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Henry Maier

Relationship formation actually entails one of the most basic interpersonal human strivings – the salutary experience of interconnectedness where each person lends energy and rootedness to the other. Child and youth care relationships implicitly entail mutual personal interactions. In child and youth care the youngsters ideally find both stimulation for their life experience at hand as well as verification as worthwhile beings. In turn, the caregivers experience confirmation of their competence as workers and valued adults.

The need for relationship formation has been stressed in child and youth care fields for a long time (Parry, 1985, 1). The commitment of a professional journal publication to this exact topic might be a unique venture. Using this terminology the Journal, legitimately, wants to highlight the care relationship between workers and care receivers as the primary vehicle for facilitating the service workers’ change efforts. However, it seems our professional experience and knowledge is now tilting toward an enlarged frame of reference. Perhaps in the near future our endeavors toward effective individualized care will no longer be wrapped in the almost slogan-like term: relationship formation. Recently, our greater scrutiny of the relationship phenomenon makes us aware of the vast range of primary variables entailed. This is especially true when we examine the significance of interactional experience contained in such relationship.

Also with the present trends toward the scientific, the humanistic fervor associated with relationship formation now seems to approach a blending of science and humanism (Alwon & Small, 1987). Interpersonal interactions are now reviewed for their affect, behavioral, cognitive, and contextual dimensions rather than merely for their relationship matrices. This shift to the components of relationship reflects our intent to care more discriminately but not necessarily less ardently! (This tilt, however, has a built-in risk where greater attention to the parts might result in loosing sight of the whole.) It is interesting to note that attention by the care fields to interactional processes is really part of what is occurring in general in the human science realm as is so graphically portrayed in the indexing material once found under “relationship,” presently cited under “interaction” (e.g., Bredakamp, 1985, 59).

The relationship dilemma
Formation of relationship has been for a long time viewed as the “beachhead of successful child [and youth] encounters” (Brendtro, 1969, 53-99). It was posed as though the formation of relationship is the prelude to potential effective work. Actually, this belief holds much wisdom. Close personal interactions, well focused personal investment and mutual give-and-take are paramount for jointly achieving a targeted change in the personal, group or contextual situation (Parry, 1985). At the same time the above formulation perpetuates two erroneous assumptions: (1) that there is something like a relationship; and (2) that relationship formation precedes work on the task at hand. There is neither “a relationship” nor a state of a relationship. Relationship is actually a popular term for innumerable forms and degrees of mutually achieved processes of interactions, and these might utilize simultaneously, affective, behavioral, and cognitive components. Personal interactions begin, maintain, mar or strengthen the qualities of the relationship whenever persons are linked together in the same sphere of events. The once held notion of forming a relationship as a prelude to work is being replaced by an awareness that relationships are formed by the interactive process of investing energy and struggling together from the onset of the encounter. Most important is the fact that relationships change with the process of interactions rather than interactions changing with the progress in relationships.

Another dilemma exists with the concept of relationship. And that is that there has been a tendency to envisage it primarily as one-directional and located with the efforts of the worker and the ones in charge. The act of making connections and forming a bond was seen in the hands of the worker with regard to the residents; the group counselor, in connection with his or her group; and the administrator in terms of her or his staff. Actually, however, within our contemporary perspective (Kuhn, 1970; Marmor, 1984), meaningful human relationships emerge out of interactions: namely the interweaving of complementary actions and the linking of disconsonant actions within a mutually established relevant context. Again, the focus shifts from the generic aspect of relationship and is expanded to include two definitively accountable phenomena: interactions and context.

Relationship components
The importance of personal investment in interpersonal relations has been well substantiated by the past decades’ research endeavors on attachment formation (Ainsworth, 1982; Ainsworth & Blehar, 1978; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Sroufe, 1978). Attachment and the inherent attachment behaviors are now seen as essential components of close relationship experience (Maier, 1987, 121-128). Furthermore, for the task of child and youth care workers, it has been recently recognized that the relationship variables of “being attached” and “dependent” are desirable; these behaviors at points have to be nurtured in order to assure healthy development for an individual. In fact, secure dependence and attachment leads to stable independence and a sense of rootedness in the very area where personal reassurance and dependable nurturance has just been sought (Ainsworth & Blehar, 1978; Maier, 1987, Sroufe, 1978). These references to research findings can be best summed up in Urie Bronfenbrenner’s vehement pronouncement, “Every child needs at least one person who is really crazy about him or her” (quoted in Maier, 1987, 128).

Recent research and practice interest in the interactive factors of human relations offer concrete steps and directions for child and youth care toward competent and effective care work. Just to cite a few:

All of these furnish rich new developmental knowledge and appropriate practice suggestions for the central aspect of human interactions inherent in the child and youth care relationship. Our attention is drawn to the detailed constitutional parts rather than the global and easily elusive whole.

The significance of gender in the care relationship. Research findings within the past years have made us conscious of apparent differences between a female and a male mode of relationship. Carol Gilligan’s publication In A Different Voice (1982) startled many of us with her research findings that male thinking and values tend to be problem-solving oriented with autonomous, linear causality modality as central relationship image. She further poses that female thinking and value orientation in human relationships tend to be multi-dimensional, integrative and akin to a holistic modality (Gilligan, 1982; Ivey, 1986, 274). Gilligan’s findings, though still inconclusive and challenged by others (Skolnick, 1985, 399), probably have profound implications for relationship formation in the human relations fields. Hitherto, we have thought of professional care relationships as a uni-track affair for male and female alike. Now, we are faced with new and perplexing possible variations in relationship patterns and objectives, depending on whether we deal with a female or male relationship interaction. A new variable and challenge arises for the practitioner, supervisor, policy maker, as well as the ones we serve.

In conclusion
Relationship issues have been viewed here for their interactive components and for their contextual circumstances. We hold that a relationship is neither won nor lost by one party. Instead, relationships are in a constant flux, reflecting the mutual as well as differential experience of the persons interacting.

Hopefully, the reader noted the omission of expectations and admonitions about what a practitioner should be or should not do. “Relationship” is neither an end nor a means factor. Instead, relationship processes, or more precisely – purposeful interactions – necessitate focused investment of personal energy through the care workers’ active involvement. They must risk personal encounters, interacting as persons rather than as role performers, technicians, or agents of a program (Maier, 1987). Essentially, whether at this point the reader conceives child and youth care work as primarily relationship-building or as mutual, intense caregiver care receiver interactions, the challenge remains the same. In which way can each child and youth care worker utilize the minutia of a situation to enhance personal experience and expand social experience. Such a challenge is central for all child and youth care work today.



Ainsworth, M.D. (1982). Attachment: retrospect and prospect. In J. Stevenson-Hinde & C.M. Parks (Eds.). The Place of Attachment in Human Behavior. New York: Basic Books.

Ainsworth, M.D., & Blehar, M.C. (1978). Patterns of Attachment. Hillsdale, N.J.: Earlbaum.

Alwon, F.J., & Small, R.W. (Eds.) (1987). Challenging the Limits of Care. Needham, M.A.: Albert E. Trieschman Center.

Bredekamp, S. (Ed.) (1986). Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Washington, D.C.: National Association for Education of Young Children.

Brendtro, L.A. (1969). Establishing Relationship Beachheads. In A.E. Trieschman, J.K. Whittaker & L.K. Brendtro (Eds.) The Other 23 Hours. Chicago: Aldine.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press.

Davis, M. (1982). Interactive Rhythms. New York: Human Science Press.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In A Different Voice. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Ivey, A.E. (1986). Developmental Therapy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kuhn, T.S. (1970). The Structures of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lerner, R.H., & Busch-Rossnagel, N.A. (1981). Individuals as Producers of Their Development: A Life Space Perspective. New York: Academic Press.

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Maas, H.S. (1984). People in Context: Social Development from Birth to Old Age. Englewood-Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Maier, H.W. (1987). Developmental Group Care of Children and Youth. New York: Haworth Press.

Marmor, J. (1984). Foreword. In S. Chess, & A. Thomas. Origins of Evolution of Behavioral Disorders. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Parry, P.A. (1985). “Relationships: a wide angle perspective.” Journal of Child Care, 2(4), 1-S.

Skolnick, A.S. (1986). The Psychology of Human Development. New York: Harcourt Brace Janovich.

Sroufe, L.A. (1978). “Attachment and the roots of competence.” Human Nature, 1(10), 50-57.

Tronick, E., Als, H., & Brazelton, T.B. (1980). “Monadic phases: a structural descriptive analysis of infant-mother face-to-face interaction.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly of Behavior and Development, 26, 3-24.


This feature: Maier, H. (1987) Editorial, Journal of Child Care, Vol. 3 (3)