Intensive oversight of youth residential treatment

Staff perspectives on the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs

Yvonne N Smith, Lex Colletta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Youth care workers in U.S. residential treatment centers (RTCs) provide 24-h care to youth whose significant psychosocial needs cannot be managed in a less restrictive setting. They have sometimes abused or neglected youth in their care. This study investigates staff perspectives on a new form of intensive oversight developed in New York State to prevent maltreatment of youth in care facilities. It asks: How does intensive oversight and investigation mandated by a state-run agency for the protection of people in care affect residential youth care workers in RTCs? Derived from a 15-month ethnographic study of an RTC serving a child welfare population conducted in 2015 and 2016, these results suggest that intensive oversight may have unanticipated consequences for RTCs, the youth care workforce, and youth in care. Consistent with other studies of regulation and surveillance in risk societies, participants reported that fear of prolonged and intimidating investigations, false allegations, and unavoidable violations of policy negatively affected their practice and contributed to staff turnover. Organizational consequences included serious staffing challenges and increased costs of overtime and administrative management of compliance. Some participants suggested that the form of intensive oversight studied here may have reduced the quality of care received by youth by disrupting therapeutic relationships, causing youth to be cared for by unfamiliar workers, and compelling workers to act defensively to prevent allegations rather than in the best interest of youth. We suggest that, under conditions of intensive oversight, youth care workers, like their clients, should be considered an at risk population whose well being is essential for the provision of high quality care. We conclude with modest recommendations to organizations and jurisdictions using or considering intensive oversight practices to protect the rights and safety of youth in RTCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-62
Number of pages11
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume91
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2019

Fingerprint

Residential Treatment
Social Justice
Quality of Health Care
Deception
Child Welfare
Compliance
Fear

Keywords

  • Child maltreatment
  • Ethnography
  • New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs
  • Risk society
  • Youth residential treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this

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abstract = "Youth care workers in U.S. residential treatment centers (RTCs) provide 24-h care to youth whose significant psychosocial needs cannot be managed in a less restrictive setting. They have sometimes abused or neglected youth in their care. This study investigates staff perspectives on a new form of intensive oversight developed in New York State to prevent maltreatment of youth in care facilities. It asks: How does intensive oversight and investigation mandated by a state-run agency for the protection of people in care affect residential youth care workers in RTCs? Derived from a 15-month ethnographic study of an RTC serving a child welfare population conducted in 2015 and 2016, these results suggest that intensive oversight may have unanticipated consequences for RTCs, the youth care workforce, and youth in care. Consistent with other studies of regulation and surveillance in risk societies, participants reported that fear of prolonged and intimidating investigations, false allegations, and unavoidable violations of policy negatively affected their practice and contributed to staff turnover. Organizational consequences included serious staffing challenges and increased costs of overtime and administrative management of compliance. Some participants suggested that the form of intensive oversight studied here may have reduced the quality of care received by youth by disrupting therapeutic relationships, causing youth to be cared for by unfamiliar workers, and compelling workers to act defensively to prevent allegations rather than in the best interest of youth. We suggest that, under conditions of intensive oversight, youth care workers, like their clients, should be considered an at risk population whose well being is essential for the provision of high quality care. We conclude with modest recommendations to organizations and jurisdictions using or considering intensive oversight practices to protect the rights and safety of youth in RTCs.",
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