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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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Meal times

I work in a group home for 7 youth. We have a regular menu which is set by the day cook. In our group home we serve dinner to the youth at 4:30. We have dinner at 4:30 because it lets the cook finish cleaning the dishes and kitchen before he leaves at 5:30. The youth are called to the table and when they are all seated, the cook brings their plates from the kitchen with their meal on it. We all stay at the table for 30 minutes no matter how long it takes to eat. Lately we have been questioning this practice and we would like other people's opinions please.

Melanie S.

Greetings –
A 4:30 dinner/supper time seems early to me. Is it the norm in your community ? If the youth were living at home or with friends or relatives would they typically be eating by 4:30 ? Is the act of eating totally governed by the dishwashing schedule assigned to the cook ? But before going off the deep end and accusing the cook of being a bully and the agency scheduling department of being oblivious to normal adolescent cycles of hunger and satiation, has anyone actually objected, or is your "questioning" of the practice prompted by something else ? Finally, given that they have to finish eating by 5 pm, how long do they have to go until breakfast ? Is there food available for snacking and social purposes, or is the fridge locked from 5 pm until 7am ? Sharing meals or snacks is such an important function that I would hate to see it constrained by an unnecessarily rigid schedule. Last bit – can the youth do the dishes ?

Francis Hare,
School of Child and Youth Care
Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Where I work the youth prepare the supper with assistance from the youth workers from 4:30-5:30 during this time the rest of the youth are in their rooms for quiet time. Supper is then served at 5:30pm. Because this is my experience and because I believe in instilling independence/autonomy I am biased. I think however this a good experience not just because of those factors but because it is good bonding time with the youth and creates a normalized environment as you do things together the way a "family" would.

However, I don't think this is really what your question is asking, so I will respond to that also. I think there are a couple of solutions and I do think it requires a solution because dinner shouldn't be rushed. There is no reason once the cook had supper served that they couldn't go home and then the cleaning could be shared by the remaining youth workers and the clients. Also could the cook start 1 -1.5 hours later and work until 6:30 – 7:00, this would allow dinner to be put on a little later and if really necessary allow the cook enough time to clean up afterwards.

Michelle Woolsey

Please – If you are going to run a group home put the children's needs first and not the staff's, in this case the cooks. Too often, in residential settings, adult needs get in the way of proper, healthy and logical care for children and adolescents. Additionally, creating a rigid, punitive meal time structure is not something that children need to grow. There is no evidence that would suggest that these practices will be effective – so why use them?

Bill Carty
Bartimaeus Inc.

You haven't stated the ages of your clients so it is hard to judge how much involvement the youth should have in meals. I might suggest that there appears to be many areas that could undergo some therapeutic change.

1. Include the youth in meal planning. They will be more likely to eat if they are making what they like.
2. Place the meal on the table and let them take what they want to. Rule of thumb: You take it; you eat it!
3. Eating a little later may be an option if the clients assist with the clean up after meals.
4. If meal times are therapeutic and enjoyable, the 30min time limit will not be needed. They will want to hang around to talk and participate in the group.
5. Perhaps the clients could be involved in meal preparation too. There may need to be some staffing changes or job description changes to accommodate the alterations in program here.

What is the philosophy behind your dinner routine? You need to examine this and the age of the clients to see if it is valid. What message is the dinner routine teaching the clients? Life is a restaurant that has no menu!?! Does that make sense. If these clients are old enough, they need to learn some self reliance skills. How will they handle meals and meal preparation once they leave your program?

Again, depending on the age of the clients, please encourage their input on the resolution of this issue. What do they want??


I am greatly in support of the 30 minutes at the table. We have youth in our program in order to make some impact in their lives -- and the mealtime is one of the few regular opportunities for adults and kids to interact in an informal group situation. Precious time. There should be a whole subject in our curriculum on ways to maximise this unique period to talk, listen, play, plan, care ...


I'll be glad to reply to this one. Let's look at the issue systematically
* First of all, do you think 4:30 is a bit early for dinner ? According to normalization theory, daily living practices that are at odds with what 'most people ordinarily do' are non-normalized and in fact often are instituted around staff hours rather than needs and characteristics of clients. So, the first thing to look at is the hour of the meal. I'd trust that later, before bed, there'd be a snack.
* So, I think the cook's hours need to be changed so that he is there later – maybe start later and stay later.
* Why are filled plates brought in ? Can you consider serving the meal family style ?
* How about a role for the youth ? Can they set the table ? Can they bring in and remove the serving dishes ? Can they help wash the dishes ? (maybe on a rotating basis ?)
* As to staying at the table a half hour – well, how long does it take the youth to get together and eat in a relaxed fashion for a pleasant meal ? I'd think that should be the goal, and there should even be something slightly ceremonious about dinner – that youth get washed and cleaned up (and no hats at the table) and come in together.

But the food should then be ready to be passed around, the table setting having occurred, and the the serving dishes either at the table or on the way. Serving can then occur in a polite way (implicitly teaching table and other manners) and conversation can occur.

Hopefully everyone can finish more or less at the same time and then be excused. An exception could be made now and then for a youth legitimately in a hurry, or if a particular one is especially restless tonight. In other words, the meta-message should be "stay till all are finished" but with exceptions readily and comfortably made so it isn't a huge issue.

* I'd involve the cook in examining these issues and making some changes. For example, if he sets the menu, can the youth participate and make input ? Seems to me that this whole thing is very 'cook dominated' and he'll need to be 'rung in' to help create change but still be recognized for his important role.


I would start with, How would this make you feel if you were one of these youth? Institutional living can be made flexible enough to accommodate the simple needs. In my experience with various cultures, meal time is a celebration not a chore. Include the youth in meal planning, preparation and cleanup. Allow them some responsibility as well as some respect. How long does take you to eat a family meal at home? Try to keep in mind that this is their temporary home. Facilitate it, and it may feel like one.


As far as mealtimes being structured cafeteria-style, I think it's a pretty good idea. My only concern is whether dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon is expected to sustain them until bedtime. If the cook ends his shift at 5:30, did he start at 9:30, and the kids don't have breakfast until then? A suggestion may be to have two part-time cooks or one full- and one part-timer versus the lone full-timer. Maybe have one cook start a little earlier, and one take over mid-afternoon or just before dinner? But I think the 30 minute minimum is a great idea. People eat too fast these days anyway! :)


I also work in a similar setting. Our cook does not dish out for the residents but all the food is put out and tables are set by 5:00. We have dinner at 5:00. The residents are allowed to serve themselves and if they are throwing away too much food, they will be served by staff until they can prove they can handle what is on their plates. The cook is scheduled to work til 6 p.m. and by this time, he finishes his dishes, etc.

Yvonne Johnson

Dear Melanie
Although it is a nice gesture for the cook to bring out the supper on a plate to each youth, it is unrealistic. A therapeutic milieu must encourage and foster independence. I think that the youth should be able to serve themselves as a typical home does not have restaurant style service.

When the youth are sitting at the table and the food is placed in front of them, the staff may encourage manners and proper serving techniques. These are times to teach the little skills of life these youth may not know a lot about. Take advantage of any time that you as a staff can make your group home feel more like a home.

The youth shelter I work at serves dinner at six o'clock. The youth have time after school to do homework, visit with family and friends, as well as relax. The cook starts at 11:00 am and is finished at 6:00; after dinner is placed out on large plates for the youth to serve themselves. The dinner is cleaned up by the youth and the youth workers, which again models a typical family unit. I find that meal times run smoothly while the youth gain independence through serving themselves.

I hope that this information may help.
Chantal Leroux

Dear Melanie , I've been privileged to work in a group home for the past 13 years and with trial and error , this is the system that works best for us . We also have 7 children in our group home and our housekeeper (of 20 years service) cooks the meals from Monday to Friday only .When the kids come home from school either she will make a snack for them or they will do it themselves or they will have last night's leftovers .They have free access to the kitchen and will often make a snack in late afternoon . Our main meals are in the evenings , prepared by her in the afternoon ,she goes off at 5pm. The oven is switched on 5.30pm when kids start their homework . At 6.30 we eat , the kids help lay the table and bring food to the table.

Careworkers will help younger kids to dish up but older ones help themselves . The kids are to remain seated until we are all finished and then remove everything to the kitchen. Each week, in order of age, a different child takes responsibility to wash the dishes . The housekeeper has free choice of what she wants to prepare and when, so that it doesn't become boring/monotonous . Every once in a while the careworkers and some of the children will prepare a meal.

Weekends, although the housekeeper will put out some items, the kids prepare this themselves, the only requirement being that they keep the kitchen clean . Mostly we find this time to be quite pleasant as all the house comes together and we chat about any topic that presents itself. Every Monday evening, straight after the meal, we have a meeting which is specifically geared for the children to discuss / negotiate any issues /rules /problems of the house that they would like to change.

Hope this has been of some help to you. Good luck .
Harold Goldstuck.

Hi Melanie,
My first reaction to your question was "wow, you have a cook!!". I think in any residence it should be focused on the needs of the youth. If dinner is solely based on the cook's hours than my suggestion would be to re-evaluate based on what the kids need. How are the residents responding to dinner being served at 4:30? Have any of them suggested a later/earlier meal time?

What is causing you to reconsider this? If it would be more beneficial for the residents to eat at a different time, and you must have a cook is it possible to change his/her hours to accommodate the needs of the kids?

Just some thoughts.

Hi Melanie!
I have a couple of different approaches. I have been working in a group home with non-verbal, wheelchair-bound clients, so we are aware of the fact that they are not physically capable to wash dishes and such. But that doesn't stop us from including them! First, the menu is made up ahead of time, but we're also flexible. Usually night staff does the cooking for the evening meal, or at least the majority of the preparations (ie. potato peeling, or starting a roast in a slowcooker).

Clients have different needs, and different likes, but they are given choices. Sometimes it may be the type of salad dressing, or if they even want the salad!, maybe it's the type of beverage (milk, chocolate milk, juice?), or if they want salt and pepper. All they need to do is to look at the item they are desiring, as we're holding it up. A few times, they don't care to choose, so they will look away all together. They also have the choice of who will assist them over dinner. This allows them some power over there own lives, where they have little control. After dinner, someone, or even all of them, may sit in their wheelchairs, holding towels, or plastic plates or bowls, spoons etc. If these fall, oh well, we rinse them again before putting them in the dish sterilizer. They love the social time, and the one-on-one it gives them. Staff and clients eat together, in a family-like setting.

I also deal with another situation... A family where there the children have Asperger Syndrome and other complex disorders. Food is a severe issue, where if one food is touching another... NONE of it will be eaten. Difficulties with eating certain colours of food, or mixed foods (Caseroles, even tacos). Or even the texture of food, ie roast meat is "too chewy", or the way beans feel on the tongue. These can end up with unexpected behavioural explosions! Some of you maybe thinking... if they get hungry, they'll eat... but it's NOT always true! Some kids really do starve themselves, and become malnourished in a house filled with nutritious food. And they don't even have Anorexia, or Bulimia.

This is best resolved by involving the children in meal preparation and having viable, accepted, alternates on hand. Keeping in mind the food guides, for their growth and development. Insistance is there for all to remain together for the meal, as one may be eating only some raw vegetables, while others have a full meal. Conversation is often fun, and we use it as a time to get to know about the days happenings. And yes.. although this is a private home, it does have several options at every meal. It didn't sound as if this may be much of an issue in your situation, but it is something to think about. And to add to your considerations.

Good Luck!

It seems to me that 4:30 is a rather early mealtime ... In my own home, I often do not feel like eating dinner until around 5 or 5:30, and when I was growing up my family would sit down and eat dinner around that time, too. Aside from what I am used to for myself, there are other reasons why I say it may be too early-- if we are to strive for making a group home environment more like a home environment, consider this-- many working parents do not get home from work until that time or later, and if a youth were to be involved in extra-curricular school activities, that would mean they would be coming home close to that time, also. In terms of how the meal is served, do the youth ever get to serve themselves from large plates of food set out either on the table or on the kitchen counter? This would give the youth the ability to make choices as to what they want to eat and how much-- giving them control over something in their lives, and also learning to gauge their hunger and take appropriate amounts of food. After all, a cook giving them their food already dished out on a plate seems to be a more restaurant-style method, than home-like. I wonder about the 30 minute "stay-at-the-table" rule: Is this rule in place so that everyone finishes at the same time, or to encourage meal-time discussion, or for supervisory ease? I wonder if the youth ever become focused just on watching the clock, putting their time in and waiting for when they can leave? Lastly, I think that the chores following meal-time (e.g. washing up, putting dishes away) are important things for the youth to do. Perhaps if they helped in this way, the cook could then serve dinner a bit later...? What are the thoughts of the youth on the time and method that dinner is served? (Good opportunity to give the youth a chance to have a say on matters that affect them.)


Dear Melanie,
I worked in residential centre in Ireland and due to funding issues, we did not have a cook. However, I found this to be a very positive factor in the home. If a residential unit has a chef, it does free up the staff, yet introduces an element into their daily lives that is institutional and will not be available to them when they leave care. Could the staff and children cook dinner? We did, and it was during the preparation of dinner, that sometimes, we learned the most.

Best wishes,

Hey Melanie,
I too have been able to work with children in the kitchen and have found it to be a great time not only to help them learn a necessary life skill but for me to learn about them and see them learn about themselves. Cooking isn't as hard as it looks (most of the time). I find working in the kitchen, be it cooking or clean up, is a very non-threatening way to connect with youth. The kitchen can provide great opportunities to build relationships. (Also spending time in the kitchen helped my own cooking skills as well and I really needed the help.)

Mike Rempel

Melanie: I am so glad you are questioning this practice. It seems to me as though the system has begun to run for the system and not for the children/youth. the key question to ask is: what are the needs of the youth? when do they need to eat? what is their after school and early evening agenda? and then you need to program accordingly. Are there missed opportunities for lifeskills training here – cooking supper themselves? being the cook's assistant? helping to serve? clean up?

Your second question about the length of time the group stays at the table – again whose need is this? is this a staff/program belief? what principles, theories of child & youth practice is it based on? what part did the youth have in setting this practice? There seems to be more opportunities here for you and your team to engage with the youth in some very meaningful discussions and coming up with a practice that is youth focused ....

Good luck – Let us know what your team decides and how they decided it.
Judy Ryan

I work in a treatment center for youth 10-17 and at meal time they are made to take all that is served. The youth have no choice what they want to eat – they must take the beets, chicken, egg plant etc., even if it is burnt. Then if they do not take it they are punished. They will lose all snacks and dessert for 2 days. If they cant finish all they take they are charged $.$$ out of their money account. I have a real problem with this and am wondering if it's just me.

Please someone tell me Im not crazy ...
Larry Y.A

WOW are you going to get a lot of response to this one. Short answer- It's a problem for about a hundred different reasons...

Pati Chrusch-Page

Big ouch! Don't think you are crazy Larry, but I do believe there's a name for those kinds of rules. The age group being treated this way sounds especially worrisome, because so many other things are important then, and this approach to food becomes a 'good' issue to obsess about.

Maxine Kelly

I don't think you are crazy, the system sounds punitive to me. I am not sure what part of the country you reside in but if it is Ontario I wonder what the Children Advocacy office would say ?

Kim Stevens

Well Larry ...

I also work in a treatment centre for co-ed youth ages 12-16. I agree that this is not a productive way to encourage youth to eat a healthy diet and experience positive interactions at meal times.

There are requirements within the centre I work surrounding meal expectations. The youth are required to have a portion of every item served. If they are adamant that they do not like a food item they are typically given permission to have an additional helping of one of the other options instead. The option is usually more salad or vegetables as opposed to the main food item, which is often meat. Once they finish what is on their plates, they are welcome to have seconds of whatever item they choose. In addition, there are some special exceptions for youth depending on their personal diet, whether they are vegetarians, vegans, or have food allergies. I have found that this arrangement is quite successful and we do not deal with regular defiance around this rule. When it comes to snacks, the alternative to not eating what is put out would be having a piece of fruit or something reasonable like that.

In my opinion, if the food is burnt and would not normally be eaten by a staff member, the youth should also not be required to consume it. Where I work, if a resident does end up having a problem eating the required food and is not able to resolve it by compromising then they may be required to eat dinner apart from the rest of the group. The other residence that I work in allows each resident to choose a favourite meal that they would like to see on the menu each week.

I certainly don't think you are crazy, and I think you have a right to question the current arrangement within the centre you work. Perhaps something new and more effective could be implemented! I would also question whether or not these measures might be considered "punitive" and detrimental to the success of the youth in your program. Best of luck to you!

Foosegurrl CYW

You are not crazy! Food should never be used in any way as a punishment.
Charlene Snell A.D.C.R.F.

Sorry Larry, you are crazy.... crazy for working in such an archaic environment. Don't bet for one minute that you work in a treatment centre, it is more like a punishment center that is refusing to work with teens from a developmental and treatment perspective. Hang in there and become the catalyst for change that is needed in your program. This food issue that continues to arise in treatment centres all across our programs seems to be based more on the staff than the clients and it has been going on way too long.

Jon DeActis


You are not crazy. This issue came up a couple months ago regarding kids and mealtime on Forcing kids to eat is certainly no way to build a relationship with them. This sounds more like an organizational problem. Who makes the rules? Have you spoken to your supervisor? The kitchen? The director? Punishment around food issues is inappropriate and needs to be looked at carefully. If it is the organization's policy, you may just want to find a more kid friendly and kid directed program. If this is the policy around food, I would be concerned on how they are running the rest of the programs?

Jean Dickson

No, in my opinion you are not crazy ... I say that if it feels wrong to you then it is up to you to say something. In my experience food and meal times for children and youth can bring up alot of issues; some may want to hoard any and all food that they get or some may have issues with eating all together. My feeling on this is that children should not be forced where food is concerned, where is the choice? Yes i understand that perhaps the institution wants the children to eat a balanced meal and with that said i think that it is unfair that a child would get charged money for not finishing a meal. Do the "powers that be" at this institution go by the same rules? Food is not a privilage it is a right!

Darri Sanders :)

Hi Larry,
I'm new to Child and Youth Care net, but not new to youth care work. I have a real problem with that meal time situation also. Eating is so basic and fundamental to being human. We all have different needs and preferences when it comes to food. Where I work, we will not make food an issue or use it as a means of control or power struggle over what and how much a youth eats. Seems like a perfect recipe for stuggle and promoting eating disorders. I come from a Native American background, my father kept more to traditional ways, so this may color my thinking also. Non-punitive ways are considered much healthier. I don't think you are crazy. Can you bring your feelings up at a Staff meeting? Maybe encourage a change in protocol? We really need to choose our battles wisely, I can think of much better use of natural consequences than fighting over food. Good luck!

Candice Miller
CYCW/Grief and Loss counselor

No, Larry you are not crazy ... whatever happened to meeting the needs of our youth? This simply does not apply if they are being forced to eat foods that they do not like. I am sure that the adults that are working in this facility would not eat foods that they do not like. It is really disturbing that the youth are being charged out of their own money if they do not finish all of the food on their plate. I too work in a treatment facility and we try to order foods that the youth will eat, as well, once a week we have a cooking program set up and the youth take turns in pairs at preparing a meal for the whole unit to enjoy. This has proven to be very successfull and teaches the youth life skills. I would definitly be advocating for the youth on this one.

Juliann Nowosad

Sounds like a "Dickens" novel. Suggest to admin to give small portions, and permit them to have seconds if desired. If they don't eat, the natural consequence is "hunger", let them decide. Either way, there should be high nutritional snacks available at all times (adolescents can eat their weight in food -not to mention brain chemistry IS the nutrition they take in). Of course many troubled youth have eating disorders and if you attempt to "require" them to eat, they will just purge afterwards. Suggest Admin look into Motivational Interviewing Techniques


Excuse me but what a bunch of b.s. I'd like to see them apply that same rule to the staff for a week and see who thinks its effective youth work after that. If the biggest issue we need to work on with these children/youth is what they eat then we must be doing a wonderful job (can you read my sarcasm). Whats the real issue here?.....Say it with me people.....POWER STRUGGLE!

Laura Colameco
P.S. No, you are by no means crazy!

You are not crazy! What if someone is a vegetarian? Not to mention that opens up doors for having food "issues" later.... Food should NOT be used as a reward/punishment! Charging them for not eating everything sounds completely unethical to me.....

Tara Wease,
Burnaby BC

Hi Larry: Well I really have never responded to any e-mails on cyc-net I just read them all,but this one I could not let go by.

I believe that what is being done at your facility is very wrong and borders on abuse. I would certainly be advocating for these children and try and come up with a more positive approach to what they are eating at mealtimes. I hope that there is somebody in your organization that you can talk to? Children do have rights and I believe they are being broken.

In my organization we have what you call a yuck list and the kids can put 4 things down they don't like to eat but must substitute for something in the same food group. The boys are also responsible to approach whoever is on kitchen duty ahead of time to prepare their substitute and clean up after themselves. This approach works very well and no food is wasted.

I have been a child care worker for 23 years and have never heard of children being treated in this manner. I can tell you that I would bet they are not in a government facility because that would never be allowed to occur on the basis of the childrens rights being abused.

Stand up for what you believe in and advocate positively for these youth perhaps they themselves have some ideas.
Good Luck,
Kathy Westelaken

Wow! That sounds like something out of an 18th Century orphanage! You are not crazy but I would question whoever chose those rules! I also work in a treatment centre with youth 12-17. There are often issues around food for our kids. Over the years, I have learned where to pick my battles and this is often not one of them! Sure, we get some kids who are just spoiled and will only eat certain foods, we have one boy who says fruit is for welfare people and won't touch it! Needless to say, if that is our snack, he won't eat it and he doesn't get a substitute! I never make kids eat something I won't and never force them to finish it if they are full or don't like it. But if they choose not to eat at mealtimes, they have to wait until the next meal or snack. And our snacks are often .... Fruit!!! Charging kids for not finishing their meals is punitive and out of touch with present day child care practices (in my opinion). If a kid does waste food for no good reason, they often receive restitution, which usually means an extra chore or we serve their meals for them (they pick what they want from what is served). I hope you can change what you have going on there.

Good luck!
Shawn Lechelt

If things are anywhere near close to the way you have explained them, then I agree you are not crazy.

James Hartley

Hi Larry,
I am curious which country and city you live and work in. The reason I ask is to get a better understanding of who you might advocate to.


Larry, I work for an organisation who care for and treat traumatized children. The behaviour you talk of is outrageous. It will damage the children further, encourage eating disorders at least and anyway we would lose registration if we behaved that way. Do you not have a complaints procedure? If so use it. You could always apply for a job with us!!!

Good Luck
Pauline Flavin

Dear Larry,
What is your position in all this? I think you need to address it with your supervisor or do the chain of command, ASAP. For the youth!

I support you,
Louise Bergeron

I would think that this would not be in accordance with program policy or with the standards set by the state for Child and Youth Care agencies. It sounds like the program is asking to be reviewed by the licensing governmental body. If what you say is true you better find a different place to work so your name does not appear on the law suit. May be I am being a bit over the top but I think that such an approach is beyond the scope of what is allowed. Now if you are asking for help in changing things you must start with the policy and proceedure manual and the regulations and statutes as setforth by the state. I would suggest that you call these methods into question and offer alternatives which I am sure there will be plenty of them offered.

Larry James

Hi Larry,
While I understand many of the reasons for rules like these, I also don't think you're crazy. Meal times can pose some real problems when kids like different things (you can't make separate meals for each of them, etc, etc) but meal time can also offer a lot of opportunities to empower youth and connect with them – giving them input regarding the menu, helping in prep, and then making them accountable by insisting they eat what they take. And there's the added benefit of sitting down with the youth to eat, converse and connect.

With all of that said you need to work within the policy guidelines that are in place. So a good place to start is to find out if these rules reflect policy or if they were imposed by someone who thinks this is the way to go. (all facilities will have a policy manual on site)

If this is "policy", remember that policies change as professionals and organizations grow and learn new and better ways to do things....questioning policy is not a bad thing as long as it's constructive rather than just critical – stay respectful and provide concrete, positive examples for how to improve upon it.
If this isn't about policy then it becomes a staff issue and can be addressed in the same respectful manner... have it put on the agenda for the next staff meeting and put forward your ideas and the reasons for them.
In both of these situations it's unlikely that you'll change things overnight (maybe you will – other staff may feel the same way but haven't spoken up) but change takes time...and someone to advocate for it.

So keep your cool, keep your eye on the prize and GOOD LUCK!
Dynell Forman

Well, I have to add my little bit to this conversation too. You are definitely not crazy Larry, though the system's rules sound "crazy". I did not hear mentioned that forcing children to eat something they do not want or like can create "eating disorders" of all types later on in life. In the grand scheme of life is it really that important to have such a power struggle over the issue of food? If a child is really hungry they will eat. Having such a rule leaves an opening for a power struggle.

Good for you for bringing this issue to light!
Children Who Witness Abuse Program

As a youth care work this is a form of abuse.If it were me I would put a tinny (half tye spoon) on there plate. I would not make anyone eat burnt food.We do not make anyone in my care do what I would not do my self.Your group home needs to look at their level of care.This may sound rude but as a worker this is unhealthy practice.

Kevin Martin

Larry has written in response to your many replies to his query ...

I would like to thank all who have replied about this issue, it has given me more insight to what should be done. I have worked with youth for many years and never seen a place that was punitive when it came to eating or not eating food. Your insight has given me some tools to tackle this issue with the director. I have not been here for very long and did not want to step on anybody but I cannot sit by and accept something that is harmful to the kids. So, thank you all.


Discussion revived three months later ...

I came across Larry's query made in June ...
The whole idea of using food as a punishment/consequence is a mistake. These kids possibly come from a background where food is an issue for them (ie. not enough, not healthy choices). Withholding a basic need from a child is not a proper way to teach or care for them. How can they learn to trust people and the world round them if they are denied their basic needs? It makes me angry ... NO you are not crazy!!!

Karen Taylor

I agree 100% that food should not be used as a punishment. However, I also agree with the fact that what is served is what is to be had. Allowing kids and/or youth to choose what they eat will only set them up for failure in my opinion. The unfortunate fact is that most kids in care will live in the lower class range for a good portion of their lives after they leave care. Here they will not be able to pick and choose what they eat as their budget will determain that. By letting these kids pick and choose while they are in care, then subjecting them to reality once they move out will only encourage things like selling drugs or other criminal activity in order for them to continue this pampered lifestyle. Dessert should be discouraged if the main meal was not consumed first. I will repeat though that kids should never, I repeat never, be denied food , nor should it be used as a punishment as food is a basic right.


I'm not sure where you are from, but in Alberta, Canada this would be a violation of standards, and is very unacceptable.

Linda Windjack

After reading what Larry wrote I was shocked to hear that workers are treating youth that way. I agree with Karen that you can not withhold a basic need from children, though dessert is not a basic need. Has the staff Larry works with never heard of consequences that match the problem? Taking money out of a child’s account should not be used as a reinforcement unless they are wasting so much food that it is costing the center extra money to buy the food. I know I over estimate how much I can eat, and sometimes waste food. These kids are being forced to take everything. I don’t take things I won’t eat. Getting no dessert for not finishing (a non-burnt) meal I think is a fair consequence, but when the food probably doesn't get eaten by the staff why should the youth have to eat it? I agree with Karen again, Larry you're not crazy but the staff you work with seem a little power hungry.

Nicole Lepine

Wow...I can't believe this one is still going! Hot topic...and rightly so.

In my opinion there would never be a justifiable reason to withhold healthy food from kids (or anyone for that matter); however, this of course depends on the type of food. If a balanced meal is offered to youth (and they are not given the opportunity to eat "what they want") odds are good they will chow down on at least some of it. At our facility we keep "junk" food locked away for special treats (called discretion) on the weekend. Obviously, getting input from the residents for the menu is important. For one thing, it will give them a sense of control over their environment and second it should cut down on the complaining about food and refusing to eat what is offered. Hopefully, all of the staff (or at least more than the person who originally posted this) will be reading these posts.

Darrell Nogler

I do not agree with using food as a punishment. I for one would not take anything I didn't want to eat because I knew I would waste it, and the youth we work with should not have to do that either. Esspecially the fact about the burnt food -- no one likes burnt food, why should youth in care looking to us for guidance have to do something not too many people would do.

If the amount of food they are are wasting begins to show on the budget then one, let them know what's going on and see if they understand, and if nothing changes then look into getting money from the youth for the wasted food. Food is one of the most important necessities in life; to take that away from anyone, let alone youth we care for, is wrong.

Larry, you are not crazy we need more youth workers bringing these issues to the public.

Michael Peters

Food and mealtimes sure bring on lots of issues. It sounds from the original letter that staff are using the meal and the food in a power and control issue. Are there on-going behavior issues that staff are struggling with that need to be resolved before the food issue can be fully addressed? Another consideration may be if clients involved are dealing with issues such as fasd, adhd, ocd etc, these clients may have needs that make mealtimes difficult. Some times sensory issues can be easily mistaken for behavior problems, i.e., the client who won't eat anything green or only will eat veggies raw. Sensory considerations should be built into any program dealing with clients with special needs. Chairs with arms often help clients with sensory issues sit better and feel more secure, and also provides boundaries. Soft natural lighting, (pink bulbs if no natural lighting) may make meals go better. What medications are clients taking? Some may cause appetites to soar or disappear. What are the clients' backgrounds, are they used to eating at a table, do the staff sit and converse during the meal, keeping it social, fun and giving themselves the chance to role model good manners to the clients? Is the T.V. off, music kept low so that there are fewer distractions.

Joyce Ottewell

Young people could be involved in developing the menu. Preparation for this could involve a series of discussions on the necessary requirements for a healthy diet. In drawing up the menu, a list of available foods can be given to young people to ensure that the developed menu falls within the organisation's budget. The use of creative dishes could ensure that vegetables, etc, are included in a less obvious manner.

Mandy Goble

Like everything in residential care, food can be used for therapeutic purposes. Of course, like safety and security, food should be a given, and not used in power struggles or in a punitive manner. That being said, we are always teaching so...

Food can be locked away with healthy choices always open for snacks and when one gets the munchies. Supper can be a peanut butter and jam sandwich if the youth is not into the baked chicken. If a youth is being disrepectful around meal times and about the food, it is always a choice to have them prepare their own meals. It can be a rule you must take a sandwich prior to adding cookies and other junk food to school lunches. It is reasonable to ensure a youth has a glass of orange juice or an apple prior to leaving for a smoke in the morning. If it is chips and pop movie night and a youth is telling you off, they can have something other than that snack.

I don't think food should never be used in residential care. If I am handing out homemade cake and someone tells me to screw myself, I think I will skip the particular youth, that is an in the moment choice which I think is fine. Food, like anything else may be an issue, and it may play a role in an intervention plan.
I think the key to using food in a therapeutic manner is to ensure that it is discussed at team meetings and done with intent. You may decide a youth who goes without permission all evening should not have a snack when they return, or you may decide they should. You may decided someone who skips supper has the meatballs prepared, or you may decide they have peanut butter. I think if it is done with good intent, with the team, keeping in mind the intervention plan it is like any other tool we can use to teach and facilitate change.


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