What exactly is child and youth care work?
Richard Small and Laura Dodge
Continuing our series in which we examine the nature of child and youth care practice
Richard Small (a successor of Al Trieschman at the Walker Home and School in Boston) and Laura Dodge (1988) undertook a very interesting study to help clarify the definition of a child and youth care worker. They started with a definition developed by the 1981 Conference-Research Sequence in Child Care Education group (VanderVen, Mattingley and Morris, 1982):
Child Care personnel: Those adults who either —
directly care for children in a variety of group settings, including early childhood day care, child development programmes, day treatment programmes, community youth and recreation programmes, group homes, residential treatment centres schools, hospitals and institutions;
work with families in the home or through expanded family networks in foster care or preventive community mental health programmes; or
provide support to the child care field, such as administrators, supervisors, educators researchers.
This consensus definition by the group was achieved despite the fact that they recorded no fewer than 33 different titles for those who do this work!
In clarifying the roles, skills and tasks of child and youth care workers, Small and Dodge decided that before we talk about what they should be doing, we need to have a picture of what they actually are doing. "What, specifically, are the generic tasks undertaken by all child care workers in day-to-day job functioning?" In order to assemble a profile of child care job tasks they analysed more than 150 references in the literature and arrived at six distinct categories of tasks which make up the work of the child care worker, "the first two of which accounted for by far the most extensive listings of tasks and skills."
1. Child care worker as parent
substitute or primary caretaker
This categorisation was most dominant in the earlier references. While the role of parent substitute came to be questioned, say Small and Dodge, writers like Eva Burmeister in the 1960 classic The Professional Houseparent also included a more therapeutic orientation, yet she emphasises in much more elegant detail ..." the central importance of physical caring to the job of professional child care."
2. Skills and tasks of child care as a
Three works in the 1950's and 1960's characterised the "therapeutic milieu" tasks in this classification: Bettelheims's Love is not enough, Redl and Wineman's The Aggressive Child and Trieschman, Whittaker and Brendtro's The Other 23 Hours. "Each of these three practice models, "write Small and Dodge, "stressed the clinical exploitation of life events throughout the environment and, in particular, identifies the most important therapeutic agent in the programme."
Morris Fritz Mayer described the child care worker as the "universal educator", teaching the children the skills for mastering the demands of everyday living and successful social interaction, in addition to providing physical care and managing daily structures and routines. He identified a number of specific leadership, recreation and teaching skills necessary for carrying out this expanded professional role.
3. Child care worker as a member of the
The emphasis here is on the complex skills required of the child care worker in balancing interpersonal relationships amongst children, staff and administration — and the necessity for care workers to be consistently informed of all progress and difficulties concerning children in their care.
4. Training of child care workers
An important reason for identifying child care worker tasks and skills is to devise training courses, and a major contribution to this thinking has come from child care teachers and trainers — which is obviously itself one of the tasks in the field.
5. Child care worker as a member of an
Highlighted here is the fact that in order to be an effective child care worker, a person must also pay attention to personal and professional development, just as there are roles and tasks associated with the direct work with children, there are roles and tasks associated with the growing and developing worker.
6. New roles and tasks: the child care
worker in the family and the community
James Whittaker has over the past fifteen years suggested new child care job functions developing outside the institutional setting, particularly in family intervention. He also sees child care worker roles and tasks in schools, probation work, drop-in youth centres and on the streets. Herb Barnes, among others, made a strong case for the child care worker as the primary practitioner.
"Thus," write Small and Dodge, "the traditional role
of the child care worker has, at least theoretically, expanded to
include family therapist, admissions worker, aftercare co-ordinator,
school liaison, parent trainer and community worker. " Others have added
the role of researcher.
The authors end with a list of a hundred specific job functions which fit into these categories — from providing parent-like supervision at the primary care level, through teaching social skills in the educational role, helping to develop self-esteem in the therapeutic role, to enforcing standards and programme design as an organisational manager and participating in training, supervision, advocacy and research as a professional.
Summarised from Small, R.W. and Dodge, L.M. (1988) Roles, skills, and job tasks in professional child care: A review of the literature. Child & Youth Care Quarterly, 17.1