NUMBER 289• 12 JUNE 2003 • WORKER SKILLS
INDEX OF QUOTESReferences
Becoming a professional child and youth care practitioner is a complex and challenging process. It involves not only acquiring certain knowledge and skill but also acquiring the ability to use this knowledge and skill spontaneously in a wide variety of situations. Child and youth care practitioners need to make instantaneous responses to innumerable events encountered in their daily work. However, there are no formula responses or techniques that are appropriate in every situation. The professional worker responds ‘in the moment" to the situation at hand. The professional worker’s ability to choose an appropriate manner of responding is therefore not a mechanical process, rather, the effective practitioner creates responses that are individualized and that fit the specifics of the particular situation. VanderVen & Tittnieh (1986) suggests that preparing child care students to be skillful, informed practitioners remains one of child care educators’ most challenging tasks. She adds that in essence "this has to do with making the most effective linkages between theory, empirical knowledge, and actual skill application" (p. 23).
A child and youth care student is first and foremost a thinking, feeling, cognizant human being who enters into professional training with a personal theory, history, and past experience that affect the manner in which he/she views the world and acts within it. The knowledge and skills that a student acquires are more likely to be retained and used if this knowledge and skill is integrated with the worker’s natural helping style. As Combs (1965) explained:
The effective worker is no longer regarded as a technician applying methods in a more or less mechanical fashion the way he has been taught. We now see him as an intelligent human being using himself, his knowledge, and the resources at hand to solve the problems for which he is responsible (p. 8).
…Professional child and youth care workers are skillful practitioners. What is skillfulness in this context? Typically, skillfulness has tended to be viewed as only the performance aspect of practice. Skillfulness is thought of as "being able to do it." For example, when child and youth care workers manage difficult situations such as a child "acting out," their skillfulness is often evaluated by what they say or do.
The performance aspect of skillfulness is certainly an important component: however, it is only one of several necessary features. To continue with the example, other aspects of skillfulness such as the child and youth care worker’s abilities to anticipate the behaviour, to recognize relevant aspects of the situation, to decide how to respond based on their judgement, and to act confidently on that decision are often overlooked.
"Skillfulness" is comprised of at least four essential elements: Contextual Awareness, Discretionary Decision-Making, Performance, and Confidence.
Every situation is bound by its context. At any given moment, child and youth care workers experience a situation with all of its nuances. Some of these nuances are more salient than others because of the context in which they occur. The ability to recognise the salient features in a given situation is known as Contextual Awareness.
In any situation there arc a multitude of possible responses. Child and youth care workers need to choose one response from all these possibilities. The response they select is based on their judgement about what would be most effective in the situation. Discretionary Decision-Making involves the ability to make qualitative distinctions or judgments about how to respond effectively in a given situation. The ability to make decisions with discretion is what constitutes an intelligent action.
The behavioural component of skillfulness referred to as Performance is often the focus of professional training programs. This critical component involves the ability of child and youth care workers to demonstrate specific behaviours or techniques.
Child and youth care workers roust have faith and confidence in their abilities and interventions. Awareness of features salient in a given situation, making discretionary decisions, and being able to perform will not necessarily ensure that child and youth care workers will act appropriately. Professionals trust in their ability to make sound judgments and decisions, arid to perform effectively.
In summary, the terms skill, skillful, or skillfulness imply the presence of these four interdependent elements. How skillful a child care worker is depends on the degree to which these four interconnected variables are present.
FHills, M. D. (1989). The Child and Youth Care Student as an Emerging Professional Practitioner. Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol.4 No.1
Combs, A. (1965). The professional education of teachers. Boston: Allyn and Bacon..
VanderVen, K. & Tittnich, E. (Eds.), (1968). Competent caregivers — competent children. New York: Haworth Press. Biography for the Journal of Child Care.