I was in a program the other day and the staff were complaining that the kids were always 'hanging around' staff – if staff were in the office, for example, the kids were at the door.
The staff thought this was a problem.
Why do you think the kids were hanging around the staff all the time?
Hi Thom, Why were the staff in the office if the
kids were looking for interaction. The older I get the more I think that
offices are an unwelcome barrier to engagement. Hey, the kids might be
hanging around cos they like the staff and want to be with them. Lucky
staff go for it.
I remember doing some training with you in Scotland which was great may I add. I reckon the kids are hanging around "staff" all the time as they feel safe and look for positive or negative interactions. You've heard of the saying "any publicity is good publicity" well for some of these kids any attention is good attention. They also hang around the office looking for interaction and attention. These kids need to be stimulated and redirected with our abilities to do so.
That is such a good question, and I would guess a very common "phenomenon".
We certainly experience the same here – children
"hanging around" the office in the afternoons, and especially on Friday
afternoons. This is a source of frustration to staff at times,
particularly due to the loudness in the office which interferes when
staff make telephone calls, or when staff are in interviews. At
the same time there is recognition among the staff and the team that
interaction with the children is essentially what we are here for, and
that it is a good thing, not a bad thing, when the children "hang
around". I do think in a situation such as ours where it happens in an
office environment that one still needs to maintain a balance so that
staff who need to be engaged in administrative work can carry on with
their duties. On the other hand also – we have often told our team
to put aside Friday afternoons and forget about doing any admin work,
and since the children are around, to purposefully spend that time with
them. You may gather also that I am talking specifically about
administrative/managerial staff in the office environment, not child
care workers per se.
We often say that we must work in the "life space of the child" – but that is only half the story. When you enter the life space of the child, the child is at the same time in your own life space as well. When children hang around the office, they are essentially entering the life space of the adults, and bringing their life space to us – what more could one ask in terms of looking for teachable moments?
Werner van der Westhuizen
It always surprises me that the adults whose job it is to care for the young people don't see the opportunities that present themselves to engage with the youth. When young people go looking for the adults, initially, whether it is to "seek attention" or just see if anything interesting is going on, or as you might say, "making a bid for a connection", opportunities are being presented. The youth are giving adults opportunities to engage, it is up to the adult to engage in positive ways to further relationships, or in negative ways, rejecting the youth. Treat it as a problem or ignore the youth long enough, and the youth go away, often to find other people to hang out with, people who are not necessarily the role-models we would encourage.
Sure, there are times when adults may need to have private conversations without the youth around. There are ways and times to do that without creating perceptions that the youth "hanging around" is a problem. The adult(s) leaving the staff room and moving into common areas, going to the youth, creates lots of opportunities for engagement without it being a "problem". When my teams would raise this concern, my first question was "why are the youth having to come look for you?"
I think that question would be more specific to the child/youth in question than a more generalized question in regards to children in care. It would depend on the child/youth's age, their past history, ensuring all staff is informed of any potential trauma in the child's past, their personality, their 'zone of proximal development' (Holden, 2009) and a plethora of different factors. For example a young child, say 5 or 6 years of age, may feel safer when with the staff. For a teenager, say 14 or 15, it could be anything from an attempt to display dominance, the fear of being alone, or they may just enjoy the company of that particular staff.
I think the more important question to ask of the team is: "why are the children 'hanging around' staff?" That would come from meeting with the staff to discuss their observations and impressions, as well as discussing this with the children in a one-on-one capacity as each child's reason may be different than another's. Once the reasons are known it may be possible to plan, from a program standpoint, how to appropriately foster independent play skills for those children/youth.
I hope that input is of some benefit for you.
Program Manager – Residential Care Program
It should be the other way around, staff should be "hanging around the kids." Offices in programs tend to get used too much. If staff were spending more time out of the office would this still be an issue?
This dynamic creates an "us vs them" atmosphere in facilities. This is detrimental to building relationships with the youth. Experiencing the fantastic moments of relationship building, trust formation, laughter and teaching moments, need to have the staff be present with the youth. If they are in the office all these experiences are lost.
I think the youth are looking for the moments discussed above and this is why they are "hanging around staff."
First of all – yes, kids need attention and it should be given to them. Among the most chilling statements I've heard in my experience is: "He just wants attention and I'm not giving it to him !"
In the child, anxiety and the need for human contact rise -as does the behavior – and soon there is a 'crisis' that could have been easily prevented.
In these cases, go to the child. Respond to the needs he seems to be expressing. In the long run, youngsters who receive sufficient attention become more independent and don't need it as much. But if they don't get it when they are signaling that they do, then the need is perpetuated.
I've seen the following scenario many times and never was warmed by it:
There are three or four staff members encased in a glass bounded office with the door closed, chatting away and doing some 'make work' while the kids roam around in boredom and restlessness. There is no child and youth work going on to speak of.
How lucky the staff are that the kids want to hang around them! This is wonderful. That said, the kids aren't the problem – the staff are probably, although perhaps not deliberately.
Suggestion to the staff:
Reframe. See the wishes of the kids to spend time with you as a supreme compliment to your salience as a child and youth worker.
Come out of the office !! Go sit or stand around comfortably and be available to the kids ! Talk to them. What are they thinking ? Better yet, ask them what they'd like to do or suggest an activity and get the kids involved in organizing it and carrying it out ! Talk to them some more.
Yes, there is office work to be done, but that's not an excuse. Make a plan with the other workers for who will do needed 'office' jobs, and when. The rest will be on the floor. The office times and jobs to be done can be rotated.
What kind of program is this? What are the activities for the youth to do during the program? I think that youth in this case might be lacking a sense of direction or have trouble finding ways of entertaining themselves and want someone to find them something to do or they are trying to distract staff from their work to entertain them personally. I would look at what the youth are supposed to be doing and how they can be kept on task.
I do not see this as a problem, but as an opportunity to build trusting relationships and bonds with the kids. It could also be an opportunity to explore boundaries with the kids and discuss when it's appropriate to hang around, and when time is needed for the staff to complete their work, etc, in the office. I personally think that it's a great compliment and opportunity when kids want to be around adults – it says that they trust them enough to want to be around them.
I can only really respond from my own experiences, both as an individual "hanging around," and as part of a team within a larger organization with a similar experience. Although the team I was a part of didn't view this hanging around as problematic, but as a part of their work... that whole being present in the lives of young people thing.
Anyway, in my own experience, if I'm hanging around, it usually means I feel safe in a given space and that space or those people are meeting whatever needs I have in the moment. Even if it is just presence.
Social Work has recently gone on this Trauma-Informed Care kick, which really is as simple as realizing that folks' behaviors likely come from some prior experience and it's the job of the helping professional to ask "what happened," "what meaning do you give that," and "where do you want to go from here?" Something I've noticed Child and Youth Care has always recognized. I bring it up because I think (and folks have reported; I certainly do this) much of the time that people are hanging around, they're watching to see if speech and behaviors line up and to find out if they can or want to trust the people they're hanging around. Social Work is just starting to realize that when stuff happens, either ten years ago or ten minutes ago, people respond and react in different ways. And usually, the folks in care have had stuff happen.
So my question to the frustrated staff would be what happened in the lives of the folks hanging around that has caused or facilitated this hanging around? And, why is it a problem that folks are hanging around the place where the people that care about them are known to be? Isn't that what we all do?
My two cents.
Youth hang around staff because they like them, they want to bug them, they are bored, they need something, they want something, they don't feel safe unattended, they think paperwork is more important than they are, they are thinking the staff are talking about them or writing about them, they can't stand the feeling of loneliness. There are so many reasons, and it is our responsibility to figure that out. I define that as attachment seeking behavior rather than attention seeking behavior, regardless of age.
This happens at my work all the time, especially with key youth. I know we have really good staff, and a solid team, so I think the kids just gravitate toward staff that they feel comfortable with, or look up to. I don't think it's as much of a problem as some people make it out to be, it does make it a little hard for staff to get certain duties done. The boundaries have to be set early on, and staff have to be firm with the youth/children. I do a lot of redirection, and set up games, where the children automatically get involved, and don't pay as much attention to staff. Where you can set up a game of cards, play for a bit, then ask a child to take your place, and step out of the game. Easy to do, and seems to work consistently. Every program, and set of children are different, but I think it's just being firm and talking to the youth/children about boundaries, and understanding that staff need their space and time, in order to make the program what it is.
The kids were likely thinking "I hope I can get a job like that some day!
Seems someone is bored or very interested in what the staff have to say.
I would like to pose a question?
Where would you be? In a living room watching a TV show that you have seen before or isn't interesting or with a group of people who don't judge you, who talk to you when you are near (positive or negative), answer your questions, and accepts you for you (whether you feel good about yourself or not that day)?
Why do you think anyone wants to hang around a staff? Why not the kids?
These kids may be hanging around the staff all the time because they feel the staff could offer something they need.
Some of the best interactions and connections with children in my career have been formed around inviting kids in to work projects. I think of situations of setting up for an activity, picking up other kids at school, setting up/tearing down sound equipment and dozens of other tasks.
Many of these kids were "hanging around" looking for something meaningful to do with a caring adult.
Bah ha ha ha ahhh... No really, you should probably ask the staff what it was they believe their job is. Ask them what they find a priority throughout the day as office work should be dead last.
I've worked in similar settings where staff begin to complain about the kids 'bugging' them while they were in the office and from what I observed (my personal opinion alone) I feel the issue is actually due to staff secluding themselves for extended periods of time from the kids inside the office, basically failing to engage with the kids under the guise they have to sort papers, count petty cash, etc, OR the office is holding items of prized possessions (ie, videogames, pop, chips, $) and the kids are 'casing' the situation.
Hi Thom, another thoughtful question that relates to a classic in Child and Youth Care work...the "staff office". While being fully aware of the need for Child and Youth Care workers to have time and space to do needed paperwork, logging of events, strategy discussions for the shift, etc. I have always felt that too much time is spent in the office...at the expense of time "hanging around kids".
My initial thought about your question relates to your framing of the ways in which kids make "bids for connection" at a recent conference presentation you did. Hanging around the staff office ( I have never liked the word staff...prefer it would be called "adult's office", "house office", etc.) would seem to be a clear bid for connection and workers should not miss the opportunity to make that connection and make the kids feel welcome there. It may be that the kids are fearful (of other kids) to be away from the adults'
eyes so they gather there, they may be looking to see how the adults interact with each other, they are curious about what kind of "business" takes place in the office, they may be giving a strong hint that they think the adults are not carrying out their program responsibilities while being in the office, etc, etc.
But whatever the reason I believe that the Child and Youth Care workers should accept the bid for connection and respond by making pro-active efforts to engage in program with the kids at that point, or simply allow the kids to "hang out" there if they are not being disruptive. Paperwork is not the CYC's "customer", the kids are!
I think if Child and Youth Care workers see kids hanging around the office as "a problem" it might be a great time for a program review, or a closer look at the "program culture" might be in order.
Could it be they are feeling insecure or unsafe in the group. While adults are in the office .
This is another interesting topic. When I consider the issues that we have to assist young persons deal with, 'hanging around' is much better and let me add 'preferred' and of course for me, easier to deal with than having to deal with 'relationship reluctant kids'. So when they hang around us, perhaps we should count ourselves lucky and celebrate.
"Balance" is probably the most apt word here. Denying attention when it is needed is concerning. Hiding from kids in the office is also concerning.
However, avoidance of the tasks that require
involvement in the office is also concerning. Places for supervision,
professional discussions with external agencies policy formation and
planning etc., are all necessary in running an effective residential
service as well. Often these tasks take place in offices and they should
not be avoided either.
So balance is clearly required. Unfortunately some residential programmes are often poorly planned either in physical layout or in programme structure. Frequently, when they have been supposedly "purpose built" they have been designed by architects or by people that have never worked a backshift in their lives.
So questions like, are there enough staff around to facilitate and support young people interaction, i.e. how staff rotas are devised, is there enough space for different types of activity, do we plan events effectively etc., have to be factored in. As Fulcher (2008) points out, the space around us defines us. If the building layout prevents interaction with kids or denies private space for other tasks it can define how, where and why the space is used in the way it is. It may also be a contributing factor in "office hiding" though I'm not blind to the other reasons.
So let's have some balance.
I can only agree with much of what has been said. I would add how sad it is that the bureaucratisation of our work with children and the culture of risk and protection we have entered has dictated an emerging life space in which staff need to spend so much time engaged in administrative tasks. Well at least that's the case in the UK. I'm sure many would much rather be out there engaging the kids than in the office churning out endless paperwork that protects organisations more than it protects the kids. The problem as Mark Smith puts it is that bureaucracy imposes social distance. The presence of the office in the life space of the children and the way in which it has to be increasingly used should be a warning sign for the way in which we are beginning to provide care.
I'm glad to say we have a good culture in our programme and teams, where staff who spend too much time in the office are quickly reminded of the full range of their responsibilities by their colleagues, often by means of a joke with a jag which seems to work.
On the subject of offices, I remember when our current Director first came to our service some years ago. He immediately surrendered the plush and spacious office occupied by the previous incumbent for the tiny cupboard office at the end of the hall. I liked this interesting message from him at the time about power and the use of space. Although, I think this may have been at a time when Peters and Waterman had popularised the concept of 'management by walking around' I also remember a manager who covered the window on the staff office door with paper not long after taking up position which I also felt spoke volumes about her less than invitational approach to the kids. The pendulum has swung both ways in our place over the years where some offices are literally cupboards where no one would want to spend more than 5 minutes (which is a rather effective technique) to rather spacious well-equipped offices communicating administrative efficiency.
As I said at the beginning, I agree with much of what has already been said in that we need to make ourselves available to the kids if we are to have those all important relationships with them.
Has anyone experimented with different office set-ups to see how it affects things, e.g. willingness to hang out, being in the "life space", etc. I've been wondering what effect "standing desks" in a YCW office would have. If our computers and phones were on tall desks and you stood to use them (no comfy chairs to sit in), would we spend more time out of the office and on the floor? Maybe there'd just be cranky YCWs ...
Also in light of your recent "attention" question, I just think it's fabulous how even the youngest of infants can communicate and elicit the attention from others to get their developmental dependency needs met. For a couple of examples, sometimes they seek attachment and relationship, and sometimes they are also communicating/indicating along with other behaviours the need for assistance in developing self-soothing skills. However, the paradox is that MORE attention (ideally 1-1 time) is what I find helps kids best to develop and utilize self-soothing abilities. Thus, I say that when somebody says "he just wants attention", I reply, "excellent, give him some". Oh, and lets remember "lifespace work", shall we; question – where is the least "lifespace" area of CYC work space? Answer, of course: the office.
Think of what they are "running from". How safe is the environment when staff are not present?
I remember working at a residential programme where you would find different children hanging around the office when the shifts changed – so different children for different staff. I am not sure what this means, but could only conclude that it is to do with relationships.