There are several key program ingredients which are essential prerequisites for using intervention techniques. In other words, child/youth care workers attempting to use intervention techniques will have a much greater chance of success if they work in youth care programs with similar ingredients to the ones listed below. This does not mean that programs will not have shortcomings or be missing one or more of these ingredients, but it does mean that administrators and staff must be constantly working toward blending similar ingredients into program philosophy and actions.
Commitment to Caring Relationships
Caring relationships are the most important ingredient in any program for troubled youths. The "core of care," however, takes time to develop. (Maier, 1979) The trust, attachment, empathy, compassion and security which comprise the core cannot be developed through passing encounters with a number of child/youth care workers. Caring relationships require a commitment to and from workers. Consequently, in effective programs, administrators express a strong commitment to the caring role of the worker and support their commitment with incentives, training and supervision for the workers. The workers respond by making a commitment to remain with the organization and by using available resources to continually upgrade their interactions with the youth.
The bulk of treatment for troubled youths will take place in daily interactions among the youths and the child/youth care workers. When the environment is planned and structured to emphasize daily interactions which enhance emotional, cognitive and physical growth, there is no more potent force for helping troubled youths. When programs ignore or downplay this crucial aspect of treatment, the youths are short-changed. Effective programs have mechanisms for assessing youths’ current levels of development and encourage the use of intervention strategies which begin by meeting needs at assessed levels of development and proceed by building upon existing strengths and by developing new strengths.
Planned Daily Activities
Planned involvement in self care, academic, vocational, and recreational activities is part of the central focus of successful programs. Troubled youths need extensive involvement with peers and adults in activities which promote mastery of daily living skills, develop academic and vocational skills, and enhance artistic, musical and athletic abilities. These are the activities that most program managers believe will help troubled youth to be independent, to problem solve, and to create their own fun and enjoyment. However, program managers will also agree that these activities can be easily lost in the shuffle of daily interactions or be interrupted by circular effect behavior. Therefore, successful programs emphasize advance planning to eliminate as much confusion and disruption as possible.
Youths need continual involvement with their families, even youths who come from very disruptive families. This involvement, however, should not be limited to traditional family therapy. Family members want to know how to manage, teach, parent, and enjoy their youths, and most troubled youths need continuous interaction with their parents and siblings. Therefore, effective programs involve families in as many child/youth care facets of the program as are reasonably possible.
Discipline Alternatives to Punishment
Troubled youths do not need more punishment. If punishment were the answer, most of them would be exemplary citizens. They have been punished throughout their lives, many of them physically punished, and even more of them psychologically punished. Hence, effective programs try to expose youths to the many discipline alternatives to punishment which have been developed over the past years. For example, there are discipline techniques which emphasize self discipline or internal control as an alternative to external punishment imposed by adults. These alternatives have a much better prognosis for success, but also require time, patience, and commitment to deliver.
Child/youth care workers are rarely the sole implementers of an intervention technique. They are usually part of a team of workers who are responsible for choosing and implementing intervention techniques for a specific group of children. Teams can be as large as ten members and as small as two members. Some teams have members from several departments in addition to the child/youth care department and other teams have members from only one or two departments. No matter how small or large the team, the objective is to reach consensus about how to intervene with each youth in the team’s care. Agreements are obtained by a majority vote but members of the minority must also be willing to compromise in order to effectively implement team decisions. One or two members cannot be resisting or "doing their own thing" or the technique will fail.
Creating a consensus decision-making environment is not easy but it can be accomplished. Programs with effective consensus team decision-making usually have the following characteristics:
there is a strong commitment among administrators to promote professional equality for all team members; in-service training emphasizes teamwork, communication, and reporting and observing skills; working conditions and incentives are comparable for most team members; and all team members have an opportunity to attend team decision-making meetings. (Krueger, 1982)
Krueger, M. (1982) Implementation of a team decision-making model among child care workers. Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Maier, H. (1979) The core of care: Essential ingredients for the development of children away from home. Child Care Quarterly, 8(3), pp.161-173
Krueger, M.A. (1988) Intervention techniques for child/youth care workers. Washington DC: CWLA, pp.11-15