T.I.C. transitions

Jew on the Waves of Fate

Displaced Detention Worker

As I have mentioned I have begun studying for my master’s degree in social work.  I will nonchalantly remind everyone that I am pursuing this degree at Columbia University.  Do pride and arrogance really have to look that much alike?  Since October 2007 I had been working at the Boulder County Juvenile Assessment Center.  Nice name yet somewhat inadequate description for the multi-faceted juvenile detention facility where I worked up until the end of July 2010.

Now I must state that the facility where I worked was very progressive and not nearly as punitive as most detention facilities.  That said it was still detention, a locked facility staffed ‘round the clock.  Juveniles wore detention scrubs and were transported in shackles and handcuffs (do not be shocked, when you are arrested you are put in handcuffs).

Now I am entering into a very therapeutic atmosphere.  Social work school talks a lot about collaboration, self-awareness, and openness.  All of this is very important however I have not seen a lot of discussion regarding assertiveness yet.  It has been all of three weeks so who am I to complain.  I have heard mention about difficult field placements toughening a student and growing a thicker skin but it tends to be discussed as more of a negative; a “this is what has to happen” sort of dynamic rather than elaborating on the benefit that can be gained by ensuring you maintain a balance between being smooth and being firm.  I am a very strong believer and supporter of the search for balance.

We are taught about boundaries though the topic usually comes up when prompted by nervous questions regarding how much personal information a social worker should reveal to a client or whether it is okay to hug a student and similar queries.

I think one reason that I have begun to contemplate this is because I am noticing the influence of my detention work.  While I have and continue to view myself as a non-confrontational individual who leans toward collaboration rather than authoritarian methods I do believe the latter has its place.

My first year field placement is at a middle school in the south Bronx.  I believe it is safe to say that the majority of schools in New York City retain a harsher atmosphere than Oslo Middle School in Vero Beach, FL.  I was ready to be shocked and taken aback and wildly nervous.  I believe I am all of those things but not nearly to the level that I thought.  I have been in the field all of two days so my views and understandings could and will change.

I do however notice that I do not gravitate toward the softer attitude or approach in the school.  When discussing what to do with a student who is disruptive during a group session my first thought is of the various consequences: send back to class, send to dean, inform parent, and deprive of certain privileges.  My supervisor’s response was to simply send them back to class and inform her if it continues and we would take it from there.  My fellow interns, the different past experiences of whom I greatly admire, seemed unsure of a course of action though this could have just been my perception.

When a student came to the office and sat down with no explanation I remembered our supervisor telling us that students could not just spend time in the office as a way of avoiding something else.  They needed an appointment, to be scheduled in a group or have a pass to set up an appointment.  I engaged the girl, asked what class she had, what she needed and why she was not on her way to class.  After her various vague answers I politely yet firmly told her she needed to go to class, that she could not hang out but to return if she needed to when she was not in class.  This impressed a fellow intern yet seemed simply appropriate to me.

There were numerous other smaller examples (supporting a dean for having a student leave the assembly for speaking after being warned that if he spoke he would have to leave).  I believe, especially with adolescents, that being open and available is just as important as being firm and steadfast.  Follow through is very important and if a consequence is associated with a particular behavior not applying that consequence sends the wrong message.

I do not believe that “punitive” is the way to go.  I believe in collaboration especially the collaboration between being firm and being open, between being conservative and liberal if you will allow me to make such a comparison.  If I am willing to follow through on a reward I better be willing to follow through on a consequence and the other way around.

P.S. I must also note for my former co-workers that for someone who does not like and seeks to avoid confrontation I had to hold myself back from stepping in when students were being rowdy, this is no longer a part of my job…unless their rowdiness happens during something I am running.  I also picked up a bent paperclip and threw it out…I cannot let contraband sit…even if I am in a place where it is not contraband.

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3 thoughts on “Displaced Detention Worker

  1. Jennifer on said:

    I love your post Ronin! Its so great that you are exploring why you think what you think while operating in a totally different system than you are accustomed to! your experience is exactly what social work is-
    You have to be aware that your biases will come out when you encounter any new system, whether it be a new theory, a specific intervention, a workplace or field placement. Even more, this happens when you work with an individual or with a family and working collaboratively means you check the biases at the door when you know that they will interfere with your ability to be effective. I have to do this a lot with families I see who don’t value work or education because I don’t understand it at all. But as social work 101 tells us, we have to start where the client is at. So if you can view the field placement as being where they’re at and focus on learning what makes it tick, you will be in an objective place to offer feedback and suggest changes (as we do with kids and families once we have built a relationship). Systems don’t like feedback when it comes out of left field and when there is no trust. I think you so hit the nail on the head when you talk about reward and punishment and the balance that is needed. And don’t forget MI! Notice 4 things for every negative because people tend to only hear the negative. Its hard not to compare everything to boulder BC we r so awesome! I went to this conference last week and they were all talkng about the need for different systems to communicate and collaborate and I was like yeah done and done! Keep up the good work and keep bloggi g! hopefully I didn’t ramble too much!

  2. What a great observation. I have to say, I think working at the BCJAC has really only enhanced you as a social worker. You are correct in that children and students need a firm but compassionate grip. Action and reaction, each action must have an appropriate reaction. Consequences are a part of life and I am glad that our father taught us that early.

    Rather than feeling out of place, you should feel one step ahead of these other students. You really have gained so much experience in your life, experience (action) that will lend itself to your success in social work (reaction).

    I love ya!

  3. Ronin, I feel the knowledge and understanding that you are integrating in collaborating with yourself. I look forward to hearing more of your observations because they are truly enlightening. Thanks again for a wonderful post!

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