Staffing Guidelines
FamilyLightsm: Successor to Bridge to Understanding

It will hardly come as a surprise that we want staff of schools and programs to be well qualified for their jobs.  What is often overlooked is that in addition to people being qualified for their specific duties, such as food service or maintenance, the staff also needs to be qualified to interact constructively with the students / clients who are resident at the school or program.  

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FamilyLightsm is an educational consulting firm specializing in work with families with a young person with behavioral, emotional or psychological difficulties.  We offer in-depth personal guidance to families on a fee basis and free guidance on the internet. FamilyLightsm attempts to be fully objective and accepts no advertising nor referral fees. The only revenue at FamilyLightsm comes from client fees. 

Programs need to demonstrate that front line workers are experienced, able to follow direction of clinicians, are able to communicate to clinicians (and be heard) and are the kinds of people we want having relationships with the clients.  This caveat applies primarily to the workers who supervise students in recreation and in their living situations.  While other frontline workers in such areas as food service, maintenance, housekeeping, transportation, and front office are less likely to be primary agents of change, they still help define the total experience of the students/clients, and they need to be selected, trained, and supervised with as much attention to that implication as to their own specialized skill.  Every staff member in every capacity must be an appropriate role model or example

We also need to know that the clinicians understand that the front line workers are the primary agents of change. Their job it to guide and facilitate the process of growth and change for the people who come to them as therapists in the entirety of the experience in that facility. Therapists in residential facilities who think of their individual time with the child as the direct agency of change are probably not good therapists.

Every program should make quality relationships between each client and front-line staff a top priority in its process of change, and secondarily a quality relationship between each client a key staff member who might be identified as therapist, mentor, counselor, case manager, but in all cases the person with the primary responsibility for guiding the process of change.  We emphasize that the quality relationships with the people the clients have contact with continuously are more critical to the change process than a therapist who is likely to be in direct contact only a few hours per week.  An hour with the therapist might be more important than an hour with a "child care worker," but ten hours with the child care worker will have greater influence  -- for better or for worse -- than the one hour with the therapist. The therapist needs to be at least as focused on guiding the hours of the "child care worker" who spends more time with the student/client as on the individual time with the student/client.

Our checklist of guidelines is as follows:

(We anticipate some additions to this bulleted guideline checklist.)

  1.       >Every school or program should have written standards for competence for every position and should be prepared to demonstrate the adequacy of those standards and that the incumbent in each position meets those standards. This is not to imply there cannot ever be exceptions for genuinely exceptional situations, but the reason why the exceptions made are appropriate also needs to be documented.  This documentation should be available to parents inquiring and to referring professionals upon request.  (We realize the usual documents in large organizations containing this information might be confidential.  That does not prevent edited versions of job descriptions and employee credentials, omitting proprietary and confidential information, from being prepared for this purpose.

  2.       >Part of the qualification for every position in every school or program is that the incumbent is well qualified to interact with persons with the disabilities which may occur in the population of that school or program.  For example, food service workers, custodians, and housekeepers in schools that serve the needs of students with anger management problems need to demonstrate proficiency in interacting with those students in a manner that does not trigger an anger outburst and in acting in an appropriate manner if one should occur in their presence. 

  3.  > Staff members who are likely to be in regular contact with students/clients must expect to serve as change agents for them and must demonstrate full qualification to do so. To the extent that these staff members are not independently qualified as clinicians or otherwise to direct the care of students/clients, they must demonstrate that they are first and foremost good role models, and  that they are prepared to  understand and accept direction from those who determine how the students/clients shall be cared for. 

  4.    >Organizational policies must be sensitive to the fact that the people who have the most face to face time with the students/clients are the people who will have the greatest impact on change.  Relying on therapists with one hour of contact per week (more or less) to be primary change agents based upon that contact time is not realistic.  Effectiveness of the school or program will depend upon the staff who have more "face time," even if those staff are less highly credentialed.

Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback.  Email:

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last updated 2-07-09

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