Every day is new
The worst thing that can happen to our agency is for it to fall into a rut, to settle into a routine, to rely on rigid procedures ... in short, to become institutionalising. For then it develops a set of standard reactions — rather than unique responses — to each day's eventualities.
The seductive ideas behind this are that the organisation has "matured", has become "fair" and "consistent". In reality, standard routines simply save such an agency from having to think. They save us from having to think.
And, in reality, every day is new, and every event is new.
I was once sharply corrected by a colleague. "O Lord," I lamented. "It's George's birthday thing this afternoon. If I have one more thirteen-year-old's birthday this month I shall go nuts!" My colleague replied quietly: "But for George, it is going to be the only thirteen-year-old birthday in his life."
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This is the level of alertness which we are called to when we work with children, an alertness which demands that we constantly recognise the significance of events and people, no matter how many we have seen before. We have to "walk around" the thirteen-year-old birthday so that we can see it from all angles, in all lights, from everyone's point of view. And instead of becoming bored by them, we thus become experts at thirteen-year-old birthdays. This is what child care workers are — experts at understanding the significance of people and of life events. Experts at knowing the possibilities and the pitfalls. Experts at connecting the sequences of events into meaning, the participants into relationships ...
In this way we become useful, not only with birthdays but also with all other developmental milestones and rites of passage, with all transitions and dead-ends, with all celebrations and crises. This is not just another tantrum (or runaway, or graduation, or unwanted pregnancy, or new job, or suicide attempt, or first date, or separation ...) but a potentially momentous event which must be "done" with empathy and with proficiency.
So child and youth care workers approach these events with the confidence of the plumber with his toolbox — our theory, our skill, our reading, what others have taught us, and our own past experience. As with the plumber, our first burst pipe is quite a challenge and trauma — but our tenth burst pipe is not boring, just something we have become better at.
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So welcome to the third issue of CYC-ONLINE — a less formal collection of ideas, stories, precepts, experiences, inspirations and laughs to add to your personal collection of the "accumulated wisdom" of our field — and maybe something useful for your next thirteen-year-old birthday, or whatever.