Characteristics of a Child and Youth Care approach: An exploration of their possible relevance and their contextualization in the South African reality
This paper discusses three characteristics of a Child and Youth Care approach in working with child/youth and/or families: being in a relationship, attention to meaning, and self-awareness and use of self. I realize that they overlap; one cannot be, without the other. I will therefore be repeating myself in some cases in my exploration of a characteristic. I will also be looking at the characteristics in relation to practice, training and translating theory into practice.
Being in relationship
I think it is important to realize that the relationship we are talking about here, is between the child and youth care worker and a child who is vulnerable, at risk, or hurting inside. This child may have been in relationships with adults but was disappointed at a certain period. The child becomes very reluctant to form relationships. A child and youth care worker is therefore faced with a situation of working with a child/youth who does not want to be hurt again in a relationship. This is a child who has formed a boundary or shell around themselves. A child and youth care worker is therefore faced with a challenge of engaging and working with this child. A relationship has to be built. So, what is a relationship? Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern (2002) state that a relationship is an action and not a feeling; it must be worked on for it to be effective. They identify four elements of a relationship: caring, which is concern for the life and growth of the person in relationship; knowledge – a genuine understanding of the other’s feelings, even if they are not readily apparent; respect — the ability to see a person as he is and to allow him to develop without exploitation and responsibility — being ready to act to meet the needs, expressed, or unexpressed of another human being. When looking at these components I think they allude to the fact that one cannot just have a relationship, especially with a troubled young person. One needs to be, to be a part of, hence the expression ‘being in a relationship’. If a relationship is an action and not a feeling then it needs to be worked on, it becomes a process, it becomes a part of me. Being in relationship demands self-awareness, objectivity and the capacity to be in a relationship. It is about me as a person. It requires awareness, willingness and ability. Am I aware of my values, my beliefs, and myself so I that do not impose them on the youth? Am I willing to be a part of this relationship? Do I have the ability to be in this relationship with this youth/child? Do I have a choice to say no I am unable to be in a relationship with this child. These questions are important to being in a relationship in the South African situation.
The child/youth care field in our country is still in its infancy in terms of being a discipline/profession. People are employed with little, if any, training yet they are expected to work with children. When child and youth care workers are being trained on engaging with a child, relationship building is mentioned as very critical but how to do this is seldom taught. When the child care worker attempts to form a relationship with a child, it is often confused with friendship by either himself, the child, colleagues or management. This often happens because management has no understanding of what being in relationship means in child and youth care work and frequently the mission statement of the organization is contrary to what should be practiced in the field.
Typically, in the context of the South African setting, the child care worker and the child do not choose who they want to form a relationship with; children/youth are allocated, on arrival to a cottage or dormitory, to a child and youth care worker. It is never checked out whether they connect or not, or want to be together. And then life space work comes in. This concept is also not fully understood in some facilities and when a child care worker is seen chatting or playing with a child trying to build a relationship, this is seen to be a waste of time and he/she is reprimanded. The child care worker thus ends up being an authority over the child. The use of the moment in forming a relationship is lost in such a situation because the knowledge that the child and youth care worker has cannot be applied due to the limitations set by the facility to supervise or oversee and not be with the child. The child care worker therefore is unable to explore with the child issues of concern and to have a depth of understanding of the issues the child is grappling with, so to be able to meet the needs of the child.
Sharon Spence (1999) highlights the fact that being in a relationship with a child also infers a dual relationship. A child care worker is a professional guided by ethics such as not being friends with the client, yet in order to have depth of understanding of a child you cannot divorce being friendly with him/her. Such relationships can get confused by either the child or professional as being friends. Often times I have witnessed child care workers being friends with difficult to manage youth so as to make things easy for themselves. This however does not work out as the worker becomes frustrated with the assumptions and demands of the child and the relationship aborts in a painful manner. Spence warns that child and youth care workers need to be mindful in this dual relationship, of the difference between friendship and friendliness, gift giving, advocacy, interfering and employment. These differences need to be built into training so as to raise the awareness of the child care workers. In South Africa in the apartheid regime we have been used to the handing out of alms to the poor and needy (who are mostly blacks who are in turn in the majority in children’s facilities). This mentality of giving gifts, being friends, advocating for the one that one likes still prevails. All of these are issues that have not been attended to in the child and youth care system and especially by training. We have been aware of them and I think have assumed that child care workers will do something about them. I think we have not been conscious of the fact that old habits die hard and child and youth care workers need support in order to be effective in their being in a relationship with a reluctant child/youth.
Being in a relationship is very complex. Mann-Feder (1999) emphasizes the importance of managing boundaries. She states that “this is an intensely personal and demanding endeavor because while we aspire to remain present in the interaction we also must suspend our own needs in favour of growth facilitation in the client. In this sense we strive for a mutually enriching relationship that at the same time can never be reciprocal. How can the need for boundary management be reconciled with the goal of becoming an ‘us’ with our clients? What does this require of practitioners in their daily work?”
This paragraph challenges our training. Do we train child and youth care workers with enough depth to be able to be aware themselves, and be able to set boundaries. Practice in South Africa does not seem to have this depth. Do trainers have this kind of knowledge and depth so as to impart it to the learners when training engagement and relationship building? Do trainers have the capacity to train that, and are they willing to go out, read more about being in a relationship in order to enrich their training? The culture of reading in child and youth care is lacking. Should we not be screening trainers to ensure that they have the ability to transfer this kind of information to the child care workers?
Being in a relationship with a child or youth one cannot be divorced from the family. The child or youth is a part of a family. It takes a whole village to raise a child and a child is a part of the community. This means that being in a relationship with a child is also about his family and his community. Residential facilities in South Africa typically still operate in isolation from the “village”. Such functioning alienates the child from the family. The relationship and its true reflection become questionable. South Africa is in the transformational process of the child and youth care system, which came about with the democracy and loss of apartheid that had segregated children’s facilities. This has resulted in some facilities and government settings being resistant to change and making it difficult for the child and youth care workers to be effective and their attempts to apply theory/knowledge with depth.
Perhaps as child and youth care workers we need to be constantly challenged in order not to forget that our work is about human beings. We have no tools like doctors or surgeons but ourselves. We work by awareness, ability, and willingness. Gannon (2003) in his article, “ The Improbable Relationship”, poses seven questions that are difficult to respond to and need to be debated without really seeking one answer to them but they, I feel, raise a child and youth care worker’s conscience and awareness:
Do you only do this because you get paid to do it?
Is this relationship for real, or to you have an ulterior motive? Are you using this relationship for something?
Is this a special and personal relationship? Is this only you and me?
Are we even-stevens in this relationship — or will you be pulling rank on me?
Are you in it for the long haul?
And what do you bring to the table? Have you anything new to add the mix of my life so far?
And given all of the above, at what point do I forfeit my relationship status?
Being in a relationship is obviously something that would need to be taught and demonstrated and the workers would need to be supported through on line supervision. On line supervision is still not quite appropriately practised in South Africa. Supervision is still for formal office consumption only; this makes translation of child care theory into practice rather difficult and its depth lost.
Trieschman et al (1969) debate what a relationship is. According to them, being in relationship consists of three elements: increasing the child’s communication with the adult, increasing the child’s responsiveness to social reinforcement provided by the adult, and increasing the tendency of the child to model behaviour of adults (p. 54). These elements when looked at simply imply that once you have established a relationship, the child trusting you, you are in a position to influence the child’s behaviour. He/she is able to be receptive to you and your responses and reactions towards his/her behaviour. You both are “being in a relationship”. The above cannot happen over night. I think it means going deeper into the relationship, being fully involved. When he/she makes mistakes he/she is comfortable accepting them. I as an adult or child and youth care worker am able to go beyond the behaviour, can take context into consideration, and am able to look at events with a young person, process them and come out with a solution.
Placement realities, such as duty rosters impose severe restrictions on relationship development. Some rosters allow people to be on duty for five hours and attend to twenty young people. Forming or being in a relationship does not get the depth it deserves. In places such as Safety and Secure Care Centres it is compounded by the fact that young people's duration may be two days (casing), a week or longer. When the young people go to court nobody knows if they will return. In children’s homes, when the young people have a longer duration, the length of time in the facility is often over-stayed. This frustrates the young person and the child and youth care worker. This often results in the relationship being confused with being friends and some young people believing that they will be able to be taken home (adopted/fostered) by those people/child and youth care workers with who they have relationships.
Anglin (1984) stated that being in a relationship goes beyond that between the young person and the child and youth care worker. He/she becomes a “facilitator of the relationship between parent and youth…” As Garfat and McElwee have said, the child care worker facilitates between the young person and the systems of which he was a part, between the young person and other people, between the other family members. This is the depth of being in a relationship. It is about the systems theory as no man is an island. It is about the phenomenological approach as, in order to be fully involved with the child, I have to see and understand the events and his/her behaviour in the way he/she understands it. This brings about my self- awareness. I must be able not to judge but be aware that this is how the young person sees a situation and hence behaves in a particular manner. Once I become that person, being in this relationship may lead to the child opening up with deeper issues and me being able to care emotionally, containing appropriately the young person’s behaviour and together being able to respond appropriately. Thus being in a relationship in child and youth care is about “commitment to being there with an understanding of the time it takes for troubled children to begin to trust adults” (Krueger, 1991)
Attention to meaning-making
Garfat (2002) in an article on meaning-making quotes Watzlawich (2000) who states “there seems to be a substantial belief that reality and meaning are created by the individuals who experience them: that there is no “real” reality. In essence we all make up whatever reality we experience.” Meaning-making is influenced by one’s values, beliefs and what one is experiencing or has experienced in life or any given situation. If life has given me a raw deal most of the time, I will see the world as the worst place to be, I will be suspicious and in order to find myself I may be aggressive or violent. Is this not what we find happens with troubled young people? They make meaning of events and situations according to behaviors in their families and community.
An example I would like to share is of a child who I worked with in a girl’s reform school. She used to use a word which was vulgar to us Zulus, in a very loose manner and quite often. No amount of reprimanding from the child and youth care workers would make her stop. This carried on until my curiosity got the better of me and I called her and asked us to share our backgrounds. I did this because I was aware of the area where she comes from and was going to be visiting it. I asked for her permission to go to her house to give regards which excited her. On getting to her area I was hit by the loose way this word was used. When I got to her house I realized even more that this was the order of the day. When I got back to the facility I reported back to her and explained to her the meaning of the word to us in Zulu. From that day on she reduced till she stopped the use of that word. I understood what it meant to her, and she understood what it meant to me. It made me realize that my meaning of a situation may be different from another person.
Values and beliefs influence how we as adults perceive things. In many programmes rules are set not in relation to or with young people. When, for example, we talk about respect we never think of how differently it may be viewed by young people. That is why teachers often misinterpret and judge young people. To us this creates a challenge to the depth we attach to the development perspective. When we say we are sharing this base, does the young person see what we refer to as strength as one? Do we pause to find out if in fact this child sees this strength the way we do?
In South Africa we are very culturally diverse. The president has challenged South Africans to promote African renaissance. This sounds huge. Narrowing it down to child and youth care workers it demands competence in working with young people who are influenced by their families and communities. As well, these young people, their families, and equally child and youth care workers are dealing with poverty, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, and loss of culture. All of these factors affect both parties in different ways and this results in them making different meanings as they experience them differently. It is still very unfortunate that in South Africa a high number of facilities are still headed by people of different colour from the population in them. Child and youth care workers are managed by people of different colour to them — that on its own makes seeing eye to eye very difficult if at all possible. An example is a menu drawn without involving with young people. The menu has meat balls, hot dogs and green salad and there is no traditional staple food for the young people. When they do not eat it they are said to be spoilt, and rude.
Meaning-making is a challenge to the child care workers as they interpret the behaviour of the young people. I believe facilities should be child centered/community centered so that the youth’s context can be taken into consideration. Making meaning is being able to see with the eyes of the child how the child interprets. I think we need to build into training a depth of meaning-making in working with families and not just call them into the facility for case conferences. How about having such conferences in the child’s home or in their community? Are we encouraging families to be totally involved or to be visitors in the conference? How else do we hope to see or understand their context and how it makes sense to them and therefore to us? I think in many ways we are still dictating to the families. We still see and not see or hear them. Often times a phrase is used such as “oh you will get used to this place, welcome to our home”. By implication we are saying to the young person and family “your home is no longer your home. Your home is not suitable.” The facility is encouraged to be their home without even trying to check how this statement makes them feel – what it might mean to them.
Brendtro et al (2002) mention that crises are opportunities. In order to help a child make meaning of a situation a child care worker needs to use such opportunities to help the child make sense of it differently. Not every child care worker can do this, it has to be a worker who has established a relationship with that particular child. Does this mean that child and youth care workers need to build relationships with all the young people and their families? Is this possible? When a crisis occurs and I do not have that relationship with the child, do I intervene with a hope of building one or do I intervene with the purpose of helping the child to make meaning of the situation. I would think it should be both since this relationship is not about making friends but being professional.
They further cited Fritz Redl on conducting therapy on the hoof, which implies that life space work involves thinking on your toes, expecting the unexpected, and doing something about it for the benefit of the young person. Therapy on the hoof demands objectivity and enabling the child to put things into perspective. There needs to be depth of discussion with the young person. I have received feedback from child care workers that this is difficult as it sometimes challenges their values in that they have to encourage and accept the perspective of the child without influencing it before they reach an action point.
Garfat (2002) says that we must concern ourselves
not only with how people in general, might experience a process, but
also, with how each individual who encounters these processes might make
meaning of them. We must be concerned with the meaning we have given to
the process in which we are involved so that we can understand how our
interpretation of events and actions within these processes are framed
by the overall meaning we have assigned to the event. We need to attend
to how we have limited our thinking because of how we have framed our
perceptions. When a young person enters into care there is a honeymoon
period. This is the time when child care workers should be observing how
the young person makes meaning of this new life. Unfortunately it is the
time when everybody is ensuring compliance by giving the young person
rules and procedures. We do not seem to be conscious of the fact that
whatever meaning the child will make will be influenced by his/her
experience and how he/she has interpreted them.
I visited and trained in a facility recently where all the chairs we used were broken. I had to sit on the stage of the hall because of the condition of the chairs. The hall was bare without any decorations. This is supposed to be an entertainment hall for the young people. I began to wonder how young people experience this hall and I said to myself, no wonder the chairs are broken. The hall is not conducive to play. I wondered what broke all those chairs and why are they not replaced. There was not a single child care worker I saw when the young people returned from school. They were left to their own selves.
I began to make meaning of the situation as being lonely young people being neglected and to me they looked very sad. What is wrong with this facility? I do not know if they are aware that the place is far from child friendly. Are they willing to change it? And do they have the ability to change it? Maybe the place has been run by the government. The new government putting people in positions politically and not professionally is the issue here. Am I making the correct meaning? Child care workers still lack this depth for a number of reasons and the abovementioned state of affairs leads to apathy.
South Africa has been operating on a gender approach both culturally and politically. Women had very little if any voice at home and in the workplace. Child care workers may make meaning of a situation in a child’s context maybe after a home visit, but she may not be given an opportunity to give feedback because the place is headed by a politically wrong person or a male or a professionally wrong person. Wrong in the sense of not understanding the competence of a child care workers input and not understanding how they, themselves, are making meaning of a person or a situation.
In the same article, Garfat says that, “A worker sees a child’s action, for example, and gives it meaning. Based on the meaning that she has given to the child’s action she then intervenes. Without understanding the meaning of the child’s actions to the child, the worker is intervening into reality only as they have created it and not as it actually might be.” This confirms that there is no real reality. It all depends on who sees or is experiencing it and how they interpret it depending on past experiences and present influences. I think again that the challenge here is on training and translating knowledge into practice. It is a concern for how educators/trainers would translate knowledge so that child and youth care workers can make meaning and enable the young people and their families to make meaning of situations in their lives.
This is a difficult process as we enter into this profession carrying our own baggage. Unless we address and become conscious of such baggage I think we run a risk of transforming young people and their families into what they do not want to be. This indeed is a process that should start during training and continue into practice with the support of trained supervisors.
Self-awareness and the use of self
Child and youth care workers, unlike teachers, do not have teaching aids. Child and youth care workers use themselves. They need to role model behaviour and behaviour change. They need to understand the behaviour of the young people and their families. This means that they need to take context into consideration. They need to have a phenomenological orientation. That is why self-awareness plays a critical role.
Self-awareness is about consciousness of who you are and what you are, what has influenced you, what are your experiences, how do you respond and react to events and situations, and why you respond the way you do. Child and youth care workers need to have an active self-awareness that will be present during their encounters with youth. I have found self-awareness and use of self much linked with the use of daily life events as a focus for intervention and attention to and the use of rhythmicity.
Self-awareness is about one’s world view which is compromised of one’s values, beliefs and ethics which in turn influences his/her interpersonal state which is compromised of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours/actions. This means to say that we are all brought up differently. What may be valuable for you, need not be for me. A child care worker’s beliefs may be different from a child’s. For example there was a time in the Zulu culture when a girl child did not have to receive formal education as they were being groomed to get married, take care of their families. The boy child received both formal and informal education as he was seen to be the provider. It was taken for granted that a girl child will marry. Such a value, although it has changed with most Zulus, could have been misunderstood. If a child landed in a facility where formal education is an assumption would she be made to go to school. Consideration would not be given to whether the child would use that education or not. The child’s home background, due to lack of self-awareness, is not consciously read.
It is also important to know yourself as a child care worker as you have better inner self control and can be proactive instead of reactive. A child care worker would be so likely to enter into power struggles, and to disengage from conflict cycle, without feeling like they have lost their fight. The trainers manual of Child and Youth Care I: CYC101 CE states that self awareness is important:
“a) To know where I stand, to distinguish between myself and others; b) A sense of my own belief system helps me to relate to others, my colleagues and families, children/youth with whom I work; c) It is important to know how my belief system affects my perception; d) My belief system is my foundation of everything I do, therefore I want to be aware of what my beliefs, values, and ethics are”.
When using myself as a child and youth care worker I need to be clear about my views regarding, for example, HIV/AIDS. How do I feel about working with infected children/youth? A child and youth care worker uses self in the intervention. Attitudes play a vital role here. Do I, as a child and youth care worker, believe in traditional healers? If the family of an HIV infected child want to take their child to a traditional healer, am I going to allow them? When they bring their child back with medication, would I ensure that the child takes it? Am I going to use those events as an educational thing and teach myself universal precautions? It is difficult to answer, and again this brings in the rhythmicity. Every home has a pattern/style of doing things. A child care worker has his/her rhythm with his/her family. If the worker is not aware of his/her rhythm, it will be difficult to contextualize the child’s behaviour. Instead of using self awareness in the daily life of the child, he/she will impose his/her values, like saying traditional medicine cannot help the child. In South Africa it is still a debate to recognize traditional healers especially in relation to HIV/AIDS issues. The Western Medical education is wanting to subject traditional healers to certain tests so as to qualify. In the meantime families are consulting traditional healers. This affects child care workers working with infected young people. It challenges their values beliefs and self-awareness. Are they able to accept that this child has beliefs different from theirs as influenced by their family? There is a barrier in South Africa of not being able to visit young people's families due to distance between the facility and home or the facility rules. A family visit as cited in a case study discussed in our seminar clearly indicated the use of daily events and being able to see the rhythm that is going to influence the intervention (the family and child care worker being in the kitchen). This situation limits the child and youth care workers understanding of self in relation to young peoples families.
Fulcher (2002), states that “when working with children/ young people from cultures from traditions, it is easy to make false interpretations of the child or adolescent behaviour, personality development and family practices with substantially deleterious effects on the lives of vulnerable children.”
I worked with youth that were admitted for culpable homicide. One day child and youth care workers informed me of a girl that saw apparitions of the person she killed. I did not believe that. However, whilst I was sure of my belief I went and slept with the girl. Indeed I saw the apparitions and arrangements were made to refer her to spiritual priests and the apparitions disappeared. It could have happened that if it were someone of different culture, they could have dismissed it as a myth, as I have been informed of white nuns in Catholic facilities carrying out such dismissals. This is a challenge to child and youth care workers’ cultural competence. Often times, we claim to be culturally competent when a death in the family of a child occurs and we eagerly accompany them. It also happens that we never check out the expected dress code and practices. When faced with practices that are not in line with our beliefs, we tend to stand back. Hence the challenge to our self-awareness. How aware are we? Are we able to take off our shoes when we get a family that does that? Have we got the willingness to put on a head scarf till the ceremony is over or do we say I am not a member of the family and therefore I do not comply with their cultural practice? This further challenges our relationship with the child/youth.
When re-reading the above I feel that I cannot in my work separate self-awareness from the use of daily events and rhythmicity. Life is a rhythm, a pattern and an action. We wake up in the morning, go to work and come back home. Children/youth wake up in the morning, and go to school and come back to the home/facility. Within those rhythms there are daily events and the child care worker is in the life space of the child/youth as those events occur. Be it homework, study, mealtime or any routine. Be it when a child receives a phone call, is sad, is happy, the child care worker is there. A child care worker needs to be trained to separate his/her behaviour from that of a child by being aware of his/her values in order not to be fed up or impose his/her responses on a child who is threatening to kill himself because of a letter he received from home. Training and further knowledge will enable the child and youth care worker to intervene appropriately.
Guttmann (1991) mentions that being of itself is making the self the object of introspection. This to me is similar to self-awareness. She further states, “The process follows and transcends experience”, I relate this statement in self-awareness to values and beliefs one was brought up with that transcend into ones daily life and behaviour.
I would like to conclude by referring to something Jackie Winfield (personal communication) has said about ethics in one of our classes as I think it applies to self-awareness. She left us with these questions: What happened? What were you feeling? What was good or bad about the experience? What can you learn from this? What could you have done differently? If it happened again, what would you do?. Such questions I feel are important to us all as they would cause our level of awareness and entrench the characteristics of the child and youth care approach.
The child and youth care workers must have the ability to be self aware and to use self to accept a family with its baggage honestly, be non-judgmental, not impose his/her values on them. In the process of the use of self, the child and youth care worker must be able and willing to respect the family’s views and therefore maintain their dignity and self worth, as in the code of ethics as written out by NACCW and sworn to by child and youth care workers. In fact use of self, I feel, demands of the child and youth care worker to revisit their Code of Ethics and unpack each and every clause that they swore to, together with their declaration. I have witnessed in my consultation with some facilities child and youth care workers being driven by their judgmental values to, for example, discrimination or talking about children’s confidential issues. One child and youth care worker was actually smoking with the young people yet in South Africa smoking is being declared as unhealthy and it has stopped being promoted. (This is use of self in a distorted way.)
Self-awareness and use of self further challenges how comfortable we are with our own emotions and feelings. I often wonder how many of us child and youth care workers have enough self awareness to be able to disengage from the conflict cycle without humiliation or being able to accept that humiliation so as to be better able to disengage.
My other question, for which I do not have an
answer, is ‘since we are the tool, are we comfortable with use of self
enough to be down on the floor with the children and youth when the need
arises?’. I have observed child and youth care workers ‘supervising’
swimming by sitting and walking around the pool and not being in the
pool swimming with the children. I have been involved in training
interactions with the Danes, the Peter Sabroe Seminaret School teachers
and students. I have learned from them and observed them as they teach
and work with children and youth by being alongside the child, in front
of the child and behind the child all at the same time. For me this
demonstrated self-awareness and use of self. Although NACCW has included
this technique in the curriculum it still needs to be thoroughly worked
on and child and youth care workers need to hear and see it demonstrated
in their lectures and facilities. My observation, upon being privileged
to have an office within a residential facility, is that although they
have been trained in it, they are far from practicing it. The challenge
for me is: is it a lack of understanding of the approach or is it
resistance to change? Am I expecting too much too soon? Are we as
trainers aware enough of how we are training this technique for the
child care workers?
I could not play netball. I hardly understand the rules. However, when it was played by the girls I found myself cheering and shouting. Then I thought I was being carried away by the sport. However, feedback I received from some of the children was that the number of young people who played any of the sports increased because they said, “if she, as fat as she is, can play, why can we not?” In the meantime I was able to observe their interactions, facial, verbal and non-verbal expressions and give them feedback on it. This use of self influenced child care workers to volunteer their skills, use them with the young people and be purposeful in their interactions with them (by the way I was the principal of the facility). Maybe this is the kind of self-awareness and I felt that even in South Africa we have not put much attention to in our training. But then, training child and youth care workers without the managers’ having knowledge of the field is still an issue in South Africa.
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This feature: Manyathi, Sbo. (2005). Characteristics of a Child and Youth Care approach: An exploration of their possible relevance and their contextualization in the South African reality. In Garfat, T. and Gannon, B. (Eds. ). Aspects of Child and Youth Care Practice in the South African Context. Cape Town. Pretext.