Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Reflections on the Past and Future

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Reflections on the Past and Future

Article excerpt

On such occasions as retirement I suppose it's appropriate to trace the unique succession of events that brought one to this particular point in time. We're engaged at this moment because of our common interest in children whom many don't understand and often outright reject. Deep within us is some germinal basis for this attachment. Looking back, I realize that even as a youngster I was curious as to why people behaved this way or that. Much of human behavior, including my own, seemed illogical, incongruous, and unpredictable. Perhaps because of this fascination I was naturally drawn to the mysterious field of psychology.

I began my career as a clinical psychologist testing patients and children with various types of psychoses, personality, affective, and learning disorders in hospital, outpatient, and school settings. These experiences, I came to realize, were largely without clear purpose, and my interest turned to the treatment of children's emotional and behavioral disorders. Toward this end in 1966 I took my first direct services job as a counselor of young "soft" adjudicated delinquents, at a state-run "treatment" facility. There, I learned about the nature of adult-child power relationships, and the necessity for basing interventions on good science.

The institution where I worked was headed by two social workers. There was no "treatment" program, per se. The superintendent, an adherent to Eric Erickson's ideas of fostering basic trust, believed in "relationship" building. The assistant superintendent of the camp was impressed with Maslow's hierarchy and saw therapy mostly as a matter of meeting the kid's needs for acceptance and security. Curiously, while neither of these men had experience working with children with emotional and behavioral disorders, they were staunchly opposed to "reward systems" believing instead that the children knew how to behave appropriately and would choose to do so as they developed "feelings of security." When the children were destructive or showed anti-social behavior they were "restricted" to their cottages and from participating in recreational activities although we had no recreation program or equipment. We counselors were expected to serve as positive role models, to provide "care" and "acceptance," and as the assistant super described it, "hit" them with "good doses of reality" when they misbehaved.

Early one morning I got to see their ideas in action. Around 1 a.m. I received an urgent call from the super to come to the camp some 17 miles away. As I drove onto the grounds, I witnessed an unforgettable spectacle. About 30 boys were engaged in an outright riot. Several had climbed high up on the water tower that stood in the center of the facility. Others had found their way to the roofs of the cottages and were cursing and raining gravel down on the staff, which were, in turn, cursing and threatening them with restrictions. Three or four kids were busily kicking in windows. A couple of the older boys had broken into the super's office, taken the keys to the State pickup and were driving it around the grounds. The super was chasing kids right and left cursing them loudly; occasionally, he'd catch one and hold him in an effort to calm him down. The assistant super had taken a few down to the cafeteria to make them sandwiches in a frantic attempt to meet their "basic needs."

Fast forward to February 2002: A student in school psychology has come by my office to enlist my help in developing an anger control program for a class of third graders [!] She was working with a local teacher who had three boys who refused to do any work, largely roaming the classroom all day terrorizing the other kids. The leader of the pack, Mark, had been suspended from school five times already that school year. I expressed doubt that an anger control program would work without any external contingencies and suggested that we first try to get their behavior under control with a class-wide token program and probably a good time-out system. …

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