CYC-Online 25 FEBRUARY 2001
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in a nutshell

The importance of leadership

Henry Maier

In past columns my concern has been primarily with the work of the persons on the front line of care: the child/youth care workers. The following observations are essentially addressed to the directors, supervisors, and policy-makers of care programs. Please pass them on.

In a review of service programs which have had major impact we note that those agencies which had a clear understanding of their mission and practice policies were the ones delivering effective services.

Just to list a few:

All of these had programs where staff knew what was expected, and how to go about it, and were guided by the service program because the chief administrators clearly enunciated their objectives and adhered to them. Let me add that this observation emerged convincingly in Jerry Beker and Doug Magnuson's study, Residential Education as an Option for At-Risk Youth.

Unfortunately too few service programs have a leadership with a clearly formed articulation of their service or their program objectives. In these institutions care workers are left upon their own or they fall back on tempting current vogues in care and treatment approaches such as the use of time-out, or point or level systems. Rarely is there an understanding of the direction for the daily program, for emerging behavioral crises and emotional stresses. Consequently, I think, the foremost challenges for the directors of these programs is to clarify for themselves and their staffs their program objectives, including care procedures for dealing with the ups and downs of daily living.

Administrators of service programs have to make clear their vision that change is possible for the clientele and staff and how staff can be instrumental in facilitating it.

For instance, staff has to understand and accept that the use of time-out is essentially not in tune with the program's orientation where clientele have, rather, to experience time-in. Youngsters are there to be helped with corrective living rather than to be pushed aside as had occurred too frequently in their previous course of life.

Are clientele and staff living together in order to follow institutional program structure, or to learn how to achieve competent interpersonal relationships? Is staff there to cure or to care? Is it the task to develop obedient bureaucrats in group living, or to use difficulties and crises as opportunities for experiencing more effective ways of daily living?

My comments today you may want to pass on to the administrators who have the difficult task of clarifying for themselves their service objectives, so that they may find ways to operate appropriately in the new century.


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