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Consistency

Within our program the word "consistency" continually is used to describe the approach we take in working with youth. I feel that consistency is often confused with "everyone having the same response". How would you define consistency? What does consistency look like within programs ?

Thanks
Kim
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Consistency! Before getting to what it is, we must understand the values that drive our purpose in doing what we are wanting to accomplish. Often consistency means no more than enforcing rules and expectations — the same for everyone. So if the "law" is our primary value and strict adherence to the "law" our desired outcome, then we may wish to have an established list of consistent consequences that can be applied in given situations.
 
Then again if we have a different set of values, for example, teaching youth to be safe and legal in a community, then there may be greater latitude in the area of consistency. Given this perspective, consequences may be determined by a number of factors. For example:

1. What is the developmental stage and overall make up of the offender. If a small twelve-year-old is threatening a larger 15 year old in an attempt to establish his own space would you use the same consequence if the situation was reversed?
 
2. What consequence would best help the youth to learn what you are attempting to teach — and then what is your purpose for the consequences.
 
3. What consequences will help those who are observing the situation to learn the same lesson?

When you answer some of these questions you can understand that consistency does not mean that everyone enforces the rules in the same way, and that offenders do not receive the same consequences for the same offense. 

One more point. Forget being tied to logical consequences or even natural consequences. While these two concepts are very basic you must remember your purpose, to facilitate change where needed so that the internalization of appropriate values occurs. 
Larry
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I think that consistency is one of those concepts that's misapplied, since, it fails to take individuality and the context into consideration, and as you say, is confused with "everyone having the same response". That is not only not really possible, but also and even more compelling, not productive for either clients or staff. To me, structure is a better concept, that is having some coherence and expectation in place but which also allows some flexibility.
Karen
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Kim raises an important question that goes to the heart of one of the most frequent arguments in child and youth care
Is consistency "everyone having the same response? How would you define consistency? What does consistency look like within programs ?"  I think that our concern with consistency as it is commonly thought of within programs (everyone having the same response) arises from a number of areas, a few of which are:

An over-emphasis on behavioural theory, which implies the need for identical re-inforcers to change behaviour. 
the thought that inconsistency may confuse youth

An inability on our part to deal with the inconsistencies which children and youth experience in us and our work. 

A feeling on the part of the team members that they are `not succeeding', and a search for the reason for that.

Now, I can make arguments against all the above rationales, but I am more interested in other people's thoughts about Kim's questions. What do you all think? This is among the most basic and therefore most important of questions about practice and I would love to have a dialogue about it.
Thom
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Focus on individuality with regards to the intervention plan with each child — and be consistent within that framework as a Youth Care Team?

Oh yeah, work as a team. Hmmmm, maybe it starts with the focus being on the individual performance within the so called team of individual youth care workers. Maybe a vision of our own personal and collective performance hasn't been shared yet? Maybe the language and developmental stages of us as Youth Care Workers and Youth Care Teams isn't yet working from a solid baseline of beliefs and philosophy? If it isn't, who is the leadership and what is going on? Take one step forward please.
Ernie
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To me consistency has to do with a Youth Care Team's commitment to an agreed vision. If we act in a way that is consistent with a shared belief about what youth care means, a shared philosophy, shared goals etc., won't our actions, whether the same or different, have a basic integrity? Won't they then reflect our basic principles and in that sense be consistent? Any action, any intervention that does not reflect what a team believes about youth care is inconsistent and needs to be challenged.
That is how I see it so far ...
Meredith
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I have been following the discussion on consistency. We all seem agreed that:
(a) within a programme, consistency does not mean that everyone necessarily gets treated the same but that a sensible mission statement, with good structure and programming, promotes a sense of reliability and predictability for all; and
(b) each child has his or her plan which is coherent within itself, even though it may not be the same as the next child's plan.
My problem is how we translate the child's (relatively brief) experience of our more consistent and systematic practice back into the tougher realities of his or her own life. We are probably all familiar with the youngster with a really troubling "referral report" who seems to improve spontaneously when entering our rational and responsive environment — suggesting that the kid is OK but is not managing things back home.

Ultimately it seems that we have two practice "goals": one is preparing the child to return to an essentially unimproved situation back home; the other is to intervene in the situation back home so that it might be easier to live with. I should be interested in hearing how we as child and youth care workers tackle these two tasks.
Brian
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Consistency! Who was it that said `consistency is the hobgobblin of little minds'? I believe in consistency, but not in the `we all do the same thing the same way' variety. I break consistency in to a number of areas:

1. Consistency with Self: we all need to be consistent in how we are, individually, with youth. If I hold one set of values, and thus respond essentially in a certain way to a youth today, then I need to be the same tomorrow. Many youth come from a history where the individuals in their life were not consistent with themselves from day to day. Thus the youth is constantly off-balance in relationship with these people. Today, for example, a parent was flexible in person, tomorrow they were illogical or rigid. As youth care workers, youth need to experience us as constantly ourselves, so that they might have a better security in being who they are in relationship with us. Each staff is an individual, but we need to be consistent in who we are.

2. Consistency with the Intervention Plan: Each youth has their own plan, with a particular area of focus and a particular approach based on the perceived needs of the youth. As workers we need to be consistent, across team members in this area. For example, if one of the focuses of the plan is to challenge how the youth interacts with other youth, then all staff need to address this as it arises. If one staff focuses on it, and another doesn't, then we have created the opportunity for confusion and division. This is not to say we will focus on it (or intervene) in the same way. Rather that, if the issue arises, the youth can predict that all staff, in their own way, will respond to it.

3. Consistency with Program Philosophy: If we have an orientation towards change, for example, or certain basic values which we hold as a team, then all staff need to act in a manner that is consistent with that. For example, if we value the `voice of youth' then all staff need to attend to that voice. It would not be okay for one staff to listen to the voice and for another to silence it. This applies in our individual interactions with youth, and across youth.

4. Consistency with Culture of Origin: While this is, in essence, a program value, I think it is worthy of mention as we move more towards being concerned about families. By this I mean primarily we need to be consistent, as much as is possible, with the values, beliefs and ethics of the family of the child, or the place from which she comes, or to which she is returning. If, for example, the family has a value that says youth do not `hang out in the mall' till they are 15, then we don't let that happen when the youth is 14 in our program. To do otherwise makes it difficult for the youth to move to that environment without great confusion. Consistency with family values also helps to build alliances with parents in the treatment process.

Like I said, I believe in consistency, but I am not of a mind that we should all try to be the same. People are different from one another and youth know this. If we try to create an environment in which everyone acts exactly the same, then we are trying to create an `unreal' world which will not help the youth to deal with the inconsistency in the real world. However, if we are not consistent in the ways I described above then I fear that we are just creating the opportunity for the youth to remain the same. We each have our own style, and as long as that style is therapeutic, helpful, etc., then I think is is healthy, rather than destructive, for us to be, and be experienced as, different from one another. In this way, I believe, that consistency and individuality fit hand in hand.

Anyway, loosely put, that's some of how I think about consistency. Sorry about the wordiness.
Thom
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The dilemma of the "two practice goals" Brian referred to has always been one of my major concerns and is reflective of vast inconsistencies throughout my practice. I believe these inconsistencies are reflective of practitioners' philosophies, values, ethics; agencies mandate, economic/governmental and societal influences (especially diverse Board of Directors), to mention only a few.

Because this issue is multi-faceted I do not believe there is simply one fix. However, you raised the question as to "how child and youth care workers tackle these two tasks?", and I would like to add my views.

I believe the first step towards reaching this goal is consistent admission criteria for every Treatment Centre that requires participation of the children's parents or care givers and all stake holders. I believe that this process ought to be formalized by the use of CONTRACTS. Before a child is admitted to one of these facilities a contract would need to be signed by ALL stakeholders and REDEFINED, REVIEWED, UPDATED MONTHLY. These contracts would clearly identify the goals, objectives and activities for every person involved in the process. That is — parents, child welfare agencies, residents, CYC worker — each member would have their distinct type of activities but the overall goal and objectives would be consistent for all members of this treatment team.

Throughout the treatment phase, all members would be working on their own activities ( not just the child). The team would come together monthly and each month a new contract is signed. No one's treatment is in isolation and although members will progress at different rates, the teams overall goal and objectives become much more realistic and reachable for all. I believe the formalized CONTRACTS would act as a vehicle to assist the focus and agreement by all members of this treatment team. This would give some insurance that the child and his/her family, along with the service providers are all involved and would ensure some degree of consistency.

I really do not feel this is too idealistic. Naturally it would take commitment, desire and skill by all service providers to work from this consistent type of approach but child and youth care workers could take the lead by making this a mandatory practice and admission criteria for all Treatment Centres.

At least these are my thoughts to this consistency topic!
Hugh
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I see consistency as just another one of those words in our English language that can be interpreted differently.

I struggle with the idea of consistency of action for the sake of predictability. We are descendants of an age-old belief that we have to know or at least be able to predict a reasonable, acceptable outcome before the adventure can begin. Because we as a society are so consumed by this idea, we restrict ourselves with the security of what is known, even to the extent of it conflicting with what is felt.

We are all captive individuals in the beginning because of our dependence, and from the beginning we are measured by 'norms' and predictable patterns based on those who came before us. How is it then, that we are able to discover and accept self and individualism when the basis is reflective of another's (society's) ideas and experiences.

Consistency of acceptance for the sake of individualism would proliferate the value of words like different, failure, mistakes, irregular, and yes — inconsistent. Because we put so much value on the spoken word, these words have to be seen as positive, important processes, needed to develop and grow beyond the limitations of our much needed forefathers. I struggle every day with the need to belong in a world that feels threatened by my need to live and be accepted for my choices.
Virginia
...

For years I have used the following quote regarding consistency in basic staff training. Does anyone know the source?

"CONSISTENCY: Most of the children you'll be working with are used to the ways of irresponsible, inconsistent adults. Since they have repeatedly dealt with conflicting communications, great is your need to remain constant in your actions and verbalizations. Mean what you say, leave no room for doubt as to your position and expectations. Bribing the children with promises will work once but teaches dishonesty and deceit. An easy trap to fall into is gearing discipline to your own energies rather than the immediate needs of the child; as in giving sporadic guidance to a child who is constantly disrupting, has a very short fuse, and needs a great deal of immediate attention. By saying "no" sometimes and letting the same behavior slip by without comment on other instances, you give a double message. Picked up will be the feeling you don't care if he does damaging things or not and shortly he will stop paying attention when you try to intervene in any incident. Be prepared to follow through on what you say; avoid idle threats. Learning to trust and care is not an easy lesson; yet, with your being real, showing genuine concern, acting with consonance, void of hypocrisy, you can indeed teach the lesson well. Through consistency the child will learn to trust and care about himself and others."
Steve
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