Upper Management

One of the first things you have to realize is that you can only ever have agency over yourself. No one else in the world is going to do what you want all the time. The trick is to communicate clearly, and work with what the other person gives you.

When I started work, my boss told me that trying to manage individual kids would drive me crazy. Instead, she told me to manage the milieu. In other words, the kids make their own choices, like every other human being. The mark of competency in this job is to steer them in the right direction by using the environment. If someone looks like they’re about to go off? Start putting away the breakables. If someone isn’t listening to staff? Send in one of their friends to talk them down. If they start making better decisions, they get more privileges.

Take for instance what happened a couple days ago. A bunch of the kids wanted to play cops and robbers in the living room. My first instinct was, no, this is a treatment center and I don’t want you to run around here yelling “bang, you’re dead.” But they were all pretty well-behaved that day so I figured as long as I set some ground rules we could see how it goes. So we told them no running, no yelling, and that they were to play with “paintball” guns. Not only did they meet the expectation, they got along for the day and played that game for a good five hours.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I noticed that the game they were playing was basically the wild west equivalent of a trust fall. One kid emerged from cover to say “bang, you’re (paintball) dead”, and then had to trust the other kid to play along. Entire rule systems rose and fell to tighten or loosen this honor system. The kids started to manage themselves, but also started to try and structure the environment just like the staff do. All the while, I could kick back and let them have fun.

I’m learning this job, slowly but surely. It may be a while before I really figure it out, but in the mean time, I’m learning to count the little victories and insights I find. Even if that insight is that there’s a time to let them play cops and robbers in the living room.

-Austin