INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK
ON BEING ACCOUNTABLE IN SCHOOLS: STRATEGIES FOR THE
CHILD AND YOUTH CARE PRACTITIONER
Child and youth care professionals who practice In a school milieu risk
being misunderstood with regard to their role and degree of
accountability. To avoid being treated as an assistant or having their
role misunderstood in other ways, child and youth care practitioners
must take initiative In ensuring that strategies are in place to avoid
potential conflicts and misunderstanding. In addition, organizational
strategies such as a team approach to planning and decision making,
mechanisms for coordination of intervention strategies, supervisory
supports to the Joint and individual needs of the professionals, and an
expectation of coordinated program preparation and development must
surround and support the professionals trying to work together in the
When I was a supervisor in a therapeutic school program
for emotionally disturbed children, I was fortunate enough to be part of
a larger organization (the Dellcrest Childrenís Centre) In which the
lines of accountability and supervisory relationships were very clear.
The Child Care Workers reported to the clinical supervisor, a manager in
the employ of the Childrenís Centre, and the teachers reported to a
principal, who was employed by the local school board.
Several other factors contributed to maintaining a necessary balance
of power in the program:
The school had been built by the board of education on
land owned by the Childrenís Centre;
The principal had other responsibilities besides the
Dellcrest School and was, therefore, not on site on a daily basis;
Once the child was a client of the Childrenís Centre,
the progress review conferences were held at the Centre and chaired by
a Centre supervisor.
From this description, one might surmise that the child
care workers were, in fact, the dominant forces in our therapeutic
school program. This was not the case! This situation supported a model
where teacher and child care worker were no more than equal partners in
Why, with all those factors in their favour, were the
child and youth care workers not the dominant professionals in this
program? Was it necessary to have a structure which favoured the
clinical professionals to maintain a balanced approach In the classroom?
Iím not sure. I can tell you that, even with such a biased model, there
were frequent clashes between the education staff and the clinical
staff, where one side viewed the other as attempting to impose the
priority of Its discipline at the expense of the otherís.
Was this staffing arrangement unusual? Yes, it was! The
conflict however, was not unusual. What was unusual was the situation
where a child care worker operated in an environment with children in
their "home turf," with a clear and accountable supervisory
relationship. This developed into a rich learning situation and the
following observations maybe useful in other situations where child and
youth care professionals must work with teachers and the public
Most child care workers operating in school environments
are outsiders attempting to do their work In the domain of teachers who
see themselves as:
having total responsibility for their classrooms and
the children assigned to It, from curriculum to decor, from morning to
night, from arrival to departure;
being better educated and more experienced than child
and youth care professionals;
being the primary decision-makers with respect to the
program for any child In their class.
In my experience. both at Dellerest and during my years
as a consultant, most child care workers are not so much in conflict
with the teacher or teachers with whom they are paired, as they ale
Ignored. Their frustration comes not from being in conflict, but from
being treated like assistants.
Can this conflict be avoided? I think so. I believe that
there are three key perspectives to consider: that of the child care
worker, that of the teacher, and that of the system in which they work.
From my experience of these three perspectives. I have identified:
personal strategies In which the child care worker can
personal strategies In which the teacher can take
system strategies which can be built Into the program
Personal Strategies: Child Care Worker
How does the child care worker negotiate a viable role in the
education milieu? Tactfully, but confidently the child care worker must:
Create a job description which clarifies both the
responsibilities and the limits of the position. This provides focus
for oneself, and assists in communicating and clarifying oneís role to
the education professionals.
Establish lines of accountability at the outset. Let
the other professional know to whom you report and how decisions are
made regarding your role and your performance.
Make clear your Interests and priorities. Let the
others know exactly who (which youth) you are working with and on what
issues or areas of functioning you are concentrating.
Establish and communicate a curriculum. This may be
the most important strategy. In general, child care professionals are
perceived to be operating without structure. It is presumed that their
work is reactive rather than proactive. They must make it clear that
there is a program for the individual student and for the group. It is
this overt expression of the process of their work which, more than
anything else, communicates to the teacher(s) their contribution.
Maintain and organize regularly scheduled one-to-one
supervision. This means meeting regularly with one individual to whom
you are accountable for your performance. This is the forum for
gaining clarity about expectations for discussing and resolving
professional development issues, for brainstorming clinical
strategies, and for evaluating performance. The focus of these
discussions is the child care workerís professional practice.
Ensure that you have the necessary skills to operate
in the education milieu. This is no place for a rookie. The person in
this position is under constant scrutiny by other professionals.
Beyond excellent child care skills, one needs to be competent in the
client planning, where clarity and coordination are
negotiation, as In working out roles and dealing with
other professionals, and
communication (particularly written).
Personal Strategies: Teacher
Like the child care worker, the teacher should locate
or create a job description which clarifies both the responsibilities
and the limits of the position. This provides focus and assists in
communicating and clarifying the teacherís role to the child care
Similarly, the teacher should establish lines of
accountability at the outset, letting the other professional know to
whom they report and how decisions are made regarding the teacherís
role and performance.
The teacher should be invited to explain the
educational program, its rationale, and the intended effects. Personal
interests and priorities need to be specified.
Ensure that planning to meet the needs of a client or
client group occurs in the team context. This does not mean that every
aspect of a program must be vetted and approved by all parties. It
does mean that there must be agreement about the needs of the client
and the objectives for Intervention. It also means that any change in
these elements of a plan require the involvement of the team. Team
members are left to themselves to select methodologies which are
appropriate, based on their professional judgment and bounded by their
Ensure that intervention strategies are coordinated.
This sounds simple, but tends to be the most frequent source of
trouble. Though discussions of detailed methodology have no place In
the client-planning forum, there must be attention to issues like
scheduling of intervention activities to ensure that they are
complementary, not contradictory.
Ensure that there is a supervisory relationship which
supports the front line workers (child care and teachers) and ensures
that they adhere to the expectations of respective professions.
Furthermore, in instances where a teacher and child care worker are
expected to work as a team, there should be a supervisory mechanism
which facilitates coordination of effort and provides a confidential
forum for working out differences. For example, at Dellcrest we
quickly realized that if the child care workers from the respective
classroom teams reported to a clinical supervisor and the teachers
reported to the principal, then the principal and supervisor ended up
trying to sort out a lot of detail from a second-hand viewpoint. We
resolved that primary "supervision" for case and program issues was a
classroom team affair, whereas primary supervision for personal
development and performance issues was restricted to the one-to-one
meetings between supervisor and supervisee in the respective systems.
Once a week at 3:15 (the children left at 3:00 p.m.) the classroom
team met to discuss the program and the children who populated It.
Though we had initially discussed an ideal where both the principal
and supervisor were present, it must be said that the principal soon
determined that it was very difficult to attend the several classroom
team meetings held each week, as well as case conferences, given his
range of duties and part-time responsibility for the School.
Consequently, the typical meeting involved the child care worker,
teacher, and clinical supervisor, with occasional visits by the
principal and other service providers.
A joint program should be developed which draws on the
expertise of professionals from both disciplines. An integrated
approach does not just happen. It is the result of:
preparation (e.g., time spent together before the
students arrive each term and each day),
planning (e.g.. mapping out an annual cycle of
activities and the daily schedule),
discussion and coordination of roles and
responsibilities (especially related to those duties which are
appropriate for both or either professional), and
monitoring and evaluation of program activities and
using the results to make adjustments and Improvements.
It was this experience at the Dellcrest School whlch crystallized a
number of key messages.
1. Clarify expectations.
If the understandings are clear in the beginning, there are less
likely to be misunderstandings later.
2.Make key decisions in the team.
If one team member makes an important decision (for example,
redefining a childís need) without the Involvement or agreement of the
other team members, resentment will grow and cooperation and
coordination will break down.
3.Demonstrate solid planning and organizational skills.
Given the interdisciplinary approach to child and family services
and the complexity of service planning, there is no longer a place for
the practitioner who has only the "soft skills" of child and youth care
to offer. One must learn to plan based on clearly negotiated objectives
and devise programs which can be clearly understood by other
4.Keep the lines of accountability and the lines of communication
open. Fuzzy relationships and covert meetings and messages breed
mistrust, a condition fatal to coordinated quality care.
This article is reprinted from The
Journal of Child and Youth Care, Vol.6 No.2 1991, pages 57-61