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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 2000 Issue #68 


By: Lon Woodbury, C.E.P.

I often hear corporations who provide services to at-risk/troubled teens etc. speak approvingly about “Consolidating the Industry.” This desire is understandable. It is human nature to want to control your environment. When a person, either real or fictional (as in a corporation), has a measure of control over their environment, they feel the sense of security that comes from predictability and order. We see this striving for control in children, parents, and actually in every human action. But, in the context of consolidating services for at-risk youth, one must ask: is it good for the kids?

Business management is always insecure in a competitive environment. This insecurity is an important engine for innovation, which is the real basis of long-term survival. Unfortunately, management is also often looking for methods beyond innovation to enhance their security.

One method is to lobby political leaders for legislation favorable to their specific company, and of course if the legislation were unfavorable to their competitors, the company wouldn’t object. Another way to increase security in a competitive environment is to advertise promises that resonate with that for which the consumers yearn, promises that might not be consistent with the service or product actually provided. In our advertisement- saturated culture, I think we all are aware of the tendency to over-promise, at least by implication and/or non-verbal cues.

Both of these approaches are of course subject to abuse. For the children in a free market the most accepted way for a school to survive, one that is also the best and healthiest way, is to provide consistent high quality services. This means keeping a major focus on what the kids need above and beyond all other considerations. So, why would a major player in the industry providing services to teens with behavioral/emotional problems express a desire for consolidation of that industry? Of course there is some argument for the economies of scale, but in my opinion, the larger the school or program, the more difficult it is to provide the personal and individualized services these children badly need. And, in a large school or program, the necessities of good management act as a strong force toward categorization, classification, and other symptoms of mass management, and consequently, losing sight of the needs of the individual child.

My initial reaction when hearing the desire to “consolidate the industry,” is that this might be the first indication that business and management considerations are outweighing a concern for the needs of the kids. That, of course, is not good for the kids!

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