Accepting gifts 2
I am a second year Child and Youth Care Counselling student at Mount Royal University. I am doing my practicum with a program that seeks to provide adult support to youth trying to finish high school and to remove barriers that are hindering them from being able to graduate.
I have talked about this in my classes before, and so I am familiar with some of the views out there, but just today at my placement we came across an awkward situation where one of my fellow co-workers at my placement was given a gift. It was a gold ring and the youth who gave it said she “didn’t spend too much” and “had talked to her mom about it”. Later on she mentioned the seemingly random number of “it was only $150.00”. We were pretty suspicious of where this ring came from and so that was something that needed to be addressed. The worker who accepted the gift in the first place is also new to the agency and was clearly taken aback by the offer and in the moment did not really know how to respond. After discussing together, we all decided that in this case, the gift was not appropriate to accept. We then talked about what gifts would be acceptable and what my supervisor had determined for herself as a professional (as there is no direct policy saying we can or cannot accept gifts). Some mentioned that they do not receive gifts with any monetary value while others said they would within certain parameters (like a gift card).
I thought I had a fixed opinion on this matter, but now I am not sure what I would do in other situations ( in this specific situation with the ring it was obvious what our responses should be considering the underlying factors and background of the youth). I just wanted to see what other views were out there and start a conversation about what your experience has been with receiving gifts in this professional field.
Thanks so much,
When Henry Maier was giving a talk near the end of his speaking career, someone asked him "What do you think about accepting gifts from young people?"
His response was, "If you reject my gift, you reject a part of me."
So, finding a balance is sometimes tough. But I do think there has to be a balance. A gift giving can have many meanings – and perhaps it is the meaning that a young person gives to the gifting that we might find the pathway to a balance.
So, of course, I am wondering, what did the gifting mean to the young person?
This a really good question! Thanks for prompting this discussion, I'm excited to see where it goes. Personally my view on gifts varies greatly based upon the setting I'm in. In residential care my view of gifts was very firm and I didn't accept anything that had monetary value. The youths occasionally made me cards and things but if offered anything else I always told them it would make me happier if they used it on themselves.
Now I'm in the school system and I've become a bit more lax on the matter as it's semi-common practice for teachers (or in my case teacher-types) to receive gifts. I've never gotten anything above the 10-20 dollar range and usually these things are provided by parents so I accept them gratefully. I just make sure everyone knows it's appreciated and I'm grateful but by no means expected or necessary. I think if I ever was presented with a larger gift I'd refuse it and just tell the child and/or parent that it was too much and I wasn't comfortable accepting it. Looking forward to reading others' views on the matter.
This is a great question. Unfortunately there is no simple answer. The giving and receiving of gifts between staff and young people is a mine field, and in my experience the best way to deal with it is with a clear cut policy. As I write these words I am struggling a bit, because I am not comfortable promoting a model that has the potential to institutionalize what should be a perfectly normal (and healthy) human encounter. The thing is, whether we like it or not, residential care is not normal and so long as we complicate the relationships with gifts we increase the potential for a whole bunch of problems including bribery and manipulation. I have seen some really unhealthy competitive dynamics evolve between children (and staff)on issues related to gifts. All things considered, I think the work is complicated enough without adding more potential problems into the mix.
Having said all that, it would be a terrible shame if we only saw the potential for problems in what should be a healthy compassionate gesture. That brings me back to the need for a simple and consistent policy, and that is for your staff team (and the young people) to decide.
I almost never gave or received gifts from children in my care. A key child of mine (age 12) asked me once why I didn't buy him gifts when another staff member regularly bought them for her key child. I told him that what I had to offer him was far more important than anything you could buy in a shop. He understood exactly what I meant, and ten years later I was invited to join him on his wedding day where he recounted many positive experiences from growing up in care, none of them related to gifts.
At the end of the day, what really matters in this work is the relationship, not what changes hands at birthdays or celebrations.
I am Sindiswa working for one of the residential care programmes .When I arrived most of the children were attached to me and would give me their photos, drawn family pictures etc. However there was this one girl who once told me that she wished her mother was like me. She used to buy teddy bears with a symbol of love and messages revealing how she really felt about me. I used to refuse them knowing very well that this would cause jealousy among other colleagues. She would insist and sit next to me until she fell asleep. To cut the story short , she ended up being hated by my colleagues. If she needed something in my absence ,they would tell her to wait for me. Some drew her closer to use her against me pretending they cared for her. Our relationship deteriorated and she got angry to an extent that she wanted me arrested, accusing me of assaulting her and abusing her verbally. It really hurt.
I am a caring ,strict person and I believe in maintaining a professional relationship with children. However there is no guarantee. Danger lies ahead. Your comments will help me too.
In this case you have spoken with your agency and they have no specific policy on it, but for others reading in this situation you should absolutely find out your agencies policy when you start working for them. Most will tell you in their introduction package, but ask if they do not. Some agencies have a 'no gifts' policy while others will allow you to use your discretion. Personally, I would take small gifts like cards if the person or family is honestly trying to show their thanks to you, but anything bigger than that I would avoid. I begin my work telling my kids that "I can be your friend, but we can't be friends." This is especially true when working with teens since they are still trying to figure everything out as far as their role and their place in the world, and accepting a gift such as a gold ring can have a very different meaning to them. Also, as John said, accepting a larger gift can leave the gift giver in a position of thinking that you now owe them something back, or that they have some sort of control that the other clients do not.
When youth talk about gift giving and wanting to thank certain workers for being there for them etc. Our general rule of thumb is to encourage them to make a craft, paint a picture or make a card. We talk about the kindness of the thought and encourage them to save their money for things that they can buy for themselves and tell them how much home made gifts or notes mean that much more! One youth painted a little wooden chest for her primary workers birthday and in the chest were dozens of little notes of encouragement, thanks and positivity that the staff could open every day.
Thank you for your reply Sindiswa. That sounds like a really
difficult situation to be in, and I understand completely that gift
giving can have this effect. It sounds like, though, that this situation
had a lot to do first with your co-workers than the youth, and that
concerns me. However, jealousy is easy to fall into, but hopefully in a
professional environment there could perhaps be some different ways to
deal with this situation that is more in the best interest of the client
and the relationship as a whole.
I can see how that would have been a tough and hurtful experience and would probably jade one's view of gift giving in the future. It is definitely something to think about.
And John, thank you so much for your insight. I appreciate the way you put it, especially where you said that what really matters is the relationship and "not what changes hands at birthdays or celebrations". I agree with you on this.