Working in the Best Interests of the Young People – James Anglin
In his article, ‘Working in the children’s best interests: differences that make a difference’ (2013), Anglin reiterates the need for a framework of understanding to lead to organizational consistency, reciprocity, and coherence. Think of organizational consistency as everyone working as a team with a mutually agreed-on set of values and principles instead of each staff member working from an individual philosophy and “doing their own thing.” This does not mean that there cannot be individual style and approach differences but that, overall, a consistent philosophy drives all interactions. This includes supervisors, management, and outside agencies. Reciprocity in this context refers to mutual and equal give and take in communication and relationships. There are few surprises—everyone gets and gives what they expect. Finally, Anglin (2003) used the term coherence to refer to the degree to which all of the behaviors of everyone in the organization flow and work well as a whole. Anglin reminds us that this is a struggle as most helping organizations are far from young people’s ideal life situation. However, we need to aim continually to be the best we can be for them.
Anglin believes it can be an existing well-developed model or one internally developed, but in either case it must have appropriate principles and approaches that keep the “best interests” test at the center of any decision-making. Because the principles and values of these types of models tend to be rather broad, he suggests that the following staff behaviors must be present to ensure that organizations are actually “walking their talk:”
1. Listen and respond with respect: Everyone wants to be valued as a person. Respectful interaction helps develop a sense of self-worth and dignity.
2. Communicate a framework for understanding with young people: Doing so helps them understand their needs and wants better and to learn to self-advocate appropriately.
3. Build rapport and relationships: Connection and relationships lead to a sense of relatedness and belonging.
4. Establish structure, routine, and expectations: We all need these things. They give us predictability, a sense or order, and a “mental and emotional safety net.” This is where trust begins to grow.
5. Inspire commitment in young people: This gives them a sense of pride in what they do, develops a sense of values, and encourages loyalty.
6. Offer emotional and developmental support: This helps them develop a sense of caring and experience mastery.
7. Challenge thinking and action: Just like we asked you to self-reflect earlier, challenging thinking and action allow for learning, growth, and success.
8. Share power and decision-making: Marginalized young people often believe they have no choice. Modeling this behavior gives them back a sense of personal power and the ability to learn to make good decisions.
9. Respect personal space and time: We learn best when we make mistakes, learn at our own speed, and still feel respected.
10. Discover and uncover potential: You can do anything you put your mind to and work hard enough for. When you feel capable, you have hope.
11. Provide resources: This can range from young people helping each other to management providing appropriate funding. It helps develop a sense of gratitude and generosity.
When Behavior is Based in Pain
Anglin (2003) coined the term “pain-based behavior” during his four-year study of residential care. He believes that responding to this pain is the biggest challenge faced by those working with troubled young people. Most of the young people we work with have had a great deal of experience with pain. It is long standing and deep seated and is often “glossed over” by those around them. Since we know that we can only respond to others based on our experiences and perceptions, Anglin felt that the term “pain-based behavior” was important because it reminds us that the challenging behavior we often have to deal with comes from these experiences. It is not personal and we do not want to respond to pain by creating more pain. That is never in the best interests of a young person.
Review the 11 staff behaviors that Anglin believes must be present if we have the best interests of a young person in mind.
1) Which behaviors do you feel that you incorporate into your daily work with young people?
2) Which behaviors do you not incorporate or could incorporate more effectively?
What do you need to do this?
3) We all bring our past history into the mix when faced with challenging behavior. Remember that the young person’s mirror neurons are reading your reaction as you approach. What do you think they generally see (positive or negative)?
4) Do you have expectations or beliefs that impact how you respond to challenging behavior?