Q&A with Kara Mapel, Residential Program Manager
What are the top three qualities you look for when interviewing teen moms for your Residential Program? First, we make sure there is a need for housing. A girl who just wants freedom from her own parents is in a very different situation than a girl who has no family support or is couch surfing or is living in an unsafe environment. We also look at motivation. When a teen mom expresses the desire to create a different life for her child, we know there is much more motivation there versus a teen mom who simply says she wants to get a new apartment! Identifying a teachable spirit is also important. During the interview, we evaluate how the teen mom takes feedback. As she shares her story, we provide feedback and insight and hope to see her respond with questions. We are not necessarily wanting her to be agreeable to our feedback but show a willingness to dialogue and an openness to adjustments.
What kind of expectations do you set before a teen mom moves in? We explain that our Residential Program not just housing. It is a program, which indicates she will have goals she must work toward to keep moving forward. Each girl must be in school and/or working as well as taking Hope House classes. We let them know that if they aren’t moving forward, they will no longer be a fit. We also let them know we don’t want them to hide in their rooms. We want them interacting with staff and other teen moms because we want them to develop social skills – and because it gives us a chance as staff to observe and speak more into their lives.
How do you protect your staff? We balance high-need teen moms, who take Track 1, with Track 2 girls who are closer to independence and will need less staff support. Our Track 1 girls need more hands-on support while Track 2 girls are more independent and have some basic tools such as time management. We also encourage our staff to establish healthy boundaries and maintain a healthy separation between personal and work life. Self-care is also important. We actually have our staff members complete their own self-care plans when they are hired so there is a plan in place to help them be aware of what works for them.
Your program is experiencing growth… what helps that process? Longevity of staff is key. Our teen moms usually come from unstable backgrounds, so stability in the program makes them feel stable and safe. Changeover in staff or program elements makes them feel unstable. When staff members leave, it can trigger feelings of abandonment, so we try to minimize turnover. Consistency in the program is also important, with staff members all on the same page.
What do you look for when hiring staff? We look for someone who knows the balance between rules and relationships. We need staff members who are willing to hold the girls accountable but also able to know how to choose battles wisely. For example, if we have a teen mom who is supposed to clean the kitchen but clearly has had a hard day and is exhausted and in need of some quiet time alone, this is not the time to enforce the chore. This is a time when the staff member can extend chore time a bit or even do the chore for her. It is finding a balance between truth and grace, between holding them accountable while still being relational.
What advice can you share? Trust your own staff. It is important to empower your staff to make decisions. It just as important that our teen moms know that my staff members, including the part-time Residential Counselors, have the same authority and deserve the same respect I do. When you don’t give staff that authority, you end up carrying more weight, which can burn you out. Let your support staff own the evenings and the weekends so you can protect your own time off.