The Counseling Role of the Child and Youth Worker in a Treatment Classroom

Article excerpt

THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS

Treatment classes (legislated in Section 27 of the Education Act; see Government of Ontario, 1991) provide for the special management of children and adolescents whose maladaptive behaviors cannot be controlled at home or in community schools. These youths, who have been placed in residential treatment or correctional facilities, require extensive counseling for deeply rooted emotional and behavioral problems. Treatment classes address the special educational needs of this troubled population by creating a safe learning environment, by tailoring lessons specifically to each student's ability and grade level, by helping students develop effective study habits, and by teaching interpersonal, vocational and life skills.

The needs of youths referred to a treatment class cannot be met even in a special education class due to a variety of problems, ranging from impulsive and aggressive behavior to depression and withdrawal. These youths have difficulty forming and maintaining satisfactory interpersonal relationships, which leaves them anxious. Rivers (1977) states that acting out is the typical way in which the emotionally disturbed youth relieves inner tension.

This paper describes treatment classrooms for emotionally disturbed adolescents in a residential setting. Specifically, the program at Haydon Youth Services, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, is examined. Staff roles, intervention techniques, and interactions with the adolescents are explored.

The treatment class brings together mental health professionals and educators to provide for the socioemotional needs of disturbed youths. Staff must coordinate the different methodologies, strategies, and priorities of these two disciplines. Underlying this task is the belief that emotionally disturbed youths require intensive and prolonged intervention, tighter structure, and a simplified or basic curriculum. Thus, treatment is a resocialization process - a necessary precondition for these youths to benefit from instruction and, eventually, to return to the mainstream of family and community.

The age range for youths at Haydon is 10 to 19 years. The Executive

Director of Haydon decides which adolescents are admitted into the treatment class. The treatment class is first and foremost a mental health service, but, under Section 27 of the Ontario Education Act, includes the participation of teachers. Each treatment classroom has up to ten youths, a teacher supervised by the local Board of Education, and Haydon child and youth workers.

For this paper, two focus group discussions were held with the child and youth care staff to identify what actually happens in a treatment class. In addition, it includes an interview with the Executive Director of Haydon.

Interview

Q. "You stated that the teacher's classroom duties are to provide an academic assessment and to develop educational programs for each youngster. What is the youth worker's role in the classroom?"

A. "They counsel, collaborate in discipline, and create structure."

Q. "What type of youth worker is successful in the class setting?"

A. "Individuals who understand their role as part of a team, and can use traditional therapy and alternative counseling methods. Although the youth worker staff are primarily concerned with the youth's emotions and behavior, they must also convey an interest in each youth's daily progress. They must work at building a relationship with each youth."

Q. "How do you handle conflicts between the youth worker staff and the teachers?"

A. "If they're not working together, I want to find out what the problem is. I'll discuss it with them. If they cannot develop a working relationship, I'll give them specific instructions and steps to follow. If that doesn't work, we bring in the principal to help mediate the conflict."

Q. "How do you get new staff to fit in? …