Hi. I'm working with a practicum student who is having issues with a client. The client is a sex offender, and the student has stated that she cannot get past this "label", and any interactions with him are predictably ineffective. I have several thoughts on exploring different options with her, but I could use some help.
The bigger question posed is: How do we, as child and youth care counsellors, move beyond our feelings of dislike/abhorrence of clients, for whatever reason, to become effective in our relationship with the child?
I am sure there will be many answers to this query and let me just take a moment to thank Patty for raising a very tricky question. I have asked myself this question many times over the past 15 years and the answer that I use today (it has changed over the years) is as follows: why should we as child and youth workers need to move beyond feelings of dislike for certain clients? The field of child and youth care work is so vast with such an enormous spectrum of clients that it is foolish to assume that we will "like" everyone. Shouldn't we know our limitations, explore them in supervision, and — when necessary — refer client's elsewhere? Sometimes the latter may be as simple as having someone else within the agency work with the child instead of you. Clearly, all must be treated with professional respect; and it is crucial that we distinguish between the mildly annoying and the truly abhorrent, yet why must we "like" everyone? Why must we work with everyone? Do we as the professionals ever get to say "no"?
PS: I wonder if Patty's question would be different if any other issue were substituted for Sex Offender?
Hi Patty, My husband who has been a CYC for more than 25 years, has in the past ten years be working with teen male sex offenders. I could not do the work, but, I'm glad that he does. I will ask him if he could speak to you on this topic. He does individual, group (both youth and the parents), consults with agencies in the community, and trains staff in a group home. I'll get back to you with more information.
I have run into this problem with the parents of the kids I work with. What I find helps is to focus on the philosophy that as helping professionals we need to come from a mindset that all people, regardless of what they have done, are deserving of our unconditional positive regard. Always assume that the person is doing the best they can with the resources that they have at the moment.
Also, in the Loving Kindness Meditations that I have
shared with you, you may recall that a person can simply 'plant the seed'
and move on, i.e. don't get too enmeshed emotionally either way (hate or
love). This helps to protect our personal and professional boundaries.
I kind of hear where you are coming from. I just completed my second year practicum placement in a residential center and I also worked with a resident who has similar issues.
My first semester with him was quite adventurous to say the least, and it reached a point where I needed to detach from the situation and re-evaluate my own belief and value system and reflect upon what I could do to make this experience more positive for both of us. To be honest, this took an entire month, so show yourself as much patience as you give the kids. That in itself helped a lot. I also found a three part series* on the CYC-Net that talks about working with juvenile sex offenders and that gave me more understanding into what issues he is dealing with, and what approaches are effective. I then did some research and found out what approach the center and other agencies were taking when working with him and found that what they were doing made a great deal of sense, so I took that information and applied it to my own approach. This created a far healthier atmosphere that's far sure and then I felt more comfortable. Then, and only then, I was able to engage in one-to-one activities with him. After the break we were able to reestablish the relationship and it was much more therapeutic for him, and even though sometimes it was still difficult, it was much healthier.
* See this three-part series by Grant Charles and Jennifer Collins:
The Treatment of Adolescent Sex Offenders: Growth Promoting Premises of Residential Care
We can not like or be able to work with every youth that comes our way. That is just a fact of life. We do need to know our limits and who we can or can not work with. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves and ask what gets in the way of working with some youth. This is important for self growth, it does not mean that we have to work with youth we just can not work with.
Like I mentioned in my response to Patty, I am glad that my husband does the work he does, but I would not do it. However, I have learnt a lot about sex offenders from him, and this has helped me to see young sex offenders in a different light. Still would not work with them though.
I know very few who would and I am happy to know that there are people who can.
There are times, for many different reasons, that we are not able to work with a particular child. It is just as important for an individual to recognize this, as much as it is to learn how to work with this particular type of client. Bottom line is I would have another individual work directly with this child and have the staff who is not able to, perform other duties. If I informed you that you must learn how to work with an abusive male when you are threatened no matter what your experiences, you may eventually leave the field or continue to be submissive or ineffective with addressing your concerns.
Maybe you need to see the client as a youth first and foremost, who happens to have committed a sex offence? If you can't get past it — get out and do you and your client a big favour. S/he deserves someone who can set their own prejudices aside. Not to do so and to continue to work with this client is abusive to both of you.
Mary Jo Arnold
This question reminds me of the emotional (almost 'spiritual') demands that are placed on cyc workers at times. It's been a while since I worked first-line, but my recollection of this is that trying to see the young person as a suffering being and finding just one thing to like about them usually helps.
Read the book Being in Child Care, especially chapter named What is There to Learn? You may be surprised what you learn about yourself by working with children. Each of us has a child inside us and if we haven't dealt with issues this child has, how can we deal with issues the youth we work with have. We are all guilty of what you have described at some time and if you think you aren't then look again. We often need someone else to help us to find that child and help us identify why we don't like a certain youth we are working with. Good Luck in your quest!
I have recently been working with a family (only father and son, mother's whereabouts unknown) where the father who seems rather bitter adopts a sneering and hostile attitude to me and the son seems to have the same attitude. I can't get past this personally and find myself disliking both clients, which completely blocks my motivation and ability to be of help — or want to be of help. How do other youth and family workers cope with this?
When working with clients that you do not like you need to remind yourself that this is not about you. You need to try and see how they view the situation. It is not surprising that the son acts like the father as it is probably learned behaviour. If you find that you can not work with this family you need to step back and allow some else to, and reflect what is going on for you.
I think you need to ask yourself what could be going on for them to make them react the way they are. Be curious, rather than personalizing their attitudes. I would acknowledge the attitude you are sensing from them and genuinely ask what's happening for them, and acknowledge that maybe they've had bad experiences with professionals in the past and talk about those experiences. Find out their expectations. It doesn't say whether you are a male of a female; if you are a female there could obviously be some transference issues happening.
When this happens I step back and remind myself that nobody kidnapped me and drove me to work this morning--not to be flippant but it really helps to remember that I made a conscious choice to do this kind of work--so why am I concerned personally when clients can be hostile or difficult since I chose to work with people who are coming in for help with exactly such issues? It has helped me remain as positive about the work I chose to do, and our field, after 26 years working in residential care working as a child care worker right on up the ladder to Director.
It's hard to respond to your query without knowing much about the circumstances involved in the referral process for this family. Is your service voluntary or are these folks mandated to participate?
Either way, one avenue to approach your situation would be to open up a conversation with the father and son about what their expectations are for your work together, how they see the relationship ... as well as being very open about what your role is with this family ... especially around encouraging them to discover and own the solutions to their issues.
If they are completely negative about participating, you can put the question back to them as to why they are continuing your working relationship and explore other possibile ways for them to access service.
I think often this type of hostile behaviour is defensive, i.e., when clients perceive uneven power dynamics between themselves and their worker!
I think that the word "hostile" which you used is probably very accurate. We know that people who have been habitually hurt or rejected, get to the stage where they generalise an expectation of the worst from any relationship.
Therapists like Rogers and Kelly suggested that "hostility" is a rigidity in our negative world view (e.g. nobody cares about me) and a rejection of any incoming experiences which may question our "stuck" world view. Instead of allowing new data to influence our position, we force the data to confirm our position. So our hostile behaviour defends our position (which somehow explains our unhappiness or distrust).
When you, the worker, are frightened off by this hostility, you leave them with this view ("There you are, see? Nobody sticks by us ... nobody cares"). A central task for all of us who work with hurt children and families is really to stick around -- and to PROVE THEM WRONG.
Barbara Varenhorst (writing on harnessing the energies of love in Reclaiming Children and Youth) uses these words: "One moment of unconditional love may call into question a life-time of feeling un-worthy, and invalidate it!"
Through no fault of our own we do run into personality conflicts and in best interest for the client we need to either find the positive in that client and focus on that or if we aren't able to do this we need to give the file to someone else to work on. You do not need to interpret this as a failure only a learning experience and then look for what you have learned from it.