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On being accountable in schools: Strategies for the child and youth practitioner

Andrew Jarrett

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 situation.

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:

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 other’s.

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:

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: 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:

  1. 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 professionals.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 professional practice.
  6. 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 areas:

Personal strategies: Teacher

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The teacher should be invited to explain the educational program, its rationale, and the intended effects. Personal interests and priorities need to be specified.

System strategies

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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),


It was this experience at the Dellcrest School whlch crystallized a number of key messages.

  1. Clarify expectations.
    If the understandings are clear in the beginning, there are less likely to be misunderstandings later.
  2. 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.
  3. Demonstrate solid planning and organizational skills.
    Given the 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.
  4. 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

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