Child and Youth
Leaf (2000) notes the importance of child and youth care workers examining whose needs are being met in the relationship. Working at the pace of the young person is not easy to accept. For, example, a young person admitted to a programme had a history of abuse including physical abuse, watching his mother being abused by his father and his best friend die in a stampede. The child and youth care worker felt an urgency to engage with him, and hung out with him hoping to create the opportunity for him to open up. The youth appeared to enjoy the contact and looked forward to spending time with her but he did not open up. He left the programme without any reference to his troubled childhood. The child and youth care worker felt that she could have tried harder. The learning for the team in reflection of this experience was that being in relationships does not equate resolving all issues that we assume that young people struggle with. However, the need of this young person was met as he informed his mother that he felt very supported by the child and youth care worker and felt totally cared for by her.
Many young people enter residential programmes for short periods of time. The question that arises from team members is "Can I engage with this young person for such a short period of time and help them experience a different view of themselves?" (Durrant: 1993)
My experience has taught me that we can engage with young people and be in a relationship with them for a limited period of time in spite of their short stay at the facility. There are many circumstances that take place in daily life that may impact on the young person, for example, turnover of staff and management style. A seventeen-year-old had been taking drugs for many years. He was described by his reunification social worker as difficult to manage, as having a conduct disorder and violent. He was committed to the treatment centre for a period of three months. He was clearly unhappy with his placement and avoided the attempts of the child and youth care worker to hang out with him. The simple act of a child and youth care worker acknowledging his birthday with a cake with candles to blow out and a card was an incredibly special moment for him. Later we found out that there was no significant other person in his life who had acknowledged his birthday in the last seven years. This was the magic that was needed to start to change his opinions of adults and start the process of "being in a relationship".
Denise Masson (2000) who describes herself as having been a child in care and who went on to be a child and youth care worker reflects on her experience of "being in relationships" with three people whilst in care. She experienced an internalised acceptance in the relationships and highlights the fact that one could be in a relationship and interaction in another person’s life for a short period of time, but the experience of that relationship could last a lifetime. This is an important lesson about the child and youth care worker’s need to be present, engaging, caring and self-aware in the critical role we play in growing young people (Masson, 2000; Maier, 1987).
"Being in a relationship" with the young person, demands the availability and presence of the worker during stressful and calm periods in the young person’s life (Trieschman et al, 1969; Garfat, 1997). According to Trieschman et al (1969: 73) there has often been the view that interactions with young people are not ‘therapeutic’ unless there are discussions or interventions directed towards the ‘ conflict ’ in the young person’s life. However many child and youth care workers are presently seeing the value of hanging out with young people, and or entering the "flow of immediacies "as they are occurring as described by Guttman (1991) and being ‘there’ in the here and now. Garfat (1997: 4). It allows for any event to be managed in the here and now or in the moment.
Maier (1996) notes that hanging out can occur in many common places inhabited by young people, for example, in their bedrooms whilst sorting cupboards, in the lounges while watching television or in the playgrounds.
Hanging out provides the opportunity for the young person and child and youth care worker to experience each other in different contexts.
Hanging out with the young person is not a reward for acceptable behaviour but as an aspect of concern, care and wanting to spend time with the young person.
Maier (1987: 121) notes that hanging out can be a "vital moment for nourishing human connection". Spending time with young people results in the formation of bonds and close attachments and involvement in each other.
It is an opportunity for the worker to demonstrate relationship skills. The respect, involvement, attachment experience and genuine understanding that we have to offer to young people are critical to help youth develop a different view of them and experience themselves as capable. (Maier, 1987; Durrant, 1993).
Hanging out with young people provides the opportunity to learn directly about their daily behaviour. This includes their eating and sleeping patterns, their responses to winning and losing, their problem-solving skills with peers, their leisure and recreational activities and their likes and dislikes.
(Trieschman et al,1969). Hanging out is therefore essential for the observation and assessment of young people’s strengths and developmental areas.
Hanging out provides the opportunity for the child and youth care worker to model communication skills. Noddings (1987) (in De Bord and Gore: 1987; 12-13) presents a model of caring that has the components of modelling, opportunities for dialogue and confirmation. The components of dialogue are relevant to the characteristics of hanging out. My experience indicates that young people need the opportunity to discuss their concerns, fears and worries with each other and their child and youth care worker.
Hanging out provides the opportunity for this dialogue. Dialogue can result in their thought processes being challenged or new attitudes being developed. It is an opportunity to tap into the young person’s feelings, which may not necessarily be revealed under any other circumstances. Dialogue is seen as an opportunity to raise issues which young people struggle with. It ultimately leads to a connection between all those involved in that interaction. It allows for sharing of information and trial and error learning of new ideas within a safe and caring context.
Hanging out with young people provides the opportunity to learn about youths’ issues. Whilst hanging out, I was able to experience the terminology of youth. Young males that have many girlfriends are referred to as "players" and females with many boyfriends are referred to as "thrashers".
Interestingly the behaviour of the sexes was the same but the terms used were totally opposite. This was the perfect opportunity for me to bring in issues of stereotypes and use Beck ‘s (1998) concept of system estrangement intervention, which can be an effective strategy in challenging behaviour and attitudes regarded as appropriate and acceptable by young people.
Garfat (1999, 7) notes that hanging out with young people provides the opportunity to experience the youth as a person and for the youth to experience the child and youth care worker as a person. Watching a rugby match together can be a moment when the youth and child care worker experience each other as rugby enthusiasts. It allows for the youth and child and youth care worker to enjoy each other’s company. Young people need to experience the child and youth care worker as a person who displays a wide range of emotions and as someone who experiences the joys of life. They also learn to manage their emotions (anger and frustration) in appropriate ways. Fahlberg (1990). There has been a debate in the child and youth care field whether hanging out and experiencing the youth as a person means being a friend to the youth. Spence (1999) writes of this concept of dual relationships where child and youth care workers are both therapists and friends. I agree with Spence that dual relationships may not always be in the interests of the young person. We need to be friendly with young people without expecting the relationships to be reciprocal. Relationships with friends have an element of disclosure, which we cannot expect to unload on the young persons in our care.
Hanging out has been identified as a matter-of-fact task requiring very little skill. However, Garfat (1990) notes the complexity of the task, that hanging out demands various skills of the child and youth care worker. These include care workers being self-aware of their boundaries and values, being present, engaged and engaging, attentive and responsive without being an "overt therapeutic presence" Garfat (1990: 7). The child and youth care worker has to be aware of individuals in the group, their individual development plans, and have an understanding of events that have occurred during the course of the day and the ability to facilitate discussion in an acceptable direction. Whilst the child and youth care worker is attending to this group, she also has to be aware of other youth who are not a part of this group. Attention has to be drawn to the mood, tone and energy levels of the group as any unresolved or stressful issues may impact on the rest of the day. The worker also makes a mental note of those who might require extra attention at a later stage.
According to VanderVen (2002) young people often display behaviour that is regarded as "attention needing". Attention needing behaviour is often a signal that young people are struggling with attachment issues. Ignoring attention needing behaviour often results in a therapeutic waste of time, energy, and is physically and emotionally draining. Hanging out with young people can provide the opportunity to meet this need without young people actively seeking ways to gain the attention of the child and youth care worker.
Hanging out with young people demands that child and youth care workers be knowledgeable on youth trends and culture so that they can participate in activities. They must be willing to learn from young people and share their own experiences. Redl and Wineman (1952) (in Bath: 1998) urge child and youth care workers to immerse themselves in activities generated by young people themselves, in their games, hobbies, traditional games and music- making. This is seen as an acknowledgment of their interests and ideas and respect for them as individuals. Maier (1987) notes that in the initial phase of interaction child and youth care workers must have a range of quick action games, for example, thumb-wrestling, puzzles and ball games to create a personal and social connection. These games can be used at any time and require little preparation. Maier (1987) questions whether child and youth care workers can create situations where they are relaxed enough for young people to hang around with them. Playing the guitar and singing can be a spontaneous activity for young people to enjoy the company of the child and youth care worker. In one of his In a nutshell articles Maier gives the example provided by of the child and youth care worker eating raisins by tossing one up and catching it with his mouth, and thereafter tossing one to the young people so that they can also catch it in their mouths – a really beautiful moment capturing this close, joyful and intimate experience. Similar experiences can be created by child and youth care workers. Child and youth care workers also need to be mindful that they hang out with everybody in the group and acknowledge the presence of others, as young people are very sensitive about being excluded.
"Chilling out ", is a common South African term used by young people when they engage in relaxing activity with those whom they like and are comfortable with. Chilling out has been associated with child and youth care workers being physically present with young people but not necessarily involved with in their activities. Many supervisors of programmes have not understood the value of hanging out and it is regarded as a therapeutic waste of time. However more child and youth care workers are realizing the value of close involvement and hanging out with young people. Chilling out or hanging out can be successfully incorporated into South African child and youth care.
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