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Accepting gifts 

Should a youth worker be able to accept a gift (small token) of appreciation from a youth? What should be taken into consideration when exploring this question?

Corbin
...

I know for myself, I have struggled with this question a few times. When is comes to accepting gifts during treatment, or during the youths stay, I would not be able to accept a gift that cost the youth any amount of money. If a youth give me a gift that they MADE for me, I will accept it with open arms. When a youth leaves my care, if they buy me a SMALL token of appreciation I will consider accepting it depending on the relationship.

Erin Henriksen
...

Hi Corbin,

I always find this to be an issue for debate, depending on the organization you work with. If the gift does not have a monetary value and has been made by the child or youth, then we have been able to accept the gift. In all honesty, anything that a child or youth makes and gives to me is always appreciated and honored. I think that to decline such a gift would be detrimental to the child's self esteem. If the youth or child has purchased a gift for you then this becomes more of an issue. Depending on the "value" per se of the item is what determines if we are able to accept this or not. For instance a box of chocolate would be okay, however a glass dish would not, as per agency policies. Hope this helps.

Donicka...
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Corbin,

Yes, I believe this is important in the relationship component between a youth care worker and a youth in care. Especially if this gift is hand made by the youth. It is an important token to them. I have gifts from key kids that date back 10 plus years, it is also a good memory keep sake for the youth worker.

Hope this helps

Dave Zimmerman
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"Gratitude" is a phenomenon in our work that really deserves a great deal of time to explore in my humble opinion. The question that surfaces for me is, "What goes on for the other youth who are looking on as we accept these gifts of gratitude". Monetary or not the gift personifies a potential for apparent privileges between the care worker and one child in the experience of other children watching. A child without the resources, a skill set, or has other capacity limitations could be at a disadvantage to 'compete' for the gratitude offered back by us. Could we be setting up the child to be targeted as the "Teacher's Pet"? What about the worker who never gets a gift?

Even if the gift were simply (to us) a "popsicle stick star" a shelf allocated in the facility would suffice to showcase their efforts for all to see so the idea of favorites (past thread on the cyc-net) is not created unintentionally. My mom used to use the fridge as the showcase pedestal for achievements when I was at home.

I really love the idea of gratitude being nurtured as an important, 'intentional' component in treatment. All behaviour serves a purpose and our actions will have meaning for others.

On another note, gifts taken home, how do we explain them to others when they ask if we wish to maintain the ultimate confidentiality of those we work with? I suppose we could hide them, or they could be left behind for other workers to be inspired by. We too need to feel inspired and there is nothing like having someone we have worked with (client or colleague) acknowledge that we were/are important. I too have a drawer at work with some memorabilia of being useful back in the day.

Ernie Hilton
Nova Scotia
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The act of giving is important for for anyone to learn and not accepting a gift without reason can really impact the individual's self esteem and you can loose the opportunity for empowerment. If the intent of the giving is in question, well then I would see this as an opportunity to talk about that and share what giving is all about and that you have the potential of coming back to you when you give without attachment. Recieving a gift is an honour, giving a gift should be the same. Hope this helps.

Serena Rotten
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Hello Corbin and all,

For me this question depends on context. I have had a youth group chip in on a small birthday gift, which I accepted as it is a socially acceptable thing to do. I have refused a gift that I believed to be stolen, even though it was small and edible. I encouraged one youth (who had a strong attachment to me) to write me a meaningful letter rather than buy me the present she was planning, as the letter would last longer and be far more meaningful for me (and it was!).

I have had a father who lived in abject poverty offer me money that he gained from a settlement to say thank you for the work I did with his family. I said I could not accept the money and he demanded I did with indignation. That one I ran by many colleagues and supervisors. We took into consideration the meaning of the money, the cultural consideration of what an acceptable gift was, and what expectations or changes in the relationship could shift if the father gave me the money.

In the end, we decided that I would tell the father thank you for the gift, but the meaning behind the gift was much greater. If he demanded I accept the money, I would say that I recognized the gift as his way of thanking me for the good support work I was offering in our community on behalf of the community agency I was working for, and that I would put his money, in his name, toward the local centre for youth so that the work we were doing could continue. In this way the gift changed in nature to become a newly empowered father's contribution back to the community that helped him, not a financial deposit into my bank account. He felt very proud to take on a new role of community supporter.

Gifts are symbols of status and gratitude and I always try to consider the repercussions of refusal as I never want to insult someone's dignity.

Maddy
Vancouver, BC
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An interesting dilemma, Corbin. A few thoughts:

Children or young people in our care often are at a serious power differential vis-à-vis to the worker. Is it right for us to further diminish the young person's capacity to give? Recognising that this can enhance their self-esteem and give them appropriate power and choice. However, if the gift is being interpreted by the young person or, God forbid, the worker as a means to solicit a particular response or favour, then the gift would be entirely inappropriate and could be seen as being manipulative and an abuse of power. Then the question is one of intent that needs to be reflected on by the worker and the staff team.

If the gift is something that puts strain on a child or young person financially or otherwise, then it is an opportunity to help teach the young person about budgeting, over-stretching themselves, the need to be liked, etc.

A workable policy in a unit might be that all gifts (small tokens) of appreciation are for the team or the unit i.e. a box of chocolates for all to share and enjoy or a picture to adorn a room or office equally enjoyed by all. This communicates a lot of respect to the young person giving the gift and recognises that all our work with children and young people is done in the context of a team - either in supporting or facilitating the particular worker or in the shared work with a particular young person. This allows for the capacity of the young person to give be respected and while it is never expected it is appreciated.

Your query, Corbin, is regarding a gift (small token) of appreciation seems to answer your question.

Take care,

Kieran Campbell
...

I have been in this situation a few times myself.

Most recently, after moving to a new city and thus leaving behind the crew of street-entrenched youth I'd been working with, I was presented with some gifts. The youth had noticed my affinity for big, cozy sweaters over the previous winter, so they pooled some money and bought me one... and it was absolutely perfect.  My first reaction was immediate discomfort and anxiety stemming from a personal expectation to follow the "accepted protocol" and explain some reasoning for not being able to accept this gift. But it dawned on me that in doing so I might be denying these young people a chance to attain what we all need when a significant relationship ends -- closure.

I have found that gifts come from those that recognize the impact we as CYCs have on their lives, no matter how fleeting or minute. I believe that when a child or youth (or anyone for that matter) presents you with something to take away from a relationship, it shows that you have had significance in their life; for me, to deny them the right to express this would be to deny them the knowledge and confirmation that they have been equally significant in my life, too.

Sometimes, when we aren't comfortable (or are unable to articulate the feelings around) saying goodbye, we let affective objects speak for us... and how would we have felt as adolescents if we were told this form of communication had to be silenced? Just an awareness I thought was worth sharing...

Rob Austin
Vancouver, BC
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Dear Everyone,
Recently Prof. Mary James of The Institute of Education on the Univ. of London said that the most important ability for a teacher to develop is a sense of judgement and she rued the fact that this was absent from a teacher's training. In my own training as both a residential child worker and a teacher it was absent and its lack led me to make many injudicious decisons. Like Adrian Ward and Linnet McMahon, I do not think that a good sense of judgement is entirely intuitive. I believe that in large measure good judgment comes about by experience but only if this experience is gained through sharing doubts and diffidence with colleagues. Open communication within a work team leads to safer decisions being made.

I have discussed the notion of judgement to this length because it seems to me there is no hard and fast rule that can be drawn about accepting gifts. Each situation is unique. At one extreme acceptance can enhance a youngster's feeling of her or his value in the world and at the other it may mean that the adult - the member of staff - has merged or over-identified with the young person and has thus failed to be the adult the youngster needed the member of staff to be.

For me such a predicament along with so many others we face in care settings calls for good judgement.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe
UK
...

Hi,

I have not written in a while but this topic really intrigues me. Given most of us can clearly see the importance of "relationship" in all we do with the children we serve it seems counter-intuitive to turn down a gift from a well meaning child. We want to teach children the value of generosity and giving, and the acceptance of a gift seems to be a perfect opportunity to do that. Yet, there are agency policies to consider and sometimes there is possibility that the youth may be seeing the relationship that has developed in a distorted manner and misinterpret our acceptance. Given I am one who feels so strongly about the crucial role of supervision in child and youth care this seems like a perfect topic for he worker who is offered the gift and their supervisor to discuss each case individually and open so many doors of learning. My own practice has tended strongly toward accepting the gift (and savoring the good feeling the youth seems to have in giving) unless there is a strong counter-indicator and I think that the whole topic is just perfect to create so many rich discussions about relationships in the work, and opportunities for us to self-reflect about where we are.

Frank Delano
JBFCS Child Care Training Institute
New York
...

I was reading Frank Delano's reply to this thread ...

Y E S !!!!!

Louise Bergeron, YCW
Services communautaires et Correctionnels/ Community & correctional services

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