On being accountable in schools: Strategies for the child and youth
Child and youth care
professionals who practice In a school milieu risk being misunderstood with
regard to their role and degree of accountability. To avoid being treated as
an assistant or having their role misunderstood in other ways, child and
youth care practitioners must take initiative In ensuring that strategies
are in place to avoid potential conflicts and misunderstanding. In addition,
organizational strategies such as a team approach to planning and decision
making, mechanisms for coordination of intervention strategies, supervisory
supports to the Joint and individual needs of the professionals, and an
expectation of coordinated program preparation and development must surround
and support the professionals trying to work together in the classroom
When I was a supervisor in a therapeutic school program for emotionally
disturbed children, I was fortunate enough to be part of a larger
organization (the Dellcrest Children’s Centre) In which the lines of
accountability and supervisory relationships were very clear. The Child Care
Workers reported to the clinical supervisor, a manager in the employ of the
Children’s Centre, and the teachers reported to a principal, who was
employed by the local school board.
Several other factors contributed to maintaining a necessary balance of
power in the program:
- The school had been built by the board of education on land owned by
the Children’s Centre;
- The principal had other responsibilities besides the Dellcrest
School and was, therefore, not on site on a daily basis;
- Once the child was a client of the Children’s Centre, the progress
review conferences were held at the Centre and chaired by a Centre
From this description, one might surmise that the child care workers
were, in fact, the dominant forces in our therapeutic school program. This
was not the case! This situation supported a model where teacher and child
care worker were no more than equal partners in the classroom.
Why, with all those factors in their favour, were the child and youth
care workers not the dominant professionals in this program? Was it
necessary to have a structure which favoured the clinical professionals to
maintain a balanced approach In the classroom? I’m not sure. I can tell you
that, even with such a biased model, there were frequent clashes between the
education staff and the clinical staff, where one side viewed the other as
attempting to impose the priority of Its discipline at the expense of the
Was this staffing arrangement unusual? Yes, it was! The conflict however,
was not unusual. What was unusual was the situation where a child care
worker operated in an environment with children in their "home turf," with a
clear and accountable supervisory relationship. This developed into a rich
learning situation and the following observations maybe useful in other
situations where child and youth care professionals must work with teachers
and the public education system.
Most child care workers operating in school environments are outsiders
attempting to do their work In the domain of teachers who see themselves as:
- having total responsibility for their classrooms and the children
assigned to It, from curriculum to decor, from morning to night, from
arrival to departure;
- being better educated and more experienced than child and youth care
- being the primary decision-makers with respect to the program for
any child In their class.
In my experience. both at Dellerest and during my years as a consultant,
most child care workers are not so much in conflict with the teacher or
teachers with whom they are paired, as they ale Ignored. Their frustration
comes not from being in conflict, but from being treated like assistants.
Can this conflict be avoided? I think so. I believe that there are three
key perspectives to consider: that of the child care worker, that of the
teacher, and that of the system in which they work. From my experience of
these three perspectives. I have identified:
- personal strategies In which the child care worker can take
- personal strategies In which the teacher can take Initiative, and
- system strategies which can be built Into the program model.
Personal strategies: Child care worker
How does the child care worker negotiate a viable role in the education
milieu? Tactfully, but confidently the child care worker must:
- Create a job description which clarifies both the responsibilities
and the limits of the position. This provides focus for oneself, and
assists in communicating and clarifying one’s role to the education
- Establish lines of accountability at the outset. Let the other
professional know to whom you report and how decisions are made
regarding your role and your performance.
- Make clear your Interests and priorities. Let the others know
exactly who (which youth) you are working with and on what issues or
areas of functioning you are concentrating.
- Establish and communicate a curriculum. This may be the most
important strategy. In general, child care professionals are perceived
to be operating without structure. It is presumed that their work is
reactive rather than proactive. They must make it clear that there is a
program for the individual student and for the group. It is this overt
expression of the process of their work which, more than anything else,
communicates to the teacher(s) their contribution.
- Maintain and organize regularly scheduled one-to-one supervision.
This means meeting regularly with one individual to whom you are
accountable for your performance. This is the forum for gaining clarity
about expectations for discussing and resolving professional development
issues, for brainstorming clinical strategies, and for evaluating
performance. The focus of these discussions is the child care worker’s
- Ensure that you have the necessary skills to operate in the
education milieu. This is no place for a rookie. The person in this
position is under constant scrutiny by other professionals. Beyond
excellent child care skills, one needs to be competent in the following
- client planning, where clarity and coordination are especially
- negotiation, as In working out roles and dealing with other
- communication (particularly written).
Personal strategies: Teacher
- Like the child care worker, the teacher should locate or create a
job description which clarifies both the responsibilities and the limits
of the position. This provides focus and assists in communicating and
clarifying the teacher’s role to the child care professionals.
- Similarly, the teacher should establish lines of accountability at
the outset, letting the other professional know to whom they report and
how decisions are made regarding the teacher’s role and performance.
- The teacher should be invited to explain the educational program,
its rationale, and the intended effects. Personal interests and
priorities need to be specified.
- Ensure that planning to meet the needs of a client or client group
occurs in the team context. This does not mean that every aspect of a
program must be vetted and approved by all parties. It does mean that
there must be agreement about the needs of the client and the objectives
for Intervention. It also means that any change in these elements of a
plan require the involvement of the team. Team members are left to
themselves to select methodologies which are appropriate, based on their
professional judgment and bounded by their standards.
- Ensure that intervention strategies are coordinated. This sounds
simple, but tends to be the most frequent source of trouble. Though
discussions of detailed methodology have no place In the client-planning
forum, there must be attention to issues like scheduling of intervention
activities to ensure that they are complementary, not contradictory.
- Ensure that there is a supervisory relationship which supports the
front line workers (child care and teachers) and ensures that they
adhere to the expectations of respective professions. Furthermore, in
instances where a teacher and child care worker are expected to work as
a team, there should be a supervisory mechanism which facilitates
coordination of effort and provides a confidential forum for working out
differences. For example, at Dellcrest we quickly realized that if the
child care workers from the respective classroom teams reported to a
clinical supervisor and the teachers reported to the principal, then the
principal and supervisor ended up trying to sort out a lot of detail
from a second-hand viewpoint. We resolved that primary "supervision" for
case and program issues was a classroom team affair, whereas primary
supervision for personal development and performance issues was
restricted to the one-to-one meetings between supervisor and supervisee
in the respective systems. Once a week at 3:15 (the children left at
3:00 p.m.) the classroom team met to discuss the program and the
children who populated It. Though we had initially discussed an ideal
where both the principal and supervisor were present, it must be said
that the principal soon determined that it was very difficult to attend
the several classroom team meetings held each week, as well as case
conferences, given his range of duties and part-time responsibility for
the School. Consequently, the typical meeting involved the child care
worker, teacher, and clinical supervisor, with occasional visits by the
principal and other service providers.
- A joint program should be developed which draws on the expertise of
professionals from both disciplines. An integrated approach does not
just happen. It is the result of:
preparation (e.g., time spent
together before the students arrive each term and each day),
- planning (e.g.. mapping out an annual cycle of activities and the
- discussion and coordination of roles and responsibilities
(especially related to those duties which are appropriate for both or
either professional), and
- monitoring and evaluation of program activities and using the
results to make adjustments and Improvements.
It was this experience at the Dellcrest School whlch crystallized a
number of key messages.
- Clarify expectations.
If the understandings are clear in the
beginning, there are less likely to be misunderstandings later.
- Make key decisions in the team.
If one team member makes an
important decision (for example, redefining a child’s need) without the
Involvement or agreement of the other team members, resentment will grow
and cooperation and coordination will break down.
- Demonstrate solid planning and organizational skills.
interdisciplinary approach to child and family services and the
complexity of service planning, there is no longer a place for the
practitioner who has only the "soft skills" of child and youth care to
offer. One must learn to plan based on clearly negotiated objectives and
devise programs which can be clearly understood by other professionals.
- Keep the lines of accountability and the lines of communication
open. Fuzzy relationships and covert meetings and messages breed
mistrust, a condition fatal to coordinated quality care.
This article is reprinted from The Journal of Child
and Youth Care, Vol.6 No.2 1991, pages 57-61