Mission Viejo, California
I am currently retired, for the most part, due to
my age and health. I began my career in Child and Youth Care work in
1964, moving around from direct care, to supervision, to administration,
to Academia and for the past thirty years to training and consultation.
It has been my good fortune to find ways to stay “at home” in child and
youth service, splitting my time between the front and back “ends” of
child maltreatment. When I began my work I was sadly introduced to the
enormous harm caused by abuse and neglect as a residential child care
worker in various “congregate” youth serving agencies – group homes,
institutions for residential treatment, and shelter care facilities for
runaways and throwaways. My training and consultation work keep me
hanging around with my residential treatment “peeps”, and spending a lot
of time with CPS workers whose task it is to try to stop the harm before
it gets worse. Unhappily, by the time a family gets referred to CPS it
is too late to stop the harm.
The constant in my work was a deep love and respect for the young people who did not get what they deserved from their families. Love for them as I experienced their vulnerability and deep woundedness, and respect for their daily struggle to survive, and to continue fighting for their dignity and sense of worthwhileness. Whenever I walked into a facility housing “our” young people, which I was privileged to do for fifty years, I recognized them – faces changed, but the stories are the same. Also the same over all the years, the mixed tones in their faces of anger, hurt, and longing for the care they needed and wanted, but also wondered if they deserved. I never regretted my career choice, although I am filled with regret over our collective inability to gain for our work the credit, respect, and compensation that would enable folks to stay in our field, rather than visit on their way to something else.
My entrance into the field was a happy accident, owing to the location of a friends’ home across the street from a child care facility housing “emotionally disturbed” teenagers. It only took a day on the job to realize what that term was meant to describe. However, it has taken my entire career to explore how the impact of being hurt while young can result in such disturbance, by “robbing” children of what were their rights as children – to be well- tended, protected, and loved.
I’ll quote only two, although I have dozens.
The first, a definition of “compassion” – the ideal that keeps us hanging in when our attempts at caring are met with rebuke and resistance: Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak….because in your life you will have been all of these.(Mac Anderson)
“None of us can do anything great on our own; but we can all do a small thing with great love”. (Mother Teresa)
I have many thoughts and have written about a lot of them. To make a “pithy” comment – all of the evidence is in: we know what children need and deserve. When children don’t get what they need when they need it, it falls to us to give them what they need and deserve when we have them, understanding that when we come to them late, having them accept what they need will be difficult for them, and giving them what they need and deserve will be difficult for us.
Nothing can prepare you for the pain you will experience when you hear their stories. It is still unbelievable to me that parents can cause such harm to the young, vulnerable people they create. I can never get used to it. So accept that you are entering a world that will challenge your faith in people and any naïve versions of “families” that you come into the work with. Accept also, that families are made up of people, and people can be disappointing, just as we know we often disappoint ourselves. So we don’t help because we are “better” people, but because we are different people. Some of us got better breaks. Some of us had the good fortune to find people to love us and help us when we needed it. Some of us have learned hard lessons and can now pass them along to others. Being wonderful is not required to be effective, thank goodness. Being open, and persistent, and compassionate is.
Karen VanderVen (another “pioneer” you are familiar with) and I have been writing over the past few weeks, considering our task of passing the baton to the next generation of professional “Care-ers” as they say overseas. We lamented our fallen and failing colleagues. We talked about how difficult it has been to convince others to adapt a therapeutic – healing – approach to working with our young people, as opposed to a controlling model. We tried to boost our mutual morale’s by talking about the first early steps happening in adopting a “trauma-informed” approach to care, and hoped together that it would create the revolutionary dynamic to change the way folks “look at” the kids, and the way they interact with them. If we refuse to understand what has happened to them in terms of their development, we will not and cannot put together the respectful, individualized, plans of care that will lead to mental and emotional health and promise a better end of life than their beginnings. It falls now to all of you reading the words of those of us moving on and out to pick up the work – play with them, talk to (not at) them, hold their hands, brush their hair, tuck them in, laugh with them, cry with them, listen to their stories, and yes, love them.
Last updated October 2016