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CYC-Online Issue 21 OCTOBER 2000 / BACK
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Practice abuse

Brian Gannon

In a training situation a child and youth care worker seeks help from her colleagues during a class on child management. She describes the behaviour of an adolescent boy with whom she is having considerable difficulty. The behaviour described is frankly bizarre, out of control and menacing, both to the child care workers and to the other youngsters in the unit.

After discussion, the class members conclude that no easy advice can be offered. They have no doubt that there needs to be a much fuller team work-up on the youngster concerned so that all can get a better “handle" on how to work with this very difficult youth. The student is advised to take what is clearly a highly disturbing case back to her supervisor and team for urgent attention.

Her reply: “I have no supervisor; I have no team."

It transpires that the worker is anxious about the adolescent from his own point of view, and that she experiences a sense of defeat as a result of her failure to understand or help him improve his behaviour. But equally, she feels embarrassed and inadequate in her job, since she is not meeting the levels of behaviour and discipline demanded by her employer. She is terrified that her director will visit at a time when the group is in a state of turmoil “or even during the hour or so after one of the boy’s episodes, when everyone’s feathers are ruffled and when the timetable has been blown off schedule.

This is a clear case of practice abuse.

Extraordinary pressure is being brought to bear on a staff member from whom results are expected but who is not given the wherewithal for her obviously difficult job. We see here on the part of the child care worker’s employers a form of magical thinking whereby problems like this are either wished away or (in the rule book if not in fact) are simply not allowed to happen. There is certainly no understanding either of the serious challenges posed by the youth being admitted to the program, or of the complex nature of the child and youth care work which is needed to respond to such challenges.

The child care worker will probably not see the year out ("She wasn’t very good at managing the children anyway, you know") “and worst of all, the adolescent himself will remain unhelped, probably also in time to be shunted out (as “unmanageable and incorrigible") to some other organisation in the child care system.

A mitigating factor would appear to be that at least this care worker was attending a training course “though the training and the contact with fellow students may have done little more than to accentuate the conflict in her mind between desirable practice and the reality of her work situation.

One is asking for nothing more than experienced and competent seniors who understand the nature of the work and can share the responsibility for the difficult tasks down the line. There can be no equivocating or ambiguity about this. A child and youth care worker who is expected to work with troubled youngsters in whatever circumstances has an inarguable right to professional support and back-up. An organisation which cannot provide this will be exposing both staff and children to abuse and should not be in the business.


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