"Hi, Harry, it's John".
"Hey, John. What's up?"
"Well I'm going to come by this evening with a few of the Board Members and I just wanted to give you the heads up. You know how they feel about basic tidiness and all that."
"Ah, so you want me to make sure the place is tidy."
"Well, you know the Board," John replies. “And Harry, I'd like it if you could make sure there weren't any incidents like last time when that boy told the Board Member to, well, you know."
So, what do you do?
A quick note for you to read before you guys come around tonight.
You and I have known each other for a while, way-back-when as students, and later as colleagues in more than one program. Remember how we used to talk (rather irreverently) about “the suits", the administrators we didn’t really get on with – those who enjoyed parading in smart duds with state officials and professors and funders while we spent our time in jeans and trainers with the real flesh-and-blood kids in the program. But it wasn't, you will remember, about clothes and fawning manners. It was about denial and self-delusion. It was about exclusion and pretence. Almost a kind of cowardice which got between knowing a lot about kids and actually knowing kids. We sort of despised those “superiors" who told us loftily that this kid “needed firm handling and the security which comes from good discipline" when they had never spent five minutes talking with the kid; who told us that that kid “needed experiences of involvement and communication and trust" but who didn’t even know the first names of the kids on the floor.
We were quite strong in those days on knowing the limit to how much we could or should “behave" for the kids. Our job was working with them to the point where they could behave for themselves. And, like learning to ride a bike (you often used that analogy), there would be times when a kid fell of the learning curve and our response was not to punish, not to take away the bike – but to put him back in the saddle so that he could try again. And grazed knees and sprained wrists were OK parts of the plan. Sure, initially we could “lend them our ego-strength" (your words again) for a while, but sooner rather than later, and no matter what hiccups and f-ups might ensue, getting them to do for themselves was the great goal. Well, John, I am still there. I still believe this and work with this principle every day.
Remember when Jack broke the glass out of the door in the staff office and slashed out at other kids and then cut himself and you sat holding him in your arms and rocking him and “there, there-ing" him for an hour, bringing him back down, and “LR" told you that you were violating boundaries and risking the legal security of the program? Even though he was Res. Director in those days, you told him to, well, you know.
Our strong point in those days was assuming that the whole agency agreed to admit the kid. Someone had come along to the agency to ask “Can you help with this kid?" The Director and the intake folks had gone through the motions of asking us on the floor “Can our program be of help with this kid?" and when we had said yes we assumed that the whole agency was sharing the responsibility with us. So nobody could come along and ask us “Why is this kid screwing up?" We all knew what we were getting into at admission time and we all shared the responsibility for doing the best we could with him after that, and that is why we had all those case meetings and team meetings and why we went on trying – and usually succeeding.
And today, John, my friend and colleague, you tell me that you are coming around this evening with members of the Board and you hope my residential program will be tidy and you hope there will be no incidents and that none of my kids will tell a member of the Board to, well, you know.
And all I can tell you is that each kid in this unit is at a different place on his or her journey. And we have a pretty good handle on where they’re at. But we cannot foresee whether, at a given time, Mannie will yell at another kid. We know that Mike is doing pretty damn well at managing his frustration right now, but that Alan is nowhere near as far and may pop at any moment – and we are telling him that’s alright, kiddo, we know you are trying and we’re going to hang on with you through this tantrum. And we know that Kellie is down, real down, and she might not be all that good at saying “Good evening, sir" or even looking up respectfully, but we are not going to penalise her for that. And, to keep us all on our toes, Helen and Margie are going through some heavy competitive stuff right now and claws have been out most evenings this week, especially at supper time when the whole group is together, and there’s a 40% probability of some hissing and scratching.
And I just need to tell you that we are not going to suspend the delicate equilibrium of this healing community because you are bringing some suits around, whom none of us know, even if they do pay our salaries. You just tell them about each kid in this place being at a different place on his or her journey and tell them that they have hired a group of knowledgeable and committed staff who believe that they have things in hand ... and if they don’t trust us with all of this unimaginable responsibility they shouldn’t be in the business of troubled kids in the first place.
Well, maybe don’t tell them that. But I want you to know that that’s how we all feel down here.
See you later.