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33 OCTOBER 2001
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Engaging with youth – making it happen

Brian Gannon

The task of engaging with children will always require some level of commitment and action on the part of the adults who engage. It is no good an agency having principles or values around the importance of getting alongside youth if we don’t also make the act of engaging possible and realistic for the Child and Youth Care workers.

Crime-busters often zero in on two basic factors when working out “who dunnits?" Let’s use their two factors in talking about engagement “motive and opportunity.

We need Child and Youth Care workers to want to engage with kids. When they have participated in assessments and planning for the youngsters they work with, they better understand the need for the interventions that are planned, and they better understand the nature of the interventions decided on. When staff are included at this level, they have the knowledge and confidence to get started, and they are more likely to want to go out and achieve the goals of the child's treatment plan.
A good administrator will want to give Child and Youth Care workers strong motives for engaging with a particular child:

Timetables in our programmes often fight against the interventions we plan for kids. When we want things to run smoothly in our organisation it is easy to prioritise the wrong issues “laundry, meal times, bus schedules, staff rotas, chores and administration “and then wonder why an on-line worker didn’t get around to spending some time with a needy kid this week! We all know that “the agency is there for the children and not the other way around" but organisations are hungry for tidiness and habitually low on mission.

This three-rank priority ranking takes courage to implement:

1. The kids” needs come first. That is why we are here and why we spend x dollars a month to run the program. This is not about spoiling the children by meeting their wants, but attending professionally to their assessed needs. If I am in a hospital with an acute heart disorder I am not interested in the health professionals messing around with clean pyjamas or making sure that supper is served at exactly 6pm. When you've attended to my heart, then you can change my pyjamas. So kids in crisis are reassured when they feel that we are concerned with their stuff, not ours. Administrators should ensure that everyone is clear about today's real goals, and line workers need some space to make creative and intelligent decisions about priorities.

2. It is possible to combine the child care work and agency administration. There is no either-or distinction between administration and practice. A good strategist knows that the laundry, meal times, bus schedules, staff rotas, chores and administration are often important foundations for treatment, and that these things can often be included in the curriculum of our programmes. We are not running hotels or holiday camps, but are living in a residential community which (just like home) has us all participating according to our abilities in all its aspects. In all of these functions there are opportunities to engage “and Child and Youth Care teams are usually good at integrating these functions.

3. Then we can resume our focus on the families' social and cultural styles “as the kids get ready to pick up again on their normal lives. The nurse says “OK, Mr Jones, you can put your clothes back on now," as we leave the doctor’s surgery. So with the kids we work with. We have, in the urgency of our engaging and intervention, suspended some of the less urgent conventions, but now an important part of our work is facilitating their move back into their own to take up their roles and responsibilities again.

Making time
In all treatment planning we look for the opportunities to engage. “How do I get to spend some time with this kid I am supposed to be working with?" is an essential question for a care worker. Being “in the right place at the right time" is a precondition for all Child and Youth Care work. Our plan will tell us how to use the time we schedule for kids. There will of course be one-on-one time, but engaging does not rely entirely on one-on-one time: if the worker regularly does something with the youngster “play ball, eat lunch, supervise study period in the library, hang out on the lawn before dinner “opportunities to engage can be found (or made). And it is unlikely that we will ask a worker who does not regularly share time with the kids to work with that kid. But amongst the treatment resources we assemble for any youngster, one must be scheduled time.

Administrators as schedulers
It has always been my view that the principal task for administrators is to schedule meetings. We rely on our directors to ensure that the right people meet with the right people for the right purposes throughout the day. When we have been through a day filled with the necessary encounters and conversations and activities and planning and reporting and listening and sharing ideas and encouraging and problem-solving and thanking (add a hundred of your own words here ...) then administrators have done a good job, all of us have truly been in an engaging Child and Youth Care environment, and we have all grown a little and moved forward a little.

Who could ask for more?

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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Incorporated as a Not-for-Profit in Canada: Corporation Number 1284643-8

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