Including Children with Behavioral Difficulties in Community Recreation: An Organizational Case Study of One Behavior Management Approach


  • Laura J. McMahon
  • Erin K. Sharpe


Inclusion, behavior management, community recreation, youth development


Inclusion is often an embraced philosophy in community organizations that serve children and youth, and it has gained momentum over the past two decades. However, children with behavioral challenges have received a lesser amount of attention in the literature on inclusive recreation, despite a significant proportion of children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Research has now shown that without appropriate support, this population of children is especially prone to academic underachievement and poor adjustment into adulthood. Community recreation programs can play an important role in supporting and providing opportunities to youth at risk, especially those programs that embrace the concept of youth development and asset building. Although organizations may support a philosophy of inclusion, the practicality of how to include children and youth with behavioral difficulties is less well understood. Agencies are calling for strategies, approaches, and policies to help guide the service and inclusion of these participants. The aim of this study was to address this need. Presented here is a case study of a community recreation organization and its approach to including children with behavioral difficulties into its recreation and after-school programs. Semi-structured interviews were held with 16 organizational stakeholders representing managers, coordinators, and front-line staff of three program areas. Relevant documents (training manuals, policy statements, parent communications) were also reviewed. The main findings were as follows. First, although the organization had a codified behavior management policy with clear and rigid guidelines for suspension and expulsion, in practice these guidelines were more lenient, flexible, and applied differently depending on the needs and circumstances of individual participants. Second, front-line staff reported a lack of direction, guidance, and capacity regarding how to manage behavioral incidences that were disruptive to the program but not severe enough to warrant suspension. Third, behavior management was mitigated by program structure and positive communication with significant others, particularly additional support staff and parents. Fourth, there existed a tension between the organizational philosophy of inclusion and the organizational focus on youth development, as well as a growing sense that the needs of children with behavioral difficulties could not be met by the organization. Recommendations are for organizations to tailor behavior management approaches to the organizational mission and program goals rather than adopt a generic set of policies; consider behavior management at the level of program design; support professional development and training; and promote a coordinated, communitywide approach to inclusion, particularly for children with behavioral difficulties.?





Regular Papers