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Laying charges against residents

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Query received through our web site:

I was wondering if people could express their views or experiences on the subject of Child and Youth Care Workers laying charges against residents. Lately at the facility where I work there have been some assault charges laid by staff against a resident, for verbal threats as well as physical assault (kicking, throwing things, punching). I struggle with this but can also see the need at times. In other cases I wonder if it has become a power struggle.

I struggle with the fact that the youth is acting out and his behavior may not be fully understood. (These charges are not being made by the facility only by the worker.) Most of these situations arise after he has been physically restrained and when released he lashes out. Sometimes later when he is upset he will tell them he should have hit them harder. This seems to make the staff member angry and then they lay an assault charge

The resident is doing community service for one of these charges and others are still in the court system for a month or so.
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The problem is that the charge should be/or not supported by the facility. This then removes the personal decision that breeds problems with relationships. Work with the police to make the final decision with regards to a charge .... and the victim is reporting the information to the police.

Jeff Walker 
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Currently, I am working in a residential setting with adolescents who have a psychiatric diagnosis. Many of the youth who have been in the home have been charged with various acts of violence including property damage, assault, assault with a weapon, arson, etc. The charges underscore the message that anger is to be displayed appropriately and that violence directed at objects or people is unacceptable. As such, the message given is consistent with one of the underlying beliefs in CYC ~ feelings are acceptable ~ how they are displayed and/or expressed may not be. Behaviour management techniques are often used to shape undesirable behaviours into those that are acceptable.

Trudy Owen 
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I work in a facility where possible assaults are daily. However the staff as well as the facility believe in natural consequences. I believe that this is appropriate. If youth are permitted to lash out and the behavior is excused, what are we teaching them? Of course the courts will excuse assaults which are generated from persons whom do not understand the consequences to their behavior which takes the onus off of us. I believe these natural consequences are a good deterrent.
 
Dale Walters 
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I personally do not agree with laying charges in most situations.... we are workers, and a part of our job is dealing with the kids that no one else wants to deal with. However, there are some instances where charges must be laid in order to protect the safety of all staff, clients and/or residents. It is also important to fully examine the reasons why the charges are being laid and whether or not this will serve the BEST INTERESTS OF THE CLIENT while ensuring the safety of all those involved. 

Squeegee kid smashed pumpkin 
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Briefly, I believe that when we choose to work with any group of people who have been marginalized, there are risks. Most people that find themselves in group homes or similar institutions have been deeply wounded in their lives, often by people who should have loved them. I would not lay charges as this will only heap more hurt to a persons life. Some consequence might be in order but must not further wound a vulnerable person. We live in a society which is out for blood and whose first response to challenging behavior is to seek revenge. Good Luck and thanks for bringing forward such an interesting and challenging situation.

Catherine Fewster 
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I almost totally disagree with what most people have said. I work in an emergency receiving home with kids from age 12-18. We tell the kids right up front that there is no physical contact permitted with both the staff and residents. We also do not touch the kids - no restraining. The kids are told up front that if they assault staff they will be charged. What are we teaching kids if we don't charge them - that they can go out into society and its ok to put their hands on someone?? I think its important that they realize that society has laws and rules of conduct - We as staff will never raise our hands to them and we expect the same in return. And what is everyone writing about when they say we should expect certain behaviour - give me a break - what I expect is to be treated with the same amount of respect as I give out. I have never had a resident lay a hand on me and I don't expect it to happen.

Denise Wells 
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In Canada, at least, a person usually has a legal choice as to whether or not they lay charges, as long as there are grounds. We each have the right to make that choice for ourselves, but not for others. I have been fortunate to have always had the support of my colleagues and supervisors when I have had to make this choice, and I hope that I will always provide the same support when my co-workers are in the same situation.

Heather Ramey
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I think rules are made for a reason and they should be clear and concise and if broken there are consequences.
Patty Marr
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What is the purpose of bringing charges against a youth who assaults another youth or staff?

1. To continue the documentation process of the problem behavior as well as the degree and circumstance of the behavior.
2. To hold the youth accountable for their behavior.
3. To provide the victim a means for seeking justice, (there is a victim impact in each case which must not be minimized).
4. To let other youth know that such behaviors will not be tolerated and will be met with an appropriate sanction. Yes I realize that this has limited impact but it does help maintain the integrity of the community.

So, what is this accountability? For many, accountability is requiring the offender to own their behavior and accepting the consequences. This limited view is based on the punitive and retrobutive form of justice. It does not recognize the the need to make amends to the victim and be restored back into the community. So to focus on the behavior and the charges as well as the consequences is only half of the process. Yes these are necessary but should not be looked at as an end but as a part of the process. Youth Care Workers need to be able to go through the process with youth. I have done this on numerous occasions with offenders. This can be a very meaningful process with the youth offender and victim being reconciled and the community being able to support all parties. Creating a community of character based in restorative values present in being accountable including forgiveness and amends is what Youth Care Workers are about.

Larry James 
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So this kid arrives at our program through the police courts and we say to him — you do something bad and we charge you with a crime!  Isn't that what everybody said to him before and what happened to him before. What am I missing in this conversation? What does the agency or we youth workers do different? What are we contributing?? — why not just leave him where he is and people out there will do the same: "You do something bad and we charge you with a crime."

Michael Tracey
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It seems to me that by the time our clients arrive at our door, there are few who benefit by being sheltered from the consequences of their actions. It should be made clear to the youth upon intake that we do not protect them from the law.

One of the biggest barriers to feeling okay with a youth in the justice system is that we feel that nothing good happens. There is a lack of confidence in any rehabilitative benefit. The best we can ever hope for is that they do not want to return. Deterrence, particularly when as far removed as a young offenders facility, has little impact in the moment.

The other side of the coin is that we need to make very sure that this is prosecution not persecution. There are times when we have very strong feelings about the act that has been committed. If our goal is punishment, then there is truly a problem. We must keep in mind that we may see this youth again and will hopefully have another opportunity to work with them (granted, there are some we never want to see again), and this can truly be a opportunity for growth. It is important that we are supportive. In most cases we have real regret and it would seem appropriate to express that.

The protection of the other residents and the ability to provide them with a safe nurturing environment would seem to be the ultimate consideration. No one should have to be afraid to live in our home and they need to be able to trust that we will protect them where so many before us have not.

Chris Maxwell 
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After reading some of the replies to the question of whether staff members should file criminal charges on their own residents, all I can say is: And before this, I thought Texans had a tougher attitude toward outlaws than most people do!

David Thomas
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I have been reading the many responses to laying charges against residents. Hoorah, for the many of you that agree that our youth should be held accountable! I recently had a conversation with a Youth Legal Aid lawyer, he stated that laying charges for destruction of property, assault, and uttering threats etc within the group home or shelter setting was ridiculous. He further stated that it ties up our courts and is a waste of time, they're just kids and would you do it if the kid were your own. Well, first of all if the youth was mine odds are I probably wouldn't have this issue. Anyway, needless to say I was appalled at his statement. He said youth workers are there to help these kids, not charge them. However, I believe that yes, youth workers are there to be supports to our youth in need. We are there to teach the youth about responsibility, respect and understanding about and for themselves and others. About what is right and what is wrong. That includes teaching values and morals which incorporates learning about our laws, why we have them, being responsible for following them and what happens when we don't. Isn't this a part of learning life skills which is also a part of our job description? Isn't that the standard that all individuals are expected to abide by, whether one is disabled, disturbed or abused emotionally, mentally or physically?
I think that the question that should be posed is are our youth being consequenced by our justice system in an effective and appropriate manner? I recall taking a youth to court to have the individual's community hours being extended for the third time because the deadline was up, again, and the youth had not followed through and at the same time was accumulating other charges. The judge gave the youth another extension. So was the youth really being held accountable by our justice system? And because our justice system is falling short does this mean we just shouldn't bother (which is the impression I'm getting from others in the field). I say, ABSOLUTELY NOT! What would we be telling our youth? The reality is there are consequences for every wrong doing, period, without exception.

Rebecca Dunn 
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I have been reading the many responses to the question of whether or not charges should be laid against residents. While I believe that it is a Youth Worker's responsibility to support the development of the young people in care, I also firmly believe that it is our responsibility to hold youth accountable for their actions. What message are we sending to young people if we do not respond to crimes such as destruction of property or assault? In my opinion, such a response only reinforces the young person's belief in the "normalcy of violence" (an environment that may unfortunately be all to familiar to the young person). I am not saying that we charge young people for every little thing. As youth care workers, we should expect that the young person will exhibit particular inappropriate behaviors due to many factors. While this is true, there is a fine line between creating an environment that addresses the needs of excluded youth and one that states that violence is acceptable behavior.

Michael Walsh 
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I agree strongly with Michael on this issue. The appearance of acceptance of violent behavior should not be tolerated.
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Staff and other youth within our programs also need to feel accepted and safe, as well as the youth in question. Of course we should not 'charge' youth for every little thing that they do. However, in situations were a young person clearly acts to do harm to another charges should be pursued. This sends a clear message to the young person that there are real life consequences associated with such dangerous behaviors. Also, the youth must learn that choosing to continue this type of behavior can be met with incrementally more strict reactions from the law enforcement community.

Jeff Glass
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I have been reading all the responses to charging youth for assault and while I concur with most if not all of you, I believe discretion still needs to be used in order to help youth at risk get beyond the behavior. Consequences are a natural part of the learning process and without consequences will we ever learn? Where does learning stop and punishment begin?

Recently I had the opportunity to be told by a youth that I was a no good son of a b***h and a f'n ass***e repeatedly over a 2-3 hour stint. All the time I was encouraging the youth to make positive choices and treat others with respect. I believe the youth learned more by me standing up for myself and not backing down to the threats and attacks on my self worth then she would have learned from me if I had excusing her from the program (the consequences she had hoped to get).

Sometimes I believe youths need to see that people can rise above threats and the like but not to the point where the person becomes a punching bag. Following up to the youth can help to show them that it is not them you dislike but the behavior they are exhibiting.

Dale Walters 
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The thread was revived two months later ...

I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to say a few things. I have a real problem with laying criminal charges against a youth who acts out while in a group home. We are workers have to realize that some of this behaviour, while clearly NOT acceptable, is part of hte course of these kids process. I agree there should be consequences. But the criminal justice system is not geared toward disciplining kids or giving them the skills, values, or awareness needed to transform their behaviour. It is geared toward punishing them. There has to be a better way of handling the situation than this.

Tania
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I agree Tania, I have kept fairly quiet about this as I have little time to respond to email messages due to working directly front line.

What people need to keep in mind is that the counselling and alternatives need to begin at an early age. When a child is much older, (chargeable 12yrs in Canada) they should know how their behaviour will affect others and must be held accountable. This can be done in a therapuetic and supportive way.

There is nothing magical about a when a child turns twelve other than that they become chargeable under Y.O.A. and there is nothing magical when they turn 18 and become an adult and are no longer a young offender.

Developmentally and socially they may not be at these points however sometimes reality can make you grow up very fast. I also speak from experience.

Ron Moore
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It sounds like you are frustrated but you should also take into consideration what this profession entails, it's about keeping people safe. It it means that one person who is clearly emotionally and mentally unstable, is behind bars then a neighbourhood of people will sleep at night.

Tania, I know it's can be upsetting at times but that is the reality of the situation, human beings are getting crazier every day. You have to remember a victim is anyone, so a lot of people are effected and take the situation seriously. then the safest answer sometimes is to give the person a time out. and sometimes that means that the person who broke the law would have to pay.

Jess
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The resident still needs the clear message that staff and their families are not punching bags and this is not acceptable behavior. I would be glad to hear any ideas that you would put forth if you were assaulted by a youth.

Neil
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As a supervisor of a residential treatment center working with adjudicated youth I wish to take a different view of how juvenile corrections operates.

We have been a "Balanced Approach" program for almost 5 years. The "Balanced Approach to Juvenile Corrections" has been the national model for about 3 years. For those who do not know what the "Balance Approach" is: When dealing with youth in the juvenile justice setting the following three aspects must be addressed.

1. Community and individual safety. Both the community and individuals, including the offender have a right to be safe.
2. Accountability, youth must be held accountable and provided the means by which they may make amends and be restored back into the community in a timely manner, Restorative Justice as opposed to punitive or retributive justice.
And 3. Competency Development, what skills does the youth need to live safe, legal and responsible in the community. Juvenile justice and corrections is closer now than ever before to help guide, direct and change some of the attitudes of those who take a more punitive approach in the community.

So the answer for me is yes you do hold youth accountable to the point of charging them with new crimes if that is what it takes for them to realized that their behavior will impact their relationship with the community. And yes we as the community need to forgive, restore and teach those youth how to be a part of the community. This is the heart of the program I supervise, and it works.

Larry James
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I know that many of us have been adding to this subject, so I will keep my reply brief. I have personally been involved in an assault by a resident very recently, and although I struggled with what to do (ie. to charge or not to), I came to the decision to proceed with criminal charges. Why? I tried using conflict resolution, therapeutic discussions, etc, but in the end the resident refused to acknowledge any responsiblity. I also believe that in this case, based on the history of the resident, that this was the most appropriate decision to make. I believe that as long as we review the history of the resident and the context of the assaultive behavior, we can, as professionals, make educated decisions on a case by case basis. 

Mark MacMillan

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