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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.

ListenListen to this


Hello Everyone,

We are having a huge problem with smoking cigarettes and smoking marijuana in our group home. We have tried allowance deductions, House Shut Downs (no phone or TV for 24hrs from incident), We also talk to our Boys constantly about the negative effects of smoking as well as how it is a huge Fire Hazard to the group home. Sadly none of our guys seem to grasp that they might burn down the house one day. We have also asked them as to why they smoke indoors when they can’t simply (to you and me) go down the stairs and on the back deck where we have an area for them to smoke. The answers we get from our guys are sadly “I’m just too lazy”. This is a daily if not two to three times a day occurrence. We do watch our 7 youth as much as we can, but we also like to give them some privacy as well. We have asked that our youth hand there lighters and cigarettes in, but that has no effect.

So my question is this. Does anyone know of any effective strategies, natural consequences, or just any great ideas that we may be able to implement. This would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!

Justyn Oliver
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Once it got to the point where we were so concerned about the disregard for the fire hazard that we brought in all the funding agencies and told them that due to safety concerns we would be discharging all residents who chose to continue to violate the no smoking policy. We lost some residents but the "Smoking Culture" was addressed. In hindsight I have no regrets.

I think it needs to be clear upon intake and followed up that part of the problem of living in a group home is managing smoking. Interestingly the smoking and non smoking staff saw the issue differently. I was a smoker then.....

Peter Hoag,
School of Community and Liberal Studies Sheridan Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning

Hi Justyn,

If you have grown up in a community in which many people have smoked all sorts of stuff indoors over many years without anyone burning the house down then hearing staff use that rationale discredits the agency.

I would start by removing all sanctions and offering the residents the opportunity to host an open meeting with staff and policy makers to put over their point of view and any solutions/compromises that they can come up with.

Good luck
Jeremy Millar
The Robert Gordon University, Scotland

Build it into your policy and procedure manual. Make it law ... no "ifs" or "buts" ... the staff usually have the most difficulty enforcing it but with time it gets easier to enforce.

Vivian Smith

I'm not sure what the laws are in Winnipeg, but in Nova Scotia it is simply against the law for individuals to purchase cigarettes under the age of 19 years. I realize that you want to give them their privacy and they should have it if it has been earned. This is not their home and I realize that some CYCers may get up in arms, but there needs to be give and take and simply having a conversation or withholding some privileges are not always going to cut it especially when you have numerous individuals doing the same thing.

If your current strategy isn't working, then what? Consider room checks, constant offenders emptying their pockets, the 24-hour loss of privilege be since the last known incident, allowance on hold for perhaps 24 hrs plus after an incident and or adjusting the amount basing their earnings on their follow through.

Danny McGuire

Dear Justyn,

If they don't want to co operate with your rules on smoking...throw them out! It is obviously forbidden to cane them but why not take them 50 kms out of town and make them walk home!

With over 30 years experience in child care I am steadily becoming angry at the cheek of those in care who think they make the rules. In Botswana we hand such children or youths to the Kgotla and they get four strokes on the bum. It works!

Derek James

Interesting, but challenging case.

And, may I say that this has been coming on for a long time. I think there is no quick fix to this problem especially if the majority of the young people in your programme have this habit.

One of the things that I think should be in place is that the young people contract and undertake to uphold the policy, rules and regulations of the programme. Assuming that this is in place for your particular programme, then this would be the contractual agreement that the young people are breaking, and it then becomes something else that you have to deal with.

The moment we start putting on the breaks for offenses or habits that yes, do have a negative effect on all of us like, in this case smoking, we create this avenue for arguments or conflict. This is not easy to deal with because of the allowances that existed before, and possibly what the young people can point to if the adults in the programme also smoke.

However, the long and the short of this are to deal with this challenge on an individual basis. Yes, do not hold the entire group responsible for the wrongs of a few. In this way we narrow the opportunity for the group to feel aggrieved or to interject and voice their dissatisfaction when their peers are breaking the rules.

This particular problem of smoking is a world wide problem and in some countries it is a cultural thing as well. The only and ongoing thing to do is to continue your education, talking and dialogue with the individuals. There is no quick fix to the problem, but may I say that I have managed to help rid some young people of this habit. They will quit when they are ready, this takes time and patience, some quit immediately while others take a long time.

I know I did not give you the formula for stopping this problem but I hope that some more people can share their thoughts and in this way we can find something that will assist us with this challenge.

Francisco Cornelius

Hello Justyn,

I remember when not smoking in the house became an issue in the group setting where I worked. Interestingly though, this was so many years ago I thought it must have become standard practice in group homes by now. I feel fairly strongly on the subject, so forgive me if this comes across in my response.

I imagine Manitoba has a provincial "No Smoking" policy for youth under a certain age. Additionally, many youth and staff, who are non-smokers, are having their health negatively impacted by others of any age choosing to smoke around them. This protection of non smokers would fall under "Occupational Health and Safety" a legislation which is most beneficial and has "teeth". I appreciate this is their "home" at this time in their lives, but many family homes have a no smoking "policy" in effect.

Smoking as a fire hazard may be the most helpful means of breaking the indoor smoking habit. Wired in smoke detectors cannot have the batteries removed so their activation is an excellent natural consequence. Another natural consequence is addressing the selling to and purchase of cigarettes by those who are under legal age. Where are the youth buying their cigarettes? I'm not even touching the subject of the marijuana. If it's in the house everybody in the house is in trouble. It's illegal. Staff, to protect themselves, need to involve the police.

Justyn, as a program team I'd encourage staff to sit down together to put some policies and procedures in place to manage the above situations (my sense is there may be other situations which need addressing) and then the youth need to be clearly informed as to where they may smoke. A very clear reminder that marijuana is illegal and staff will not want to call the police, but to protect everyone they will have to.

The in house consequences also need to be made clear to the youth. Obviously loss of t.v. or phone and allowance are not making a difference. The youth need to be very clear on the rules and the expectations from the minute they come to live in a setting. Predictable consequences which happen predictably, not just when certain staff people are working, are also necessary.

I doubt any of this will come as a surprise to the kids. They are not allowed to smoke at school, in hospitals, nor in public places, so they will gripe and probably test the consequences to their smoking, but once they are aware the rules around smoking and illegal substances are non negotiable they will probably accept these are societal rules, not solely house rules.


Hi Justyn,

I believe this question was asked not too long ago.. here is what we do at work: At curfew, they are asked to hand in cigarettes, lighters/matches. During the week they get to go out at 8:30pm for their "fresh air break" and can take cigs/lighters/matches with them. This way, they get their nic fit out of the way. (On weekends they get two breaks, 8:00 and 9:30pm) If they are caught smoking in the house, it is now and automatic discharge, since they had their break and still smoked upstairs anyway. Before the breaks, they were to clean their rooms top to bottom, including the walls, and were only given one warning.

Not sure if this helps! I work at a shelter for homeless/runaway youth in Calgary that takes up to 12 kids, so I can empathize with wanting to give them space, but if they violate the rules so often, space might be a privilege they are giving up until they learn not to smoke in the house.

Good luck,
Heather Forsey

One word. Supervision. Supervision. Supervision.


Hi Justyn:

Just an idea! Bring in a no smoking policy that stops youth from smoking in the residence. We bought through a policy with one company I worked with that youth (and staff) not smoke in the group home or near entrance ways. Designate a smoking area if they must smoke. If they really want to smoke you can't stop them, so don't stress yourself out over it. Not smoking in front of you, does not mean they won't smoke when you are not around. Educate them about the hazards of smoking but in the end it's their choice. Not much you can do but protect yourself. In BC the government has brought in no smoking legislation and laws that govern it. You might want to go on the web and learn more about what they did here. If it hasn't happened in your province, then do something about it and advocate for change! Good luck with that!

Darren Maillot


Just wanted to share some of the strategies we have used in regards to smoking. First of all when our youth were permitted to smoke, the parents had to supply their child with their own cigarettes. Even then we had a routine where we controlled when they could smoke, which was usually after chores. The youth were not permitted to have their cigarettes in their possession. We had them in the child care workers office which is always locked. There was no lending of cigarettes or taking drags of another youth'scigarettes as this only caused conflict between youth. Should this occur they would lose their smoking privilege for the day.

We had a policy where there was absolutely no smoking in the building so the child care workers would take them outside for their smoke break and would only hand the youth their cigarette once outside. Eventually we implemented a policy where smoking is no longer permitted due to provincial laws set forth in regards to youth smoking. We do not have any major conflicts with our youth in regards to the smoking policy set forth. We have very few cases where they do obtain smokes from outside sources but not often, consequences are set forth. For the majority of their placement they abstain, youth become proud of their accomplishment. They express their ability to be smoke free for so many months. Hope this helps.

Cindy Blacksmith

Re: smoking

Addicts just don’t care. Smoking cigarettes/marijuana can be the same mind set.

Right off the top it always comes down to how serious are you about them not smoking in the house? Is it worth taking on the 'metaphorical fight' or are there other more pressing and important issues that they need to be engaged in? If I'm in a place where I don't care, then it does not matter much what reason you give me to go elsewhere for smoking. So how do you engage the disengaged?

What kind of input do they have to their home about rules, routines, décor? What kinds of ownership for programming do they have?

Also the comment you want them to have some privacy – as a foster parent, youth worker, group home and community – it's been my practice that when someone has broken trust they have to earn it back – so how much privacy have they earned? How can you make their privacy valuable to them so that they may want to do right to have more?

Not concrete answers but some seriously thoughtful considerations in the development of answers.

Kim McLeod,
a.k.a Grandma K

Hi there

I am interested in your problem and I am wondering if adults are allowed to smoke in the home? I believe in a second order change and helping find the motivator that moves the youth to change. Why would the youth smoke outside? Perhaps people who do follow the rule will get rewarded as opposed to punishment for all when someone breaks the rule. What will they gain by smoking outside?

Good luck.
Val Zwicker

Try implementing the same rules for staff – no smoking on property period.

See if someone has connections with the police or the fire commissioner. If one of these can come down and explain the seriousness and the possibility of charges, that might help.

You can also tell them that the home can be shut down if smoking is allowed, thus you need to become strict.

Mister Home Chef

Hello Justyn

We have recently had the same issues that you speak of with youth smoking in the house. About three weeks ago, we had strengthened our policies around smoking/having lighters in the house and we repeatedly explain to the youth that this is a serious fire safety issue and it will be addressed as that.

The youth are permitted to have lighters secured for them by YCWs. When the youth requests their lighter, it is passed to them through a window after they have exited the house. The youth is also required to return the lighter through the window before re-entering the house.

Since they must also return the lighter to re-enter the house, they need to bring it back even if it runs out of fluid or gets broken. If a youth comes back and does not have the lighter to return, a thorough search will be done. This includes removing any coats/jackets, completely emptying all pockets, checking contents of any bags, taking shoes off and checking inside them, checking for anything hidden in socks, and removing ball caps.

If there is any time that a youth is suspected of or known to have a lighter in their possession within the house, staff will remain in close proximity to the youth all the while he/she is in the house in an attempt to retrieve the lighter and/or ensure that it is not used. If a youth has been in the house and staff suspect/know they had a lighter, then a complete room check is also conducted and the youth are aware of this.

We are also willing to call police for assistance if necessary since fire safety for us is paramount.

We have a very strong and committed team at our house who are fully diligent when it comes to exercising our fire safety policies. Since we have begun exercising a firmer stance on fire safety three weeks ago, we have had no known issues of smoking in our house for about two weeks.

Hopefully, this can be of some assistance to your circumstances.

Nova Scotia

OOOF! I'm glad I live in Canada!!!

I once volunteered in a rehab center for young substance abusers and they were allowed four smoke breaks per day. The cigarettes were kept in a crate with the youth's name on them and they would be called out at the time of break. Then, they would proceed to an OUTDOOR designated area for their smoke. That was the house rule and it was simply the norm to follow it. Smoke break was like a reward and for that it was respected.

I realize that it can never go as well as that but in that particular house, that is how the smoking issue was managed. No ifs or "butts" either. The yard would be inspected periodically. There were butt cans in the smoking area and they were used, if they wanted to keep that privilege.

Just my few cents worth...Have an awesome day!

Louise Bergeron, YCW
Services communautaires et Correctionnels/ Community & correctional services

Whoa! There's nothing like smoking to get people going. If I was a smoking youth shopping around for a place to stay I would have some serious food for thought.

Someone raised the question of what exactly is important? Many youth have come to us due to issues of extreme vulnerability to abuse, long-term neglect and in addition sometimes their capacity to similarly abuse others. If we are to engage in any relational work what chance do we have if they are out the door for smoking in a puff, so to speak.

I suspect the reality is, that behind all the well thought out policies staff apply their own standards and everyone works it out in spite of the rules.

I am a reformed smoker and have been guilty of health fascism in the past but I always recognised the 'work' undertaken in the corner where the smokers gathered. The best evidence for supporting smoking cessation or not starting in the first place is social class and high educational achievement. Let's provide unconditional access to quality educational opportunities that interest the youth augmented by free access to sport and recreational activities and see what the outcomes are. If that fails we can strip, search and berate them out of their dirty habit.

As I reach an age where the pension looms it is interesting to note that being a smoker 'buys' enhanced annuity payments due to the fact that you may not live as long. My resolve to recommence smoking at 55 is reinforced. It's a perverse old world.


Jeremy Millar

Our group home has a no-smoking policy. Our residents and a few staff have broached the idea of allowing the youth to smoke in a designated area thinking it would eliminate the issue of sneaking them. For our facility, I just cannot see allowing them to do something that contradicts two of the main goals we are trying to accomplish in treatment: developing healthier coping skills and interrupting addictive and criminal thinking patterns. It is illegal for them and a probation violation as most of our youth are court involved, though we rarely seek legal consequences for smoking cigarettes.

It's interesting for me to hear that a facility which allows smoking has the same problems we do. It appears that allowing them to smoke doesn't work. We empathize with our kids that they give up just about everything they know when they are placed with us, including the negative coping skills of drug use and smoking. However, we continue to work with them on smoking from a clinical perspective . My suggestion is to offer interventions that help them quit coupled with opportunities for new coping skills, especially physical exercise. Our youth have a membership to the local YMCA. Some people have less desire to smoke as they become healthier and more physically fit. I would also address individual triggers such as boredom or other feelings, times of the day, places, and foods which they associate with the "need" for a cigarette. You can offer tools such as smoking cessation classes, patches, and nicotine gum. Some of our youth have used these initially to jump start their desire to quit.

Since our youth leave the building quite a bit, we have to do searches of their rooms and them each time they return. For the repeat offenders, we'll do "change of clothes" searches. We give them shorts and a t-shirt without pockets to put on while they hand over their clothes for searching. This helps catch attempts such as taping things to their bodies and girls hiding items in their bra. Are they allowed to keep their cigarettes on them?

If you are going to continue to allow the smoking, it may help to keep all their cigarettes in a staff location and implement regularly timed smoke breaks throughout the day. If it can be a whole group break, staff can be with the residents and transport the cigarettes to the deck and back without the youth personally handling them. The most logically connected consequence is staff increasing supervision in areas they use to smoke. Staff can check areas like bathrooms before and after a resident uses and youth who smoke in their rooms should have to leave their doors open until trust is built again.

ONE FINAL POINT: There are times we went six-seven months without any smoking related problems and other times when it is a huge issue. I've found that one major factor is staff inconsistency. We have had staff who let the kids violate the policy, either directly or by "turning a blind eye". When you tighten your policy around the issue, you need to be clear with staff that everyone has to consistently enforce it even if they personally do not agree.

Desiree Morrison, LPCC-S
Geauga Youth Center Director

Hi Justyn,

As I read your letter I query/think this sounds like a power struggle. I wonder is smoking the issue or the presenting symptom of something not working given what appears to be a blatant disregard/disrespect if you will, or simply a "fuck you" to the staff/licensing agency etc. for the group home?

Just a thought as I read your concern.

Marjorie McQuarre

Hi Justyn

This is a long reply. It is a complex and serious problem. There are some alternatives. They are not simple. Punishment rarely works with oppositional children. Makes it more fun for them.

I've often wondered what I would do in today's nonsmoking environments. I worked in a group home in the late 1980's. We allowed kids who smoked prior to admission to continue do so with their parents' permission. Other kids were not allowed to smoke. The home was housed in 2 double-wide mobile homes joined together. I once saw a mobile home burn – completely gone in 15 minutes. We were concerned that if we tried to prohibit smoking and they sneaked a smoke, that it could be a real fire hazard. The program I had worked in previously, a kid was smoking in his room and ditched the cigarette in his locker when he heard staff coming. When staff opened the door to the locker, it burst into flame. Staff went for the fire extinguisher, but it had been discharged by the kids days before and not replaced. The sprinklers went off and extinguished the fire, but it took 2 hours until the fire department could turn off the sprinklers. Everything was soaked.

Another issue. If children are there for treatment, it's not likely that smoking is the presenting problem. Trying to deal with smoking takes all available treatment resources so that the presenting problems that keep the child from living in the community get put on the back burner. "Normal" adults have difficulty quitting tobacco.

While discharging children who refuse to comply with the regulations might prove effective in eliminating the problem from the home, it is almost always harmful to the children who are discharged. My policy has always been that children do not get discharged for problems. It creates Multiple Placement Syndrome, a disorder that looks very much like Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder. Children who get bounced from placement to placement become virtually untreatable in any environment unless someone is willing to stick it out with them. My staff and I chose to be that someone.

Increasing supervision could provide a solution. I don't believe in privacy for children in a treatment facility except when alone in a bathroom or when visiting with their parents or state workers and such or speaking with them on the phone. I have removed bedroom doors for children who abused them – they usually convinced me to put them back up in a day or two and I never had to do it more than twice in any program. One alternative I found helpful on occasion was placing an individual on 'eyesight.' Staff didn't have to follow him around. It was his responsibility to stay in eyesight of staff except when going to the bathroom. Then he had to tell staff he was going. Only did it for a couple of days – that was all it took.

As for taking their cigarettes and lighters...If you have their cooperation, you don't have to. If you don't, you can't keep a determined child from bringing something as small as a cigarette or lighter into an open program and finding places to hide them, either inside the building or on the grounds. We spend 40 to 60 hours a week thinking about our jobs – they have 168 hours per week to figure out how to beat us. We can't win that one.

It sounds, however, as if what you have is a group problem that requires a group solution. The living group is condoning and perhaps even supporting or encouraging this activity. Smoking in the house is a group norm. I've had similar problems in the past, sometimes when the kids were condoning theft in a program, another time when kids were actively encouraging violence against other kids in retaliation for teasing or insults. (This was different from the kind of aggression we had when children simply lost their temper- that's a matter for individual treatment.)

What I did was declare a treatment day or a treatment weekend. (It has to be someone in authority over the program.) Sometimes I would schedule it on a Saturday. This meant that all passes and weekend activities had to be cancelled. It also meant I had to come in on my day off. Another time (for the aggression), I did it on a Friday. This meant that school had to be cancelled. The first situation is unpleasant for the children (and me). The other situation let the children know just how serious I thought the matter was since I was willing to keep them out of school. My reasoning: Treatment cannot occur when a program is out of control, when group norms are aligned against treatment. Consequently, everything must stop until the program comes back under control. Until the norms change. And the children have to be a part of the process. Although there is considerable outside pressure on the group (me), their commitment has to be voluntary.

I explained carefully to the children that I could not tolerate the situation – the theft or the violence. (In your case, the smoking.) That it was a problem for everyone. I did not want anyone to live in a home where his possessions are not safe, or where he is not safe. This was not punishment. They would get smoke breaks and snacks during the meeting. We served extra good meals. I also made it clear that they would not lose their passes – they could take their passes any weekend after the issue was resolved, even if they didn't have enough points that week. And I didn't offer any correction or discipline for misbehavior during the meeting. But other than that, we would meet as a group until I was satisfied that the problem was solved. And I was willing to continue the process each day until I was satisfied. It never went beyond the afternoon of the first day.

What needs to happen is that each of the children has to state publicly in the group that he will not engage in the behavior and will not tolerate the behavior in others. They don't have to 'rat' on anyone. All they have to do is say, 'put that cigarette out. If you don't, I will have to get staff.' Or, 'Flush that weed or I will have to get staff.'

The rationale: marijuana is illegal and cannot be tolerated. When authorities find out that children are smoking marijuana in the group home, they will close the program. Children will be placed somewhere else and staff will lose their jobs. It would be irresponsible for me to allow marijuana in the building.

Smoking in the building is not responsible (I'm assuming that staff do not smoke in the building, either.) The fire hazard, while minimal, is real. The consequences – again, having to close the program if the facility is damaged – are too serious to take the chance.

They don't have to accept your reasons. All they have to know is that you believe them and you are serious. But the more logical you are, the better. Children love logic.

Alternatives: Children might be allowed to come up with a safe smoking area in the building if that is something you can accept. Or they might be allowed to make improvements in the outdoor smoking area so that it is more comfortable and attractive for them. Or children who do not wish to refrain from smoking in the building, you might offer to assist in finding another placement. Providing they refrain from smoking inside until you do.

I continued to discuss the issue, giving breaks every 60 or 90 minutes, until lunch time. I would resume again after lunch, letting the children know that I was willing to come back tomorrow and the next day.

Each time, by the middle of the afternoon, each of the children was on board. At first, many take it as a joke, not paying attention, making snide comments. gradually, they get more involved when they realize I'm serious and willing to make whatever sacrifices may be necessary. They eventually begin to feel some pretty intense peer pressure, especially if I can maintain the image that I do not want to punish them. I merely cannot go on until this problem is solved. When everyone is on board, I would tell them that I was pleased with the responsibility they showed and allow normal activities to resume. In each case, we had no further problems with either the theft or the retaliatory aggression.

Let us know how you make out. Good luck!

John Stein
New Orleans

Hi Justyn;

Wow that sounds like a difficult position to be in. I would have a problem with teens smoking an illegal substance in home, or anywhere for that matter. It seems to be a case of behavioral economics. The consequences that you are implementing may be of sufficient potency but they could be getting away with it 9 out of 10 times so it is not a deterrent. Much like speeding, if I am driving say 20 Kilometers over the speed limit and only get caught say once every 2 years that would not be a deterrent for me. But if the fine of $110.00 went up to say $320.00, this would be enough to lighten my foot. Are all staff doing their parts in the treatment of this filthy habit? I have worked in a couple of homes and treatment often failed due to a lack of integrity of the plan (count me as one of the guilty parties of this). Once all staff were on the same page we then began seeing results. I also believe in praise or a program based on reinforcement (i.e. – high fives, a thank-you). You know if we don't catch you smoking in the building for **days then we can go on a special outing. Of course, make sure the outing is reinforcing to most or else it will fail. You will be surprised how effective b-mod is even with teens/adults.

Another strategy could be to get the kids to sign a contract upon arrival that stipulates no smoking in the house and the consequences (2 warnings then you are out?). If they have illegal contraband in the house have the police come by with the dogs every once in a while will do wonders.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Jason Guay
Niagara Region, Ontario

You know, I remember the days where we had designated smoking areas for teens to smoke in some of our residential schools and group homes. Why not have an outdoor smoking area for them or look the other way. Surely smoking is the least of our clients problems?

Ziggy Stardust

I'm not sure who you are referring to when you say "our clients" but the youth I work with are all chronic smokers and some haven't even hit the age of 15 yet. With 8 youth in a unit smoking becomes more then just smoking. It becomes a barter and trade system, a source of stress, and theft. We also have a huge issue with lighters, lighter fluid, and matches being hidden in the unit. The other problem that smoking brings is in the community. We have neighbors complain all the time about the boys smoking out front or around the block, hanging out on a curb and using the lawns as ash trays. Its a much more complex issue then teens just wanting to smoke.

Jason Walsh

Interesting idea but what happens when a young person decides that taking the residential home's management to court due to them not stopping them from smoking? Is this type of action where the axe is waiting in the background to fall? We have instances of local authorities being dragged into court to defend the actions that were taken to keep young people safe. Where will it stop!!!!!

Alexander Denholm

To Ziggy: A M E N to that!!!

Louise Bergeron, YCW
Services communautaires et Correctionnels/ Community & correctional services

Replying to Ziggy ...but that is confusing as we are teaching or talking how bad smoking is in our lungs. That will be making us look like fools.

Snenhlanhla Portia Mtolo


I know that smoking is not the most important issue the youth have but one leads to another. How many people out there have ever seen a person die of lung cancer? How many of you have gone to the Body World exhibit and seen what smoking does to the body. It is time we stood up and said NO MORE! These young people need someone to look out for them. This includes their health and future. If we just make all these lame excuses and continue to allow them to smoke while in care we are enabling them and actually setting them up for failures in their future.

Now I know some of you would be really up in arms when you read this but have a look at it, are you working in this field to prepare our youth to be leaders in the future or to be sickly, whiny, demanding addicted adults. If you smoke and this upsets you, well suck it up because these are the bare facts. I have had many relatives die from smoke related illnesses and enough is enough.

There are all kinds of programs out there to help people stop smoking, however will-power is the best one. We need to enable our young people to have will-power and to be healthy in their decisions. I have seen young people in a group home completely upset the entire home by smoking. There is a law that says these young people are not to buy cigarettes, who is buying them for them and what is that telling them? That when you are an adult you are above the law? Or that the law is for everyone but the youth in the group homes. Come on, let's start empowering them with love and structure and a peaceful home to grow up in. They don't need any more jelly fishes in their life; they need people that have backbones, those that care about every aspect of their life. They need people that care even when they have left the premises.

Youth care is not just a job, it is a position where we actually are able to shape our future leaders.

Be Blessed,
Ruth Wood

I work for a residential treatment program in Mo. We have 7 facilities for severely emotionally disturbed youth. None of our children are allowed to smoke during their stay on any of the campus sites or in our community where our sites are located. Children that want to smoke can do so at home if parents or guardians allow it. However, staff that choose to smoke, may do so only during a designated break(determined by each facility supervisor) and can only smoke in designated areas away from children.

Darren Facen

To Ruth

I wonder what this kind of bias/judgment brings to the work we do? Sometimes for these kids smoking is all they have, the only way they are able to normalize their day, their lives. I wonder what happens when we just meet them right there where they are ... where they smoke???

I am always surprised to read this kind of message from someone serving youth

M. McQuarrie

Another thing about smoking to the people that smoke and work with these: How can we tell them not smoke when we take smoke breaks on or off property without looking hypocrites?

Ziggy Stardust

Wow! What a topic. Really stirred some stuff here.

How about the treatment plan? What are the priorities? If smoking is a treatment priority, then it should be on the treatment plan. Does the child want smoking on the treatment plan? Who makes the treatment plan? Does the child (adolescent) participate in developing the treatment plan? Is quitting smoking a treatment priority for the child? If it is, then we should certainly do everything in our power to help him or her quit smoking. If quitting smoking is not a priority for the child, should it be part of the treatment agenda or treatment plan?

Just what are the ethics here? Can we treat 'problems' that we identify that our 'clients' do not want treated? Should we 'dispose' of clients who do not want their smoking treated? I personally hate the idea of disposing of clients.

But. Smoking, as the question was originally posed, was definitely a management issue. And it was not just cigarettes. The children were also smoking marijuana. A very dangerous thing for a residential program to have marijuana being used regularly by the children (adolescents). And a potentially dangerous issue to have residents (even adult residents in a program) sneaking cigarettes where there are no provisions for extinguishing them safely because smoking is 'not permitted.' A real fire hazard if someone dumps a cigarette to avoid being caught.

So. If the problem is a management issue, then approaching it as a management issue rather than a treatment issue is more likely to provide results.

I worked in secure programs (corrections and secure psychiatric programs) where children could not have cigarettes. They seldom had community contact, so it was easy to search them for contraband on the few occasions when they had contact in the community. But programs where children have daily contact in the community, such as group homes, where they have some freedom, it is virtually impossible to control contraband without seriously invasive procedures, such as daily personal searches. I hate searches except in extraordinary circumstances. And I suspect so do the children. And you have to search everybody, not just the smokers.

And so I think it makes much more sense to have the children's cooperation on some reasonable limits with which both they and management are comfortable.

Yes. It is illegal nearly everywhere for people to sell cigarettes to children. I don't know, but it may be illegal for children to buy cigarettes in some jurisdictions. But children get cigarettes. Pretty easily.

And the alternative if they chose not to or can't manage their smoking – is it jail? Is that what we want?

So whose decision is it? Why did they come to our programs?

John Stein
New Orleans

To Marjorie

I regret that you have found bias or judgement in my stating a point of view. It appears that judgement is only passed when we look at others and say they are wrong just because we don't like what they say. Everything that I have said is in the face of raising youth up to become upstanding citizens. It has nothing to do with your comment. I have been in this field for a long time and to make a statement such as you did it appears that there is lots of learning life experiences you have not had or have not dealt with.

If smoking is all a youth has then we as youth workers aren't doing our jobs. Just the same as if our own children only had smoking we would not be doing our job as parents. Role modeling is very important in life and everything we say and do is making an impact on the youth we work with. If you can only reach a youth when they are smoking there seems to be something terribly wrong. What is wrong with us reaching them over a game of monopoly or some other board game. Standing there breathing in second hand smoke is condoning their habit by your actions, it is neither being a good role model or a competent youth worker.

You should not be surprised that everyone has their opinion and that their opinion does not make them a poor youth worker just the same as your judgmentalness does not necessarily make you a poor youth worker. We are human and that point also has to be shown to the youth, we are not always right and neither are they but we do the very best we can and go from there.

Be blessed,
Ruth Wood

I love the smoking issue because it generates so much debate. Some arguments don't make sense to me though. For example, I have heard many YCWs over the years propose that we support and enable our youth's smoking habits because "they have so many other problems/issues to deal with. Asking them to give up smoking is just adding pressure and taking away their stress reliever."

If that's the line of reasoning we want to follow then why aren't we allowing them to drink alcohol if that is their addiction, to keep a pint on them and go for "drink" breaks when they get stressed? I just don't see the difference. Both substances are legal for adults to purchase, but not minors. Both substances are addictive. Both substances cause health problems. Ok, so alcohol creates a different kind of altered physiological state, but smoking is no less dangerous.

I think it's disgusting that we enable our youth's addiction to nicotine and condone their participation in a life threatening behaviour, when it is our job to care for and protect them.

Ziggy, I would disagree. It is now the law. Living lives within appropriate boundaries is surely part of the issue. It is a social thing as a way to connect as opposed to simply trying to be yourself. For most it is not an addiction, but a way to feel connected. There are more appropriate ways to achieve this. We do not allow youth to smoke period. Yes it does create some issues but there have been more positives in the long run as opposed to immediate gratification.

Danny McGuire

To the various youth care workers that have responded to the smoking issue:

One scenario I had was in regards to one specific client who had a history of violence and lashing out at care workers (especially women). There was one incident where a judgment call by a very experienced youth care worker was called into question. As it is, this client was allowed to smoke, while he was in care. He had home visits with his mother and she did smoke as well, and he was allowed to smoke at her home.

While in care it was determined by his ICM team that he was only allowed to smoke 4-5 cigarettes a day. He of course could not smoke in his group home and there was a designated smoking area for him to smoke in while he was there. This client does take anti-psychotic medications to help control his behaviors. As I mentioned previously, he has a history of violence! I can remember on one occasion this client being set off by another client. The remedy to calm the client down would have been to give him an Ativan (which had been done many times in the past).

Remember before you make your judgment and comment on this: he is allowed to smoke. One care worker who knows the client very well and has worked with this client for years, asked the client if he would like a cigarette to help settle him down. The other option was the client having to be administered an Ativan that usually left the client lethargic and withdrawn for the rest of the day. Protocol is getting the client to settle down, with the least amount of resistance. What would you do? Give him the Ativan or allow him to have a smoke? Remember this client is allowed to smoke. Also, remember clients have rights as well! What would you do?

Darren Maillot

What a great debate. Personally I believe this may also come down to our own habits. If we smoke, do we try to justify young people also smoking? If we don't, do we see things differently? Within organizations, are smokers "different" than non-smokers? Really – the youth that smoke definitely associate with a different group of youth than the youth that don't smoke. Does this indicate a higher level of confidence with non-smoking youth? What are we doing as workers to elevate the status of non-smoking youth to something that addicted youth can ascribe to? Our society also looks at smokers differently today – their status is lower, their habits are not as acceptable, and as role models they simply do not set a good example (in this area anyway). Adults in the community also will judge our youth that smoke – in addition to all their other difficulties. So many things to consider, so little time! :)

Diane Rapkoski

I've been working with youth for a while in different settings, presently in a High School. Lately I have been following the Child and Youth Care website. The question about smoking has certainly caught fire. In some places I have worked, this has been an issue. I don't smoke and never have. I don't allow smoking in my home or vehicles. I have a question that I would have to ask myself, what am I doing between smokes? That's probably not the answer anyone was looking for, but, that's the best I can do.

I wish I could think of a question that would get as much response.

Clayton Ellis

I think that all group homes should have no smoking on property – period. I feel this way because those who smoke will use this drug as a means to provide therapy or to talk to the youth. This leaves us non-smokers to be seen as simply supervisors. Thus it is discriminatory to allow smoking on property, whether one provides a kiss with a smoke or not.

Mister Home Chef

I can't resist. Time, place and manner are three important questions. Then there are the issues of immoral, illegal, unethical. If you can answer these while filling in the blank with smoking, eating, and masturbating we may actually get somewhere. After all, those three behaviors are also known to reduce stress, anxiety and calm one down. Let's see now, what is the question?

I guess I like to find interventions that can be generalized across the social environments. I can tell you there are some places on the planet that smoking, as well as the other two stress reducing behaviors, are not acceptable nor allowed. If we ever hope to have young people participate in those environments they will need other skills to manage their behavior and reduce their emotional state. If you want to create an institutionalized person, utilize interventions that can only be initiated in that environment and not accessible within the general public environments. If the goal is to have youth be able to become more independent and able to access a variety of social environments, then a very different level of skills will need to be accessed. We have used the collaborative Problem Solving method for almost a year now with increasing positive results. Just having fun while trying to stimulate discussion.

Larry James
Hood River Oregon

First off, I wanna say again, I LOVE THIS FORUM!

This smoking discussion is fascinating and I think offers some insights into our field, our work with young people and their families and its impact on us.

I think it points out that in our work there are no "1 size fits all" answers. The responses have been sooo varied, in suggested approach, and in tone. I think they speak to the different contexts many of us live and work, and were trained in, and grew up in. I started smoking when I was 12, and in my life circumstance it was, I think, expected, in fact maybe even seen as a rite of passage. To not smoke in Cornwall Ont. when you were male and 13-18, in the late 1960's early 70's suggested you were neither cool nor manly, nor becoming independent. I wonder if for some youth in some contexts the same ideas still exist. (I'm not a smoker presently, and hope not to become one again, but the stopper for me was not the limits set by society, but becoming a parent, and even this took me many tries!)

I think the responses also suggest or point to the fact that as a "profession" we are conflicted, and I sense that this is good, and that we can learn and grow from sharing our different ideas. I think it's neat that for the most part people have expressed very varied views with respect. I have developed over the last few years high opinions of certain people in this field as a result of reading their writing, (i.e. Thom Garfat, Mark Krueger, Jack Phelan, Karen VanderVen, Carol Stuart, to name a few), and I remember a discussion on this forum about the divide between academics and direct care practitioners. I guess I'm curious to know what they think about this discussion. I hope it's a topic that might provide an opportunity to address that divide. If nothing else I'd love to hear their stories about smoking or not and how it played out in their careers. It is clearly an issue/incident/behavior that seems to be faced by most of us at some point in our work.


Michael Wattie, CYC, cert.
Intake Worker, MHPSU

Good afternoon:

I would have to agree with Danny. Although we all know that (given the opportunity to work outside of the box with the absence of bureaucratic hurdles) many of our personal approaches would work; in Connecticut it is illegal for anyone under 18 to smoke. Smoking, regardless of our personal opinion (or endorsement) of the habit, is regulated by powers higher than us and in our work (as we all know) laws, statutes, policies, and procedures trump our own personal judgments.

It is a great debate, however!! Is smoking a better coping mechanism then mood altering medication? Where does it end? Some persons calm down after one shot of whiskey, a "toke" of marijuana, or parasuicidal/cutting behaviors. Do we allow them to practice that in our settings if they work for the individual? What if the person is a functioning smoker, drinker, marijuana-smoker, or cutter? Do we allow them to do it because it "helps" them through a tough moment?

Of course, these analogies are a bit "far-fetched." However, being that we are in a profession that is prone to oversight (and often criticism) by outside (often influential) bodies, it is best that we operate on the conservative side more often than not.

Headline: 'Fourteen Year Olds are Allowed to Smoke in Group Home X: Despite the Health Risks and Recommendations of the Surgeon General ...'

Please know that I am smiling while I write this. Humor is the best medicine for those of us who have to deal with these very important questions and challenges that we confront (and are forced to respond to) on a daily basis.

"Child Care Workers are charged with the responsibility of making split-second decisions everyday; our children would not have it any other way."

As such, these topics generate a lot of discussion amongst our circle.

Felito Febles

To Felito: Re-Youth Smoking in Group Homes

Dear Felito: In regards to the scenario that I had brought forth to the Child and Youth Care forum. Unfortunately things are not always as they appear. In Canada, although it is illegal to sell cigarettes to minors it is not illegal for youth to smoke. During most weekdays during the school year in Canada, you will find various groups of youth gathered outside school properties (during lunch and recess breaks) enjoying a cigarette. How one approaches a youth with a particular health issue (such as smoking) is very subjective in our field. What one has to apply is common sense, and my example may seem a bit extreme but in fact it was an actual situation that occurred between a Child and Youth Care worker and client. As a Child and Youth Care worker my job is to help youth understand what unhealthy behavior's are and hopefully help them make better choices. Whether or not a youth chooses to apply them or not ....?

Darren Maillot

Darren, I guess I stick to my guns. If he is allowed to smoke at home, that is fine and that is between parent, agency and youth. Once you allow him/her to smoke in your program you open the doors for everyone. I'm simply saying that it is a rule that I believe in and will continue to have in place. We have been able to find alternatives for most kids and most aren't really smokers anyway, they just do it because everyone else is doing it. Let them make the informed decision later when they are more capable and making their own conscience decision.

Danny McGuire

In the past I know that children and youth in institutional care were often allowed to smoke, but I also know that this has changed dramatically in the past few years. I know one can have a long debate about choices etc. etc., but the matter is really not that complicated. We are responsible for the youth in our care. We should always do the best we can, but when we know better, we should do better.

Werner Van der Westhuizen
Village Director (Port Elizabeth)
SOS Children's Villages

Some info for those struggling with youth smoking...Hope it's helpful.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC & Yukon, one of the lead organizations of the BC Healthy Living Alliance, Tobacco Reduction Strategy, has implemented a two-year project to increase options for smoke-free living spaces in the multi-housing sector across BC. Over one-third of all households living in apartments and condos in BC have experienced unwanted tobacco smoke infiltrating their homes. Exposure to second hand smoke is more than a bother though; it’s a serious health risk and is especially dangerous for those who suffer from chronic diseases and conditions.

We are committed to educating landlords and strata corporations that it’s legal to adopt smoke-free policies, easy to do and good for business. We are also creating tools to assist housing providers to go smoke-free which will be posted on the new smoke-free housing website which will be completed in early October. We will work with housing providers who want assistance to develop and implement a smoke-free policy, and will provide resources and tools, access to legal opinions and on-going support. The Pilot Project will commence in October 2008 and end in August 2009. However, we will still work with those who want help developing a policy but don’t want to implement the policy until after the pilot completion date.

For those housing providers interested in participating in the smoke-free Pilot Project, please complete the attached Application Form. Please note that due to extra legal considerations, we are only accepting strata corporations that are solely residential. If you are considering creating a smoking bylaw in a commercial or "mixed-use" strata corporation, it is necessary to consider further issues, including the application of provincial occupational health and safety regulations and provincial and municipal public smoking prohibitions.

Also, please note that we aren’t able to work with all those that volunteer for the project, as we are looking for a mix of different housing types, and pilot regions. However, if you aren’t able to join the pilot, you will still have access to all our resources and tools for going smoke-free that will be available on our new website in the Fall.

We will be selecting those chosen to participate in the Pilot project in mid September and we will notify you at that time.

Lorna McPherson
Coordinator Serenity House Project

As for this topic youth smoking in care is very difficult to change, most of these youth have been smoking for years and are addicted to it. The other issue is that they use it as a way to calm down and to get away from their issues. Yes as youth care workers we know there are other ways to help them with this but in many cases the topic just becomes a power struggle that doesn't need to happen. As we are all aware there can be much more serious issues

Ashley Gibbs

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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