CYC-Online 13 FEBRUARY 2000
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In his Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice, David Roush looks at the special people who make up the staff team – relevant to all fields of child and youth care work

I. What is a professional

How would you know a professional juvenile detention careworker when you see one? The Illinois Probation and Court Services Association (IPCSA) addressed this question several years ago and identified five general characteristics worthy of consideration.

The professional juvenile detention careworker is well trained. The professional takes full advantage of both in service and offsite training programs. The professional engages in self-evaluation and works to correct skill deficits. The professional demands ongoing job performance evaluations, participates in the process, and actively seeks ways to improve perceived job skill deficits. The professional reads professional journals, newsletters, and selected texts. The professional is a member of State, local, and/or national associations. The professional is constantly asking, “How can I do my job better?"

The professional juvenile detention careworker knows the rules and plays by them (policies and procedures). The professional knows policies and procedures, under standing why they require certain kinds of behaviour on the part of staff. The professional understands the system and knows how it works. The professional understands policy and procedure development so that changes in policies and procedures can be implemented quickly and efficiently to in crease the quality of care to detained youth. The professional adheres to policies and procedures as the best defense against liability.

The professional is proficient at observation, report writing, and other forms of supervision.

The professional juvenile detention careworker is an effective problem solver. The professional remains calm and emotionally neutral during crisis situations. The professional is non-condemning and nonjudgmental of de rained youth.

The professional depersonalizes a youth's anger and aggression. The professional is adept at verbally and non verbally de-escalating a youth's inappropriate behaviours.

The professional juvenile detention careworker is a helper. The professional has made a personal commitment to helping troubled youth and looks for the potential in every situation to help youth change.

The professional juvenile detention careworker is the “right kind" of person. Because this category is rather vague, further references are made to the thoughts of the late Dr. Ernest Shelley:

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II: My kind of team

E.L.V. Shelley

It is my good fortune that during virtually all of my professional life, I have had the opportunity to be active in developing, supervising, and evaluating good institutional programs for offenders who have become involved in either the juvenile or the adult justice systems. Although I agree with Jerry Miller that reforming institutions is a very difficult job and a bit futile because, as he believes, the whole job has to be done over again every 5 years, I do not agree with him that it is, therefore, a waste of time. Institutions of the correctional type do have a legitimate place in our efforts to deal effectively with offenders, and if they are intelligently planned and effectively supervised, they can make special contributions. As I see it, there are several basic ingredients if we are to have a good institution. They are: (1) goals, (2) staff of the right kind, (3) a therapeutic atmosphere, (4) adequate involvement by the community, and (5) a careful, periodic, and competent evaluation of what has been accomplished.

Staff of the right kind
I have been asked to address myself to the problems of finding and maintaining the kind of staff which we want and need if institutional goals are to be achieved. It is my firm conviction that in the last analysis, the problems of people who are having difficulty functioning in society are problems or disturbances in their interpersonal relationships and that the correction of these problems logically involves repairing those relationships. In other words, the problems of juvenile offenders in the last analysis are problems with their relations to people, and they can only be solved by interactions with people. Buildings, equipment, money, and so forth may be the means to an end, but they are not the indispensable stuff of which good treatment is made. To have the kinds of people whom we want staffing our institution, we must be sure that the selection process brings us the right kind of people in the first place. The kind of person one “is" is incredibly more important than the kind of training or experience one has had. If we start with the wrong kind of persons, then training just simply makes them more competent incompetents. If we start with the wrong kind of persons, then training just simply makes them more competent incompetents. If we start with the wrong things, and they just wind up being more entrenched in error If we have the best kind of people in the beginning, they respond quickly and effectively to training and experience, which simply enable them to do what comes naturally to them.

The qualities
Here are some of the qualities that I look for in the kind of staff person I want to have working on my team in my facility:

I want an optimist. I want a person who is always able to see the constructive positive in a situation or a person, even though that might be a relatively small part. The basic difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the pessimist looks at the pitcher of water and says, “It's half empty," and the optimist looks at the very same pitcher of water with the same volume in it and says, “It's half full." They are both right, but their attitudes are considerably different. Now, I am not advocating a fatuous optimism or a Pollyanna approach to life that says, “Everything is just lovely," and ignores the problems. But I do want a person who can always find something real and worthwhile in the messy situation or in the troubled person and still be encouraged to keep on trying. In the last analysis, we frequently go just about as far as our confidence and faith in the future will let us.

I want a person who believes deeply and unshakably in the potential of a human being to change. I want a person who can agree with me that there are no hopeless cases, only people who feel hopeless about them. To help people change, you must somehow radiate a confidence and conviction that they have the potential to do so. Too many professionals and too many of the experiences in the system say loudly and clearly to juveniles, “You are a lost cause!" And, therefore, they are “lost causes." Goethe, the great German poet-philosopher, said “Treat a man as he is, and he will stay as he is; but treat a man as if he were becoming what he could become, and he will become it." Human personality is dynamic; it is never irretrievably set. There is no good scientific evidence to sustain the idea that by age 2 or 22 or 42, the pattern of human personality is so deeply set that change is not possible. I have been in the business of helping staff produce change in offenders young and old, and nobody could ever get me to accept for one hot little minute the idea that at some point in life, our maturation and growth have to stop. It may stop because we let it stop or because others encourage us to believe it has stopped, but the potential for change is still there, and this must be spoken, too! And when it is stated effectively, miracles happen.

My ideal staff person not only believes in the potential of people to change their lives, but he or she must be able to recognize change when it comes. This sometimes means that you accept much less change than you had hoped for or expected or that the process is much slower than you had hoped. Yet you must be able to see growth when it happens. You need this in order to keep yourself encouraged and in order also to encourage the troubled person you are trying to help. We must recognize the change, must hold it up, and must help the other person to see it. We don't try to give them the idea that they have arrived, but we do continually help them to see that they are on their way.

There must be a deep respect for the sacredness of personhood. “God doesn't make junk." People are not expendable. My religious faith teaches me that every person is known to his or her Creator and is created for a purpose. I may not understand the purpose, but I believe it exists, and I look for it with awe, perseverance, and wisdom. My involvement in the shaping of personality is a high and holy calling. Personhood is our only immortality. Emerson said, “The day you die everything that you own automatically and immediately passes in ownership to other people. The only thing that you can keep as your own is what you were and are. Our personality is our most valuable legacy and is an intensely personal possession. People are not pawns in a chess game or merely things to be played with in the laboratory for someone's amusement. They are human beings in process of development, and we should be proud to have some part to play in that development. This, by the way, is also our legacy because we leave to the world the impact we have made on those with whom we have worked.

The good staff person is capable of caring caring a great deal, not just a little! Also, do we care enough to sometimes stand off and not interfere? The good careworker possesses this quality, and the lack of ability to care for those whom we are trying to help is the Universal sign of the incompetent and misplaced worker. If we cannot care about people, then we have no concern about what happens to them. This is not to urge a maudlin, teary-eyed, sob-sister kind of caring that oozes emotion all over the victim. It is rather simply saying, “I'm here; I care about what happens to you; and I am willing to do what I can to be of help to you. I hurt when you do things that are not good for you. I feel good when I see you do things that are good for you."

Finally, a good staff person, in my estimation, is a good team player. None of us is wise enough to have all the answers about any one person all the time, not even the psychologists. We certainly are not wise enough to have all the answers about all the people with whom we are working. Increasingly, I have come to feel that group treatment, whether in a correctional or a mental health setting, is a team job. This is the only way that it can go on continually because no one person is with the troubled individual that much. Teams are the insights of other people. The good staff person recognizes and respects the contributions that other staff people make, whoever they are. And this is regardless of the job title other people carry, or how much education they have had, or how thick a Viennese accent they may have, or even the possession of an imposing, well-cropped beard. Helping people is a challenging, demanding job. Knowing that you are not alone but are on a team makes it much less discouraging and much less lonely.

So when I hire people for my ideal institution: I want optimists. I want those who have faith in human potential. I want those who are able to expect and recognize good change. I want those who respect personhood. I want those who care in a wholesome, healthy, effective way. And I want those who can function well as a team member. Troubled people are changed by people who care, who believe in the future, and who revere the most precious thing in the world “human personhood.

This feature: Roush, D.W. (1996) Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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