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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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I would like your views on whether food should be taken away if a child or youth acts out. If so should they have to wait until the next meal time to eat?

Should community centers that provide snacks remove it if some of the children leave their garbage around?

Looking forward to reading your answers,
Thank you.

From: Jamie & Emma Klassen

The eleventh commandment in our agency was,

"Thou shalt under no circumstances deprive a client of dessert nor use food as punishment for deficient/maladaptive behavior."

It just is not professionally and ethically the right thing to do.

Michael Gaffley

Jamie and Emma,

Food should never be used as a reward, except for extreme circumstances(subject to th review of an oversight committee for risk and benefit) whenit is used as part of a specific treatment program. An example, as a rewardin a behavior shaping program for specific autistic children. Even in this circumstance the goal is to move away from the food as reward as quickly as possible.

There can be other sanctions for leaving trash around.

I once was planning unit policy with a group of resident youth. The question came up about youth upset at mealtime. Their solution was: Just put the meal away until he is ready for it. I learned a lot by working with these youth for solutions.

Martha Mattingly

Martha A. Mattingly,


A common practice in my agency is to allow children to eat fruit at any time of the day (bowl on table always). If a youth is not 'available' (meaning they are in consequence or came home late for a meal or snack) during meal and snack times, their option is then only that fruit until the next scheduled meal time. It works only because we have a rigid meal schedule and it is always predictable.

Breakfast: 7:00am-9:00am
Lunch: 12:00-1:00pm
Snack: 3:30-4:00pm
Dinner: 5:00pm
Snack: 8:30-9:00pm

Week ends brunch: 11:00am

This takes away the power struggle when they say "I am hungry", you offer them food and they deny puts it back on them as to why they remain hungry when you have offered them good nutritious stuff. (Makes them even more 'miffed' that they would have enjoyed that peach!). It is my knowledge that it is a youths right to have access to nutritious foods at free will.

Our youth are very educated about their rights and therefore challenge this often, but we have always had our backs covered with this method. The only way this has not worked is when a youth actually enjoys fruit more than they would the meal or snack....but either way they are eating something good for them so..we win in the end anyways.

We have also found that a youth who really does not want what is served for dinner (including breakfast/lunch) can have the option of a PB&J sandwich or left overs from previous meals. This makes the end of the week fridge clean out much easier as most of the left overs get eaten.

Food is and always will be a big control issue with youth. Part of me thinks that maybe we are not feeding them enough, since they are always claiming they are starved. Then I look at how much weight they have all gained since coming into care and realize they just want more because it is there. Most of them grew up where food was sparse and if you didn't eat it now you would not get any later, because it would be all gone and the next grocery day would not be until the next cheque came in.

We find that if a youth genuinely and privately comes to you and wants something substantial to eat, we tend to fufill their request. After all, we are all human, and it also provides for a good 1:1 time to chat about the good stuff.

Anyways, that's how I see it!

Children's Aid Society

Dr. Lorraine Fox's paper, Teachers or Taunters: The Dilemma of Providing True Discipline comes to mind and her philosophy of teaching youth, not punishing youth, fits well with this scenario (and a lot of others as well!). What does this youth most need to learn? Manners? Would taking away food and he/she going hungry teach manners? In the case of littering, many other solutions come to mind such having the youth properly discard their garbage before moving to the next activity or a prevention approach of providing snacks that have no garbage. Do some activities to build pride in their environment. Role modeling is also a powerful technique.

Taking away food would be a powerful punishment and it would probably change the undesirable behaviour (and begin others!) but at what cost? To teach youth that adults are all-powerful and mean spirited?

The essence of Child and Youth Care work is building strong, respectful, trusting, nurturing relationships. We don't want to perpetuate the disadvantaged pasts that some of these youth have experienced. Teach, don't punish!

Clare Archibald

In response to the questions offered by Jamie and Emma Klassen:

In short, no, food should not be used as punishment. In fact, in some states (Texas being one of them) it is violation of licensing standards to use food as punishment. I believe it also is a violation of our professional ethics to do so, and it is not an effective way of teaching self-discipline.

That said, I understand the sense of powerlessness that many Child and Youth Care workers experience every day. The solution to behavioral problems seems to be, somewhat obviously, to include punishment of the troubling behavior.

Food matters to children and youth, so taking it away does get their attention. We label this use of punishment as "discipline," in my opinion, as a way of sounding less punitive and negative, but there is little doubt that the child/youth experiences the removal of food as punishment.

There truly are better ways of teaching the behaviors that we object to, ways that avoid the connotations that accompany depriving the child of nutrition. Sometimes, the use of some kinds of punishment, such as a
restriction of privileges, can be helpful if applied with moderation and thought. When punishment is used, however, we should be honest enough to call it punishment and to understand that it often has unintended effects on the adult's relationship with the child or youth.

David Thomas

I struggle with using food as a reward/consequence. In the residential setting I have withheld afternoon snack for clients that refused to eat lunch or who wasted food by over dishing their plates and throwing the food away. I believe that not giving snacks when food is wasted teaches responsible behavior.

I disagree with using sugary treats as a reward. I believe that it can lead to binge eating and an unhealthy relationship with food.

Windy Winsenberg
Juneau, Alaska

Most states have licensing standards for residential,group home, and foster care settings regarding food intake. In the state of Illinois, a child can not go more than 14hrs. without food and must have 3 balanced meals per day.

The group home and day program I am involved with, provide 3 meals and two snack periods mid-morning and evening. Instead of taking the food away all together; especially snack time! The children work toward having good behaviors if they have good behaviors or finish their school/home tasks they may have an identified "favorite" snack otherwise they receive fruit. This way we are still providing food and staying within the licensing standards.

P.S. It works -- I know one young lady who loves hot fries and does very well to work towards eating them.

Family Development Specialist

Dear Jamie and Emma Klassen,

This is my opinion to your question regarding whether or not food should be used to reward or consequence behavior.

Food is a basic need, not a privilege. Therefore, food should never be taken away to punish a child. Behavior should be addressed using other alternative consequences and/or approaches. If a child is angry and refuses to eat, they should not be forced. When they have calmed down, they should be allowed to eat their meal.

Sometimes children exhibit unsafe behavior at meal times. In this case meals have to obviously be postponed until the child's behavior is back in control. There are times children may be in a locked seclusion room due to unsafe behaviors at meal time (assuming the facility is licensed to utilize this intervention). Again, meals may need to be postponed until the child's behavior is back in control. In some seclusion room situations food items which can be eaten without utensils may be given to the child (i.e. peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips, and pop).

Special snacks, like candy bars and pop/soda might be utilized as a reward. In such instances I recommend these type of items be purchased with "bonus points" or tokens. However, basic meals and snacks should never be used to reward behavior.

Regarding your question, Should community centers that provide snacks remove it if some of the children leave their garbage around? My opinion is community centers still should provide snacks. Before handing out the snacks I would suggest reminding the children they will need to throw away their garbage when the snack is over. Until this has become a habit, observe for the children who don't throw away their wrappers, etc. Prompt these children to throw away their garbage. If they still refuse, they could be informed they will not be allowed to participate in the next activity until their garbage has been thrown away.

Probably a treaty on a couple simple questions.

Best wishes in your work.

Jim Parcel,

In Alberta it is against Child Welfare regulations to use food as discipline. There is also the old adage of "the punishment must fit the crime". What logical consequence would a kid understand by associating lack
of food with acting out? For kids leaving garbage around a community center, they would learn more from having to clean the grounds as a public service project than having the snacks taken away.

Rainbow Wilderness Adventures

A resounding "no," from this end. This is a clear breach of the code of ethics, and just wrong. I wish I could expand more on this subject, but can think of no circumstances that would justify this kind of intervention (or more accurately "abuse").

Snacks is another matter. Snack time has been long standing issue where I work and how we manage this part of the day, what is allowed, what is appropriate to eat etc. I see snack time as being part of bedtime routines and this should be a time where everyone eats together just as we do during supper. This means we are sitting together at the table having conversation while eating a "snack" not "junk food" and this makes the transition to bedtime more pleasant and "family like."

On weekends we are more relaxed, and allow them to eat more "junk (fun) food" while watching movies in the living room or in the rec room, however they are responsible for cleaning their mess afterwards. If they prove that they can't be responsible for this then the next time snack will be eaten in the kitchen where they can be monitored.

Just my thoughts.

Michelle Woolsey

We have come to realize that 'food' issues are big and that eating habits are created for many reasons. We may want to overlook the food during some interventions and look more for the cause. If, for example, a youth kicks walls when they are angry, we don't focus on the act of kicking, we use the moment to connect other feelings to the act. So why the focus on the food.

This is certainly a topic that is lead by personal beliefs and attitudes about food in general. I have recently worked with a youth where food was an issue. He wasn't particularly overweight, a little cushioned maybe. If other clients or staff were in the kitchen preparing food – he was right there. When supper was served, he was there to take what he could get. He wasn't able to consider others as his need to load up was strong. We had some fun conversations about food sharing funny stories. We also baked together. We would bake and then sample our product and then I would suggest that we 'save' some for dessert after we have our evening meal.

Well ... he cornered me in the room demanding the cookies in his manner. He was never very loud but the message was clear. It was certainly an interesting intervention, he ended up grabbing the bag of cookies out of my hand. The youth was often in others' personal space. During a plan of care meeting, it was decided that special treats would be purchased and could be earned each day when personal space was maintained. (this doesn't sound effective now). A ladder style poster was prepared with pictures of the snacks pasted on. He never got off the first rung of the ladder. (he's moved to another program). I feel that the stakes were too high and no success was gained. It seemed that if he slipped up once, that was it, the snack was lost. The regimens within the group home setting limits our ability as workers to always effectively deal with the underlying issues of food. This is neither right or wrong, just a fact. Our particular clients have more freedom when they can have snacks, although eating in the living room is not an option because they don't value cleaning up after themselves. Activity level is a consideration. Choices are also important – what to eat and when is very individual. We could look at our own eating habits to get that. We can role model appropriate food choices as well as preparation and presentation. What do we know about the youth's history with food – quality, quantity, choices, likes and dislikes?

Information sharing among the youth and staff about food would give them opportunities to share their thoughts. Maybe they haven't thought much about it. As usual my response doesn't have an answer, only considerations. I have a confession ... sometimes I eat way to many cookies at one time. I am tempted to say that I know I shouldn't do this but ... but why shouldn't I???? Sometimes people with allergies to foods eat them anyway knowing that there will be consequences. I say, let's talk about it. Allow the youth to
be honest with their overindulgences or inappropriate use of food. It crosses all boundaries. Of course we (youth and staff) need to realize that our programs have limits but this doesn't mean that we can't explore some options. Always situational and always a fleeting moment. How many of us are doing what we do because we like a challenge. Here's one.

Linda Moore

Taking away food or a meal as a consequence is not allowed in our program. Most children have neglect issues related to proper nutrition and meal times. Equally, a child who misbehaves around meal or snack
time is typically not related to the food or snack. So, why use it as a consequence. The natural consequences are for the child to miss out on seconds and thirds due to everything being put away or thrown away. The choice of snack may change from cookies and sweets to a PBJ sandwich. The idea is to subtly reinforce meal time expectations and the benefits of being on program. As most of us know, it's difficult to fall asleep hungry. A child awake while others are asleep usually means trouble. Which makes it
counterproductive to withhold dinner and bedtime snacks.

Steven Yarish

No, I do not agree with taking food away from the client. But, unfortunately I work in a workplace where a child is extremely violent toward certain people and he is punished for this, by making him share his lunch with other kids in his room. This child is remorseful for what he has done, as now he has to share his food. The child is left with his sandwich, and one other food. This does work for him for the time being, but I do not agree with it, I would rather see some recreation taken away instead. I feel there are enough kids out there not eating the right foods and as care-givers we should not be taking it away as a punishment. What gives us the right to take food away as a punishment, none I feel. There are too many kids going to
bed at night hungry and as Child and Youth Care Workers, lets not contribute to that.

Darcy McNabb

Hi Jamie & Emma,

Each child has a right to his/her meal. However luxuries (dessert; candy; chips etc) are a privilege and this could be withheld. One could even consider curtailing T.V. time or video time.

Along with the right to a meal the child also has to learn the corresponding responsibility. Thus, if the child has violated some rule or has acted out another consequence could be considered, but personally I would refrain from taking away his/her food.

With regard to sacks at community centres, I would think that the importance of putting the garbage in the garbage can should be part of the life skills training children should be learning. maybe one could, if possible, say that the one who does not leave his garbage lying around may be rewarded with extra T.V. time or an ice-cream or whatever the children find fun.

I hope this helps.

Be blessed,
Vanessa Coulson

If we look at the South African bill of Childrens Rights, it states very clearly that children have a right to food, shelter, clothing, etc. By depriving a child of one of its basic needs for survival other problems will inevitably surface. Withholding of food from children/youth is ethically wrong and I am in total agreement with both Tom Garfat and Linda Moore.

Marian Murray

I know I'm jumping into this debate a little late but here are my thoughts anyways. Food should NEVER be
used as a punishment or a reward. This is just setting these poor youth up for an eating disorder. It is also encouraging emotional eating which is just as unhealthy. Food should be available for youth at any time and it should never be restricted with the exception of doctors orders. If you use food as a discipline or as a reward you are teaching youth to have food make them happy. If your relationship skills are strong then you will find many more appropriate ways to reward/consequence your clients.

Lilah Danielle Lawson
Youth and Family Counsellor

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