Who will work with the kids? When developing new programs, this is an important question. The most valuable asset will be the staff. It's crucial to choose the right people. They can make or break the program.
The biggest mistake I see made is “pulling” staff from other programs simply because they have the credentials and the time. These people have little choice in the matter, and the next they know they are plunked down in the middle of a group of little people, when they never had any intention of ever doing so.
No matter what amazing adult counselors they are, children's groups are a completely different ballgame. Kids intuitively know when the grown-up in the room has no desire to be there. Don’t set your staff member up for failure by “forcing” them to work with children. Feel free to explore the pool of people that you already have within your organization, but let them voice their own interest. Here are some key things to look for in children’s group facilitators.
- Desire - Do they have a desire to work with children? Will they enjoy it? Sometimes the most unlikely candidates are people who may not have years of experience, but possess a strong desire to work with children.
- Experience - Has the person had some experience with children? It doesn't need to be a whole lot, but are they truly aware of the energy it can take to be with a group of children for an entire day? People who have worked with children one-on-one, coaching, or teaching can all be great facilitators.
- Passion - Does the person exhibit a passion for the work, or do they view working with kids as a stepping stone to somewhere else they want to be in the organization? A passion for the work needs to be present, or staff will quickly move on to a "better" position.
The bottom line is this: working with children can appeal to people because it sounds noble and folks feel like they are giving something back. Some people (often administration) honestly perceive it to be easy. It's not. It's always a good idea to have your potential candidate "try out" the group. Observe how they interact with kids. I cannot tell you how many people I have interviewed who look great on paper, only to put them in a group where they exhibit little energy and even less patience.
The reality is it takes a certain person to truly embody the energy, flexibility and committment to doing this kind of work. Choosing the correct fit for the job is vitally important. Take your time and explore the pool of potential facilitators. Selecting the right person will be the biggest investment you will make.