Name: Lorraine Fox
Age: Older than dirt – but still above ground
Location: San Clemente, California
Hard to write a short bio when one is a senior citizen! I began work in child and youth care in 1964. I walked into my first residential treatment center, was immediately told to go F*&%# myself – and knew I had found a career that would keep me interested for the rest of my life. And it has been true. I can honestly say that I do not have enough money to retire (I’ve had both the good fortune and misfortune to be coupled with another child care worker for thirty years – Ha, but I have never been bored a day in my life! I’m on my way to Canada in a couple of weeks to talk with CYC’s in the Maritimes, and look forward to being in their company, as I always do. Not only do I love “our” kids, but I love the folks that love them. Although I have a Ph.D., have been a supervisor, a clinical director, an executive director, and an assistant professor, I always feel like, and identify myself as, a child and youth care worker. Whenever I am introduced at a “fancy” event people want to know what a C.C.C.W. is, wondering why I tag it onto my name. I tell them it stands for Certified Child Care Worker, they give me a blank stare, and say “oh”. It still brings me a great deal of sadness that after 45 years we are still not recognized by our name and title. The struggle for recognition has been difficult and challenging, and I fear I will go into “the home” (nursing) with our work still misunderstood and unrecognized. The crime of child maltreatment, and the unbelievable harm it causes precious young people, keeps me motivated to be among those who dare face the truth of the crime, and who wake up every morning hoping to bring some healing to those who suffer from the pain they never deserved.
How I came to be in this field
I had friends who lived across the street from a large, brick, child care “institution”. My friends were not sure what went on over there. I was bored with my job and decided to stroll in to see what was going on. They told me it was a treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescents. I had no idea what that meant, which caught me interest right away. I had been a camp counselor a few times and loved kids so thought this might be fun. My first day taught me what “emotionally disturbed” meant, and although I was startled that these “up yours” people were actually kids, I fell in love that first day and have been in love ever since. My training and degrees came much later, as back in the old days, willingness to be there was all the credential that was required.
My favourite saying
I don’t actually have a favorite as so many wise people have said so many wise things that have guided me over the years. I’ll share two:
The first is from my first director at my first job, who was quite a character and good for many behind-his-back laughs. But, I hold him responsible for my longevity in the work. Whenever I would be aghast at the behavior of the kids, their aggression, their defiance, their “oddness”, and I would run to his office for some explanation and help, he would say: “Let’s pull the file”. We’d look at the history, what had happened to them that would cause the kind of behavior that would land them in an institution, and with his help I would “get it”. Once you get it, you can hang in. To this day that is some of the best advice I can give anyone. When you want to know why the kids are as they are, “pull the file”: look at how they’ve been treated and mistreated, and their symptomatic behavior makes sense. It doesn’t make it easy to deal with, but when it’s not mysterious we can begin to problem solve. God bless Uno Karbing, now deceased.
My second current favorite saying is from the Bible, in the old testament. I share it often in my workshops on maintaining morale. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to rejoice and to do good in their lifetime. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in their toil – this is the gift of God”.
A few thoughts about child and youth
My thoughts about child and youth care are never few. I have the privilege of having my “rants” published on CYC online and many of my writings can be downloaded from my website, cleverly named LorraineFox.com. I will be putting more on this summer when I expect “things” to slow down just a little.
A few thoughts for those starting out
If you can’t laugh, you can’t last! Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the kids. Enjoy your colleagues. Enjoy the silliness that only CYC’s can invent, because only those with 24 hour exposure can see the kids in ALL of their glory – their tics and twitches, their outrageous explanations, their trickery, their cleverness, their resilience and their vulnerability – everything that makes them wonderful. There can never be a “manual” that will tell us what to do, because we never can predict what’s going to happen. That’s the joy of it all. We stay on our toes, awake and alert, and sometimes we catch it and sometimes we miss it. When we catch it and help it, we get tremendous satisfaction and joy. When we miss it we learn. Either way, the work will always keep our interest. As others have said, once you lose the joy, do everyone a favor – yourself, the kids, and your colleagues - and leave.
Last week I had lunch with Karen VanderVen and Andy Munoz here in California. I have known them for a hundred years. My partner and I sat around the table and had a lunch only possible with others who love the work and have hung in. It was, as it always is when we get together with others in our work, fabulous. I am still friends with Don, who was a child care worker at my first job 45 years ago. We spent our vacation last year with Margaret and her husband; Margaret and I worked as CYC’s together in the early 1970’s. My friend Connie and I live far apart but always visit and stay in touch, after working together in two different facilities. You will never find better people than you will in child and youth care work.
I can only wish you the joy I have found: Rewarding work that calls for all of the passion (as in compassionate) you can muster, all the love you can will yourself to give, all the patience you will never find enough of, all the friends that are worth holding on to, and a companion who either shares your passion and experience, or is willing to understand and support it. You can then face the sunset of your life and have no wish to go back and do it differently.