Last month in this column I related the story of a friend who was crushed because a young man we had worked with in a sex offender program had re-offended. She questioned her effectiveness in the field and momentarily wondered if any of the work she did had any impact at all. This got me to thinking about how we define success and failures in the field. I concluded the column by asking you to ponder how you defined success and failure both for yourself and your program. I asked you to consider what it is to the young people in your care. Finally I asked you to think about what the consequences are of not having clear definitions of success and failure.
I canít say what success and failure mean to you or to the young people in your care but I can tell you about the consequences. The consequences to you are that without clear definitions for yourself you will rarely, if ever, have a sense of job satisfaction. You can still experience a sense of failure without defining it because our failures often stare us in the face. Whatís missing is the high that comes from knowing that the work we do is so important. People without a clear sense of how what they are doing or not doing relate to success and failure often experience drift. Everything becomes a reaction and events feel more and more out of our control. This leads to burn-out and people leaving the field or worse, people staying when they should be leaving. This in itself is bad enough because we lose good people as a result. However, even more tragically our drift leads to drift for the young people in our care.
We have known for a good many years the consequences of planning drift to the young people in our care. They bounce from placement to placement each time getting a little harder and more difficult to deal with regardless of our efforts. They close off and become harder and harder to reach. Whatever brought them into care becomes forgotten in the process. Who they are today is as much, if not more, the product of our failure than the original neglect, abuse or abandonment they first experienced earlier in their life. The change is usually gradual and often not noticed because they are moved from place to place. No one knows them long enough to recognize the consequences of our behaviour. We are in essence creating by our actions the people that we have the most difficulty working with in our programs. The universe does enjoy a good irony. Unfortunately this one comes at the expense of young people.
Iím not saying that our jobs would become a bed of roses if only we were clearer in defining what success and failure mean to us. Child and youth care, as you all know, is a demanding field. It will always be a demanding field by virtue of the human misery we encounter on a daily basis. We live with the consequences and by products of abuse and neglect. There is no escaping from this fact. However our jobs would be a lot more fulfilling and rewarding if we took the time to more clearly plan what we are doing with the young people in our care. Our jobs would be a lot easier if we took the time to figure out how we define success and failure for both ourselves and our programs. An important part of this process is to also talk to the young people about how they define success and failure for themselves. You will be surprised at how this simple exercise will increase the number of successes and decrease the number of failures. More on this next month.