Sunday, January 21, 2007

Who Are These Kids?

If I walked up to the first child care worker I saw at your place and asked, "Who are the kids who come here? What are they like?" what response do you think I would receive? Would the person say: "They are kids who have experienced severe difficulties in their lives, who are hurt, who haven’t developed the skills they need to have lives worth living. But they are really great kids"? Or would the response be more like: "they are very difficult, aggressive kids. They have committed crimes or done other bad things. They are wild and out of control. They can’t be trusted, they will hurt you, you need to watch them, you can’t let them get away with a thing"?

Of course the response would vary with the day, with the minute. It might be different from program to program. And most likely the response would contain parts from both responses above.

But who we think the kids really are determines what we think they need. In the first scenario (again, keeping in mind that these are extremes on a continuum) those kids need to heal, to learn to manage their pain and emotions, and they need skills. In the second scenario, those kids need control, punishment, vigilance, to be watched, a tough staff who holds them accountable and doesn’t let them get away with a thing.

And that leads us to who we have to be. Who we think the kids are leads us to our ideal for child care staff. What is the actual ideal that is operating in your culture? Are new child care staff socialized by experienced workers that they should be kind, calm, soothing, and should gently teach the kids new skills? Are they taught and shown that liking, enjoying and appreciating the kids is essential to what we do here? Or are they scared by violent war stories, shamed for being innocent and trusting, or weak, and taught you have to be tough and firm and not let the kids get away with anything? Do staff brag about their moments of connection? Or are they proud of the battles they have endured, the injuries they have received without flinching or showing any response? Is the staff ideal closer to a person or to a rock?

Again, the reality is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle. But let’s have these discussions out loud. Ask staff what they learned from experienced staff when they first came to work here. Talk about what we want the ideal to be and how we can put that into practice. Remember, how we see the kids is undoubtedly how they will act.

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