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Ex-client dating staff member? 

2014

Hi Everyone,

If a youth of 20 who has left care starts up a relationship with a young staff member still employed at the facility, is this OK? I am interested to hear your thoughts.

Nick Wallman
...

WOW I can’t wait to hear the answers coz do you say anything or keep quiet ?! Well at our center my director teaches us if it does not interfere with your work then it’s ok I guess!! But for me it’s a big no no. I hope directors can answer this because it’s so confusing. If it’s ok then I am going to start with the grooming of a young boy (laugh out loud). It’s not on - in love or not, these are our clients. 

Charmaine Stephens
...

I'm going to have to say no on this one. Even if the former resident is 20, to start a relationship with a staff member (of any age) who still works there is simply unethical. There would still be an imbalance of power, which in all likelihood would belong to the Worker. For the youth to continue to grow, create and maintain healthy relationships, any romantic relationships should be outside of the facility.

If the youth and worker wish to remain connected, there should be no issue with that. I have former youth from my group home on Facebook. As well, it's not unusual for Workers to visit with former youth, as after years of working together there is still some sort of bond.

Matthew Allen
...

No as there is still a previous relationship which has a power imbalance. For me it does not matter that the employee still works there; even if they worked elsewhere it would still not be appropriate. Parents, guardians, the state, the ministry entrusted this child to the staffer and program's care. Dating the adult youth once they become of age is a violation of this trust. If there is now interest in dating then it becomes a question if personal and professional boundaries were adhered to when youth was in care? Did the staffer allow boundaries to be crossed. It's not ethical.

Cindy Brodowski
(mom, TA and CYC student)
...

Great question, Nick.

There seem to be two important aspects to consider. First, what is the maturity of the two individuals (e.g. their relational awareness, expectations, emotional stability)? Second, what is the impact on the other young people in care? For example, does this create expectations (realistic or unrealistic) or unnecessary confusion for them?

Since the control of the relationship is up to the two individuals these questions might be a good place to start the conversation with them.

James Freeman
California USA
...

Whether we like it or not, most ethical codes/guidelines (Canadian Counsellors, Psychologists) say that an intimate client-counsellor relationship should not take place until two years has passed once the counselling relationship was terminated. After two years they can engage in an intimate relationship. So, it would depend on the nature of the relationship to begin with (Key worker) and how long ago the youth left care.

Pat Kostouros
...

Check the policies of the work place. I’m on the anti-dating side, but it isn’t me dating nor do I own a care giving company. Just remember, that client at the time was a child when the two met, that child saw all the staff in a different perspective as an adult meeting another adult or co-workers as in the last debate. There might be some disappointment or expectation on the part of the youngster.

Same debate different angle. Teachers dating their past students. It does happen.

The bigger debate would be if you were the parent of the child turned adult would you be happy about the relationship?

Donna Wilson
...
From: Nathalia Horvath
nathaliaschorvath@gmail.com
Absolutely not. It is not ok for any kind of relationship to start, other than being a mentor or a support which would usually have to be approved by agency, caseworkers etc... We are there to help, protect and be the advocates for the kids that they so badly need, not to confuse them more or take advantage of vulnerable youth.
...

Hi Nick,

I am a student at Mount Royal University in the child and youth care counselling program, and I can remember we had a conversation regarding this subject in one of my classes. My professors were saying you cannot enter a romantic relationship before 7 years have passed. However my personal opinion, I would not think it would be appropriate. Because of the fact that you had a professional relationship with this client, I think that it should stay within a professional relationship. Not only because of your professional standards, but to be ethical as well.

Regards,
Jenn Wederfort
...

I don’t think it is appropriate to go from a caregiver role to having a relationship with someone. I would be concerned about the boundaries of a staff member who would think that they could change this, even if the young person is now an adult. There are plenty of other people to have relationships with, it makes me wonder what was going on while the youth was in their care? It doesn’t make sense to me and I question the staff member’s motives, past relationship with the young person and boundaries over all. So, my answer is that it is NOT okay.

Lorinda Molner
...

Most agencies have a policy prohibiting currently employed staff from forming romantic relationships with former clients of the agency for some minimal amount of time, usually 2 years or more. If the staff member held some professional licensure, the ethics policy of the license granting board will more than likely speak to such a relationship forming, as well. The real question to be answered is how will engaging in that relationship impact the emotional health of the client? Clients can easily be romantically attracted to staff who show them respect, kindness and dignity. Staff who are close in age to clients can easily find themselves romantically and sexually attracted to clients, for whom they initially feel legitimate concern and compassion. It is the job of staff to be self-aware and express themselves appropriately, especially when it comes to being aware of the "vibes" they send to clients. Clients desperate for love and attention may read the most benign gesture as an invitation to intimacy. Emotionally immature staff may also find themselves cultivating inappropriate relational intimacy and exploiting the vulnerability of clients. I doubt that many romantic relationships between staff and clients that may have become public after the client left care, actually started growing only after the client left care. More than likely, those relationships were products of unhealthy and ill-advised (if not deeply unethical) bonding within the treatment environment.

Scott Knapp
...

Hi folks,

As a manager within residential care I welcome this discussion and agree with most of what has already been said. This question was asked of a colleague during child protection training and I was initially horrified that the question was even asked.
My own view is we are there in a corporate parenting role with the young people we work with, whether as direct care staff or ancillary staff, and it would never be alright to engage in this type of relationship. Professionally and morally I feel it is akin to a step dad/mum having a relationship with one of their partners children after a break up. I know this may sound dramatic but we are fulfilling the same function in this young person’s life and what message would we be sending to them and placing agencies if we agreed to five years down the line this going ahead? This cannot be about us and has to be about the long term welfare of those within our care so for me it has to be a resounding no.

Ruby Whitelaw
...

Hi Nick,
I can think of many reasons why it is “not OK”, but I don’t think that really matters. Relationships happen whether we see it as OK or not. I think the important question now is how to manage it? It is important for the staff member to understand the possible ethical implications, to be aware of organisational policy (if there is one), and above all – to take responsibility for this relationship.

In terms of the OK-ness of the situation, I would want to know whether the staff member directly provided care or therapeutic services to this “ex-youth”? Generally, I do not think it is the best circumstances for a relationship. If the staff member was never a direct carer, I guess that would somewhat make it “more-OK” for me. If the staff member was a direct carer, that would make it “not-OK”, and there is plenty of literature on the topic, especially in the field of psychology.

Ideally the staff member would be open and willing to engage with a supervisor in order to discuss this relationship, but if not, I am not sure whether it is anyone’s business (to be somewhat blunt). It depends greatly on the context of the organisation, existing policy, cultural implications if there are, and so on.

These are just some general thoughts, it would be hard for me to give a more concrete answer with so little information.
Something I used to tell my staff with regards to working with children was “if it is not a problem, then it is not a problem”. So my question would be: “How is this a problem now? For who is it a problem and in what way?” Maybe asking more questions will help…

Good luck.
Werner van der Westhuizen
...

Hi guys,

I have some anecdotes from practice. I worked in prison with a young man who offended by taking and driving away cars which he went onto to drive very fast with the police in chase. This was his only form of offending. He had grown up in a care home and the woman in charge had formed a relationship with him that led eventually to him moving into her home as her ‘partner’. It did not end well.

I had a student doing her placement which included an outdoor adventure week on a Scottish island. It transpired that sometime after placement finished she took up with a young man who had been on the trip. He had only just left the residential unit and moved into his own home. She maintained that nothing had happened until they were both no longer involved in the residential unit. This subtlety of thought was somewhat lost on me as she had clearly not used the supports of the placement experience to articulate and process the strong feelings aroused in her by this young man.

It is our professional responsibility to articulate and reflect on the challenges of attraction presented through working in the life space. We should be able to have our co-dependent needs met without co-opting/coercing our young people into sexual relationships.

Peace,
Jeremy Millar
...

My understanding is that legally, in Canada, if they are both of age and the staff member never worked with the youth then it is not an issue. If I understand your statement the issue here is that there was a power dynamic at play when one was staff and one was a resident.

Ethically would be the place that I would move to. For me this would not be ethical until a period of time had passed (2 years would be minimal) in order to move away from the reality of this power deferential.

Just as a curiosity does it change people's thoughts if the youth who left care is female and the staff male? Or if the youth is male and the staff female? Or they are same sex?

Janet
...

If the staff member never worked with the individual but works for the same agency that the individual at one time resided (i.e. gained employment with the company after the youth transitioned out) then I can see no issue as the now worker doesn't have any history with the former client.

If the worker had this individual as a former client then I would personally think it’s not ok and have my own questions about the relationship, however I'm not sure what could be done about it as they are both adults and barring anything in the workers employment contract then I wouldn't know what really could be done about it.

Lisa Penner
...

In response to the message about a (young) staff member having an ongoing relationship with an ex resident - it might be considered healthy and developmentally appropriate if the relationship was platonic i.e. being friends. guess sex makes us all a little nervous and judgemental.

Bill Carty
...

Hi Nick,

I would say no. I know some go with the seven year mark but I would have to still say no. When I hear of circumstances like this, I often ask who's needs are being met? Why would the Staff choose that person out of all their choices? On occasion I have heard that it's because of things in common or shared experience. I always respond with the fact that those things are founded in a therapeutic relationship and therefore always governed by those boundaries.

That's just my opinion but I have seen the damage that those types of relationships can create for the youth involved so I am going to have to stick with the NO answer.

Jessica Hadley


Absolutely not. A client is a client is a client ! A personal relationship, platonic or sexual, is not appropriate. Former or current does not matter if the worker is still in current position (and perhaps even if they are not).

James Vickers
...



Well said Jessica. Especially on 'whose needs are being met?'. I suggest the worker would need to focus on understanding their own motivation and look very deeply at that. The role will always be complicated.

Yana Maltais


As a new CYCW student, at Eastern College NS, I find it hard to comment or give my opinion on the situation of staff dating ex-clients. I don’t know yet, the ins and outs of how a professional setting works. I don’t know how relationships are built, sustained, and nurtured within the CYC setting.

I would, however, like to address Charmaine Stephens’ response to the question posed; "Is it ok for a staff member to date an ex-client?". Moreover, I would like to address her use of the word “grooming”, and the fact that she tried to laugh it off, or make it seem light-hearted.

I feel that this falls on the same plain as trying to laugh off racist jokes, or brushing off abuse. Because “grooming” is, in fact, a form of abuse. Upon first reading this in her reply, I was taken aback. Then, I doubted and questioned myself; surely I must have mis-read or misunderstood the message or words. That was my hope, but after re-reading it, and getting my Instructor to read it, I sadly, came to the conclusion that I was correct in my first gut feeling to this comment. That the term “grooming” was used in jest, and that someone thought that it would be ok to, not only brush it off/ joke about it, but post it on a professional community board makes my heart sink. We are in an age, and profession, where we need to be hyper aware of the terms used, what context they are used in, and be aware that some things (such as the use of vocabulary, joking about becoming a sexual predator, and violating the trust and care of the humans put into our care) are just not ok.

I am excited to be learning every aspect of what it means to be a professional, caring, nurturing CYC Worker. I am equally, maybe more so, excited to get out into the working world and to learn from the people who are out there already, leading the way. I don’t however wish to support, perpetuate, or endorse such a harmful outlook or attitude as the one put forth by Charmaine. By not calling attention to this matter, I feel as though I would be doing such, and very much look forward to hearing back from others on this matter.

Thank you all, for your time and understanding,

Christa Martin
...

I almost missed the comment made by Christa Martin regarding the words of another YCW. To be honest I wasn’t going to read any more from that topic but I’m glad now that I skimmed them.

I would like to applaud Christa for this comment.I would like to also hope that the YCW’s director does feel that the comment does interfere with the job. A way of thinking can and does interfere with this job.

Too many times I have heard a comment, or seen an action “made in jest” about or on behalf of our youth or another worker. I cannot even guess why some YCWs think that a “funny” comment is even necessary. By the way, I have said something to them directly.

I would like to believe that those who react in that way don’t stay in the profession for long. But in this industry, where the money is less than the expectation, I might even surprise myself with the numbers of YCWs that say or do something “in jest” that shouldn’t. I hope there are not any stats on this subject.

I would like you to take the time and think about what these youth have gone through already, to only be looked at by the same people who are in charge of the care and well-being of them, as a joke. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Maybe those same YCWs are wondering why they don’t get the respect from the youth, co-workers, or boss? I would hope that is the way of it.

In writing this, I’m surprised at my deep emotions on the subject. I don’t have a solution to this but I think that Christa Martin’s comment is a great start.

Donna Wilson
...

Hello Everyone,

Just thinking about the question....
My thoughts lead me to think about how we tend to hire people for our residential care systems that are not educated, have very little experience and may not have a full understanding of how at risk children in care are.

This then makes me think about our profession and how it is not recognized for the awesome work we do.

Maybe what we need to do is change our system where working in residential care is not the lowest paying youth work position but the highest since it is working with the highest at risk children and youth.

If we did recognize that these children and youth need higher quality of care maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation. Our workers would be educated and have more understanding of how this type of situation could harm a client.

Just thoughts... Looking at the bigger picture. Let's all start to make this change by ensuring our workers are educated, experienced and have a clear understanding of our clients’ needs...

Tara Skobel


I 100% agree with Jessica's remark on the three simple words of who's "needs are met?". Whether you look at the rapport they may have built while this individual was in care, or the fact that the worker has been in an authoritative role towards this individual, each of these scenarios make me question if there were boundaries crossed while this individual was in care. At the same time you can look at it as the individual feels safe with this employee with the rapport built, especially if it was based of interests. But personally to me why is the employee wanting to date this former client? That is the biggest question I think this person should be asked. We don't know all the information and I don't mean to "jump to" conclusions but hearing the simple fact of a worker wanting to date a youth who just recently left care puts up red flags to me and I will not hide that my response is based on morals and ethics of myself.

Ashley Gibbs
...

Why isn’t it easier for practitioners to access the field’s collective memory? Or worse—perhaps there isn’t much of a collective memory in the field. I mean that this is an issue that arises from time to time in many organizations, and from the past few decades there ought to be a good collection of case studies and some interpretation and application of some principles. A couple people, like Jeremy Millar, commented from their long experience in the field. A collection of these experiences makes up something like wisdom, and it ought to be more easily accessible. But it’s not.

Our codes of ethics are fine, but they need more case examples wrapped around them to bring them to life and to illustrate the extent, range, and boundaries of the circumstances. In regard to the ex-client and staff dating issue, a lot of us can recall disasters and serious harm ensuing from these kinds relationships. The circumstances of these disasters need exploration. And there are probably examples where disaster did not ensue, but these things need study. The result of study should be some nuanced, principled decision-making.

In the absence of this kind of help practitioners have to make decisions in good faith—and hope for the best—as if there weren’t any experience. Fortunately most people puzzle out some kind of solution; some of these responded to the original post in this thread. But there’s still a vacuum that is too often filled by ethical quackery and intuitionism. Examples come to mind.

There’s material out there, some of it older and some of it from allied professions. Much more work needs to be added to it, and there’s a career here for someone: an academic, a phd student, an experienced practitioner with some extra time.

Cheers,

Doug Magnuson
...

 Very well said Doug!

Dawne MacKay-Chiddenton
...

Hi Doug

I really enjoyed reading your response. I agree the wealth of knowledge possessed within the Child and Youth Care field needs further exploration. Being able to present a multitude of perspectives within altering contexts allows for greater flexibility of practice and cultural awareness (thus our uniqueness). I The Relational Child and Youth Care Journal could be a resource, particularly if individuals within the field shared their perspectives on various topics within their context.

I have 23 years in the Child and Youth Care field. My opinion regarding dating a former resident, NO. My own value!

Charlene Pickrem
...

Hello Nick,

I am currently a student in the CYCC program at Mount Royal University. In my personal opinion, I don't believe that it is ever "ok" to date an ex-client. we did have a conversation regarding this topic in one of my classes, where my professor had mentioned that two years minimum must pass before any sort of romantic or intimate relationship could progress between a client and a professional.

I think that since there was a professional, helping relationship that would have been built that it should stay that way. not only due to the professional standards that I would hope that most of us uphold, but I think that it would be unethical to date an ex client considering the potential history of the youth, or even if this professional was the direct contact with the client, it might look like he or she is taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable. One of the things we learned in our very first semester is to always be purposeful with your clients, and in my opinion, dating them brings more harm than good, especially if the relationship does not end well.

This client would have come to get help from the professionals for which ever risks that individual had at the time, not to potentially meet someone to start dating them. I have read some of the other responses around "who's needs are being met". while i agree, and disagree with that statement, dependant on the clients circumstances, I feel that it is not right to become involved on a romantic level, since that client was once or may still be considered high risk. That professional might also need to protect her/his reputation as a professional as well. If they were to become at risk themselves i do not think they would be able to help those in need, mainly due to my belief that if you cannot help yourself, then you cannot help others.

Jenn Wederfort
Mount Royal University
...

Not in the realm of acceptable. Often we work with youth who haven't developed a secure sense of self due to abuse, neglect and boundaries being blurred by those they should be able to trust. All of these can create intense trauma that manifests often with confusion of how to understand their emotions. It is our job to set clear boundaries and role model safe and appropriate relationships with adults and peers alike. Building relationships based on trust is a CYC 101 rule. Trust requires that we continuously reflect and monitor ourselves also. 20 May be a 'legal' age but we aren't really talking about legality, we are talking about ethics. CYCs have an ethical responsibility to protect the people we work with - including from ourselves, if necessary. 20, in my opinion is only the beginning of forging an independent identity. I think it would be unethical and potentially harmful to interfere in any way with a young person from care at this time in their life. Our job is to support them to grow and heal, not to confuse them or take advantage (even subconsciously - something that must be checked) of our position of power. If, whom ever you are posing this question for thoroughly understands our role then I would imagine the answer is clear.

Catherine Howe
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