NUMBER 1170 • 14 MAY • lifespace work
Some words are very easy to understand, but in combination with others lose their simplicity and denote more complex phenomena. Lifespace work is perhaps an example. Individually the words are quite straightforward, so the concept they describe can seem immediately understandable. Yet many people (including child and youth care workers) fail to grasp the true meaning of the concept. Now this is of some concern when the concept is in what makes child and youth care work child and youth care work!
We see around us typical bastardizations of lifespace work — distortions of the concept designed to pass as the real thing. A common one is seen in child and youth care workers merely ‘being with’ children in their lifespace but failing to engage in processes taking place in that context to maximize learning and development opportunities for children. In this situation child and youth care workers are flotsam, being moved by the tide of the lifespace instead of subtly directing the flow of interactions and happenings around them.
Another misinterpretation of the concept is seen in child and youth care workers missing the potential value of ‘being with’ children in the lifespace. Workers with this distortion think that they are only really doing something useful when they are counseling youth — preferably one-on-one and in an office. This perception is of course reinforced by perceptions of the status of sister professions that are talking and office-based.
Sometimes too workers mistake lecturing and insulting young people as lifespace work — “I told him that that is rude and only skollies (hooligans) speak like that.”
But lifespace work is something altogether different from these, and when done well (like anything else for that matter) appears deceptively simple. To true child and youth care workers, lifespace work is magical, exciting and complex. It is what they do. The lifespace is not only a context, but lifespace work becomes a methodology for intervening in a child’s life. The ‘place’ is anywhere, but the ‘how’ is defined not by the place so much as the needs of the child and the group at that moment in time. Hence the complexity.
True lifespace work requires the full presence of the child and youth care worker. It requires his or her presence to interact with the minute and huge happenings in the lives of children — to help them to do what is required but for them seems impossible; to help them to experience what they can do; to help carry part of the pain when it is too much; to laugh; to play; to show that life can be lived in a way that doesn’t hurt others; to teach skills of resolving conflict in the midst of the very conflict; to make chances for practicing new ways of being; to care; to notice; to get to know children. Lifespace work is done by people who are doing ordinary things with children and achieving extraordinary results.
Allsopp, M. (2007). Simply lifespace work. Child & Youth Care Work, 24(2), p.2