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Violence against staff?

2014

Hi, 

During a ‘heated exchange’ a staff in one of our facilities was struck hard by a young woman with whom she (the staff) already had a tense relationship.  The staff pressed charges against the youth (as is her right in this area).  The staff was moved to work in another program while the charges are processed.

We (the staff still in the program) are struggling with how to be with the young person who struck the staff.  Any helpful ideas would be appreciated.
 

Claire L.
...

Hi Claire
 
Am not sure what to say, your question is very difficult to answer, but I believe that Restorative Justice must take place, the 2 parties must sit down and discuss the matter and try to solve it.
 
But for me, I would like to know, what disciplinary measures were taken beside opening the case against the young person?
 
Mr. M. Mntwana
...
 
If the children in the home are attacking your staff then the manager needs to assess your program and/or the performance of that staff.  The children are always the first to blame.
 
Barry Smith
...
 
Hi Claire,
 
The information given in in this email is vague about the staff and girl’s relationship and what triggered the girl to assault the staff. Was the staff verbally abusive towards the girl? Has the girl been diagnosised with mental illness? Does the girl have a history of violence? Without knowing the answers to these questions I am unable to offer a behavioural plan for this girl, but I am confident that every human being’s behaviour can be managed and be positively altered to function higher.
 
Colleen Sparks
...
 
Hi Claire,
 
Being physically assaulted (for whatever reason in whatever circumstances) can be experienced as traumatic, and having this happen to a colleague can also be traumatic.  My guess would be that the reason you are struggling with how to "be" with this young person is because you have experienced a traumatic event - even though you were not directly affect, you can still be indirectly traumatised. Of course we are expected to be trained in managing conflict, de-escalation etc etc, but we are still human.  Training does not make us immune to trauma.  I regularly work with people who were traumatised due to violence of some kind, and this often something that is overlooked or brushed aside. 
 
I would suggest that you obtain counselling and/or supervision for the team that were affected as soon as possible.
 
Then of course you need to consider postvention - looking at this incident (perhaps with some outside assistance) and picking up the learnings, the things that would help you prevent such an incident in future (as far as reasonably possible). 
 
Of course there may be many other issues relevant here, but this is my brief response and I know it does not address everything. 
 
Good luck.
 
Werner van der Westhuizen
...
 
You want to be “with her” the same way you would be if she had committed another infraction, even an illegal one.  If she was caught using drugs, having sex, stealing, etc. you would not think she had suddenly become another person.  In this case her distress expressed itself in a way that might be familiar to her from her family.  You want to keep her in the relationships that matter to her and help her process what she did – how she caused harm to another person who was trying to care for her, discuss consequences, and offer her assistance – as you would with any other behavior.  You probably also want to use this opportunity to help her understand how some behavior has much harsher consequences than others.  In this case, it’s going into a legal proceeding.  In the case of domestic violence or street fighting, it might mean going to jail.  In the case of hurting a child it might mean losing that child.  If this staff alienates her you will miss the opportunity to give her some important life lessons, as well as to let her know that making a mistake does not mean she is no longer cared for.
 
Lorraine Fox
...
 
Supporting rather than judging is key. You do not want to loose this person either. That person could be going through severe trauma that may have been triggered unknowingly.
 
Roxanne Anderson
...

I'd advocate she be supported in the same way others are supported. It is ironic to me that children and youth are criminally charged for behaviors which get them institutionalized in the first place. The irony to me really is that the adults who have all the power over the youth feel it their right to reach to a higher authority to punish youth who act out in ways which they are seeking treatment for. On the other hand I have seen it both ways, youth deciding to make better choices after facing more extreme consequences such as criminal charges. Who is talking with this youth about all of this? Lest she become harder and more angry with the system she may benefit from empathy and acceptance that she has made a mistake and will be supported through her travels in criminal (in)justice system. Does your company do restorative justice? What are the consequences for the adult who was a contributor to the youth's attack? I've seen adults who have ongoing conflicts with kids push those kids buttons in a vain attempt to "help" them. Vain is key here. Whose needs are being served? What message is the youth learning? Are these the messages we want to teach future citizens?
 
I would join the youth and let her explore her thoughts and feelings in this situation. Help her develop a responsible response of responsibility for her behavior and present it to the staff, in a mediated way and stating what she needs from  Staff when she gets heated. Implement life space crisis intervention and help her learn better ways of coping and communicating. The staff sound as if they could benefit from similar support.
 
Pressing charges, while perhaps being her right, does not restore the sense of efficacy and safety she deserves in her relating-to youth clients. Sounds like she will benefit from education and support in developing more skills and confidence in herself to step away from conflicts or learn assertive nonviolent ways of being in conflict. Again LSCI training.
 
Nobody wins when kids are made into criminals. We just postpone development. Violent behavior is not criminal behavior, it's adaptive behavior. Some might say maladaptive, but if your words are not getting you the results you are looking for (personal power) fists may work, then a weapon.
 
Who is for the youth regardless of her behavior? Unconditionally?
 
Peter DeLong
...
 
Unfortunately this can be a feature of daily life within a residential unit. We can feel disapproval for the behaviour but must remain resolute in our commitment to the youngsters within our care. In my experience using your relationship to make effective change is the biggest tool we have in our job and this will be an effective vehicle for a life space interview surrounding the event. If we start treating anyone differently or disengage from them then all will be lost and they will feel they have nothing to lose raising the likelihood of the same thing happening to another staff member
 
Ruby Whitelaw
...
 
Hi there
 
As someone who had been struck by a young woman during a somewhat “heated exchange” at a children’s home years ago, I have a few questions and maybe a comment or two.
 
I notice you say nothing about how the young woman reacted after the incident. How did this affect her? You talk about your experience of not knowing how to “be” with her…how does she feel about “being” with you? Does she know how to “be” now? My experience has been that the young person is a hundred times more affected by the “crossing of the line” and that they often feel that it is impossible to find their way back. This could very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a more secure bridge!
 
Remember, as I am sure you do, our relationships are “for” the clients, not for ourselves, so we need to use what we feel as a tool to see where the child may be at. Then push through our discomfort to reach the young person. But hey, you are human! And so is she. Perhaps it may be worthwhile to have a conversation about what the discomfort feels like for you – name it, so that it isn’t this huge elephant in the room. This is not about why she did what she did, or figuring out what is right or wrong – that would just lead to more tension.  RATHER ask how this state of limbo feels like for her – if she does not want to talk, express what you think it must feel like using words like “perhaps” or “maybe” or “I’d feel”, so that she can see your empathy and maybe find words for how she’s feeling.
 
Don’t make it a long discussion, unless she elicits more conversation from you. Just show empathy and – most importantly - state your willingness to be there. Perhaps adding a bit of positive feedback to the mix, so that she can see you are not staring blindly at the misdeed.
 
In my case it worked out well – it was a catalyst for change and I still maintained contact with the young woman for years after she left the Home.
 
Someone told me recently that in order for change to happen one needs discomfort and hope.  I reckon there is enough discomfort here already, but hope?
 
Alex Botha
...
 
When assaults on staff occurs, many times staff may have not done what they could or should, and yet charges were brought. One horrible incident involved a youth picking up a stool and knocking out a teacher from behind  (the teacher assistant had just stepped out of the classroom). The teacher was knocked out and blood everywhere. Fortunately, other students were there to disarm the youth and call for help from Youth Care staff.  Rescue and police arrived, the teacher taken to the hospital and the youth sent to jail. Another incident involved a youth stealing the van keys, racing down the interstate highway with several police in pursuit at high speeds. The van rolled over - miraculously - no injuries (or other motorists involved) and the youth arrested.  Both incidents where years apart - but did happen.
 
I have trained in LSCI several times, and believe both incidents were preventable.  Both incidents were the result of staff not doing they best they could. Both staff were met with in supervision (including the teacher after returning from the hospital). When working with dangerous kids, staff need to have their wits about them, and never turn their backs. Staff need to know kids are capable of stealing and must to be much more meticulous in their work.
 
Not all assaults were as bad as the two mentioned above, but many charges were pressed. As kids in treatment receive trauma informed care, they are also taught responsibility. As in the real world, when dangerous acts are committed, there are natural consequences. I have been in several courtrooms where I have witnessed youth turn the tables and tell the judges, "if it weren't for that terrible youth care worker - or that nasty group home....etc." and I know that the youth care worker never did any of those things!! So the judges (and even social workers fall for the lies) and the "poor victim" is sent to another facility and continues the same dynamic and never receive the real treatment or learning, because they know how to play the system. These kids then age out of residential and are well trained to do the wrong things and get away with them. Sheltering residential youth from law enforcement may not always be the best approach.
 
As a practitioner of Restorative Justice, I believe Restorative Justice and Criminal Justice should work together - not exclusive of each other or apposed to each other. When these systems do not work together, nobody wins.
 
Gene Cavaliere
...
 
Hello there, All behavior is a form of communication and no behavior happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Being empathetic to this youth, try to understand them in more of their background/life experience sense then a case management sense. Imagine you being in their shoes in a restrictive setting etc... Remember burn out rate is high in our field therefore not to personalize occurrences because there are most likely more good then negative during a shift and our job is to realize, show and facilitate that positive.
 
Cheers
 
Leslie Langman
...
 
Good day all
 
The topic is quite an interesting one. I’ve worked with young boys of which all were awaiting trail and 90% if not more belonged to some sort of street gangs let alone prison gangs. It is always interesting when this issue is raised, in all my 17 years working in such volatile and may I say “testosterone’ filled environment, attacks on staff was just around the corner. Being vigil and alert is but a part of it, the overwhelming factor is your relationship with the young people you work with. Like the saying goes ‘treat people the way you want to be treated’ and be as truthful as humanly possible, remember, these were boys who only knew one way of dealing with differences or when they experience crises, through acting out which can be violent outburst amongst themselves or attacking in some cases the staff member with whom they have no real relationship with. Just to add, through all my years with the boys not once did I feel threatened or at the end of an attack, looking back I can safely say, this was through having good professional relationships with the boys in my care. One last thing….don’t be in charge, facilitate the development of each young person in your care.
 
Charles Harris 
...
 
Claire,
 
I personally would go in with a clean slate. This girl as you said already had a volatile relationship with the staff she hit. This is your chance to create a positive relationship with this youth. If she knows that there is no judgement and you truly are there to guide her, perhaps you can start the positive relationship this youth is seeking.
 
Rebecca White-Kettyle
...

Hi,
 
Whatever happened to unconditional love? I was kicked so hard by a teen that a rib was broken. There were consequences for the behaviour, but I never gave up on the teen. Today we are friends, and they often turn to me for advice. This young adult is living a successful life, helping others, and has often commented to me that I never gave up, and just kept loving, and how much impact that had.
 
Veronica Jubber
...
 
Hi there,
 
I fully agree with Charles' reply. 
 
I can also add the following from my own experience, it is not a direct reply to the original question posted, but perhaps a more general observation about dealing with assault, potential assault and the issue of "escalated encounters".  I have been working in residential care for about 12 years now, and thinking back I can recall about 10 times that I have been involved in the physical restraint of children and young people.  I must honestly say that, in hindsight, only 1 of these were instances where physical restraint was really necessary.  I was simply not properly trained on how to de-escalate a situation, and neither were my support staff.  The outcome of these tense situations depend greatly on the ability of the worker to remain fully in control of himself/herself during the encounter, and to avoid having that "alarm reaction" where the body and mind goes into fight/flight mode.  It is unfortunately true that in almost all the encounters I have had, the situation escalated because the worker did the wrong things which further escalated the situation. 
 
Part of dealing effectively with these tense situations is having a proactive environment, where one purposefully designs encounters to increase the chances of prosocial behaviour and developmentally adaptive outcomes.  Part of this proactive environment is the ability of staff to pick up on "red flags" and respond to these before things get worse.  And when staff are aware that the situation is tense, that they do not know how to "be" in the situation, that is a red flag that needs attention.
 
I think it is a brilliant example of reflective practice that workers will discuss such a difficult situation, because that is the first step towards proactively dealing with the situation.  Practitioners who openly admit their dis-ease with a situation should be commended for tackling the most difficult client they will ever deal with - themselves.  It is pure fantasy and delusion to think that we can effective without paying constant attention to our own human reactions to situations, and working actively to deal with our of feelings and thoughts.  After all, in an emergency we have to first put on our own oxygen masks before assisting "fellow passengers" - yet we neglect this important aspect all the time.  It is impossible to care for children and young people without effectively caring for our staff and teams.
 
Werner van der Westhuizen 
_______

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