Discussion raised again April 2002 ...
A question on the issue of "touch" once again. I was wondering how people felt about the residential treatment homes that have a no-touch policy - what about the children who are suffering from attachment disorder. How do we ensure that they are getting the quality of care from us that they never received while at home? How do we teach them to have a healthy caring relationship if touch is not an option for us as an intervention? If someone could write back to me and tell me how to do this that would be great.
There is no question that touching is a basic biological need. When infants are denied touching, they die - as they did by the thousands in the foundling homes of the 19th century. This is a condition known as "maramus" - from the Greek, meaning "wasting away". The need to be touched does not diminish with age. Having run a residential center for many years, I realize some of the difficulties involved but, one way or another, touching is essential to the ongoing growth and development of the residents. There are many ways to do it.
Congratulations to you for asking such an astute question. I am holding that institutions which have a no-touch policy are CHILD ABUSING. They should be reported to the licensing authorities of their particular mental health district. Professionals within that particular community should raise their sincere objections to such lack of caring policies within their respective communities. As I have stated earlier, to touch children is neither bad nor good: touch is a process of human interaction. Good luck for your valid struggle. Please keep me informed of your courageously speaking up.
Henry W. Maier, PhD., Professor Emeritus
Hi Kim - this touching issue is one that is very delicate and somewhat controversial. Thom Garfat wrote an editorial in the Journal of Child and Youth Care, Vol 12 No 3, 1998. I would suggest you get the article and have all your staff read it as it is critical to establish environments where touching is okay and this is what the article addresses.
As Thom states, "We back away from youth and withhold the most basic human experience, the experience of being touched by another person." I hope and pray that people working with our youth stop this insanity of a "no touch policy" and rethink what their purpose of caring for troubled youth is really about. Certainly it is not about depriving them of this most basic and critical need ...
I think we need to think about where the "no touching" policies came from. They were not introduced with any therapeutic intention. They were introduced to protect staff and agencies from allegations. My sense is that while we can't ignore the potential for allegations, the "no touch" policies throw the baby out with the bath water. You might want to look at Thom Garfat's article "On the Fear of Contact, the Need for Touch, and Creating Youth Care Contexts Where Touching is Okay". It is an interesting dilemma, trying to establish relationship while declaring someone untouchable!
I work in a residential treatment centre with a no-touch policy. The reason our no-touch rule is in place is the majority of our clientele are dealing with serious issues over sexually offending against others and /or being offended against themselves. As a treatment facility to keep our clientele and staff safe from allegations we have chosen this rule. Keep in mind that we are treatment and the client once they are done with our program will likely be moving on to a more normalized placement in which there are fewer boundaries and rules.
Even though the no touch rule is in place our staff still do handshakes, high fives, pats on the shoulder and hair tussles on a regular basis. We just draw the line when it comes to hugs and wrestling. As for attachment disorder, I have been researching this and so far have found the kids with attachment disorder have never been successfully treated in residential treatment programs as their are too many rotating staff and no primary caregiver to act in the father/mother role.
Rainbow Wilderness Adventures
I have heard of this no-touch policy in many agencies, and I don't agree with it, but it's got to be worked around some how right? I was thinking: Typically, the reason why we touch others is to feel close to them. So, try to find ways in which you can teach these children/youth to meet their needs of being close to others without the use of touch. Some sort of a messaging program where the kids are taught how to compliment others effectively (eg. You are really nice BECAUSE ...) and everyone gets a message each day or every-other day and this will also raise their self esteem by giving and recieving non-verbal affection.
One thing I would like to add is that if you do have a no-touch policy, all staff MUST make sure, I feel, to NOT teach these kids that touch is bad, but explain to them the reasons for the no-touch policy and that it's NOT because of them. Lots of kids that we work with suffer from attachment and self-esteem problems, and for us as child care providers to tense up or scold whenever we are touched or accidentally touch, this will inadvertently teach these kids that touch is bad.
Hope this helps!
How can we be in relationship with a no touch policy?? What a sad world we live in that Youth Care Workers feel a need to protect themselves from possible allegations that they put in place such a policy?? I am assuming of course that this was the intent of the policy? I am a very nurturing and yes touchy youth care worker. After many years in the field I have learned to gauge when to touch and am careful to ask if it is o.k. if I am unsure. Again I am assuming that touch means a hug, an arm around or simply a touch on the hand or shoulder.I am currently working with an 17 year old female who has been with us for over a year. I actually playfully chase her in an attempt to touch. This is a young woman who although protests, is also like a child whom has never been shown affection, and it is obvious to all that she enjoys such attention. I have also encountered many youth care workers for whom touch has not played a part in their familial relationships and describe their experiences as unfortunate. That is until they met me, ha,ha. It is my belief that those afraid to touch in a therapeutic way need to reconsider their choice of career.
I finally had to make a response to the issue of touch in our work with children that illustrates both the importance of safe touch with children and youth and the lengths to which youth may go to have that need met. A number of years ago, when I still worked in residential care, a young teen was admitted to the program. She was a physically aggressive, a runner, a drug user and we suspected had been physically and or sexually abused. Our inititial time together was very chaotic, and stressful as we had to physically restrain this girl for her safety and the safety of others on a fairly regular basis, (almost daily). An interesting thing began to happen though as the relationship developed and the youth began to feel safe in the environment, both the frequency and duration of her acting out behaviours and the need for restraint decreased. We as a staff also discovered that as the relationship developed and she felt safer, her need for physical touch remained but the type of touch needed changed from full restraints to a gentle, reassuring touch on the shoulder from a staff person as she was greeted at the beginning of the shift.
One of the most powerful things we can teach children and youth is what safe touch is about.
For some people their own body is sacred and out of respect for each person's body and spirit, I believe permission whether verbal or non-verbal should be given by the client to be touched first.
The issue of touch is a very interesting topic. I work with young and older girls on a part-time basis. The contact between us is both verbal and physical. What is meant by the term physical is touch or a hug. At times we work with children that have never experienced physical contact. When a youth is having great difficulty and has stepped temporarily off the path, after each intervention session a hug is given to give reassurance. One major factor that needs to be considered. Young persons that have been placed due to sexual abuse, a hug can transmit a wrong message. We as persons require a touch at times or a hug just to reassure us that we are alive and well.
In my work guiding children, youth and adults to develop inclusive leadership skills for exploring diversity, the skill of "touch control" (knowing when and how to touch without being rough or otherwise making others feel uncomfortable or unsafe) is one of the top twenty skills covered.
Touch and other aspects of physical boundaries is also a huge diversity issue to explore. There are huge differences between cultures, families, ages, status, and other identity groups in the meaning of and rules about touch, body language, physical proximity, eye contact and all aspects of nonverbal communication. When children, youth and adults from diverse backgrounds are coming together in any setting it is important to establish clear expectations for body language and physical boundaries - including rules about touch - in that particular setting and also explore similarities and differences in the expectations and rules (i.e. cultural baggage) that each individual comes in with. Respect for each other's different body languages is as important as respect for each other's different verbal languages and other aspects of our backgrounds. Learning about touch is a huge set of skills and values. Children, youth, and adults who have been physically and sexually abused have - by the very definition of these two types of abuses - had their learnings about touch very badly disrupted and so re-teaching appropriate touch and appropriate interpretation of touch is a very important part of our responsibility in working with children and youth.
It is also super important to do a great deal of self exploration about what I use touch for and what I am communicating/teaching about human relationships when I touch another person or ask another person to touch me in any way.
Hopefully this particular discussion is leading each of us to reflect more deeply on our own touch communication, touch control, values about touch, boundaries, and baggage about touch that we are each carrying around with us as part of our diverse life experiences..
1. From the home page of CYC-NET at www.cyc-net.org go to THE NETWORK and then choose Discussion Threads. Here you can read previous CYC-NET discussions on "Touch" and "Boundaries", also "Love". 2. The editorial by Thom Garfat referred to can also be read online at www.cyc-net.org. Go to READING and choose Journals. Here click on he Journal of Child and Youth Care and select Volume 12 Number 3. Read the editorial.