Central themes in child and youth care
Coming from your center, being there, teaming up, meeting them where they're at, interacting together, counseling on-the-go, creating circles of care, discovering and using self, and caring for one another.
Abstract: During the past 40 years, significant advances have been made in understanding and developing professional child and youth care with troubled children. In this article, which first appeared in the Journal of Child and Youth Care, 5.1 (1991), the literature is reviewed and concepts, principles and themes for teaching and learning are presented.
Child and youth care is about caring and acting — about being there, thinking on your feet, interacting, and growing with children. It is rich, intense, difficult work that requires passion and commitment. When it goes well, troubled children can make tremendous strides. When it goes poorly, their obstacles may seem almost impossible to overcome.
As important as it has always been, however, child and youth care was not well understood or developed in North America until the middle of the century when a few pioneers began studying and writing about it. Since then there have been numerous contributions to the knowledge base from practitioners, teachers, and administrators. In this paper their work, and the themes that appear to from it will be reviewed.
A brief chronology of the professional child
and youth care literature
According to a study conducted by the National Organization of Child Care Worker Associations (Krueger et al., 1987), professional child and youth care in North America is practiced across a continuum of services including treatment centers, group homes, correctional institutions, special schools, temporary shelter care.
Facilities, independent living programs, foster and natural homes, communities, and street corners. Its roots, however, are in residential treatment. In the 1950's child and youth care advocates began to write about residential treatment as a holistic method that with the proper skill and adequate knowledge of human development could be used to teach, treat, and nurture troubled children.
In Children Who Hate and Controls from Within: Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child, Redl and Wineman (1951 , 1957) introduced psychodynamic management techniques and ego support programs for residential care. Redl, a leading pioneer in the professionalization movement, also developed a popular counselling technique called "The Life Space Interview" (1959). Meanwhile, other pioneers like Myer (1958), Burmeister (1961), Trieschman et al. (1969), Foster et al. (1972), and Beker et al. (1972) wrote books about creating the therapeutic milieu. These books, of which The Other Twenty Three Hours (Treischman et al., 1969) is best known, provided a foundation for the systematic care of children and youth throughout the course of a day.
Others found new ways of applying psychodynamic, human development, sociological, cultural, and social learning theories. For example, Nicholas Long (Long, 1966; Long, et al., 1976; Powell, 1990), a student of Redl's, developed a child care method (The Conflict Cycle) for dealing with stress and anger. Maier (1975, 1979, 1987) identified the components of care and described the important role care and caregiving play in human development for children at home and away from home. Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979), the recognized leader of a major paradigm shift in the science of human development, introduced ecological caregiving and caring human connections. Vorath and Brendtro (1974) developed a group method of caregiving that is based on sociological concepts. Weaver (1990) urged greater sensitivity to cultural differences and described methods of cross-cultural care. Several authors advocated for social learning and competency approaches (Durkin, 1990; Ferguson and Anglin, 1985; Fox 1990).
In a comprehensive textbook, Re-Educating
Troubled Youth, Brendtro and Ness, (1983) reviewed major child and
youth care developments and practices from historical as well as modern
perspectives. Proposals for improving the group care system, child and
youth care environments, and curricula for teaching child and youth care
work were also developed (Ainsworth and Fulcher, 1981; Beker and
Feuerstein, in press; Krueger, 1986, 1990; Linton, 1969, 1971; Maier,
1987; McElroy, 1988; Reiger and DeVries, 1974; VanderVen, et al., 1982;
Whittaker, 1980), as were additional books about techniques (Krueger,
1988; Savicki and Brown, 1981).
Recently, Brendtro et al. (1990) presented their research on the Native American Circle of Courage and encouraged members of the field to study and advocate for similar values of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity in working with troubled children. Authors have also turned to creative writing as a way to describe the rich and intensive nature of the work and to portray the roles of self discovery and personal growth in child and youth care (Condit, 1989; Fewster, 1990; Krueger 1987a, 1990). Finally, four recent anthologies, Choices in Caring (Krueger and Powell, 1990), Perspectives in Professional Child and Youth Care (Anglin ct al. 1990), Knowledge Utilization in Child and Youth Care Practice (Bekerand Eisikovits, in press), and Challenging the Limits of Care (Small and Alwon, 1988) include chapters that cover the scope of the field.
A review of these anthologies, the references cited earlier, and articles in Child and Youth Care Quarterly, The Journal of Child and Youth Care, The Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, and The Child Care Administrator, led to the conclusions discussed in the next sections.
Developmental care has become the central theme in child and youth care practice and in this context Maier's work (1979, 1987) is significant. A collection of his papers, titled Developmental Group Care of Children: Concepts and Practice (Maier, 1987), is the most comprehensive analysis of care and its applications. In one pivotal paper, The Core of Care: Essential Ingredients for the Development of Children at Home and Away from Home (Maier, 1987, pp. 109-120), he identifies the components in care as bodily comfort, differentiations, rhythmic interactions, the element of predictability, dependability, and personalized behavioral training. He concludes that child and youth care or caregiving requires sensitivity to and interventions that address:
(a) children's basic physical needs and privacy
(b) their differences in temperament;
(c) their underlying developmental rhythms;
(d) their need for predictable responses and dependable adults; and
(e) the importance of the personal element in behavioral training.
From his work and the work of many of the authors noted above, and others, at least eight basic principles appear to have emerged:
Care is a central element in building helping relationships;
When caregiving and care-receiving are mutual, a nurturing human connection is formed (Maier, 1987; Trieschman, 1982);
The components in the core of care as defined by Maier are essential for the development of children at home and away from home (Maier, 1987, pp. 109-120);
Child and youth care is a sophisticated practice that requires considerable skill and formal knowledge;
Effective child and youth care workers are caring people (Austin and Halpin, 1989);
Every child needs a connection with "at least one person who is crazy about him or her" (Bronfenbrenner, 1977, p. 5);
Children are more apt to respond to psychodymanic, sociological, social learning, ecological, and human development approaches when they feel cared about;
Care work takes time, patience, and persistence.
Child and youth care work themes
In comparing personal experiences (practicing and teaching care over twenty years) with the literature, nine additional themes evolved. In the author's opinion, these themes outline key knowledge areas for teaching and learning in child and youth care.
Coming from your Center
"I tell them to follow their bliss," Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist, responded during a television interview in which he was asked what advice he gave students about choosing their work. After devoting his life to studying myths and religions throughout history, he knew that people could only be happy if they made choices that came from their own spiritual center. Al Treischman, a renowned leader in this field, once talked about having a "twinkle in your eye" for working with children (Treischman, 1982) and workers often talk about a feeling they have in their guts for the work. The message here is clear: the primary motive for being a caregiver has to be that something in your center or gut or heart or all of these is telling you this is what you want to do. Without this feeling, there is not much that can be learned that will be helpful.
Troubled children have been psychologically and or physically abandoned throughout their lives and their greatest fear is that they will be abandoned again. To trust and grow, they need dependable and predictable connections (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Maier, 1987; Krueger and Powell, 1990) — caregivers who they can count on, who are on hand to talk when they are ready, to support them when they are motivated to learn, to encourage them to try again when they fail (Krueger, 1988) and to also be there when they are neither ready, motivated, nor interested in a helping hand. Thus, coming into the field requires a commitment to being there with an understanding of the time it takes for troubled children to begin to trust adults.
Teamwork is the in thing (Garner, 1988). Decisions about how to treat, educate and care for youth require the insight and consensus of all those who are involved in the lives of the children, including child and youth care workers, administrators, consultants, parents, and the children themselves. Further, these decisions need the mutual support of everyone as they are being implemented.
Meeting them where they're at
We need to relate to and work with children as developing beings ... It is important to remind ourselves that the developmental approach does not permit preoccupation with deviant, pathological, or defective behavior. ... When an individual's affect, behavior, and cognition are evaluated as distinct processes, care workers can rely on predictable patterns of development progression instead. (Maier, 1987, pp. 2-4).
Maier and the other developmentalists have shown that troubled children can only respond to self and skill-building interventions that are geared to their emotional, cognitive, social, and physical needs, and that are conducted in a process of care (Beker and Feuerstein, in press; Maier, 1987, pp.109-120). The goal is to meet them where they are at, with child and youth care interventions (Durkin, 1990; Fox, 1990; Juul, 3989; Krueger, 1983; Maier, 1987; Munoz, Savicki and Brown, 1981) that focus on building strengths rather than concentrating on weaknesses.
"When we do things to youth and not with them, it's not going to work so well" (Trieschman, 1982). "Children are not objects, they are subject beings and caring is always an action carried out by one subject being in regard to another subject being" (Austin and Halpin, 1989, p. 2). This requires a nonjudgmental, unconditional caring attitude that is based on valuing and understanding all children as unique individuals who are capable of making their own choices (Fewster, 1990). Caregivers can never consciously allow or give permission to children to do anything physically or emotionally harmful to themselves or others, but their greatest hope has to be that through their teaching, counselling, and nurturing interactions with children, the children will learn and be empowered to make the best choices for themselves (Krueger and Powell, 1990).
Counseling on the go
Crises are opportune times for adults to model and teach social and emotional competence ... For children under stress we must interpret adult intervention as an act of support and protection rather than hostility. ... We must acknowledge and accept the feelings of children without necessarily accepting the way in which they choose to express them (Excerpts from Nicholas Long's principles of the Conflict Cycle as summarized by Powell, 1990, p. 26).
Troubled children need counselling at bedtime, during kickball, in the arts room, and during fights and temper tantrums as much as during scheduled office visits; and no matter how tough or aggressive or passive they are at times, the prevailing underlying feelings they experience are anxiety, fear, sadness, and depression (Long et al., 1976; Redl, 1959; Trieschman, et al., 1969). With the use of psychodynamic (Long et al., 1976; Powell, 1990; Redl, 1959) guided group interaction (Brendtro and Ness, 1983), social learning (Fox, 1990), creative/ expressive (Juul, 1989; Pirozak, 1990) and self discovery (Fewster, 1990) techniques, they need help to learn alternative methods of expression and to cope with these feelings as they surface throughout the course of daily living.
Creating circles of care
In traditional Native society, it was the duty of all adults to serve as teachers for younger persons. Child rearing was not just the responsibility of biological parents but children were nurtured within a larger circle of significant others. From the earliest days of life, the child experienced a network of caring adults (Brendtro et al., 1990, p. 37).
In studying the Native American circle of courage, Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockern (1990) understood the ecology of care. Today in caregiving, as in most other helping professions, it is widely acknowledged that parents, siblings, relatives, helpers and members of the community are all part of a troubled child's circle of care, and long term change is dependent on making this circle functional again (Brendtro et al., 1990). Thus every effort has to be made to conduct care giving interventions in homes and communities, and in harmony with familial (Garfat, 1990) communal, cultural (Weaver, 1990), and interdisciplinary team systems (Fulcher, 1981; Garner, 1977, 1982, 1988; Krueger, 1987b; VanderVen, 1979) that are interconnected with a child's development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).
Discovering and using self
"Charolette was inviting me to consider the idea that self-examination and discovery is a process of observing self in action. At the broader level this is compatible with the preference for cerebral realms of theory and philosophy to follow experience, rather than vice versa" (Fewster, 1990, p. 147). "The idea is that when we are experiencing another person, particularly at the feeling or emotional level, we are actually experiencing ourselves" (Fewster, 1990, p. 42).
These selected quotes come from conversations between a worker and his supervisor in Being in Child Care: A Journey into Self (Fewster, 1990), which beautifully exemplifies and summarizes the belief that a full understanding of and relationship formation with children can only be achieved through self awareness and discovery (Fewster, 1990). In child and youth care, workers with the help of supervisors, teammates and teachers have to constantly strive to understand their own feelings and experiences in relationship to how they influence interactions with children and families.
Caring for one another
"It is inherent that caregivers be nurtured themselves and experience sustained caring support in order to transmit this quality of care to others" (Maier, 1987, p. 119). Child and youth care is difficult and demanding work. To overcome the stress and fatigue, managers, supervisors and practitioners in professional child and youth care organizations have to do everything possible to create a supportive, caring environment for themselves (Bieman, 1987; Krueger, 1986a, 1986b, 1987b; Mattingly, 1977) with the awareness that the patterns of care they create for one another are interconnected with the patterns of care they create for the children.
In professional child and youth care, coming from your center, being there, teaming up, meeting them where they're at, interacting together, counselling on the go, creating circles of care, discovering and using self, and caring for one another, are actions, thoughts and feelings that when woven together provide a foundation for effective daily interactions. Further, it is the holistic mix of teaching, counselling, and nurturing approaches as summarized above rather than any single approach that makes child and youth care unique from other helping roles.
The growing knowledge base and the need for care
The references in this article are representative of the work of many authors who drew upon both practice experiences and work from related fields such as psychology, special education, social work, human development, and the arts to collectively create a rich and exciting knowledge base for a new profession. A knowledge base, however, is a dynamic entity which is constantly changing and growing and open to interpretation. This contribution is the result of one effort to summarize and organize the literature at a given point and time. The goals have been to provide an outline for curriculum development and to encourage further investigation. With the changes in contemporary child rearing patterns and the rising numbers of poor and dysfunctional families (Carman and Small, 1988; FICE, 1988; Mech, 1988), the need to learn and practice child and youth care is greater than ever before.
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