ISSUE 32 SEPTEMBER 2001 BACK

editorial

Missing Mariella

Mariella had to be let go the other day. She had become too much of a liability for the children. Her own life was apparently in terrible shape and she was playing it out with the children and families where she worked. She had come to believe that her way of seeing things was the only way, the right way. Her anger and projection were making everyone uncomfortable.
Because I had been a part of helping the supervisor to work through this situation, I know that she had received support, how her work was being affected had been specifically and frequently pointed out to her by the supervisor and other team members, a period of leave was offered, and recommendations had been made for getting some help for herself. But either she couldn’t or she wouldn’t see that she had a problem. Finally she had been told that if she didn’t do something about the situation, she would have to be let go. In the end Mariella sought no help, nothing changed and she had to be let go. There was no other choice.

*     *     *

I have seen this happen too often in our field. Workers develop difficulties of their own, these problems get played out in their work with children and families, they are unable or unwilling to see the difficulty. The children, family and staff suffer and in the end, and the staff member has to leave. It does not have to be this way.

I know that there are many problems which are the result of inappropriate working environments, and I know there are many others which develop as a result of the worker's own personal experiences. But this isn’t about cause. Rather it is about responsibility “to others, and more importantly for the moment, to ourselves. We need to look after ourselves.

It is ironic that we who work in the field of helping others so often find it hard to accept that we have difficulties of our own. It’s as if on one level we preach the doctrine of “having problems is normal–” and then we mutter under our breath, “but not for me”.

Having problems is normal. And in the field in which we have chosen to work, the stresses, demands, schedules and experiences increase the possibility that we will develop difficulties of our own.

You need to look after yourself “when you don–t, as well as when you do have a problem. There is no shame in this. It is just the way it is. Listen to others when they give you feedback that things aren’t working right. Check it out, allow yourself to wonder whether maybe there is some truth to the feedback and then, when necessary, find yourself the help that you need. We need you and don’t want to lose you from the field. I know, it seems more complicated than this, but the idea is there.
We lose too many people from our field this way. We do need proper support, good supervision, healthy environments and honest feedback. But we also need the kind of active self-awareness that lets us know when we are having problems and the courage to face whatever it is that is going on. It is hard but it is possible.

*     *     *

Mariella did not have to leave. It could have been avoided. And she would have avoided a lot of pain for herself, her family, and yes, her colleagues too. It is a shame that she had to leave. She had a lot to offer and she will be missed. But, in the end there was no other choice.

I wish, Mariella, that you had made a different choice early on in the process. We’ll miss you. And a lot of people will miss what you had to offer when things were going better.

Thom

THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)
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