I came home from another frustrating shift at the RTC I work at as an on call youth counselor here in Minneapolis, MN and looked to CYC-Net for counsel. I appreciated Kiaras Gharabaghi’s article, ‘Legitimacy in Child and Youth Care Practice’, but was really stopped in my tracks by the article by Jack Phelan, ‘The Journey to Self-authoring Thinking’.
I've been a youth worker, and social worker, and now a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) working with youth and children and families for over twenty years. I chose to step out of my field as a Mental Health Professional (expert) due to burnout and because I couldn't stomach the waste and institutional greed that stood in place from systems of care.
I think I have arrived at self-authored thinking in which I am able to engage relationally, cross culturally and observe developmentally from multiple frameworks of attachment, trauma informed, restorative and self actualization lenses. I refuse to engage in power struggles or to engage in external control of youth unless there is actual imminent harm present.
But I work with folks early on in and others deep in their careers in a environment of socialization to external control. Kids lives are dictated by external structural requirements of the organization and not on a relational or therapeutic approach because the relational approach is unpredictable from night to night. I am told, "We have to have consistency so staff know what to expect." Decision making on how to engage youth in care is for what works best for the workers and not for the clients. Youth counselors receive little training in trauma or attachment and resort to their own cultural and socialized worldviews on why kids may be acting in certain ways. A youth who talks of her abuser and says she sees him in the darkness is understood to be "manipulating to see how far she can get over on staff." Said youth can't go for a walk after taking a shower because it is 30 minutes past her bedtime and if we allow her this flexibility tonight then she may try to "manipulate" tomorrow night. The socialization is of external control. We staff control kids lives. The amount of physical holds is astounding, with staff getting hurt regularly and clients getting put into extreme holds for saying they are going to run away.
Is this 2016? I just don't understand why more sophistication in how we care for youth can be so missing from our systems of care? My cynical self knows managed health care, litigious risk averse managements, unionized unskilled control oriented workers all combine to make an extreme institutional nightmare.
Where is good developmental work occurring? I want to meet you and visit your agency and work with you. Where in the USA is good residential treatment occurring with kids in the child welfare system? Who is using the Circle of Courage or restorative practices and do they have job openings? At the very least I’d love to hear who is doing good work, and where?
May I suggest you check with organizations within the Indian Community? A good resource for networking is "Indian Country Today"; of course you could check with the court systems throughout the US as well. NICS may be a good resource as well-Northwest Intertribal Court System; which is a consortium of tribes in the Washington State area. Ina Maka is a fostering care program, so that may be a networking source to check into. I have also included our Tribal College Journal that may be useful.
And lastly Peter, YOU could upstart your own small clinic with the like-minded. Wishing you the best of luck in your journey.
I think I have just the people for you to connect with – some amazing consultants in the field doing training on the Circle of Courage and related philosophies. Message me and I can put you in contact with them. While at the 2nd world Child and Youth Care conference in Vienna this summer I met many Child and Youth Care professionals doing great work in the US. Check out https://www.calfarley.org/ for a start.
Best of luck in your quest, I hear your frustrations. Your examples describe the same struggles I experience in residential care here in Ontario.