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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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Mixed age groups?

Hello all!

I was wondering if anyone has references to solid research regarding the pros and cons of having mixed age groups in group care – e.g., information about having, for example, 7 year olds and 15 year olds in the same program.

I know this is common in, for example, foster care, but is there any research of which people are aware?

Thom Garfat

Hi Thom

This was an issue here in Manitoba 15 years ago or so. There were a few co-ed group care programs with older female youth and younger boys. As I recall, Karl Gompf was contracted to review the literature and prepare a report for the province. As far as I know , there is one remaining co-ed mixed age group program here currently, the others changed to single gender programs.

Dawne MacKay-Chiddenton
Winnipeg, MB.

Hi Thom,

This is more anecdotal than research but the work that we did with the group-a voice of reason who came in to teach the social work students at the Robert Gordon University bears out the merits of working with a mixed age group.

The age range was from 13 to 27 at one point and people did raise an eyebrow or two but we utilised good lifespace practice to promote group identity and had the benefit of a residential at Columba 1400 that really brought us all together.

Many people who have been part of the group continue to be in contact and make themselves available for other pieces of work. The youngest member of the group Alex has just been part of a group of young people who have won the Young Scot of Year Award. I have attached links to Columba 1400 and Alex talking about his award.

Finally, Alex and I are about to do a piece of research looking at what worked for him during his group care and post care experience. It goes under the title of 'Serendipity and Risk in the Lives of Marginalized Young People' and will be delivered in Canterbury, England in June.

Jeremy Millar

I took over as Principal of a Residential facility. The discipline, damage and disruption that came out of the cottages where children were grouped together according to age drove staff nuts. We tried a more disciplined approach. We tried incentives, we tried everything possible that we found in the literature.

Finally, management made a decision to mix the residents across the age span. However, we kept it gender specific.

There was a lot of resistance from the residents as well as from the front line staff.

Our education officer kept a record of findings which is somewhere on the campus. I started writing it up but never completed it.

From my recollection I know the following changes were significant:

1. Less disruptions and petty bickering
2. Less damage to property
3. Fewer complaints and reports of horseplay
4. Actions that had to be disciplined tapered off.
5. Interpersonal relationships improved.
6. Residents haggled less about chores because they could see why a three year old cannot be held accountable to sweep the floors.
7. The older residents developed a sense of responsibility and active engagement.

Our thinking at the time was to make the campus environment more family like and family friendly. However we were aware that the residents were not family. We knew that many of them were relationship reluctant. Our visualization/conceptualization was the five years olds could see where they were going to when the watched the interaction of the 15 year olds. The 15 year olds could see where they had come from as they observed the five year olds. One unintended consequence was that a mentoring culture emerged. They were helping and supporting each other. Front line workers were less stressed and flummoxed. One thing we had to be aware of was bullying and exploiting younger residents. Was some of it at first but the mentoring culture became institutionalized. The residential facility operated like that until my resignation seven years later. The new leadership reverted to the age graduated grouping model. I have just visited there a year ago and the place looks a mess. The taking care of it for the next generation was no longer evident. Before there was a tangible, visual model of generational living. When I talked to the residents, they were just annoyed with children of their same age having the same problems and have the same limited solution strategies.

Michael Gaffley

I guess one good example of the benefits of a mixed age group is the CYC-Net Discussion group! All contributions are given equal weight and heard respectfully, and very often the wisest responses (and the best questions) seem to come from the least experienced voices.

In the group care context, though, as facilities have become smaller and more focused on particular groups, there is probably less opportunity these days for working with mixed ages. This is a shame because, as contributors have pointed out, there can be great richness of mutual learning in a diverse group.

In my experience the bigger challenge is not so much in mixing age-groups as in mixing groups of different levels of social and emotional development, which may not be the same thing at all. The critical factors seem to me the skill and confidence of the staff both in working with such diversity and in enabling those of different levels and stages to communicate with each other, but also the quality of leadership and supervision available to them – as Gene says.

Adrian Ward

A good amount of thought should go into how to structure and stratify the living arrangement for a residential program. Another way to do this was using 3 variables – which we did for many years in a boys program that ranged from 7 years old to 18+ years old. Age, physical size, and social maturity level were considered when placing these youngsters into 3 living units. The youngest unit ranged in age from 7 yrs to 11 years old. The next unit ranged from 10 years old to 15 years old. And the oldest unit ranged in age from 14 to 18 years old. So, a socially mature younger youth may have been place with older youth, and a somewhat older youth needing to learn skills to co-live with that age group may spend a short time with younger youth to prepare living with youth of similar age.

But we never solely relied or believed that these 7 variables would be resolved or taken care of by the this social living arrangement:

1. Less disruptions and petty bickering
2. Less damage to property
3. Fewer complaints and reports of horseplay
4. Actions that had to be disciplined tapered off.
5. Interpersonal relationships improved.
6. Residents haggled less about chores because they could see why a three year old cannot be held accountable to sweep the floors.
7. The older residents developed a sense of responsibility and active engagement.

No matter what the most ideal living arrangement is set up, the above can or can not happen. It really has more to do with what child and youth workers are in place and what they are doing – interaction wise with the kids. Disruptions, petty bickering, less property damage and so on has more to do with staff interaction and meeting the needs of youth than the living arraignment. Are the staff well, trained, are they compassionate, and are they receiving good supervision from supervisors? Do staff understand the age group they are working with and how to meet their needs? Are they part of planning and developing the program structure and implementing it? Are staff working normal and reasonable shifts? We never let anyone work over certain amount of overtime per week – to help them prevent burn out and frustrations. We wanted staff well rested and content before starting their most demanding work. Do they believe in the program? Is good youth supervision going on by the counselors? Is the staff competent? Are the kids well taken care of?

Once that happens, I believe almost any structure will work.

Gene Cavaliere

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