Question #10 12/18/2006 How should a houseparent deal with children who are out of control with relief staff?

How should a houseparent deal with children who are out of control (disrespectful, disobedient, mocking, as well as taking on a “pack” or “gang” mentality) while in the care of relief or alternate houseparents?
Thanks!  Tawnya

The answer to this question depends on the perspective from which you ask it.  If you are asking from the perspective of the primary houseparent then I suggest that you number share your expectations for their behavior with the children prior to you leaving on relief or days off.  We don’t have much of an issue with our children trying to get over on our regular relief staff because we have worked together for years.  But, we are very clear with our children that if they try and get over on emergency/vacation relief they will receive consequences when we return.

You should also share as much information as you can with your relief staff.  The more they know about your rules and routines the easier it will be for them to maintain them.  Write as much of it down as you can, that way if the children tell therelief staff that they are doing something wrong they can show the children your notes.

Finally pick your battles.  If your relief staff is new or less than competent there are going to be disruptions.  You just may have to live with some things until they learn the ropes or leave.

If you are asking from the perspective of relief staff, I would first like to say that being relief staff is the hardest position there is in residential childcare.  I was relief staff for a year and wish never to do it again, I am just not cut out for it.  Relief staff need to be flexible, and in a sense submit themselves to the desires of the primary houseparents, while working with children that you have very little time to build relationships with and may only see for a few days a month.

When dealing with children that seem to be “out of control” while you are on duty as relief, you need to make sure that you do not communicate that you are intimidated or just a “baby sitter.”  You need to portray to the children that you are confident in your abilities, won’t put up with crap, will be fair and respectful to them, and that you also expect them to be fair and respectful to you. 

You also need to communicate with the primary houseparents and administration as much as possible both before and after relief.  With out their support, you will always have struggles.  Also don’t expect the primary houseparents to be the bad guys.  If a child breaks a rule while you are on duty, give them consequences.  The children will never respect you if you always say, “Wait until your houseparents get back.”

Realize that time is on your side.  The longer you stick with something the easier it will get.  If you are new, you are going to have to establish yourself in the house and that may take until many of the children that are residents of the house when you started have moved on.

Finally, if you can’t get support from the primary houseparents or administration it may be time to look for a new position.  There are too many good facilities that will train, equip and support their staff to continue to work for one that won’t.

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