Question #16 – 4/5/2007 First time worker seeking advice.

 Mine is an unusual situation. I was raised in a children’s home from age 4. It was a state run facility. I still love the place and have served on the alumni association – doing things with the kids now and then.I have just accepted a residential mentor position at that same facility. I will initially work night shift – monitoring the children – doing bed checks, etc. Things are MUCH different today than when I was a resident. Houseparents lived with us back then. Now residential mentors are employed in shifts. When I was a resident, children called their houseparents and teachers Mr. or Miss or Mrs. Apparently, now the kids call their houseparents by their first name – not sure I agree with this. When I was a resident, we might have occasionally went to stay with a relative on the weekend, and we generally went away on the holidays for vacation. Now the kids seem to go away most weekends and the facility is more like a boarding school than a children’s home.

I have fond memories of two houseparents when growing up at the home. One was young, very much a tomboy and would take us outside and play sports with us. She was great fun, but was also quite firm and we knew not to cross her. We respected her. She was there many years and eventually became the girls dean.

The other houseparent that I remember well was an elderly, small lady that was soft-spoken and sweet. A grandmotherly type. She was kind and affectionate and we wanted to please her.

I cannot remember most of the others, probably because they were less involved with us. I understand that you can be involved or you can just go in and do your job. It’s up to you how much you want to do.

So, over the seven years that I lived at the home, two houseparents stood out in my memory for good reasons. There was also one houseparent that was quite cruel – but she was the exception to the rule – thank heavens!

I want to be a positive influence on these kids and this is why I am seeking your experienced advice. I do not have a sugary-coated idea of what the work will entail. I KNOW that I will be dealing with moods, manipulations and frustrations, etc. Kids are kids are kids – and these kids are no different – just acting out more because of more difficult circumstances. I just want to do what I can to make a difference in their life. I don’t have expectations of them – I just want to do FOR them.

Eventually, I want to work on the long weekend shift (3 long days on) 4 off. This may take several months as this particular schedule is generally offered to existing mentors. The newbies usually work nights – earning their stripes and easing into the understanding of the role of a residential mentor. It’s important so that I can still have the time to work on my farmhouse, garden, etc.

I’m a tough cookie, so I will ride out whatever difficult situations I encounter. I will not give up.

I’m seeking advice from folks that work on shifts at similar facilities.

1. How did you establish yourself as a houseparent on your first job? Some do’s and don’ts would be much appreciated!

Mike’s comments are in BLUE!!

I can honestly say I made a few mistakes the first time I was a houseparent. I received no training so I had to wing it.  I didn’t know what to do so I too often, let the children tell me how it was done.  The best thing you can do to establish yourself is make sure you receive training.  Get to know the facility, not only the rules but also the philosophies.  If you know the rules and philosophies it is much easier to establish yourself, just follow them.  Don’t let your desire to be friends with the children impair your judgment.  You want to have a good relationship with the children, but it is a lot better to have mutual respect than friendship.

Don’t ever accept, “This is how our old mentor/houseparent did this.”  My usual response is, “I am not your old houseparent.”

Always try to be fair and honest.  Most of the children you work with will be very good at lying, they are also very good at spotting somebody else that is doing it.

I could probably write a whole book just on this question, but I think you get the idea.  There is a bunch of other material elsewhere on this site that will give additional tips.  Read the Forum Archive and Houseparent Articles.

2. I was formerly a company director, so wore a lot of dresses – which is most comfortable for me – the only jeans I like are bibs – will this pose a problem with the other staff? Will they think I’m too dressy? I can’t afford new casual clothes at the moment.Wear what you have until you can get what you need.  However, you will want to do your best to try and fit in. 

You don’t need to have new casual clothing.  Some people think I’m cheap, but I buy more than half my clothes at thrift stores.  My wife gets many of hers also.  In my less financially secure days, it was the only way to get name brand clothing.

3. I was reading that you cannot hug a kid. How do you all show affection whilst obeying this policy? Advice please? What if a kid hugs you?

Most facilities don’t allow a frontal hug, however they will usually allow a side hug.  In our fist facility we called it the “Sonlight Hug”.  You stand side by side, put one arm to the other person’s opposite shoulder and squeeze.  I still use it today, especially on teen girls.

There are many ways to show affection without hugs, your speech and actions toward the children will speak volumes.  Building a good respectful relationship will go a very long way in showing affection.

If a kid hugs you: #1- follow the policy of your facility.  If no contact is allowed, you have to do what you have to do.  If some contact is allowed and you can use a side hug, move to that position, or place your hands on their shoulders, or hold hands.  Sometimes only a little contact is all that is needed.

Best wishes,Gooby

I hope you find this useful and that others will share their ideas. 

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