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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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Points and levels?

I work in a residential setting with at-risk youth who are experiencing different intensities of trauma in their lives. We work with a levels system here that I find more punitive than what it was meant to be used for, and that is reaching set goals as laid out by their primary workers. I was just wondering if any of you work with a levels system in your work places and how it works for you??

Thank you

Here is a reference to an article we wrote last year on use of level systems in RTCs that has a number of references you might be interested in as well as the history of level systems and how they can be deconstructed. You may be able to access it through Child and Youth Care Net.

Nowicki, Jack and Pestine, Althea. (2015). Transitioning from Level Systems to Youth-Centred Programs in Residential Treatment Centers as a Strategy for Reducing Restraints and Seclusion. RCYCP Vol.28 No.1. p 45.

Jack Nowicki

If anyone is interested in ordering back issues of RCYCP please go to – Eds.


Dear Dean,

" Point and level systems" – as I have advocated against for years, do all kinds of unfortunate things to young people. Any program that claims to be trauma-based and has a "point and level system" – well, isn't. They are a form of adult bullying, deprive youth of treatment and much needed relationships (they make staff and youth adversarial), and tend actually to encourage difficult behavior. Ultimately one reason many report they 'don't work' is that the youth just aren't interested in the 'rewards' they get for having enough (or not having amassed), points.

Send me your snail mail address and I'll send you one of my "point packs" – a collection of articles describing their pitfalls, how to eliminate them and replace them with more positive practice.

Karen VanderVen

Hi Dean,

I have worked in a residential setting that had a level system but it didn't work. Stepping back, one could see that most youth struggled, while a few seemed to progress well through each level. Still, for those who were "successful", did it foster independence and give the skill set and resiliency needed to transition out of residence ? Through dialogue and planning, the program was changed into individualized plans. Clients were part of determining and following through on meaningful and attainable steps to reach individualized goals with their front line workers.

As Child and Youth Care Practitioners, we know that each child is an individual with diversified strengths and opportunities for development and growth. It is also beneficial to include youth in the process. There are many literary sources on residential settings and youth out there. CYC-Net is one place a person can find such articles.

Has your organization considered other alternatives? Are there staff team meetings and/or individual supervision where one can express these concerns? When I first experienced residential as a placement student, we were taught the importance of using our voice and actively engaging in being part of the solution. Working in the system for a few years demonstrated the value of promoting and building a safe and secure residence. In addition, a place where youth feel accepted and have a sense of belonging. Considering it is the youths' "living space", it is important to focus on the many elements, which includes the staff, to build and maintain a healthy support environment that fosters their development, health, and well being.

Mary Anne

Hi Dean,

I did residential work about 10 years ago now in places that used points and level systems. I have recently heard that one place has given up the level system and I am so glad to hear that! They had levels 1 through 4 and no youth could ever make it to the elusive 'level 4' due to its incredibly high standards. I remember one youth making it for about half hour before something got on her nerves and she swore or something like that – oops! Back to level 2!! (ugh).

You are right in finding level systems punitive, because they are! I would take Karen Vander Ven up on her offer to send you articles. I will do the same actually. This is very useful research. Do this research and find a way to present it to your supervisors. I did that in small ways when I worked in residential for my college placement (although the staff were very oppressive and resistant to change, I was only an inexperienced student after all!). Things did not change overnight but they did eventually. We can all do our part in creating positive change :)

Good luck, I never found level systems to work. Build relationships and put some faith in the youth that they can find internal motivators.

My two cents. Respectfully,


I worked in a level system 20 years ago and I agree that the top level was never attainable or if the youth did get there it was too hard to hold on to it and they went back down to level 1. Unfortunately I do believe Youth Justice Faculties (in BC anyways) still use this system.


Thank you all for your feedback, there is some really good information there. Karen, I am looking forward to receiving the material that you have sent to me. I think I am getting through to some in the workplace, but still have a lot of resistance. Those that support me will not speak up in support of me for fear of reprise from management I am guessing. I try to explain to them that it is our jobs to advocate for these kids and if we didn't, who would.

I have heard that we are moving to a trauma informed care system (I like to call it trauma responsive system because we already know our kids are traumatized) which contradicts what a level system does. Until that happens, I will continue to advocate against this because it is the right thing to do for our kids.

Thank you.


Thank you everybody who has requested a point pack. They will be mailed to you next week and I'm happy to send them to Canada.

The packs include copies of articles and other pieces I published on point and level systems – and their many problems and pitfalls – since 1995.

Now I'm adding some new pieces to the 'pack' – a bibliography that includes references to articles by other people (also describing how damaging they are) and references to policy papers from major child welfare and child caring organizations that take a stand. The latter might be especially important to use with managers and administrators who want point and level systems since that stance is counter to recommendations of such organizations.

The advent of trauma-based care makes it especially important to keep the anti point and level arguments at hand, since point and level practices are quite counter to the trauma-based care philosophy.


A few months ago I offered to send my "Point Packs" to those who requested one. These contained copies of my articles and a few other things. The responses were so numerous that I realized there was no way I could assemble and mail out thousands of pieces of paper. So I set to developing a 'new' Digital Point Pack that could be emailed. This took longer than I thought it would and as well, as happens, 'life got in the way'.

But I finally have finished it and these will be on their way very soon to each person who requested one in an individual email. My apologies for the delay.

The 'Digital Point Pack' contains a number of items, as you'll see, but during the time I worked in it I located a number of new and very compelling pieces by others besides myself that are listed in a bibliography. These are very compelling and of course the more 'voices' are speaking about them, the better!

Karen VanderVen

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