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Child care managers and administrators also frontline workers?

2010

Hi everyone,

I have noticed a tendency for managers and administrators of child care centres and programmes to be criticised for being out of touch with “reality on the ground”, not supporting frontline child care workers, and not having the best interests of children at heart. One picks this up when you read between the lines – not just on CYC-NET, but it seems in other forums too.

As a manager myself I thought I wanted to add my perspective to the discussion.

Firstly I must acknowledge that there are managers and administrators out there who should not be managers, just like there are child care workers who should not be working with children (every profession has them). This is really sad, because when managers fail in their task to support the team, it is only a matter of time before the team fails the children.

I worked in probation (children and youth) for about 6 years before becoming manager of a child care centre. While I was in that position I was often very critical of my manager. Sometimes this was unfair, and sometimes not. It is only after becoming a manager myself that I came to understand some of the challenges facing managers, and learnt that it is not as easy as it looks. Well as they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

As a manager however, I still think of myself as a “frontline worker”, and I often feel a little offended when others think I have left the frontline for the comfort of a desk. Well let me tell you, a desk is not always the most comfortable place to be. My frontline may look a little different than that of my colleagues, but I consider it a frontline nevertheless. I am on the frontline of applying for funding for my organisation. I am also on the frontline of compiling the budget, facilitating an annual strategic plan, authorising expenditures, recruiting new staff, appraising existing staff and helping them manage their performance. I am also on the frontline of receiving calls from the public when they are unhappy about something and I have to defend the actions of my staff. I am on the frontline when I have to navigate politics and raise the matter of salaries at national meetings. So yes, my frontline does look a little different from the average child care worker, but I consider myself to be a frontline worker.

My “desk work” also does not remove me from the realities and challenges of working with children and youth. I sometimes envy my staff who are able to end their shift and go home, while I remain (as a residential manager) on call permanently, ready to leave the comfort of my home whenever a staff member needs me, day or night.

And when a staff member become ill and needs to be taken to the hospital later in the evening, and I am the only one around to take them and wait with them at hospital, I consider myself to be a frontline worker.

And when a child becomes unable to contain herself and enters into a state of rage, and staff are too scared to restrain her because they are afraid of being accused of hurting, and I do it, and I take the risks associated with it, and I sit with her, holding her for the hour or two it takes her to regain control of herself, no matter how tired I get, I consider myself to be a frontline worker.

I am not a frontline worker because I do this, I do it because I am a frontline worker who happens to also be a manager.

I would be very interested in hearing the perspective of other managers in child care programmes.

Werner van der Westhuizen
Village Director
SOS Children's Village Port Elizabeth
...

There are some organizations that I have worked in you would have never known that at one point they worked on the floor with the youth. To the youth care team it was seen as they would give the youth whatever they asked for even when they weren't following through with an expectation. The perception was that they were afraid of conflict. On numerous different occasions that these managers should have lost their titles. Especially when in crisis the supervisor would remain in the furthest office away and refuse to come and help. Plus it didn't help that first thing in the morning your single staffed which is very dangerous anyways.

However another organization the supervisors are very supportive. Even if they aren't at the program because they are at a different program giving assistance they always have advice and if it is that serious they will call and have a different supervisor show up. Plus we also have a supervisor that works overnight with us between the organizations and there is someone always on call. The team is much more connected with the ycw team and management. They make an effort to know the youth!

As a front line worker it can get frustrating when you need some support but now one is available at that moment but thankfully they do make time and walk you through the situation and other options to deal with it.

It is known that there is always paperwork to be done and some managers show no time managment skills to do both parts of their jobs. It just seems that at times managers seem to forget what it was like to be on the floor when they become caught up in something that is more administrative. Every one is going to see things differently but I guess the most important thing, which was said that if the team isn't strong than the youth are gonna be the ones that end up hurting the most. So in other words if you seem to have an issue and need some support find someone in management to speak with and if they are good at what they do they will assist you.

Ashley Gibbs
Nova Scotia
...

Hi there,

I can certainly appreciate your opinion because I fully understand the responsibilities and expectations that managers are forced to face. The politics are on their own a challenge...then add in there the expectations of offering the most effective service for the children and youth we serve.

One must be equipped at juggling everything. Like you said, some can do it effectively, while others not so much. I have worked for some really amazing managers, who, like you, were able to manage their responsibilities while maintaining excellent rapports with their staff and the children. I believe it takes a very special and unique set of skills to do that. But, I have worked for other managers where chaos was an understatement. I can remember on a couple of occasions where I have had to take sick leaves. I've even quit really high paying jobs because of poor management. All this to say that yes, there are very good managers out there, but from my experience, they seem to be far and few in between. At least where I am from. I know that personally, I couldn't be a manager...not yet anyway...not for a while.
- know how much you go through in terms of your responsibilities...

S. Boucher
...

AMEN!!!!!!!!!!Loved your comments!

Angie Courville
...

Amen to that.

Alfonso Ramirez
...

Werner,

I'm a former manager of a large child and youth care workers' association (a position well removed from "the frontline"!) so I'd like to accept your invitation to respond.

I see the basic problem you're referring to as one that has to do with the definition of the profession. It has generally been confined to very direct work with children and youth - front line. But historically, at least in North America, this was certainly not the whole picture. For example, Bettelheim, and Redl & Wineman were all managers, and their writings have as much to do with the entire structure of C&Y work - the therapeutic milieu - as they do with face-to-face interactions within that structure.
Somehow though, this has been forgotten.

I think it's time we got back to those concepts and started expanding on them. So, C&Y work would be defined more as "providing a therapeutic milieu" and CYWs would be those who do this at any level of the milieu - frontline, supervisor, program manager, director, etc.. And I don't see why the definition would need to be limited to the agency milieu. We all know of elements of the greater milieu (community, political jurisdiction, etc.) that promote or limit the provision of a therapeutic milieu. You mentioned at least three: "applying for funding for my organisation," "receiving calls from the public, and having "to navigate politics and raise the matter of salaries at national meetings." And here in Ontario, we've had plenty of examples where political decisions, both in terms of funding and policy, have promoted or hindered the provision of a therapeutic milieu (i.e., good things happening for troubled kids). In fact, by expanding and elaborating on the concepts related to therapeutic milieu, I see no reason why a politician, trained in those concepts, couldn't be doing child and youth work.

As for suggesting where to find anything approaching this type of definition of the profession, the only thing I'm aware of (other than the early writers in CYW) is Michael Burn's recent book, Healing Space: The therapeutic milieu in child and youth work. It's aimed primarily at college CYW students but is definitely pushing the definition of the field towards "provision of a therapeutic milieu."

Thanks for the invitation,
Dennis McDermott
...

Hi Werner,

I too am a "front line director" of a program and all the tasks you listed (other than restraining children) fall under tasks and responsibilities of mine also. I definitely empathize with and support your point of view as a manager and I also understand where the comments of many front line workers who are "lead" by ineffective manager's come from.

Best practices for children, youth, families and the staff team all require a whole lot of self reflection. Often without the support and guidance of an effective leader staff can become "other directed" and you can see a break down in the whole system. Generally speaking, anyone entering the field of working with children or youth and their families do so because of a passion for caring for people and having an impact in their lives. This passion does not necessarily mean you have the skills, knowledge and abilities to work within a staff team, but I believe that if we stay true to our passion and learn to value a collaborative process where we are able to make decisions or take actions free of personal bias and judgment we will all learn and grow from each other! We need to fuel our aspirations to learn more and build upon our experiences, develop further our perceptions of the diverse communities we serve, and continue to explore our own personal attitudes and values. It isn't until you begin the personal process of re-examination of your own beliefs that you are able to reflect upon your own knowledge, values, experiences, and practice to explore the meaning and practices of children and families within the contexts of our team.

Danielle Jimeno
Director, A Place To Grow
...

I appreciated reading your thoughts as a frontline managing worker in CYC. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Julie Clarke
UVIC
...

Werner

Thank you for giving voice to the 'front line' aspects of management. I would like to think I was the type of manager you describe, and I have worked with other such managers. They see it as their responsibility to provide what staff need to do their jobs - material resources, reasonable policies and procedures and expectations, training, guidance, time off when needed for personal or family needs, support and assistance, including hands on assistance, when needed. And reasonable compensation. Their office is often in the same building as the 'front lines,' perhaps even on a living unit.

However, I have noted several other types of managers and administrators.

1. The licensed professionals, perhaps social workers or psychologists, who have had no training or experience in residential work and who work in an administration building removed from daily life - an 'ivory tower.' Who are reluctant to come on a unit. Who spend most of their time with accountants and bookkeepers and secretaries and other department heads, all of whom have some very good common sense ideas of what children need - e.g., more staff supervision and more discipline. Who have no problem providing resources for administrative needs but who seem to have much more difficulty finding resources for the needs of clients or staff. I suggested to one such executive director on a large campus that he might enjoy stopping by the group homes we had just opened. He was extremely proud of them since they were funded by a Federal grant, the first such programs in the state. His response when I suggested he stop in for a visit some evening on his way home - "Why would I want to do that?" And somehow, he never seemed to be able to comprehend why we wanted some of the things we felt we needed.

2. The former front line workers who move into administration and who remember what it was like working on the front lines many years ago. Unfortunately, some of these administrators who now rarely visit the 'front lines' often fail to keep touch with progress - new regulations and requirements, changes in population served, changes in programming and improved competencies of staff. They sometimes unilaterally set priorities that are problematic in the current realities.

3. And my all time favorite, the administrators who see staff as disposable commodities that can be easily replaced. Their answer to high turnover of qualified experienced staff - continuing recruitment.

Happy to hear it's not like that everywhere.

John Stein
New Orleans
...

Dear Werner

Staffs just don't know what it means to be a leader.....

I designed this free education in care for European orphanages/foster families:
www.fairstart.nettraining. Have a look.

Now I'm working on global versions of the program (so far, we have made www.globalorphanage.net , click "video" on the front page and watch one of four in your preferred language, choose language by flag) - probably over the next three years if we can get money. And we'd like to cooperate with African organizations also in the development of versions in f.ex. Swahili or other major languages. This includes taking video's of good practices.

Would you be interested in cooperating about this.

med venlig hilsen/ Yours sincerely

Niels Peter Rygaard
Clin. psych., authorized by DPA
Denmark
...

Well said, I agree on every point and also find it difficult at times to accept the concept that I am not front line.

Joanne
Service manager
Ireland
...

Hi Werner,

I thought it was good to read your posting and I was pleased to hear how you do stick 'out of the crowd' with being in the management/admin. category. I think you are the exception rather than the rule in what you do so I encourage you to keep on keeping on and caring like you do with your youthful clients. I believe it helps a lot that you've been in the lesser 'powerful' roles for several years before arriving at where you are at presently. I'm a CYC but I'm currently working with many adults with severe mental disorders/addictions. Please continue to be there for the youth and CYC's and not give up. It is hard for others not in your position to understand your commitment to the youth and your organization.

Communication is very important and it might help a lot for others in your organization to see where you are coming from and how strongly you want to help youth. Don't know if this will help at all but I thought I'd connect anyways.

Joy Mayhew
...

Hiya Werner,

Regarding your post ; Childcare Managers are also front line workers.

1. You hit the nail on the head in your personal reflections; "And when a child becomes unable to contain herself and enters into a state of rage, and staff are too scared to restrain her because they are afraid of being accused of hurting, and I do it, and I take the risks associated with it, and I sit with her, holding her for the hour or two it takes her to regain control of herself, no matter how tired I get, I consider myself to be a frontline worker". That to me is a big issue and extremely dangerous for both young people and staff.
Develop a policy to manage behaviour: This will ensure young people and staff know where they stand. A clear policy may reduce the need for physical restraint, but is unlikely to make it completely redundant.
The training in primary and secondary measures are equally important giving staff the confidence to know when and how to hold safely. Joint house meetings involving both young people and staff should again regularly discuss the sharing of the environment both inside and outside the house.

2. You also stated, "I worked in probation (children and youth) for about 6 years before becoming manager of a child care centre. While I was in that position I was often very critical of my manager. Sometimes this was unfair, and sometimes not". Participation Policies/Strategies, consultation and openness of climate will give operational practitioners, strategic managers and young people the confidence to raise concerns without the fear of comeback. It will also allow the sharing of autonomy again promoting self-efficacy for young people, practitioners and managers.

3. "My "desk work" also does not remove me from the realities and challenges of working with children and youth. I sometimes envy my staff who are able to end their shift and go home, while I remain (as a residential manager) on call permanently, ready to leave the comfort of my home whenever a staff member needs me, day or night".This is alarming and extremely worrying given you are a manager and allow this to happen. On call permanently, employment law springs to mind. Are you paid 24/7? I guess not, learn to let go at the end of the day Werner.

Raise this in your supervision!

Cheers
Neil Gray
...

Hi everyone,

I really appreciate all the feedback. I think I am also fortunate to work for an organisation where I receive appropriate support - I know many managers don't. I am certainly not complaining about my position - I
consider myself extremely fortunate. As you may have realised the main point I was trying to make, was that if your team (the large team in the organisation) THINKS of a manager as not being frontline, they (managers) will also not think of themselves as having a role to play on the frontline.

It is all related. It is easy to say "our managers don't understand and don't get involved", but at the same time I think those managers are probably saying "my team doesn't want me there" - or something similar. If we accept the ecological systems perspective as an approach to thinking about problems (or rather just systems in homeostatis) and apply this to these dynamics on an organisational level, we have to accept that we all play a part in how we are managed - every part of the system affects every on ther part of the system - constant dynamic interaction. Even good old Dr Phil says "you teach people how to treat you".

Also, remember that every manager also has a manager (hopefully) - how is your manager being managed (and supported)? When managers are not well supported by their management, you could find a way to provide support as well. Consider John Maxwell's idea of the 360 degree leader, where everybody in the organisation has an opportunity to lead "downwards, sideways and upwards". Everyone has the opportunity to lead the people that they are responsible for, but also lead to their peers, and even to lead their managers (leading upwards). Thinking about it this way, it becomes clear that everyone in a team is responsible for the kind of team they have
- and that includes the manager.

If we feel that (in general) our managers are not providing the kind of leadership we want, or are not in touch with the frontline, perhaps we have something to offer them.

I had a conversation with some youth yesterday - probably the same kind of conversation you have all had with children or youth at some stage - they were not doing their chores. Each one blames the other - "he didn't do his chores, so why should I do mine?". The main point I tried to make to them was that you cannot control the actions of other people, only your own. So why react (re-act) when you can choose better? Fairness has nothing to do with it. If we all based our decisions and actions on what we believe was fair - or how fair we think other people are towards us - we would all be bitter, angry, resentful people. You do what is right, because you believe it is right, and in doing so, how much will it hurt you to reach out a hand to someone else? Perhaps, a manager will learn how to support his staff, if someone on his team supports him (and shows him how to support people). The same I think goes for our managers and our teams. The skills and knowledge of the child care worker is not limited to the child - it is applicable to all people. As child and youth care workers, we have the knowledge and skills to support our managers and to show them how they can best support us.

Then I must add - what a forum this is! A place where we can debate the core issues in the profession and hear such diverse opinions... Thanks CYC-NET.

Werner van der Westhuizen
__________ 

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