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Discipline policy?

2014

Here's an interesting question:
 
Do you think that residential care organisations should have a clear policy on child discipline?

Here is some context: Should organisations who care for children have a policy that advises staff on the approach adopted by the organisation with regards to how to discipline children?  It seems that most policies focus on what actions are poor practice or prohibited practices, but very few policies outline the approach that staff should adopt.  One concern is that a policy cannot detail every possible scenario that staff should have to deal with, and that it may therefore actually inhibit staff or child care workers from making use of their own resources, their skills and intuition, their ability to respond in the moment, and so forth.  My argument is that the purpose of a policy can be to formalise an approach and to commit the organisation to such an approach.  Some may prefer the term behaviour management, or behavioural interventions, etc.  I believe that from a managerial perspective, an organisation should provide employees with a balanced set of policies, that both prohibit bad practices, as well as outline and encourage good practice.  I think we fail miserably when we tell child care workers to adopt a "developmental strength-based approach" to working with children, but as organisations and management we fail to model a  developmental, strength-based approach when working with staff. 

What are your thoughts?  Pro or con for a policy on child discipline?

Werner
...

Hello Werner, yes I most certainly do!
 
Dawne MacKay-Chiddenton
...
 
If I were to guess you are new to Child Care.
 
There are some base consequences for certain actions that all child care workers follow. Most are NOT written. Ie: if a child misuses a toy the following would be ….no toy for x days/hours, limited use, or toy gone. This is the principle that follows any person working with a child. Whether their own child or someone else’s child under that person's care. We as child care workers try to best stay within the natural consequences rule. If you break it you don’t get to play with it anymore. You will need to work and get another.
 
There are gray areas for special populations. Trauma informed care.
 
When a person hears bad, real bad, news and breaks something what more of a consequence should be placed on that person? Or what if there was an accident. If I go to the store and break something should I morally go pay for it? Why doesn’t everyone? Gray area.
 
There is gray within the black and white. That is where the worker comes in. You want to live black and white but with special populations there are ALWAYS two sides (some times three) that must be looked at. Then that worker decides whether black or white should be used or if grey is the best.
 
Enjoy the grey. Embrace the grey,
Donna Wilson
...
 
Hi Werner,
 
I believe that a policy on discipline should be firmly embedded in a clear statement of philosophy regarding the treatment of children. Your point about integrating the organization’s approach to children and staff is well taken. From a relational perspective the traditional ‘book of rules’ is a complete anachronism. The challenge is to create approaches that promote self-responsibility (i.e. discipline from the inside-out) and this can only be achieved where staff and kids are expected to operate from the same set of principles and values.  Many years ago I dismantled the ‘rule book’ in a ‘correctional’ program for young offenders and replaced it with an emphasis on ‘personal boundaries’. The training strategies involved both staff and residents. After two or three weeks of confusion this intervention began to pay remarkable dividends – a dramatic decrease in acting out behaviour, reduced stress reported by staff members and a major shift in the quality of relationships. The most notable outcome was the change in the overall interactional climate within the unit. The golden rule was that the invasion of personal boundaries by both staff and residents would not be tolerated. We still had to be clear about what consequences would apply for boundary violations but, more often than not, these were resolved within the context of the relationship in question. Of course there were still some specific consequences for specific behaviours but, after three months, the list of these non-negotiable rules had been reduced by over eighty percent. I’m offering this as an example rather than a definitive suggestion. I should add that, in response to this initiative, the organization had to revamp its thinking about the way it went about its business.
 
Best wishes,
Gerry Fewster
...

Here is what I think on the matter. The child discipline policy is not a bad idea. It’s actually an innovative way of dealing with child behavior challenges. However, I believe that Child & Youth Care Workers need to realize that difficult behaviors of children are of diverse nature and that there can never be a tool box approach to dealing with challenging behaviors. Behavior management involves a lot of child care complexities like the use of oneself as a tool, promotion of self-discipline and responsibility on the part of the individual, creation of rapport and making use of basic principles of child and youth care work, to name but a few. In addition, given the varying degrees of inappropriate behaviors, it becomes somewhat hard to think that a  policy on child discipline will be “the answer”. Self-awareness on the part of the CYC worker plays a huge part in effectively managing behavior. The CYC field is “relational in nature” and I think that sound relationships with children also play a huge role. Child discipline, I think, is a philosophy, a way of life that calls for child care professionals to change themselves from within and most importantly, respond to child care complexities in the “moment, and in the child’s life space”. It’s easy to have a policy but if these basic human elements and principles are absent, I am afraid we might end where we started...
 
Best wishes,
Vincent Hlabangana

 
Dear Werner,
 
My first question to you would have to be, what do you mean by "discipline"? As a manager of a residential child care establishment in Austria (EU) I would suggest that in my opinion it does not actually need a complete set of policies as such.
 
Much more important are mission statement and guiding principles of your work. Our childcare is based on the principles of social paedagogy and has also strong elements of therapy. We want to provide a safe place for children and young people in which they can overcome the traumata they have suffered in their young lives and develop their potential. It goes without saying that this place has be free from violence and that staff have to be able to understand the children’s behaviours and deal with them professionally and empathically.
 
We work with the theoretical backgrounds and in the tradition of people like Marshall B Rosenberg (Non-violent Communication), Haim Omer (new Authority), Janusz Korzcak, Bruno Bettelheim, Winnicott and many others. A framework of "discipline" can be found in our basic house or group rules, which have been created in a process of negotiation between young people and staff. These are very basic and outline how we want to live and work together. They are not set in stone or static but develop over time. We do not use punishment or penalties, but consequences to unwanted behaviours, which are very carefully measured, time limited and always explained to the child, so they can understand and learn from them. Much more importantly we give praise for prosocial behaviours, work on the children’s sense of self-worth and achievement.
 
There are a lot of excellent models out there that we can all learn from. One of my favourites in this context is the "Circle of Courage" by Martin Brokenleg and Larry Brendtro, which I would highly recommend.

Manfred Humer
...

A slow starter I only just noticed this interesting question and responses to your question. I notice a golden thread in all the responses and this answers many of the challenges that are being faced in Child and Youth care centres today in South Africa. We need to go back and define the role of a CYCC and the role of Child and Youth care workers. From my point of view many CYCWs have a distorted understanding of their role as that of being substitute parents  of children and therefore expect children to behave in a manner that is familiar to them. Once children behave otherwise that child is foreign to them, hence the need then for guidance on managing behaviour. As stated in many of the responses that our work is relational. One teacher in Child and Youth care, Jack Phelan, once said that you must expect “blood” on the floor at a CYCC, this means that we must expect things to go wrong and that a manual how to respond is not always the answer.
 
What I also see in your question is that CYCWs do not really want to respond to challenging behaviour as they seem scared of what might happen. This comes down to organisational structure as to how behaviour was responded to in the past and who was responsible to ensure “good” behaviour of children. I am aware that in the past when things go wrong the social worker must respond. The staff working in the lifespace of the children never had to respond to challenging behaviour and many CYCCs expect staff to respond effectively to children.  A structured manual will think for staff and that will take away the creativity and the implementation of knowledge by staff. I will agree with a guideline on discipline and not a manual. This will also give staff the answer that “things do not work and this child must be removed or moved”.  I also support the notion that responding to challenging behaviour is embedded in the vision and mission of any CYCC and the culture that is adopted. Does the staff feel supported and proper supervision is provided, mistakes are used as learning opportunities and staff are not judged when they make mistakes.  
 
Regards
Alfred Harris
Cape Town
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