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CYC People

Rika Swanzen



Gauteng, South Africa


Rika Swanzen has been gaining experience in the child and youth care sector since 1996. The fields she worked in included child and family welfare, adolescent mental health, community development, residential care, foster care training and practice model development. During her working career she obtained her Masters degree in social work cum laude and completed her doctoral study by the age of 31. The outcome of her doctoral study was the ChildPIE©; a classification system for describing childhood social functioning problems. Since her studies she also served as the project manager on national and provincial level research projects. The focus of the studies was supporting orphaned and vulnerable children in the community and the effectiveness of diversion programmes for youth in conflict of the law respectively. In 2009 she joined Monash South Africa (MSA) to develop a degree for Child and Youth Care, with the first intake of students in 2010 and the introduction of Honours in 2013. In 2011 Rika won the Pro-Vice Chancellors Distinguished Teaching Award at MSA. She was an International advisory board member for the World Child and Youth Care Conference in 2013 and in 2015 Rika joined the Relational Child and Youth Care journal as Editor. She received the MSA Community Engagement Award for 2015 and was appointed by the Minister of Social Development to represent training institutions on the South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP). Details of her peer-reviewed publications, research interest, achievements and international conference presentations can be viewed on Most of all she loves being with her husband and two sons, especially on holiday, close to a beach.

How I came to be in this field

When I got the opportunity to study I wanted to work with people and specifically children and youth. The only paths in work with children available in 1993 were teaching or social work and I chose the latter to be able to work more intensely with youth than only their educational development. I loved my studies as I found the theoretical foundation and multiple modes of practice rather amazing. I soon realized however that practice was slightly different and found myself moving to more therapeutic settings and away from statutory work to live out my passion to have a more direct impact on the lives of young people. Only in recent years did I discover that this drive and passion existed in other helpers called child and youth care workers. When I risked leaving the boundaries of social work to pursue the opportunity to develop a degree for this new emerging profession in South Africa I found my fit, where I could combine my love for theory, research, teaching and young people.

Some favorite sayings

You cannot be pitiful and powerful at the same time – Joyce Meyer.

All’s well that ends well, if it’s not well, it’s not the end.

If you stand for nothing you will fall for everything.

A few thoughts about child and youth care

Because of the relational and hands-on approach of CYC, the profession has a tremendous opportunity to fill the gaps in service delivery we’ve been made aware of for so many years. We should be careful to not fall into the trap of professional pride and thereby lose focus of why we started the fight for professionalization in the first place. If we keep our focus on meeting the needs of young people it will be very hard to ignore us any longer! With recognition and power comes greater responsibility (was this from spiderman or superman?). Let us never become more concerned about our rights than vulnerable people’s needs

A favorite CYC experience

I am very familiar with being compared to a professional standard that apparently makes me fall short of the ‘criteria for managing professional transference and counter transference’. About three years into my professional career I coordinated a camp for adolescents discharged from a psychiatric hospital. With a cable walk activity I had to entrust my safety to a teenager; one who was labelled by the system as mentally unstable. Funnily enough I was in very safe hands because of our therapeutic relationship where I could see who the young person behind the label is. And off course with this cable walk activity, he had to also entrust his safety to another young person also labelled by the system. Although it seemed impossible, none of us fell off! I somehow had a sense that keeping a professional distance is not very helpful in reaching children.

Fast-forward a decade and I found myself counselling a teenager who did not want to be counselled and after FOUR sessions of him literally saying nothing the whole session through, I finally found a way to connect with him enough for him to start sharing bits of himself. I learned 2 things from this. To never think you know enough based on previous productive experiences and that in the end everyone just wants to be understood and accepted for who they are and that to be able to do this, is a rather complicated thing where one has to be comfortable with discomfort.

A few thoughts for those starting out

My message to the new emerging child and youth care workers is to learn and specialize yourself as much as possible for the benefit of our clients, but to never ignore their intuition.

Never lose sight of why you came to the field. Something made you push through with your decision despite hearing rumours of poor salaries and lack of recognition. That something is what will make you feel like you live a significant life at the end of every day, but it will also be the thing that will help to keep you standing on the days when you thought you could not be shocked more by the hurt people can cause each other.

Albert Einstein believed that any fool can complicate things and that it takes a genius to simplify. Find ways to simplify the complicated – feeling overwhelmed may very well lead to inaction.

A recommended child and youth care reading link 

I read a book by Johannes Malherbe; Saved by the Lion. It starts with a tale of a lion saving a gazelle from a crocodile with the jungle animals reasoning among each other about this. A group of animals went to ask the matriarch elephant’s opinion – each giving their own version of what happened. Her answer to whether the lion really saved the ‘kid’ was that: “The answer is hidden in the forests of time, grazing with the kid’s ancestors, grazing with its offspring. You may ask the kid to guide you there, but you will need wisdom and patience, for it cannot talk to you today”. The author then takes you on a fascinating road of sharing the ‘answers’ and stories of African children’s encounters with outsiders. The book challenges you to reflect on whether Africa has her own solution to protect and raise her children and whether well intended outsiders really helped Africa.

A writing of my own

Influences on my work

My lessons learned from my own process of surviving criticism and betrayal – allowing my own experiences to shape me, even in my work. Learning what resilience means practically through my family and my faith gave me a pragmatic focus on intervening in people’s lives – staying respectful of other’s space and choices.

I am also easily inspired by role models that went before me. It is difficult to single out one person (as the ‘writing of my own’ link will show). From Anglin distinguishing CYC from Social Work, to Garfat with providing practical approaches to intervention, to Fulcher and Brokenleg driving an understanding of diversity, or Brendtro with understanding trauma-based behaviour – with the many more who live out best practices with children on a daily basis like practitioners involved with programmes like Isibindi, Allambi, Celcis, etc, etc.

I am very appreciative of the struggles fought by those who did not live to enjoy the fruits of their labour. More recently it is the gleam in the eyes of my students wanting to make the world better for children that inspires what I bring to lectures and publications.

Anything else

It all starts with you don’t it?


Last updated October 2016

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