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Care

I have been thinking lately about what it means 'to care' in Child and Youth Care. We use this word all the time, but how often do we stop, just for a moment, to wonder what it really means? So, I am wondering if we could discuss the following question for a while on our discussion list: What does the word 'care', or 'caring' mean in Child and Youth Care Practice?
Thom Garfat

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First of all what an awesome question to ask! I guess for each of us care has a different meaning. My own is complex but simple at the same time.

I am currently a supervisor at a residential group home for dual diagnosed kids, and even on my worst days, when all I want to do is run far far away one thing keeps me there, the kids. I have two short anecdotes to share which I feel demonstrates what our kids believe what we are there for and how we care for them.

On mother's day this year I took out to lunch 3 clients whom for one reason or another could not be with their own mothers. When the boys arrived they had bought me flowers and proceeded to tell me that I was kinda like their moms when I explained that while I cared for them I was not their mom and that no one could ever replace their moms one young man replied "no you're better 'cause our moms' suck." I was touched beyond words not to mention saddened that what was for me a simple gesture so that they did not feel left out when their peers were with their families, for them it meant that at least on this one occasion they had someone who cared about how they felt.

The second situation happened a week or so ago when I was having a long talk with a client about making positive decisions and that while he found the rules of the home restrictive and unfair i responded that it was up to myself and the staff team to make some decisions for him that would be in his best interests. He then proceeded to tell me that I cared nothing for his happiness. I at this point explained that while I would love it if he could be happy living with us I cared too much about him to focus on his happiness when I needed to focus on his well being, when he appeared to be confused I explained the difference to him in a simple way, If I cared solely for his happiness I would allow him to do what he wanted when he wanted as long as he was happy, by being more concerned for his well being I told him that sometimes I would have to make decisions for him like what time to go to bed, whether or not he had to go to school etc.

In this field caring takes on many forms, whether its going the extra mile to make them a special treat for snack, or giving them a hug when words are not enough we all care. In this field when we go home we can't simply turn off the events of the day that too in my mind shows caring. We worry about "our" kids when they are in crisis or facing a new challenge, we are proud of them when they meet or exceed expectations, as one of my clients said we are like their moms - yes there are boundaries that cannot be crossed but at the end of the day we are their role models, and if we are really lucky we get to help them to become successful adults. This is one of the most stressful careers to have in the world, at least in my opinion, the burn out rate is high and that tends to be what many of us focus on.  There is a reason why we do what we do, its for those times when after months and months of work you see a client use a new skill or when a client has grown emotionally enough to say that they were wrong or that they need help. Its for that one kid who 5 years after you worked with him can run into you on the street and say hey I hated you at the time but thanks, you helped me. Its not the big gestures or changes that we do this for, its the little ones.

So when the question of caring comes up I have to ask, how can you work in this field without caring, if you don't care then how can you be effective or even respected? No my job is not my life, that's how I have stuck it out for over 10 yrs. but it is most definitely a part of who I am. If I didn't care I couldn't work I couldn't face the daily abuse because if I didn't care what would be the point in putting up with the bad days?
 
Sara-Ann White
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I would love to discuss "care" particularly as I find myself challenged while engaged in a practicum here in Montreal. I am a student from the University of Victoria, School of Child and Youth Care and have chosen Batshaw Youth and Family Services to do my final practicum.

Looking forward to more.

 Marjorie McQuarrie
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Common sense humanity; the scary part is caring should just be intuitive and self explanatory, however we need to define it because of our own experiences in detaching from it....good discussion as it is sad some have forgotten that caring should be as natural as needing to eat or sleep.

Wendy Grono
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Thom:
My wife and I recently gave birth to our third child under rather difficult circumstances. A couple of days after our son was born, I took our six year old to the hospital so that he could have a visit with his new baby brother. I stood by the crib and watched as he gazed in wonder at this tiny being amid all the tubes and wires. One minute passed in silence, two minutes, three minutes, four - I finally asked him if there was anything that he wanted to say.
'Dad, I've been talking to him since we got here", was his reply.
"I'm sorry, son", I said, "I didn't hear you".
"Dad, I wasn't talking to him with my words, I was talking to him with my heart".
To me, caring means talking to children from our hearts. It means speaking a language that is unencumbered by intolerance, impatience, frustration.
It means that our actions say I accept you, I am here for you, I embrace your uniqueness.
It means that we as care givers are sincere, genuine, real.
It means that we dance with our laughter, sing with our play, and color with our souls.
That's what caring means to me.

Gord
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What does "care" mean? I would say, to me, it means being able to provide support, help, guidance, services, with emotion, empathy, consideration and self as much as possible. The services provided deal with clientele that have experienced various situations that go from difficult to extremely traumatic. Being able to show and express that you care about that person will allow them to heal and you to provide the best service possible. A Child and Youth Care worker can be faced with obstacles when dealing with difficult children and youth, but letting them know they are not alone and that you care about them goes the distance. This field deals with a lot of loss and grief and abandonment, so being there for a client, child or youth, shows that there is care involved. Also as a worker, providing resources to individuals so that they can care for themselves is important, that is also showing a level of caring. In a way it is humanity, looking after your fellow man in any time of need. Just my two cents.

Jaime Lindenberg
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In Western Scottish culture the word 'care' can be interpreted in many different ways. For example, the word can be used as an emotional feeling "I care about you" or it can be used to describe a physical doing. It can also be used to describe a persons qualities "he or she is a caring person".

In relation to social work and child care (in Scotland) the word care is perhaps commonly associated with children who are looked after in residential settings who for some reason or another cannot live in their own homes with their own families. In this context as in others, child care falls into a legal system whereby carers have legal obligations towards children in their care. In residential children's units in Scotland these obligations are enshrined in standards for care otherwise known as 'National Care Standards for Looked After Children'. These standards are based on a set of principles. The principles themselves are not care standards but they reflect recognized rights to dignity, privacy, choice, safety, realising potential, equality and diversity.

I think the real standards depend on how these principles are in a sense delivered to children and young people. Consider the work 'tokenism'. Having to do something and wanting to do something are two different things. I have worked mainly with children and young people in youth work and I know they are the best people when it comes to 'sussing' out people who are perhaps not really suited to the job. By this I mean there has to be in my view a high degree of genuiness, honesty and tolerance in those who work with children and young people in youth work, residential care and other children's settings.

Another point is that there is also a culture in our society at the moment concerning what is appropriate and not acceptable in relation to the ways in which adults behave towards children. This culture casts suspician on adults (particularly men) who make themselves emotionally available to children. Many children in residential care have attachment disorders because their parents did not make themselves available to their children's emotional needs, subsequently these children find it difficult to form close meaningful relationships with peers and adults alike. In order to correct this, we have to make ourselves emotionally available to children, which is in part what care is about.

I think we are to a degree prevented from caring for children in the same way we would care for our own children mainly because of bureaucracy and perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour (like making ourselves emotionally avilable). Policies in relation to codes of conduct as it were are in place to protect children and workers and that's absolutely right, but the next time you get close to your own child whether it is giving them a cuddle or a kiss goodnight, think 'would I do the same thing to the other children I 'care' for'?

I look forward to hearing other people's views.

John Young
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There's been much ambivalence about the name by which we are identified in the workplace. We've gone from Child Care Workers to Child and Youth Workers and most recently to Child and Youth Counselors, as if to resist the murkiness that comes with the word 'care'. This ambivalence has thankfully not transitioned to the name of field, (Child and Youth Care), probably because the concept of 'care' has expansive relevance to the theories that define our practice and the moment to moment work that we do.

All that said, I've wondered if 'to care' in Child and Youth Care has different meanings for each of us, meanings that cannot be amassed into job descriptions, meanings that come with who we are in relation to what we do, meanings that evolve as we work in the field, as we better know and understand self. I found Gord Robinson's definition (earlier post) of caring - "speaking with the heart" - very poignant and in keeping with my own current definition of 'to care'. For me 'to care' in Child and Youth Care comes from the same place as my capacity 'to love' in the rest of my life. To care is to be in relationship with the child and youth with whom I'm working. Job descriptions often emphasize the custodial parameters of caring, but for me, it is relationship, not custodial parameters of caring that define what it means 'to care' in Child and Youth Care. In relationship, custodial needs are met 'naturally'. By contrast, caring based only on custodial parameters may easily neglect the relational.

Maxine Kelly
Lakeland, Florida
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Hmmmmmmmmm care, my first thought is to say that care is meeting the needs of yourself or someone else, but that seems a little vague. I started to process the idea of care and what it means to me and possibly many others, but too many words came to my mind to try and write out, these words all seemed to be words that we assocaite as positve, which lead me to think is care only positive? The asnwer is no. I can be a bad care giver, could care less, careless, etc...

So for me I had to boil it down to care is something that produces an emotion/ feeling in a person. So in essence one might be able to draw the conclusion that everything is a form of care. As everything will produce a feeling or emotion. Everything we do as an impact on someone, which includes yourself. Here is the tricky part, trying to figure out what care means to others. In a way making meaning of care for others, and its so much more then that.

I then examined myself and what care means to me, ok I think I have a good idea of what it means to me, but is that the same as other people? No, as we all are different in our own ways. This lead me back to what does it mean for others, they must have a similar meaning care. How was I do know? I know this if I engage into a conversation and look for similar views meanings, I will miss their meaning as I am looking to reaffirm my own values/meaning.

So how do I learn what care means to someone else? Well I guess first I must learn what it means to me, so I can let it go. Let it go simply means entering into an interaction and not judging the person and their values. It is way to try and gain meaning making without your biases coming up. What it boils down to, is being in the moment and making meaning of the moment for the other person.

So where did this all lead me? Care is more a state of mind, a feeling which is different for everyone. Care is uncondtional, and its something that can not be avoided. One might say care is life.
 
David Rent
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I think that the only reason we use the word 'care' is because we are afraid what will happen if we use the word love, which in essence, is what drives all of us to do what we do. Care seems to be the manifestation of what we do, kind of like turning love from a feeling, a commitment, into an action. I think it is much safer for us to use the word care than it is love. 'Caring' keeps us from getting hurt, it keeps our boundaries in tact, and helps us to remain 'professional'. Sure, we like to talk about 'loving' what we do but not 'loving' the kids we work with. We talk about 'loving our job', even 'loving' the people with work with, or for. But how often do we talk about loving the kids we work with. If you would like to see some examples of loving versus caring in the real world of child and youth 'care' then I would suggest you read the article "The Earth is Dying: A Radical Child and Youth Care Perspective" (from Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, volume 18, isssue 1, pp. 10 & 11, Keith Moen, J. Nicole Little, Mike Burnett). It talks about 'radical' child and youth care but honestly, I believe it describes the difference between caring for these kids and letting ourselves love them.

In one of the responses to the question Mr. Garfat put forth, one author asked the question "the next time you get close to your own child whether it is giving them a cuddle or a kiss goodnight, think 'would I do the same thing to the other children I 'care' for'?" (John). He talks about what I believe are the things that keep us emotionally unavailable for these children, these youth. Things such as bureaucrocy and perceptions of others about what is acceptable and what is not. Can you imagine having these kind of restraints on our own children? Are these children less worth our love? If not then why do we not let it show.

I will be the first to admit that I often feel constrained by what would seem acceptable and what would not but I do try to push that line. Not at the expense of violating the therapeutic alliance (which really is a safe way to say relationship and something that lets us be emotionally unavailable) but still in a way that lets the youth know that I love them. That I want the best for them and that I believe in them. That I wish in some way that I could take away all their pain but like any person who truly 'loves' someone, I know that it is when we are at our weakest when we discover our strength. It is often that through our (their) suffering that we are refined and prepared for the road that is life. It is here that I realize how effective and important it is to let the youth decide what is best for them and not to force my own belief system upon them. Not because I want to see them fail or because I don't care, but because I intrinsically believe in their worth as human beings, as survivors, as people with gifts and talents and abilities that they have yet to discover. It is in these moments that the words of Being in Child Care: A Journey Into Self (Thom Garfat) seem to come to life. Not because I simply care for these youth but because I love them, even the ones I do not like.

It does concern me, at times, the big push for child and youth care workers to better establish ourselves as professionals. Will this ideal compromise and further marginalize our ability to go from caring to allowing ourselves to truly love these kids, which would seem to be at the heart of "radical" child and youth care. How 'professional' would it seem when I hold a young man (or lady) who is crying over the innocence he/she lost after his/her uncle abused him? How much of a 'professional' would I be to continue on with my relationship after a youth has left the care of our program? How professional would I be if I was truly emotionally available to a youth and during a counselling session (conversation, lifespace interview) what the youth told me was so painful for them that I shed a tear, or many tears as I was confronted with the terror that this youth truly believed that what had happened to them, or what they had done, was so terrible that they felt that they were utterly alone and that not a soul cared or loved for them?

It appears, Mr. Garfat, that your question (per usual) directs me to look at myself and become more aware of who I am and what I do and why. For this I thank you.

Leighton Sealey
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My feeling on care within childcare, is giving children what they need. This may include possitive emotional reinforcement ,re- direction from deviant behavior, parental figure, food and shelter. Each situation is different as each child is different. Growing up with two other children my parents "cared" for each child differently because each of us needed different things.

Susan Krouskop
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When I think about caring, I think about attending to the concerns of others as we would hope others would attend to ours, no matter what our life condition/situation maybe. Make no mistake about it we may not agree with an individual or group of individuals life style, however we are all equally worthy and should be handled with care as we all fall short in one regard or another.

James Hartley
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When I think about the meaning of 'care' I think of humanism. When we lose sight of what is humanistic we lose sight of caring. Humanism takes each of us to our soul/core being. This is scary for some, a relief for others, and a consistent place for those connected to their soul/core. This connection is very important in the work we do because it is capable of blocking out jealously, judgements, frustration, resentment, anger....... Giving us what I believe to be the ability to 'care', to be human.

 Susan Cater
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