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READING FOR CHILD
AND YOUTH CARE WORKERS
ISSUE 28 • MAY 2001
"When all you have is a
hammer, everything looks like a nail."
The human services are full of cynical,
disillusioned souls who somewhere in the course of their careers lost
their idealism, their ambition, and their hope. Preventing this
seemingly inevitable rite of passage is of concern to authors Gail S.
Bernstein and Judith A. Halaszyn. In their book, Human Services?...
That Must Be so Rewarding, they urge us to understand ourselves and
shed our aspirations to sainthood.
They identify personal limitations common
to most of us:
You do not love (or sometimes even like)
everyone you are supposed to serve
Nor do you have to. As long as you know
how you feel and behave professionally toward everyone, this is
acceptable. What's more, not all the people you serve will like you.
Some will resent needing help, and others will resent your
You will not be able to save everyone
You may need better skills. You may
want different outcomes than the people you are serving. You may just
not have enough control over the situation to achieve the desired
There is never enough time
There is always more to do than time to
do it in. If you do not learn this lesson, burnout can be expected.
You have to manage your professional time and take time to meet your
personal needs. If you fail to do so, your work will suffer.
There will always be things about your
work and the people you work with that cause a strong emotional reaction
These are the situations in which your
buttons get pushed. You do not react rationally, even though you know
you are overreacting. It may be a tone of voice or a form to fill out.
The first step toward coping is to identify those situations that set
you off and prepare yourself accordingly.
Bernstein and Halaszyn identify other
limitations inherent in the construction of systems for delivering human
services. These "external" limitations include:
When a human services program is not an entitlement program,
there is usually not enough money to serve all eligible people. When
the service is an entitlement, and the program does not have enough
money, everyone is served, but not as well as they would be served
with additional resources.
- There is not enough money:
Some programs work against social
values instead of promoting them:
For example, there are welfare programs that do not pay benefits for
children to women whose husbands live at home. Some social service
systems will only provide for children with disabilities if they move to
foster homes or institutions.
No one knows enough: There
are some human problems no one knows enough about to solve completely.
Systems problems can ultimately be overcome but only by people with
the power and knowledge to change them.
By acknowledging and understanding your
limitations, both internal and external, you will have more energy to
focus on the resources available to you and use your strengths to be a
more effective professional.
Bernstein, Gail S. & Halaszyn, Judith
A. (1989). Human Services?... That Must Be So Rewarding.
Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Reviewed in The
Child & Youth Care Administrator.