Building positive bonds with youth is challenging even in the best of circumstances. This article explores how an organizational commitment to staff training can stimulate transformation in thinking and interacting to strengthen bonds with youth in crisis.
Even the most well-educated, qualified, experienced staff need opportunities to examine the strategies they use to prevent and deescalate crisis situations. Responding to problem behavior while continuing to develop therapeutic relationships requires rethinking our assumptions.
Formal education, which prepares people for youthserving professions, provides a theoretical framework for understanding dynamics of youth work and methodologies applicable to professional practice. Workplace orientation structures practice around organizational objectives and policies, and clarifies staff responsibility. But only staff development can translate theory, policies, and procedures into meaningful strategies by incorporating the ever-evolving experiences of dedicated professionals working with youth. This ongoing training provides a forum where staff can merge influences from their education and experience in a manner which allows for reflective transformation in thinking, understanding, and behavior.
Organizations approach training in a variety of ways. Too often training is viewed as nothing more than an inconvenient requirement mandated by a regulatory agency. Or, training is proposed as a “quick fix” to remedy a problem that is creating current concern. Ideally, training represents a genuine commitment to a staff’s professional development. Training also provides proactive adjustments to organizational procedures and sets expectations for a consistent standard of quality care. Thus effective training can transform staff behavior and attitudes as well as improve practice.
If training is to be an authentic agent of change to create a more caring, transformative culture, the following elements are critical:
1. View training as a process, not as a
Youth are not “transformed” overnight; neither are the adult staff members who work with those youth. A training course is a beginning, not an end. After a formal training course, it is important to use a variety of methods to ensure that staff members have understood the concepts taught and are gaining competence and confidence in implementing what they have learned as they interact with youth. A solution-focused training program is an ongoing process which includes varied elements beyond an initial classroom training session. Some elements which can offer significant opportunities to reinforce skills include:
It will be beneficial for staff members to practice skills most appropriate for use in their interactions with youth. Find ways to encourage practice and allow time for it to happen. Youth are not expected to incorporate skills into their behaviors the first time they are taught; neither should adult staff members be expected to do so.
Reviews and refreshers
Whether it is through an informal review or a more formal refresher program, make sure staff are provided with opportunities to revisit the information they have learned, perhaps adding additional nuances as their competence and confidence builds.
Review events that take place within the organization through the lens of training principles and concepts. For example, if the organization educates staff to incorporate the Circle of Courage Model (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern. 2002), with its emphasis on helping youth develop the skills of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity, be sure to incorporate these concepts in case planning and staff meetings. Some good questions to ask might include: How have staff helped youth develop these skills? And, what situations have occurred which demonstrate youth internalizing new skills? Also, as incidents with youth are reviewed, consider how staff may have used opportunities to review or transfer skills to youth.
There is some value in considering mentoring models to impact the transfer of training theory into situational application. This can ensure that all who work with youth receive one-on-one support and attention from a mentor with particular focus on elements of reflective practice.
Regardless of the methods an organization chooses, send the message that the commitment to training “and to the transfer of training to practice “is strong enough that it does not end with a single training event. Furthermore, assessing that knowledge transfer regularly will provide evidence that staff have assimilated the information and incorporated it into day-to-day practice.
2. Connect training to organizational
policies and procedures
Too often, training programs are initiated with little thought to whether skills and strategies taught are congruent with and supported by an organization's policies and procedures. Policies convey organizational mission, objectives, and expectations. Procedures provide specific guidance for action to carry out policies. Training should aid staff in developing capacities to meet expectations while managing evolving situations and challenges “all of which could never be “scripted” in policies or procedures. Policies need to reflect support for and expectations regarding staff training as well. Here are some questions to ask when considering the relationship between the training program and organizational policies and procedures:
Do policies and procedures reflect the need for initial training and also for follow-up, practice, and review?
Are the approaches taught in the training program supported by general and specific organizational policies and procedures?
Is there sufficient time for staff members to carry out the approaches taught in the training program?
Do staff performance reviews include an assessment of how well staff members are implementing the approaches they were taught?
When training is effectively integrated into policies and procedures, the likelihood is far greater that there will be a transfer of training to actual practice in the workplace.
3. Ensure training philosophy is congruent
with organizational philosophy
Before any training is conducted, management should thoroughly understand the program that teaches staff members to use specific approaches with youth. The organization must ask itself if it has considered the ramifications of actually implementing the training program and its philosophy. A training program that significantly affects the ways in which staff members and youth interact may have far-reaching implications for the culture of an organization.
Training has the power to transform. As staff
members experience a transformation in the ways they deal with youth,
youth share in that potential for transformation. The power for
transformation will be multiplied if training is viewed as an ongoing
process, if it is seamlessly integrated into policies and procedures,
and if its philosophy is wellmatched with the philosophy and mission of
Brendtro, L. K., Brokenleg, M., and Van Bockern, S. (2002). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future (Rev. ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
This feature: Schubert, Judith. (2007). Transformation through staff development. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 16, 3. pp.53-55.