SPECIAL SERIES: CHAPTER*
I wonder what Fritz would say?
EDITOR’S NOTE: We begin with Nicholson’s tribute to Redl stemming from the excitement of a young worker ‘finding Fritz’. Garfat uses a dramatic format to remind us that this can still happen if new professionals are introduced to Redl’s work. Those who live with children will respond to his vivid images and living snapshots which provide penetrating answers beyond the superficial advice common in current training. Redl had an abiding interest in professionalizing the ‘living with’ on the line workers: Garfat shows how residential treatment would benefit by taking Redl to heart.
Well, today’s my first day. Sometimes I thought it
would never come. It seemed to take forever to get here but, here I am.
God, I hope I do okay. I’ve wanted to be a Child Care Worker for years,
almost forever it seems to me when I look back on it all. Not that it
took a long time, like a doctor or anything like that, but still . . .
four years to get my Bachelors degree, all those hours in practicuums,
all those classes, exams, summer jobs and starving winters. Seems like
it took forever. But here I am. First job, first day, first shift. God,
I hope I do okay. I hope I remember all the stuff I learned: especially
the stuff by that guy Redl. Practical stuff . . . it made a lot of sense
compared to some of the other authors I had to read. I wonder if the
other child care workers here have read his stuff. I guess they must
have. Surely everybody’s read it. I better be careful
about what I say. I don’t want to look like one of those ‘fresh out of school know-it-alls.’ Maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut for a while and see how it goes.
Well, here I am. May as well go in. I wonder what these kids will be like. What was it that Redl said . . . (Redl & Wineman 1952)
They are the children who cannot meet the challenge of the tasks of every day life without becoming a helpless bundle of drives.
Not a lot of information to go on but probably as good as anything else I ever read. There was more to it than that, but that’s good enough for now. But I would like to know their classification: that would at least help me know how to approach them.
Will you please just forget about diagnosis? (1982)
I go up the stairs and open the door. I hope that the kids will like me. I want to get along with them, I think it’s so important but like Redl said they “can’t like you too much because you set the rules” .
I step inside and look around .for the office. A doorway stands open in the corridor and I head for it thinking that must be it. It is. I peer inside. No one’s there. Logs and files lie on the desk. I wonder why it’s open. Perhaps it’s one of the ways they demonstrate their trust of the children. I remember learning that’s important, but Redl has something to say about that as well . . . . . .
Adults must definitely know what kinds of things and situations expose these youngsters to uncontrollable temptation and should not expose them to more of it than their ego can be expected to cope with at that time.
I wonder where the staff is. I’d like to know if the open office with everything ‘exposed’ says more about the kids or the staff. I remember the rest of that paragraph where Redl says that it is our job to “support what ego strength has remained, not to undermine it by exposing it to entirely unmanageable strain”. I close the door as I leave the office just in case. I decide to wander around the house to see if I can find anyone.
At first, it seems too messy to me. In the living room someone has forgotten to put away some games lying on the floor and I stack them neatly on the coffee table as I pass. I pick up a few glasses and some orange peels and head off in search of the kitchen. The pictures in the corridor are hanging crooked and as I straighten them I notice that the frames could use washing. The kitchen is no better than the rest of the house. “God,” I think, “doesn’t this place have a housekeeper? Doesn’t anyone make these kids clean up the place?” I wonder to myself what Redl would have to say.
Adults in a treatment home need the ability to sacrifice what personal style of housekeeping they happen to be most enamored with to the clinical strategy needed at a certain time.
Well, I guess if I’m going to listen to Redl and what he had to say, my reaction says more about me that anything else. But it is hard to set your own values aside even if Redl says you should. I guess that’s why we spent time on self-awareness in our classes last year. After all, I’m here to deal with their business, not mine.
I don’t find anyone in the kitchen so I decide to take a further stroll through the house to see what I can find and get a feel for the place. Maybe it will tell me more about the program or the kids who live here. I don’t know much about them except that they are preadolescents.
It seems like a pretty average place. Parts of the house could use some paint and there’s surely nothing fancy about it. I guess Redl would approve. I remember reading that he thought that it was important that the environment not be too unfamiliar or different from the child’s natural environment so as to avoid “sociological shock” and the “newness panic” that could come about if the environment was too much of a change for the child to adjust to easily.
I see that the furniture is sturdy stuff, the kind that can take a little rough and tumble, or the occasional outburst, without coming apart at the seams. Most of it looks like it’s been around for a while and has seen a number of kids pass through. But it’s not worn to the point of looking like somebody else’s discard. It has a healthy, lived-in, inviting kind of look to it. It feels like the kind of place where you’re supposed to be comfortable. I’m sure he’d approve of that too. He had a lot to say about the environment, and the tools available in working with kids.
But I better go and find the staff. If I don’t find them soon they’ll think I was late.
I wander through other parts of the house looking here and there; ‘scoping the territory’ as the kids in that last place used to say. Finally I hear sounds — laughter, shouting and playful cries — and they lead me to the backyard. From the porch I see two or three youngsters throwing a ball and two others sitting at a picnic table playing cards. Off to the side I see a young woman talking to two youngsters who look about ready to kill each other. Another staff, also female, sits under the tree consoling a young girl of about ten years. I can tell by how the staff is sitting that she’s keeping an eye on all the action over the child’s shoulder. She catches my attention and signals me to come over.
As I approach the little girl runs off to join the others at the table and I stammer an apology to Carol, the Child Care Worker, “Sorry, Carol, I didn’t mean to frighten her away.”
“Don’t worry,” she replies with a slight twinkle showing in her eyes. “Nancy was just getting a little ‘tax-free love and affection’ and she’d taken just about all she could allow herself to take for the moment. She was looking for a good excuse to leave without having to get angry and if you hadn’t come along I would have had to ease her into something else. That’s a hurdle she hasn’t learned to get over on her own yet and I could sense the anxiety building up. Once you get to know Nancy, you’ll sense it yourself but like all the kids, she expresses her anxiety in her own unique way.” She paused for a minute as if asking herself a question. “I think you and I should go in the kitchen for a few minutes and talk. I’ll just take a second to set it up and then we can go.”
Carol stood up and signaling to her partner, who by
now had drifted back into the ball game with her two young charges, she
let everyone know that she was going to be in the kitchen with me.
Then, after introducing me to all the children and her co-worker Sally she led me to the kitchen. We sat by the window, overlooking the yard, close to the open door. When all the kids saw her settled in the window, they returned to their play and she turned to me.
“So, what do you think of our house?”
“What I’ve seen I like a lot. Of course I haven’t been all the way through but there seems to be a lot of space and it has a homey lived-in kind of look. It feels comfortable,” I responded, not sure where she was going with this.
She knew. “I’m glad you noticed the space. It’s really important to us. Like Fritz said, “space can be of the utmost importance”.
She laughed again; I realized that it was friendly so it didn’t offend me. “Why, Redl, or course. You do know his work, don’t you?”
“Well, well, sure,” I stammered: “We studied it in class.”
“Good. You see, around here we’re really committed to his ideas and approaches. None of us think that he has all the answers for all of the kids we see, but in terms of understanding how to work with these kids no one else has provided such a good foundation for programming.” She paused for a moment as she surveyed the scene in the yard smiling and recognizing the kids who caught her eye. “What do you think of his work?”
“As you know, I’m pretty new to all of this and I haven’t read as much as you but I do remember when I read Children Who Hate (Redl & Wineman 1951). For the first time I felt like I was understanding how children come to be troubled. And when I read the chapter on ‘The Delinquent Ego and It’s Techniques,’ especially the section on being a ‘friend without influence,’ I understood the difference between the relationship as a goal and the relationship as a tool in working with kids. It helped me to understand how children can really like a staff without the staff being able to influence them” .
“Oh, me too! I remember that I had been working in the field for a number of years before I read that,” Carol responded. “As I read that book, so much of my experience seemed to make more sense. That was about ten years ago and I remember thinking that it could have been written only yesterday. I heard somebody say that once and thought at the time that it’s so true. That book is as useful and meaningful today as when Fritz and David Wineman wrote it in 1951 (Garfat 1987).”
I was curious and had to ask. “You always refer to him as Fritz. Did you know him? Was he a friend?”
Again the light laugh as she kept her eye on the yard. For a moment she and her co-worker exchanged glances and Sally signaled to her that everything was fine. “No, I didn’t know him. But we all feel as if we did. His work is so intimately familiar to all of us that I feel as if he was my personal teacher. It’s something about the way that he writes ... as if he’s talking directly to you. As if he is a friend.”
She paused for a minute. “I did hear him talk though, once at a Child Care Conference. I remember watching this little man, with an accent so strong that I could hardly understand him, saying some of the most practical things I ever heard about working with troubled kids; and by then I’d been in the field for years. It was right after that that I read all his stuff and realized that the school I went to had cheated us all by not teaching his work. I’m glad to see that they do now.”
“I know what you mean,” I responded. “I read all the other things on the class list but nothing else was as personal or useful as his work. For somebody new to the field it’s as if he takes you by the hand and says ‘this is what a good program should look like; this is what it should feel like; this is how the children should experience it.’ When I read Controls From Within (Redl & Wineman 1952), I wondered why there wasn’t more writing like it in the field.”
“Because there’s only been one Fritz,” Carol replied over her shoulder as she moved outside to redirect a couple of kids whose discussion was getting heated up. She was back in a minute and the children who were about to fight were laughing. “As Fritz points out,” she said, “a little humour at the right moment can really help.”
“But like he also said,” I replied, “we shouldn’t assume that ‘any tense or difficult situation could be successfully handled by humorous reaction’ . That’s something else I appreciate about his work, he always cautioned against over-generalizing.” I was glad that I knew his work as well as I did, but I’d never realized how enjoyable it could be to discuss it with someone who practiced it.
“That’s true,” Carol came back, “when, how, for how long, by whom, where. All of these were important to him. Like when he talked about timing; as in how long a consequence should last for.”
“I remember when we discussed that in class,” I responded. “That’s a hot issue even today. Like how long should a kid be sent to his room for: five minutes? ten? half an hour? But I can’t remember what Redl had to say about it.”
“Well then,” Carol said, the laugh coming up again, “let that be your first task of the day. Go into the office and get the copy of Controls From Within, and read pages 116 to 119. When you’re finished come find me and we’ll continue.”
With that Carol got up and went back outside. I headed back to the office. Above the desk, which was facing the wall, I found a well-worn copy of the book and sat down to read.
Like always, I found the language to be clear and the ideas useful and well-demonstrated through a little vignette. One line still stays with me even today (Redl & Wineman 1952): “The development of skills in clinically adequate timing constitutes one of the most important problems of the training and self-training of staff” (p. 118).
I wish we’d spent more time on that in the class. A note penciled in the margin referred me to another article (Redl 1982) where I found a more specific reference to our conversation. A line from that article stays with me as well: “. . . longer does not mean that effects are achieved faster” (pp. 5-6).
I sat in the chair and thought about what I had read for a few minutes. Redl’s writings will do that: make you think. I went out to find Carol and Sally.
I passed Sally in the kitchen doing a “Guilt Squeeze” (Redl & Wineman 1951, p. 257-260) with one of the youngsters she had been with when I arrived. She didn’t turn from the child as I passed and I remember how Redl had talked about the need to attend to the children when you’re interviewing them. Carol was in the living room with a small group debriefing the afternoon. I sat down and joined her. Her work was true to everything Redl had to say about group interviews being able to serve “the same clinical goals and functions as individual interviewing.” I could see where I was going to have to review his writings on interviews and interviewing techniques if I was going to work here. (Redl & Wineman 1952, p. 246-273)
When the group was over and it was time to move into
the dining room to eat, Carol caught me for a quick aside. “Did you read
the article on timing and the discussion about longer and faster?”
“I did,” I replied. “It made me think.”
“Good,” she said, “Making people think is probably what Fritz did best. It may have been his major contribution to the field. Not what he said, but how it makes you think: like his comments on what we mean by the use of the word ‘therapeutic’ (1966, pp. 7229). The more we think about what we do, the better we serve the children. And I’m sure Fritz would agree that that’s why we’re here.”
I thought for another minute as we seated ourselves at the table and then said to Carol, “I think I’ll call him Fritz too.”
“That’s good,” Carol laughed. “But let me tell you a little technique I learned from Sally. Whenever I look at a situation, or run into something I’m not sure about and I don’t really know what to think or do, I ask myself a question and it helps me every time.”
“What’s the question?” I asked, anxious to learn. “I
wonder what Fritz would say?” she laughed.
Garfat, T. (1987). Words that have meaning. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, 5, 2. pp 5-12.
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1951). Children Who Hate. New York. The Free Press.
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1952). Controls From Within: Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child. New York. The Free Press.
Redl, F. (1966). When We Deal with Children: Selected Writings. New York. The Free Press.
Redl, F. (1982). Child Care Work, Journal of Child Care, 1, 2. pp. 3-9.
This feature: Garfat, T. (1991). I wonder what Fritz would say. In Willaim C. Morse (ed.). Crisis intervention in residential treatment: The clinical innovations of Fritz Redl. New York, London and Sydney. The Haworth Press. pp. 93-100.
*This is the fourteenth in a new series of chapters which the authors have permission to publish separately and which they have now contributed to CYC-Online. Read more about this program.