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Consistency in group home care? 

2014

Hi there,

I am looking to create a top 10 things needed to create and maintain consistency between workers in group home care. Just wondering if someone would point out different resources or their opinions.

Thanks
Eric Douville
..
.

After working in a home for two years a personal practice to consistency for me was/is communication. Daily logs / sor / poc are helpful for the basic information but keeping visual aids of decisions and circumstances is an exceptional tool when keeping consistent. Especially when there is a rotation of shift partners. Allow yourself an extra fifteen minutes to check in with the pervious staff and decisions that were made throughout the day. Also regular staff meetings are a must. Once a month is not enough to keep a general understanding with staffs. I would even recommend once every ten days.

Emma Hall

Communication: logs etc.

Donna Wilson
...

My experience in a group home setting was not great. Seemed that different people interpreted the rules in different ways. I think it comes down to good management and of course open and constant communication. Lastly, those working in residential settings should all be child and youth workers with proper credentials!

Miigwetch,
Peter
...

Hi Eric,

I've worked in residential for over six years and know there is an ongoing debate about consistency. From my experience it seems almost impossible to achieve consistency across the board and I don't think this is a good goal. A strength of residential care is having diverse staff teams with different values, experiences, and ways of working. I would argue that these differences enhances the work we do and provides opportunity for the youth to find a staff who they connect, relate and respond well to. During one of our staff trainings our guest speaker challenged us to think about consistency differently. He suggested that what we need to achieve is being consistent within ourselves and how we work with the youth. Trying to achieve consistency with routines, rules, and consequences can lead to becoming rigid and hold us back from supporting youths individual needs. What works for one young person will not necessarily work for another. Changing how our team views consistency and knowing that I have the support of the staff team has really helped me to be confident in making decisions that are in the young people’s best interest, and that is what we are all about!

Mandi Mayhew
...

My #1 would be a common value base. If we all have a shared understanding of what our core principles are then minor variations in practice are probably less important.

I remember working for an agency that became polarised and fragmented over the matter of whether it was our job to care for or to control the young people we looked after. Consequently we developed a chaotic and turbulent culture that was counter-productive in relation to any desired outcomes in the lives of those who were in our charge, regardless of which side of the care or control argument you sit on.

Ni Holmes
Scotland
...

I strongly believe that consistency as expected by many in youth care is a myth. Meaning, all rules applied to all youth in the same way all the time. Of course staff deal with different situations differently, as we all come in at different stages of youth care, with different experiences, demographics and education. What does need to be consistent is the ethical, compassionate approach we all take and I think we underestimate children and youth when we say they can't deal with differences between staff. Being different is all part of human nature and human relationships. I think a child or youth will feel safe when they know they can talk to any staff member and get a fair response, vs a same response. Sure there can be struggles, "But Jane said I could last time!", and I think those are learning experiences, not signs of program failure.

Do we seek consistency because it's important and normal or because it's easier to identify compliance? Learning to adapt to different and varying expectations/rules/interactions is an important life skill to learn. I don't mean be unpredictable, but be consistent in your flexibility (I just finished a night shift so I don't think I know how to explain what I mean... Hopefully that make sense!).

Evelyn Downie

1. Making sure everyone is following the rules of the residential setting
2. All staff and supervisors are adhering to the code of ethics
3. Communication amongst staff is open
4. Consequencing and rewards system is consistent
5. Staff are all consistent in their approach with the children and youth
6. Agency directors are supportive and consistent
7. Staff members and supervisors support one another in times of crisis
8. All staff and supervisors have the appropriate training and background education
9. Medication is administered on time
10. All precautions are taken by each and every staff to ensure the safety of the clients and staff (i.e. Knives are locked away

Lisa Singh
...

Dear Eric

The issue of “consistency” in CYCW is a very important one. I agree with you on many of the things that you and other colleagues have alluded to in their responses. However, consistency does not mean not considering young people’s individual needs. Neither does it mean, in my view applying a blanket approach when dealing with young people. I do agree with Ni Holmes with talks of a common value base.

Consistency in my view should be in an internal aspect of how one intends dealing with the complexities affecting our young people. I strongly believe that a consistent CYC practice is that where one fairly and reasonably applies an intervention best aimed at addressing a unique and diverse need of a young person. Of course one needs to guard against applying uniform interventions to all situations no matter how different they may be. All young people have diverse needs, are unique and need to be treated accordingly. The bottom line, I think is that “consistency” is a philosophy, a guiding principle that ought to start with how an individual thinks before applying any kind of intervention when dealing with diverse situations and unique needs of young people. Treating young people according to their individual needs and situations translates to the application of “consistency” as the milieu is taken into account. If “consistency” is understood to be meeting individual young people with the same kind of interventions, despite their individual differences, then this this is what could be termed “distorted consistency” as it defeats the very purpose of “our intervention” and only serves to make our jobs easy to manage.

Vincent Hlabangana
South Africa
...

Top 10 using a restorative lens:

1) start from a relational point of view
2) work with the youth to establish understanding
3) see issues in terms of impact on others...not as rule breaking
4) give a voice to the young person to speak to the issue
5) come from a value base not a power position
6) have congruency throughout the agency at all levels of values
7) be authentic and mindful
8) seek to find responses that fit for the situation and Individuals affected not simple policy
9) include the " community" who will be affected one way or another in giving voice and being part of the solution
10) use second thoughts and not reactive responses

Rick Kelly
...

Eric,

You have indeed stimulated some discussion on consistency.

I  think too many people think of discipline when consistency come up. I see advice columns for parents from ‘experts’ who advise parents of the importance of being consistent with discipline, by which they usually mean imposing consequences, by which they really mean punishment. And I want to scream “NO!!!” Being consistent with punishment only distracts children from the other more important consequences of their behaviour.

I do however believe that consistency is of critical importance. But it is being consistent with expectations, not discipline or schedules, that is important. Expectations such that children will think about their behavior and the effects it has for others and themselves, and then make good decisions. Such things as respect for adults and peers and property. Respect for the facility, including keeping their own area neat and clean, and responsibly accepting and completing some chores. Accepting responsibility for behaviour - not responsibility for serving some penalty, but responsibility for doing everything they can to ‘repair the harm.’
Then, consistency in teaching children about the real, natural consequences of their behavior. “How do you think Jason felt when you said that?” “What do you think Louise thinks of you after you did that to her favorite…?” “How do you think the shopkeeper felt when you lifted that candy bar?” And so on.

The best way I know to achieve consistency is to have a full time supervisor working a flexible schedule, modeling for both children and staff a program designed around teaching, not imposing consequences. (Our program did have consequences for serious misbehavior--things that would be illegal anywhere, like assault, theft, possession of and use of weapons or illegal substances, and destruction of property.. We had a point system where kids earned points daily, a possible 100 daily, for appropriate behaviour. A problem meant they might fail to earn five points if they failed to correct it when prompted. 80 or more points earned them the privileges of TV, the pool table, and electronic games. One of our five major misbehaviours would cost kids fines of 100 to 200 points, which meant kids could not earn those privileges until they paid off their fines by earning points. All other activities were available to everyone regardless of points.

I also believe in schedules. I prefer to think of it as a routine. I think kids should know when wake up is, when meals are served, when bedtime is, when study time is, when free time is, when shower time is. Then, when necessary, responsible staff can amend the schedule to meet needs. Sometimes, a child may be too upset about something to go to bed at the appointed time. Maybe an activity is going really well and mealtime must be adjusted, and then study time, etc. We didn’t have a formal schedule posted. But we followed a schedule and kids knew it as part of the routine. They have enough adjustments to make in their lives. It’ makes things easier for them if there are things that they can expect as routine, without constantly having to make adjustments, like having to go take a shower in the middle of a game they are playing, or in the middle of a favorite tv show.

Staff meetings are also critical. I like them weekly. I do not make decisions in staff meetings when an issue comes up. I like to let staff have a week to talk amongst themselves and to think. And I like to visit with them. We need a cooperating team, not a directed one.

John Stein
New Orleans
...

Hi guys,

This is a wonderful topic with a number of enlightened and enlightening responses. I am not going to offer a top 10 but a reflection of the essence of what builds consistency.

The consistency that many staff strive for is related to staff responding in the same manner, following through on decisions unilaterally and then cursing the staff member that ‘breaks’ the agreed approach. This is not consistency in my book and it is an approach that cannot be attained without autocratic management and rules, rules and more rules coupled with tedious team meeting discussions and passive/aggressive acting out by the staff.

In my opinion we need to strive to be consistent in ourselves and completely honest when we fall short. We should model in thoughts and deeds the golden rule. Those in relationship with us will start to trust, feel more safe. They will also push and challenge this strange adult who mostly does what she/he says and apologises when they screw up. We need to name our feelings honestly in our relationships and leave time to talk and time for silence.

This consistency of self multiplied by x number of staff creates a profoundly therapeutic environment in which our young people progress on a journey to their own understanding of consistency coming from within grounded in virtuous values and feeling loved.

To compliment this process we need good food, slow meals together, camp fires, cups of tea, walks on beaches, staring at the stars and hugs.

Peace,
Jeremy Millar

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