NUMBER 1017 • 3 AUGUST • intimate familiarity
Fewster (1990b) has suggested that “the personalized relationship continues to be the greatest challenge in professional child and youth care” (p. 26). He refers to the difficulty that child and youth care workers sometimes seem to have in developing a relationship with a youth in which the experience of intimacy and connectedness can be present, while appropriate boundaries of self and other are maintained. Yet the establishment and maintenance of a caring relationship with youth is seen as central to child and youth care practice (Hare, 1992; Krueger, 1988). It is through the establishment of relationships that the child and youth care worker is able to influence youths’ behaviour (Brendtro, 1969). In the absence of relationship, the child and youth care worker’s ability to affect a youth’s values, beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours is seen as extremely limited. It has been suggested that effective child and youth care relationships develop because of the openness and respect that the helper displays in relation to the youth (Fewster, 1990b), attentive interpersonal communication (Brendtro, 1969), commitment and compassion (Krueger, 1988), being present with the youth (Fewster, 1990a; Ricks, 1989), and through doing things together. I also suggested earlier that the relationship between the youth and the child and youth care workers in this inquiry may have developed because of the youth’s need or because of a staff predisposition. Why or how these relationships developed may be of less importance than the fact that the relationships were possessed of a particular characteristic. I have come to think of that characteristic as “intimate familiarity.”
For most of us, the most intimate or familiar relationships we have are within the context of our families. Frequently, when we want to describe a relationship with someone as possessing special characteristics of closeness or intimacy, we use the reference of family. As an adult, for example, we might say that someone is like a daughter or son to us. The youth who participated in this inquiry all discussed their relationship with the child and youth care worker as being special to them, as we saw in the section on preinterventive relationships. In describing this special feeling they too reached for the reference of family. As TY said,
“ ... from a child’s perspective ... the people who are trying to help you are like your family in a sense.” In general, then, the youth saw the team of child and youth care workers as family-like. As LY suggested, this sense of intimate familiarity helps to generate a sense of belonging, “she’s a ... w – we joked around a lot. We, you know, talked a lot ... She – she was like family ... family is like belonging to someone, you know?” That the relationship was intimately familiar was also shown through the youths’ constant references, as we have seen, to the ease with which they felt they could talk with these staff. They were comfortable in a way one normally only finds in relationships of intimate familiarity. For the staff the reference of family to define their relationship with the youth did not arise. Nor did the issue of this relationship being somehow more special than their relationships with other youth in the program. Yet all three staff expressed a deep connection and understanding of the issues or life situation with which the youth were dealing. In effect, the staff were able to identify intimately with the issues because they had an intimate familiarity with those issues.
Garfat, T. (1998) The effective child and youth care intervention: a phenomenological inquiry. Journal of Child and Youth Care, Vol. 12. No. 1-2, pp. 132-133