At WesCare, we have been providing the same services for more than ten years. In that period of time, we have been granted the opportunity to work with some of the state’s most challenging cases – adults and adolescents that many agencies wouldn’t accept or discharged shortly after accepting them due to severe behaviors. The system that has proven to be the most successful for us is one that involves 3 key components: Structure, Authority, and Motivation. Over the next 3 months, I will attempt to break down each area and explain why it’s important and why one can’t work without the others.
By definition, a structure is “a framework of identifiable elements which give form and stability, and resists stresses and strains.” (BusinessDictionary.com) All structures should have clearly identified boundaries and/or rules that explain how the individual elements interact with each other as well as within the structure itself.
Structures exist all around us and help shape our behavior in almost every aspect of life. For example, each city or town has streets; these streets set boundaries that shape our behavior while we drive our trucks, cars and motorcycles. They also have signs and lights that remind us of rules that we are to follow while we move about this structure, such as how fast we can drive, when to stop, when to go, etc. This is all designed to control the flow of traffic. Can you imagine our roadways and highways if people could drive anywhere they wanted, as fast as they wanted, in any direction they wanted? Driving a car would be a far more risky prospect without the current structure in place.
We operate group homes in a very similar fashion. There are restricted areas for residents (like someone else’s room or the office where confidential information is kept), there is a certain time of day for just about anything residents need or want to do such as:
- Breakfast at 7:30am
- Chores at 8:00am
- School/Work at 9:00am
- Lunch at 12:00pm
- Free-time at 4:00pm, etc.
This routine dictates the flow of traffic in the home, so-to-speak, much like the signs and lights in the traffic example above. Many of the people we work with who come to us have never been introduced to a home structure or were in a structure that had no recognized authority figure.
So how is structure established? Some people prefer a simple “To-Do-List” others use detailed schedules. The preferred method for establishing structure in a household starts with a calendar-based schedule. Insert the items on the calendar that can’t be controlled first, such as school, work, football practice, etc. Schedule those items that can be controlled around these events, such as activities, chores, dinner, etc. Use a different color ink for each individual, as kids of different ages may go to different schools, have different hobbies or sports they are involved in. The different colors make it easy for each individual to quickly identify his or her responsibilities. Take some time to explain each person’s responsibilities so expectations are clear.
As a word of caution, this only works for an established authority figure. Being a parent, teacher, guardian, coach are all titles and just because a person has a title doesn’t mean they have the authority that goes with it. Being a father or mother doesn’t make a person a parent, being an educator doesn’t make a person a teacher. A title is just a word, and having one doesn’t make a person an established authority figure and in order to establish and/or maintain a structure, a person has to establish his or her authority first. The importance of authority and how to establish it will be addressed next month.