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Staff gender balance in boys (14-17) residential schools

2009

Hello,
 
Joe here from Scotland, I’m interested in peoples' views on staff gender balance when working in the residential school setting. On a typical late shift, it is common practice to have two female workers and one male worker assigned to a unit that houses eight young people with a range of complex needs which include challenging aggressive behaviour.
 
As much as female practitioners have much to offer the service, it does mean that challenging  “atypical behaviours” are overlooked more often than they should be. The other variable to consider is when it comes to entering into restraints with young people, the statistics qualify the fact that male workers are left to perform this unsavoury part of the service-provider's behaviour management system ( CALM,TCI etc. )
 
There are a number of reasons why this may happen, for example, it could be cultural e.g. “The  West of Scotland male hunter gatherer attitude”. Or some people may say female staff use other skills and this is often the defence of some female practitioners. As a child-centred male worker I find this defence quite insulting.  
 
I must stress that restraint is only used as an absolute last resort where all other options are considered beforehand. In my opinion the current ratio of 70% Female vs. 30%  Male  is the exact opposite of what it should be and is unsafe. The crux of this means that when it comes to restraint only a small proportion of the staff group are left to perform the worst part of the job.
 
In Scotland review groups are held on a regular basis where senior managers look at patterns in reference to incidents. This is indeed good practice; however it is more likely that the same group of males are involved in the restraint of our young people and hence this may suggest there may well be a problem with the said male workers' practice. In my opinion the real problem is staff ratios are often wrong.
 
I would welcome peoples' comments on this matter.
 
Regards,
 
Joe Gibb
Scotland
...

I believe staff training is the real issue. I've worked frontline for over 10 years and on the surface it seems like the issue is gender related, and I've seen some female staff jump into a restraint quicker than their male counterparts. The reality is that we have both males and females protecting nations and our streets and that is because they are trained effectively or "more effectively". The more importance that is placed on a specific job in our world, the more we invest in training those professionals. Training is the first part; the second part is making sure we do it. A guy once told me "it's not knowing what to do that's important but it's doing what we know that creates change". I agree!
 
Manjit Virk
...
 
According to the latest Scottish Government statistics for Local Authorities (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/276886/0083158.pdf), a total of 2393 people is employed in residential services for children. Of these 697 are male, 1695 female. Percentages: 29.1% male, 70.8% female.  I don't think equivalent statistics are available for the voluntary sector (including Geilsland), but the proportions are probably similar.
 
According to the latest Scottish Government statistics for all looked-after children (http://openscotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/248579/0071293.pdf ), there are 1613 children in residential accommodation. The percentages of males and females in residential accommodation are not published, but for looked-after children as a whole the percentages are about 55% male, 45% female. In residential accommodation the percentage of males may be higher, but I'm not sure about this.
 
For an innovative programme to recruit more males into residential child care, please visit the Men can care website: http://www.mencancare.org/   and also http://www.sircc.org.uk/node/192
 
Hope this is of some interest,
 
Alan Macquarrie
Glasgow
...
 
It would be interesting to look at what is happening before restaints are used by males...;are they using de-escalation skills. I know that there are mainly setting that have refrained from using restraints all together. What would it look like if this type of policy were to be used in your setting? Would there be varying opinions throughout staff?

Bryce and Becky
...
 
I am a female and am right there helping males restrain. I would like to point out that we don't restrain much (18 years of working and only 3 restrains) but I do explain why later. Why are the females stepping back? If I trigger a behavior I want to be in on the therapeutic rapport. I get respected more if I can calm them down as well as trigger aggression. Females are looked at differently than males by all of our youth. I use whatever advantage I have so do the males I work with. We have a special group of coworkers that deal with the youth when times are tough. They are all male and they love their job. These are the veteran staff that can see a youth for the first time at the youth's, shall we say, less than happy time and de-escalate that youth within minutes. We also have the advantage of numbers. When we need it we can call about 5-7 staff to one spot for a short period of time. With those numbers all focused on one youth it doesn't matter what is going on, they usually comply without touching them. I work with very few females but the females I work with are great at the same job the male coworkers are.

It might be your facility or maybe it's you? Are you the male type that jumps before you try talking? I would like to ask, "Why do you have to jump in, make contact?" I have a lot of patience. I can wait longer than most people if the event calls for it. If they are not hurting themselves or others what is wrong with waiting/talking/listening/arguing? I do things much different than my male staff but even though I am a large person and can be intimidating if I need to be, I prefer to rely on my brain. If I had a male or female staff jump to touch before I was ready I would have to discuss this later with them. Always follow the leader as long as the leader is going in the right direction the journey can be any pace that is needed.

 Maybe the facility restricts the females from restraining? Maybe it is the females that you work with that shy away? I have worked with a few males that create the anger and walk out or in some cases run away from the problem. These type need to be helped in how to talk to youth and not AT youth.

 You are a team and it seems you don't think of females on your team as equal? Maybe you should be talking to your female team and let them know your feeling instead of looking for back-up on the net? Find the solution and fix it. Sorry if I said things you didn't want to hear. Some people are not cut out to be youth care workers (male or female) even with the best intentions. Don't just bash females. I can tell you there are great female workers out there very upset you placed them lower on the pole. You do know there are female correctional officers now. And from what I read some are better than the males.
 
Donna Wilson
...
 
Hallo
 
Charles from South Africa here.  What you are saying Joe is almost an accepted practice in residential facilities, especially those that house mainly boys between 14-18 years.  Yes I also want to agree that female staff do bring another dimension to the care aspect, however this is not the whole package. Restraining young people is definitely not the "nice" part of the job. I do believe this can only change if we start to socialize ourselves differently with the understanding that the job at hand is more important at times than your gender. This argument, could be taken to the arena of women in construction, where the expectation is that they perform the same duties as their male counterparts.
 
Regards
 
Charles Harris
...

Hi, I am a male staff that works in CBT with teen girls ages 14 -18 in a residential facility. Gender is definitely an issue in the forefront of my mind at work. I am the only male staff on my shift (2nd) and there are certainly moments when unfortunately, a resident needs to be contained. My facility does not use any kind of restraints, but use SAMA containments and then de-escalate the resident. When containment is imminent, I do not hesitate to act, but I am also acutely aware that I need to use more caution when involved in a containment due to boundary issues that may arise. For the resident it is often an issue of feeling safe, or being assisted in recovering control of themselves with the help of staff. For me rapport and trust play a large role in containment along with patience, and often processing or prompting win out over a containment.

George Bouton
...
 
I’ve been meaning to join into the discussion on physically restraining kids for awhile…
 
When I was in direct practice, I physically restrained a lot of kids.  There were also some kids I physically restrained a lot of times.  This was something I always thought a lot about and talked a lot about with fellow colleagues.  Why we did this, how we could avoid it, whether we had actually initiated the restraint to meet the young person’s need or our own need.  We also spoke things through with kids as much as possible…what was going on for them, what was going on for us, how we could make sense of what happened together, what we might try to do to avoid it getting to this point in future.
 
Since then, I have done a large study of the views and experiences of front line practitioners and kids related to physical restraint.  I’ve written about it in a couple of chapters and a journal article, with more to come. I think part of why I have put off joining this conversation is that there is so much say about this subject that I knew it would be difficult to keep my contribution to the discussion to a reasonable size.
 
In the interviews with practitioners, the subject of gender came up often. Men spoke of being shunted into a bouncer type of role and how this created an expectation of physical restraint occurring.  A few study participants spoke of how this expectation can somehow create the necessity, or perhaps the perception of the necessity, for physical restraint.  One particularly reflective participant spoke of the co-creation of the need for restraint—-co-created by the young person, the teacher in the residential school who called him to come assist, and himself as he walked down the corridor to the classroom—-fully expecting to have to use a physical restraint with this young person in that particular situation.
 
Conversely, I spoke with practitioners about how women were seen as having the ability (or having to have the ability) to de-escalate more effectively to avoid restraint.  Perhaps some of these women’s belief that they could manage the situation without resorting to physical restraint (or had to)-—perhaps along with a similar perception by the kid involved--helped to create that reality.  However, some women also spoke of being pushed out of the way when things escalated, communicating to kids that women were incapable of keeping them safe.  A few also spoke about having to do a restraint when a young person was much more physically powerful.  I have also been in this situation, and what I took from it was that there are other types of power being exercised than just physical power during a restraint.  Psychological power and even the power of relationship are also dimensions to be considered.  For me, there were times when I had the distinct impression that the young person, on some level, needed to let me overpower and control him.  It always left me feeling extremely uneasy—-any time I overpowered a kid.  And, I think we have to be honest with ourselves, we subtly overpowered kids often without ever laying a hand on them.  I suspect that this is still the case.
 
I have deep reservations about physically restraining kids.  I also have deep reservations about completely eliminating the practice of physically restraining kids, particularly when I see the use of drugs, locked rooms or beds with straps as a replacement.  I also worry about the abandonment of kids in our efforts to avoid physically restraining them.  The clear bottom line is that decisions about physically restraining, whether in the moment or larger decisions for our sector, need to be child centred.  However, I think too often decisions are self-serving—- to meet a personal need/want (e.g. for control, counter-aggression) an agency need (e.g. to reduce property destruction or avoid litigation) or even for ideological reasons. And, it’s not always easy to see clearly whose needs are being served and how they will be best served in the face of fear and all the other heightened emotions stimulated by this issue.

To further compound things, I am becoming more convinced that our belief in the necessity of physical restraint contributes to it being necessary—though I’m not convinced that by simply believing we can meet all kids’ needs without holding them when they are escalated that we can therefore do so. It’s so difficult and complex. 
 
Kids’ and practitioners’ needs for a sense of containment, sometimes met through holding, is relevant here, as well as issues of touch, but I’ve already gone on too long.  Another day.
 
Laura Steckley
Glasgow
...

I have gained a great deal from the submissions to this thread which seems to have been bounded by gender, by the physical restraint, by the need for control and by the fear of loss of control.
 
I still wonder if there is a place in our work for conscientious objectors to the physical restraint of children and young people in our work. If there is would their ideas carry influence or would they be considered as well-meaning but wrong. If there is not room for them what does it say about our profession, about the philosophy that underlies our practice and what does it say about our society ?
 
Screaming babies and toddlers need to be physically held by their mothers and their unacceptable terrors absorbed and processed by the mother and returned to the infant in a way the she or he can tolerate. It seemed to me that Thom Garfat describes how this process may be facilitated with an older child in  his article Sitting with Jason in this month's CYC-Online. In this, in my view, important article (which I would add is not about physical restraint) Thom is talking about a boy who lives with his family, but had the event Thom describes occurred in a number of residential child care settings I have known Jason would have been physically restrained because of the damage he was doing to property.   I cannot speak for Thom
Garfat, I don't know what his feelings are about the physical restraint of youngsters, but it seems to me that by showing immense patience at a time when he must have been tempted to 'flee or fight' he came to understand that the child's anger represented a terror of being out of control and his need for someone to hold him emotionally. I am not certain that this insight would have been gained by the youngster or indeed by Thom if he had used physical restraint upon the boy.
 
I may be wrong.
 
Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe
...
 
No Charles, you are not wrong.  Even back then restraint was a distasteful option for me - and it is even more so today as I understand, perhaps, some of the reasons why I think so.  Being with, I think, is the greatest 'container' that we have.  I do understand why sometimes it seems - yes, I know I said 'seems' - necessary to resort to restraint. But I think there are more therapeutic options available - always. 
 
Thom Garfat
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