We all have stories about the bureaucracies that stifle clinical creativity and seem to exist primarily to generate meaningless paperwork. Here’s a tale about a community agency that actually works, and how it got that way.
In 1989, after years of taking every course offered at a community college without deciding what I wanted to do when I grew up, I began a four-year program in social work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Needing a job to make ends meet (other than playing gigs with my band at local clubs), I managed to get hired as a residential counselor at the Youth in Need (YIN) agency. Begun on a small scale in 1974 as an emergency shelter for displaced, runaway, and homeless youth, by the time I got there, YIN was seeing more than 400 kids a year at three sites, but still had a staff of fewer than 30 full- and part-time employees.
The job of a residential counselor or “RC” at the shelter was based on a 58-hour work week, which sounds terrible, but the agency allowed me to work a schedule that accommodated my schooling and even my music gigs. It was a tough grind, particularly the 24-hour shifts from Sunday at 7 a.m. to Monday at 7 a.m., but I was grateful for the $12,500 salary (not bad at the time). Besides, to my surprise, I found I was growing to enjoy the job and the milieu more and more.
The shelter was the hub of the agency. There were regular schedules to follow, but because the program was for youth and families…