INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK
27 MARCH 2000
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
My Confusion, My Reality
A newcomer to child and youth care, Mark Gamble reflects on “the story so far”.
Five months in the field, I stand in a maze of confusion. Thrown on the walls of this maze are a variety of images, pictures of experience, created through my work. Images good and bad ...
of a child’s rapt attention as he tries to catch a tadpole swimming in a mountain stream.
of a youngster’s face, filled with anger and frustration, as he shows you the only three photographs he has to represent the whole history of his life — all three of which his friend has scratched and written, in his own fury, the words “Fred’s a mother f..cker”.
of kids coming back from school having been told that they are the problem, and of the rage that follows, doors kicked in, fists and ugly words thrown, of dagga smoked and glue sniffed to ease the pain and the bitterness.
of the burial and prayer for a dead pot plant, and its careful placement in the fishpond so as to form a “coral reef”.
Through these images, the questions are formed:
Is that which is actually happening, what we’re really supposed to be doing?
How do you create a ‘therapeutic environment’ when the springs poke out of the mattresses, the doors are hanging on broken hinges — and the money isn’t there to fix either?
How do you attempt a life space interview with one youth when 29 others are milling about, waiting for supper, doing jobs, laundry, showers, etc?
Which is more important to aim towards — containing the youth who needs your one-on-one time now, or running the system as a whole that maintains the other 29 kids?
How do you integrate the stunning theory of this profession with the practical realities, and how can you ever hope to do that when you know that, on average, a child and youth care worker only lasts for three years in the job?
The analogy has come to my mind, this last week, of a fishpond. The kids that we work with are taken out of their own environments and thrown into our fishpond which is thought to be better for them. Then, in its own wisdom, our welfare system throws together in our pond all sorts and different types of fish/kids.
The “better and safer environment” of the fishpond is not always so. Each youngster is exposed to the behaviour of others, which can jeopardise his own coping and development, can heighten his confusion and wreck his self-esteem. As for the fishpond itself, it has many cracks, the water may be stale and short of nutrients and oxygen, harmful fungi might thrive there. All this threatens the lives and health of the “fish” — as well as those of the gardeners who look after the pond, those who were trained to care for the “fish” but without enough preparation for all of the realities of the pond.
A better way
Does this sound all negative? Many are the nights when I go to bed feeling aggravated and frustrated with my work. The thought that ricochets around in my mind is that “there must be a better damn way to do what we are supposed to be doing.”
But there has been some learning so far. In the five months spent in my maze, with its images, frustrations and questions, I have come to know a few things about child and youth care work:
that the cornerstone of my work is the relationship I manage to start with the kids;
the need to be professional in my work, yet to keep in touch with the fact that I am human;
my hungry need for on-going training and supervision;
that my task is to create more positive’s for the kids than negatives;
the importance of recognising the kids’ vulnerability, and thus not to look for pointless conflict;
to use the hard times to learn, and the good times to inspire;
that there is no quick-fix model in this work — we start from where we are;
... and that time off is time out to have another life!
I also know that in these five months in residential child and youth care, I have been engaged in a most real time of my life — and I am wonder-filled by the experience.
Readings in Child and Youth Care for South African Students, No.2 National Association of Child Care Workers, Cape Town.