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Relationship between management and frontline careworkers

2010

Hello All,

I have a question I would like to throw out, but it will require a little background, so please bear with me.

I am charged with building and implementing an ethics policy framework for a child and youth caregiving organization, which is going very well. Early on in the process I came to realize that when designing an ethics policy, ethics training program and ethics violation reporting and resolution procedure for a CYC organization, the relationship between management and the frontline caregivers is inextricably bound up with it. I have come to understand that if an ethics policy for a CYC organization is to be something that all employees can understand and believe in (management personnel and frontline workers alike), it must boil everything down to one common ethical principle/rallying cry that captures the essence of CYC, and at the same time unites all staff behind it. I believe I have found it - "It's all about the kids."

This statement is the reason any CYC organization exists, and it should be the fundamental purpose behind the job of every employee involved. Everyone from the executive director to the accountant, and on down to the residential caregiver on the frontline, has a job because the industry and the organization are "all about the kids"; and if it is to be a truly conscientious, best-practice organization, every decision made by every employee must square with the fact that "it's all about the kids". I am happy to say that I am working for just such an organization.

With all this in mind, I am trying to minimize the "us and them" feeling between management and the frontline; I wish to do this for a host of good reasons, but primarily because to do so would be in the best interests of the children in the long run. "Us and them" in any organization is human nature, but I know that in our organization it is based on imagined feeling more than hard fact. To address this, I have conceived of a program whereby members of the management team, particularly those who have never seen how things work in our residential settings or have never met one of the children in our care, spend a day or half day in one of our homes to gain a better understanding of exactly what a frontline caregiver's work day is like - as a gesture from management to demonstrate that we truly support the work of our frontline caregivers, that we are indeed working towards a common goal with different roles to play, and that management also believes that "it's all about the kids".

However, and here's the rub, I am getting a fair amount of resistance and push back on this from many members of the management team. While it is true that the key factor weighed in all decisions made at the management level of this organization is "all about the kids", some management personnel do not see why this program is necessary or what this will accomplish. It is understandable that 'management types' would bridle at the idea at first glance, and I don't wish to compel anyone to do anything they do not believe in or feel comfortable doing, so I am presently putting together a 'pitch'
to convince members of the management team to participate in this program voluntarily.

So here's my question for people working for CYC organizations (management and frontline) around the world: What experiences have you had, and/or what points would you make, to help management personnel see the value in participating in such a program? Your input would be greatly appreciated, and I thank you in advance for your time and attention to this request.

Peace,

Jeff Kelland
...

Hi Jeff,

 I would start a stage back and try bringing the kids to the management in an informal and neutral forum. Let them tell their stories and maybe extend the invitation to enter their world.

I have witnessed accounts of this being a powerful factor for change in some Scottish local authorities. Some have also introduced mentoring schemes between executives and young people in their care. The full on shift experience is quite daunting whilst few can resist the personal approach.

Good luck with your inclusive message

Peace back
Jeremy Millar
...

Jeff,

 I want to make sure that you have seen the code of ethics developed for the field of youth by the Association for Child and Youth Care Practice and utilized by the National Certification Board. If not let me know and I am glad to pass this along:

amunoz@pitt.edu

While you are asking a much deeper question, sometimes it helps for management to see that other managers are expected to follow a code of ethics together with the youth workers in their agencies. Sometimes the frame can be shifted to the idea that we are all youth development professionals, manager and workers, with a shared commitment to a code of ethics.

Andy Schneider
...

Hi Jeff,

Regarding your ethics policy framework, your idea to get managers to do a half day in the same role as supervisees is a great idea. Managers who disagree obviously have something to hide.

What manager would charge and/or ask anyone to do something they could not do theirselves? What happened to your/their participation policy? Am I led to believe that some managers do not lead from the front and only come out the ivory tower when something goes poorly, surely not. Every manager should know every child in the care home as well as every staff member, c'mon really basic stuff.

Why do you not get workers to do the managers job for a half day, I think you will be quietly surprised at the high amount of staff who can and will do a better job.

Neil Gray
...

Peace to you as well. I would say that making participation on the management voluntary will undermine the ethical thrust of the agency's practice. When a focus, or mission, or philosophy is chosen, we cannot have some managers going along with it and others not. Although it will be frustrating and time consuming, I suggest that in a case like this, it's all of us or none of us, to keep the kids from trying to figure out why the climate varies from one person to another and whether it's them first, or not.

Lorraine Fox
...

Jeff

I am inclined to think that the last thing that is desirable is management to buy into an ethos where "It's all about the kids" . This will eventually lead to an imbalance in the relationships between staff and the young people you look after. All people need to be equally valued and difficulties will arise when "it's all about the kids" starts to come at the expense of staff. Young people need to feel valued but they also need to be enabled to value the adults around them.

The British Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics states that "practice should both promote respect for human dignity and pursue social justice, through service to humanity, integrity and competence". The "us and them" feeling between management and the frontline staff results from weak application of this universal principle and a tendency to extend it only to service users as is evident in an ethos where "it's all about the kids" . Management should model in their relationships with staff the relationships they expect staff to have with young people. Putting any faction first (young people, frontline staff or management) will not foster the most effective professional relationships that aspire toward mutual respect.

Young people will mirror the relationships they observe among adults so unless "respect for human dignity and [pursuit of] social justice, through service to humanity" is evident in relations between all levels of staff there may be trouble ahead. I cannot believe "it's all about the kids" and would instead uphold that "it's all about the value we place on every person".

Ni Holmes
Scotland
...

Hi Jeff,

Wow. Have you grabbed onto an issue. An us against them administration/direct service model. I remember it so well.

In my part of the world (Louisiana), the dominant philosophy for residential programs seems to be 'anyone knows how to raise kids.' Many programs pay 'direct care' staff somewhere around minimum wage. Don't need any special credentials. A high school diploma will do, or maybe just some experience. Their job - to supervise the kids, provide structure, and of course consistent consequences. And make sure they keep their therapy appointments. That's where treatment happens.

But this job that they think anyone can do - they are afraid to go anywhere near it. Or to go anywhere near the kids. Perhaps they just feel out of place with 'those kids.'

On the other hand, having worked in administration my entire career (but in small programs where my office was always on the unit where the kids lived), I know what administrators and such have to do. Just as they don't understand or fully appreciate the jobs of front line staff, I suspect front line staff don't have a full appreciation of the jobs and responsibilities of administration personnel. Their days are full of tensions and pressures of a different kind. They are no more comfortable taking a day, or even a half day from their work than you would be taking a day from your unit. There's got to be a good reason to leave your responsibilities for a day.

I support your desire to get them more involved. My suggestion. First, stop asking them to spend a day to see what direct care staff are doing. Let it rest for a month or two. Then figure out how to get them involved. Some ideas.

1. Figure out something they can offer to the kids. Some area of expertise - maybe a presentation on budgeting and money management. Maybe something about the agency's funding and limited resources. E.g., if we can reduce or eliminate property damage or waste of supplies, we will have money for new equipment (pool table) or activities (go cart racing). Or a hobby or some other area of expertise - music, sports, dance, how to use makeup - or anything else that some of them might have some special expertise in. In other words, have them come to contribute something only they can contribute rather than come to watch you. Make them feel needed.

or

2. Have the kids invite them for something. Dinner, perhaps cooked by the kids. A show put on by the kids. We've had incredibly talented kids to put on shows that had us in stitches. Or just some singing. If some talented kids prepared invitations, or went to personally invite them (obviously wanting to express their appreciation for all administration has done for the program), they will find it difficult to refuse. Or have an awards banquet for the kids and invite the administration. Once they get a taste, you may be able to build on it. If something after hours doesn't work, maybe something at lunch time.

or

3. Have them do some sort of training with the staff on something related to administration and community relations and funding and all the stuff that administration does, remembering that staff know little more about what they do than they know about what staff do.

or

4. A special project, like cleaning up an area, moving some stuff, painting a unit, or some area of administration, planting a garden, etc., where everyone works together on something.

You know your administration, your staff, the kids, and the facility. I suspect you may come up with better ideas. Your goal is great and much needed. Administration isn't buying it. So I'm thinking you have to sneak up on them some other way.

Wishing you success.

John Stein
New Orleans
...

Hi Jeff

Organizational change is a process and a delicate one, change in general can be intimidating, especially when people begin to feel comfortable in what they do and how they have been doing it, so I can understand why when trying to implement your program it has posed some challenges for you in getting everyone on board. Furthermore, each person is different in how they cope with change, the assumptions they may have about the change (its impact, the need for it, and the reasons why it is being implemented). Therefore, I think a great starting place would be to address the issue of change. I am not sure what you have done with this group around this transition etc but some of the ideas I have would be to ensure this team is as much a part of this change process as possible, because without some real collaboration I believe resistance is almost a natural reaction. Furthermore, to address the "us vs. we" within the organization, modeling a collaborative approach that includes all members placing importance in the knowledge and experience of the workers and management would be a good way to a) model collaboration but also b) encourage collaboration.

A strength based approach here would also be a key element in collaborating with the team by pulling from and identifying their strengths in this collaborative effort, and allowing opportunities for people to really get involved in this change. I also think one thing you could try would be to use "reflective practice" in your collaborative attempts, this would model this approach to practice and also allow the team opportunities to engaging reflective practice in relation to what you are trying to implement ( ethics, a rights based approach etc). Additionally, your could utilize a "reflective practice" approach to have the team explore change, and why change can be a very healthy element in this line of work, because even if a person has been doing the same thing for years doesn't necessarily mean it's the only way, and also exploring places outside our comfort zones helps practitioners to evolve personally and professionally.

To summarizes the following are areas that could be used, or continued to be
used:
1) A strength based approach
2) Reflective practice
3) Collaboration and integration
4) Provide opportunities for people to explore their own experiences
thoughts, and ideas around change, this change, and their practice

Thanks for your thought provoking questions, good luck to you Jeff!

Sincerely,
Vanessa Lalonde
...

I would suggest you focus on "Systems Theory" and how each individual child is affected by the systems (and each individual in the system) that are part of his/her life. That would include every employee that works at your agency from the janitor on up. It is vital that everyone knows and does their part (what's in their job description) and how their particular part affects every other part and person (whether directly or indirectly). Remembering that "the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts". Meaning while each person/position is important the most important is the service provided to each and every kid that comes through your doors.

Angie Courville
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