpful way of opening the treatment dialogue and establishing the ground-rules for the interactions which follow. Where there has been no contracting, child care workers often find it embarrassing or threatening to broach sensitive subjects with youngsters. By having it said up front that "this is the area we are going to be working on and talking about", communication lines are established and staff interventions are then expected by the child as ‘part of the deal’.
Gannon, B. (1994) Theories, approaches and principles of education and treatment. Pretoria: University of South Africa, pp 64-66
Powis, P., et al. (1987) The treatment plan. The Child Care Worker, Vol. 5 No. 5 pp 3-4