One of the issues that I have had intense debate with other colleagues over is the issue of an open office door policy where a teenage resident can just walk in to the staff office uninvited to seek support, guidance or more often than not complain or make an unreasonable demand or hurl abuse at you if the mood takes them. The other day one of my colleagues, Nicola, decided to rebuke me for the fact that the office door was closed upon her arrival as this was injurious to her working philosophy of the bleeding heart. She also complained because I demand that the young people knock and wait to be invited in to the office. A diplomatic yet heated debate ensued.
"Winston, why do you close the office door and ask the young people to knock? We have an open door policy here so that the young people can feel they can talk to us about anything at anytime and we don't believe in barriers here."
"Well Nicola, I've talked to Jim, the manager and he said its up to the discretion of the staff and when Im lone working it will be closed. The reason that I am opposed to an open door policy is that it doesn't actually help the young person in that in the real world you have to queue for assistance in banks, shops, benefit offices, job interviews and so on. It also teaches the young person to practice patience which is a virtue in itself and it also teaches them that they are not the centre of the universe, just a part of it. Above all though, it fosters respect in the young person for other people who are taking time and effort to assist them. So, what you on the surface describe as me putting up a barrier is in fact imbued with values that I believe help develop functional young adults with respect, not deference, for their fellow citizens."
"Well, I think its authoritarian and this project is their home and they should be able to go in to whatever room they like and at the end of the day you are here to assist them not hide away in the office."
"Authoritarian? Are you equating my belief that people should knock on a door and wait to be invited in with the Third Reich or Franco's Spain? Perhaps you are right and trying to cultivate good manners is the thin end of a wedge that could lead to a modern day Auschwitz or Guernika. Sarcasm aside, I have spoken to all of our residents and informed them that when I am on shift that they can come and see me at anytime with any problem or with relation to any advice they need related to benefits or education. As they are used to being able to just walk in I have explained why I close the door, but that I am still available should they need me. Only two or three out of the fifteen of them seem to have a problem with this. The rest are fine with it. It seems to be you Nicola that are most opposed to my working practice and not the residents. We will just have to agree to disagree on this."
I saw no further point in talking to Nicola on this topic as I think her mind was well and truly made up. So, just what have been the fruits of the open door policy as practised by Nicola who also espouses a working philosophy of anti-authoritarianism, non-judgmentalism and an opossition to so called barriers? Well, upon coming to work one morning lately there was nowhere to sit for me as the office was full of teenage girls dressed in skimpy and revealing nightwear. Nicola saw nothing wrong with this until I objected and asked the girls to leave. When she is working the office is full of residents and ex residents and other waifs and strays from the neighbourhood, many of them stoned out of their mind and stinking of skunk weed. She allows them to take office materials such as pens, paper, sellotape, envelopes and to use the phone for personal calls. Instead of supporting our young people to do things for themselves, like fill in benefit forms or make their own enquiries to benefit or employment agencies, she will do it for them thus robbing them of the opportunity to learn to become independent. She never makes them wait for anything, including her time, and constantly reinforces in them what their benefit and state entitlements are. She rarely says no and has helped foster a belligerent, demanding, state dependent, instant gratification mindset in several current residents and many more of our ex-residents who still turn up looking for her 'help'. The likes of Nicola are very common across the state dependency sector. With so called support like this is it any wonder that so many youngsters leave supported housing even more entrenched in the value system of an excessive welfare state? The ironic thing is that we exist to help break this cycle and whilst we do have some success, in the majority of instances we are just making matters worse and perpetuating the existence of an underclass.
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