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Youths' privacy?

2012

As a child and youth care worker, where do we draw the line when it comes to the youths' privacy around their rooms, online accounts, and other personal things of theirs? Is it to only let them use computers as long as you can monitor their activity? To what extent is a room search done and on what grounds? Is the youth present while this is happening? What about them only being allowed calls that can be monitored?  In child and youth care, when are such things considered okay and when are they "crossing the line"?
 
Thank You, 
 
Chelsea Foster
...

Speak with the Child Advocate's office. They have pretty clear understanding of children's rights in these situations.
 
Peter Hoag
...
 
Dear Chelsea,
 
It seems to me that the answer to your question relies heavily on the ethos of your state/agency and your own personal philosophy to youth work. In my view, child and youth care (social care in Ireland) is not unlike parenting. It is about enabling and empowering young people to eventually take their place as independent young adults in society.
 
As a parent I hope that when I die, my children will be able to cope without me. I hope they will not have to rely on state aid or chemical supports (in all their forms) to cope with daily life experiences, and I hope that they will know how to be in relationships (both intimate and societal) in a way that allows them to give and receive love and support. When I work with young people in care I have the same hopes for them as I have for my own children. I remain acutely aware that the children I work with are not my kids, but all the time my work is about enabling and empowering them to take responsibility for themselves.
 
This is where is gets a little bit tricky, since the kids in care are usually starting from a very different place to my own children, so while the eventual aim is the same, the means of getting there may be somewhat different. I may at times have to take control where children cannot control themselves, and in order to teach them how to self regulate I may have to regulate for them, but I NEVER forget that the aim is to give back control at the earliest possible opportunity so that the YP can begin to take responsibility for himself. All interventions are conducted in a way that is supportive and respectful of the young person so that I can build rather then erode trust.

Having said that, I have worked in agencies that don't seem to give a damn about empowering kids, and serve only as agents of social control that contain young people that are a problem to society. If you work in one of these agencies you may find that irrespective of your personal view, the agency policy may require you to impose constant control over children whether they need it or not! You may also find that the children respond to the constant imposition of unreasonable controls with hostility an violence and so very little meaningful work ever gets done.
 
In short, I would say that there is no black and white answer to your question, different kids have different needs at different times. My only advice to you is to keep one eye on your eventual aim which presumably is independence. When you impose controls on kids make sure they are fair, reasonable, consistently applied, respectful of the young person, regularly reviewed, and abandoned at the EARLIEST POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY.
 
With very best wishes from Ireland,
John Byrne
...
 
Hi Chelsea
 
I am a children's rights officer in Scotland where we adhere to the principles of the UNCRC. However I was also a Manager of a Children's unit so I am trying to answer you with both hats on. If doing a room search I would always have the young person present, it shows good practice. Also why are you doing a room search? If you are searching for something is it not better to ask the young person and say why this is happening. Young people should be allowed privacy, I suppose it depends what type of environment the young person is living in. I have worked with young people for twenty years and in all that time I have only had to search a room on two occasions. As an adult I need space. The same is said for young people if we are too intrusive they will resent the intrusion. The phone call situation poses the question what are the risks of private phone calls? I think as practitioners we are wanting the solutions to every problem, this is just not possible.
 
However there is a base line we should work from. I am not saying I have not had difficulties, however I do believe being authentic, open and honest with young people assists when we have to make the difficult decisions regarding the questions you have posed. If there is one thing that young people have told me over the years is they want staff to be honest with them. Can you imagine how betrayed they will feel if you have searched their room and they are not there! I would feel so bad that I had done this. Now I know people who may be reading this are saying "what if there are drugs", what if there is a knife". I would still include the young person and be open about it.
 
Young people have already experienced damage to their relationships why would we want to make this worse. Lastly much of the advocacy I have provided,  young people have said they have good relationships with most of the staff, let's not damage this.
 
Janis Watson
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Hi Chelsea
 
The issue of privacy around youths in care is indeed an issue and certainly needs further investigation and work as far as I am concerned. My personal feeling as far as bedrooms are concerned is that anything that is happening inside that bedroom (their personal space) is really their business including the tidiness of said bedroom. As long as the untidiness is not impacting or spilling out into the communal areas of the house I think it should be left well alone. The issue of the child and youth care worker's relationship with the youth also comes into play here as I find that if you know the youth well and have a solidly developed relationship it should be easier for you to discuss matters and issues that are concerning you with regard to what's going on in the youth's life without having to do room searches etc, etc. I am strongly against searching any private area of any youth and would prefer to discuss the issue that's bothering me openly with the youth but if you feel that you absolutely have to do a room search (absolute last resort) then my feeling is that the youth should definitely be present. Privacy is one of the last things that children/youths in care have to hold on to and it is a basic human right so one tries not to take that away from them.
 
Online accounts can be tricky but again the same principles would apply. Transparency through communication is a far better option than having to do things behind their backs. I know that with some youths one will really battle and the above might not be so easy to apply but generally speaking there should never really be a time when you have to search a youth's room with or without their consent. If this happens you could perhaps ask yourself "how could we have done this differently so as to reach a different result"?
 
Hope this helps.
 
Michelle Linger
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So I'm starting to see a common theme, and that is that we have to work on the relationships between staff and youth. So that whatever is troubling them in their lives they will hopefully be willing to discuss that with us, which in turn might make there no need to do room searches, monitor phone calls, or monitor internet use. And if absolutely necessary to do any of those, to inform the youth of our actions so that we are not going behind their backs. But what is considered absolutely necessary? The suspicion the youth is hiding, alcohol, cigarettes, stolen property, blades, drugs, or drug paraphernalia. And still what are considered good grounds of suspicion?
 
However on the other side of that, I know many agencies monitor internet and phone use so that they can make sure the youth is not talking to someone who they are not supposed to be. Such as; certain family members, gang members, and certain friends. And monitoring internet use to make sure the youth is not looking at drug, gang, porn, or violent sites.
 
There are so many circumstances involved in this issue. Youth not in care are given far more amounts of privacy than those in care
 
Chelsea
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