READING FOR CHILD
AND YOUTH CARE WORKERS
At a conference last November, a senior residential agency manager was talking to me and informed me that of all the material I have written, he was most impressed with a series of five short articles I wrote for broadcast on our national radio station here in Ireland called RTE. I was reflecting on why this might be the case and I guess it was because I was writing outside academic convention and allowing me to be me. No fancy language or theorising, just giving air to some experiences that have shaped my thinking on child and youth care in its broadest sense. So, I would like to give readers a sense of these articles by giving an abridged version of two of them over this and my next column.
Some years ago I was attending a conference paper in Waterford with some of my colleagues and students and agency people from around the country. A call came through from the college to inform me that a father of one of my students had just died suddenly and I was asked to inform the student of this. Let’s call him Denis. It was the first time I was ever asked to break such profoundly upsetting information and I was wholly unsure how I might best tactfully approach this. I knew the student quite well at the time, as I had played sport with him and he was one of only a few males in the particular class.
Finally, I gathered up the courage and approached him. I told him as gently and as sympathetically as I could under the circumstances and he was, quite naturally, both shocked and devastated. Later, I attended the funeral removal and the next day I went to the funeral itself. Denis thanked me for this and said that I need not have gone to the trouble of both the removal and the mass. At the time, my own mother was dying of cancer and death was very raw for me. It was extremely difficult to be ‘present’ at the proceedings, but I stayed throughout and talked with him regularly for a period of some months when he was depressed and unsure of the future.
About a year later, my mother died from cancer and her removal to the church took place in a town called Galway, about four hours' drive north-west of Waterford. I was standing outside the church with tears in my eyes, trying to be brave and not break down in front of my family and friends.
And then a car pulled up and Denis got out. I was really
surprised to see him as he had finished college at this stage. He walked
over to me, put his arm on my shoulder, looked straight at me and
smiled. He then turned away, got back in his car and drove back to
Waterford. Wow! He had travelled nearly 8 hours to, in a sense, repay my
own attempts to be with him in his own crisis. The amazing thing about
that incident is that neither of us spoke to each other in that
exchange, brief as it was. Neither of us needed to. It was a moment in
child and youth care that will stay with me forever. It showed me that
communication is far more than saying things to fill space, to get over
our own sense of discomfort. It also gave me great hope.
From our regular columnist C. Niall McElwee