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Enduring in the field

Recently I was talking to a friend about another friend who was off on stress leave, or burn-out. We were thinking about colleagues who have 'fallen along the way' and those who have continued on. It got me to wondering about resilience, or endurance, or just simply lasting, in child and youth care work.

I would be interested in hearing from some 'long timers' about how you kept alive, refreshed, engaged with the field of child and youth care practice. What's your secret?
Thom Garfat
...

Well, Thom, I have only been in the field for 17 years. I'm not sure that that qualifies for "long timer". But, I work out three to four times a week. Working out helps me deal with some of the stress. Next, I try to keep in mind that my work is only part of my life, not all of it. Try not to get involved in politics at work, it's a big stressor. I like to try and have fun, fun, fun, at work, not take everything too seriously. I like to joke with co-workers. A good sense of humor goes a long way. I like to learn new things to help keep me motivated and excited about my work. There's a lot of information out there. Also, it helps to take courses that are not feild related, there's more to life than work; keep a good balance between work and fun. Sometimes, though, there are times when a stress leave helps. I once needed to take over six months off from work due to stress. The stress was coming from how I was not coping with the superviser I had at that time. Now, I do not take things so personaly. I am not repsonsible for other people's behaviours and actions. This is just some of what I think helps me stay in the field. I hope to be in it for many more years.

Donna Lewis
...

Having been around for some years, here are some of the factors that I think have kept me involved:

 Recognizing the open-endedness and dynamicism of the field of human development. The field is not highly circumscribed and invariantly established. Rather, like a child itself, it's constantly growing, changing, having the potential to branch out in multiple pathways and directions. That makes it exciting.

The needs for applied work are so incredibly great and compelling - for defining, articulating, reviewing, changing such work and trying to get the field, or emergent profession established systemically. That makes it challenging.

 There are multiple options for practice in a life long career - various kinds of direct work, and at various levels; various populations to work with ( as the field emerges into a full profession of applied developmental work or developmental care in the life span) and multiple roles to serve in. That makes it possible.

 There are unique and special people working in the field. he friendships, the collaborations, the sense of being part of something larger than oneself, the presence of a unifying spirit. That makes it a community.

Karen VanderVen
...
Good question, simply said ... perserverance and keeping focused on the kids not on myself. Knowing full well we have the power over our attitude, I practice self talk, meditate and do yoga..these are great pers. stress vanishers.
Too blessed to be stressed,

Jane Zicarelli-Knaub
...
Dear Thom,
Our Village fathers are away on a course and are best suited to respond. I myself spent 14 years in Child Care, then got out and taught, and then worked 12 years for a Brewery. Perhaps beer is the answer. Seriously, very few can last more than 5 to 7 years! Regards,

Derek James
...

Hello, I have been in the field for 10 years. for myself, its change. I worked with special needs for 9 years and just changed jobs (with slow learners). I feel like a new person. I think just a different work environment and/or new clients helps a lot. Another important point is not to take anything too personally, that creates alot of stress. However, there have been times that I have considered leaving the field.

C.C.
...

Dear Thom:
I consider myself a lifer - and, I believe the ability to endure comes out of our ability to adorn many different hats/faces and roles. The ability to disengage - and walk out the door leaving behind that child and youth worker hat, picking up the personal hat you left at the start of your shift. I see it as very clear and defined boundaries. Some can integrate successfully - most who try to wear both hats at once do not last.

Diane Parris
...

I have been at my facility for 4 years now. For us that makes me an old timer. The employee turn over rate is around 75% (pitiful). I have seen over 20 people turn over from my team and I often wonder what I have that they don't? What makes me more tolerant of the surroundings and the "Adult Abuse"? When I ponder it these things come to mind.

1. I am there for myself. This may seem selfish to some but if your not in it for yourself who are you in it for? When I state this I mean I get a tremendous sense of pride overcoming the challenges that these clients present to me. I know that I am making a difference in the lives of my clients and that knowing me make me and them a little better. I love to see the long term changes of these clients as they progress through treatment.

2. I don't sweat the small stuff and take each shift as a new beginning. I also don't take anything the clients say about me personally as I know they are just reacting from their own issues.

3. So far I have refused to be involved with any moves that may cause me additional stress. My fellow employees may laugh at this sometimes but I have turned down promotions and moves that I knew were going to cause me more work. I have to save something for me.

4. I refuse to work extra shifts. I commit a large portion of my life to the clients and my days off with my wife and little girl are precious to me, they are what recharges me.

5. At the end of good shifts and bad shifts I treat myself to work out time and slurpees. You have to remember to treat yourself, your staff team as well as the clients.

6. I do stuff with my peers outside to the work atmosphere. Rant night at the bar once a month does wonders for the soul.

7.I ensure clear boundaries. I always remind my clients that I am their worker first, and a friend second and I always act in their best interest and they may not always like me for it. Nothing personal.

8. Most important is humor/humor/humor!!!Never take anything so seriously as life is too short to stress over things you cannot change. We can only effect the present, not the past and not the future.

If these things seem all about me, you're right, this is why I have been able to survive as long as I have.

What drags me down? Agency politics and poor government interventions and policies that are both detrimental to the clients and myself. These I have very little control over and I have learned to accept, ignore and jump through all the right hoops to eventually get my way.

Hope this is helpful

Neil Hosler
...

My name is Chris and I've been in the field for 10 years. I don't know if you think that's a long time but I do. The thing that keeps me fresh is movement and change. I need new challenges to keep up my skills and build new ones. The things that keeps me coming back for more is the kids. They always have something they teach me about myself. The one thing that excites me the most is the fact that you never know what your walking into from day to day. There is always something new about the shift. I think if there comes a time when that excitement is not there it is time to move to a new experience. When dealing with the kids I things its very important to be able to separate yourself from them. I mean this in terms of awareness of self and how I'm affecting the people around me. The individuals that I've seen who have no idea how they are affecting the other around them are in my opinion very scarey. The stress that I feel is caused by the other staff and the organizations that I've been apart of (things like adminstration and red tape etc).

I'm sure that I could say more but this is all for now!

Hope it's what your looking for!

Christine Seibel
...

After 30 plus years in the field, here is my "off the top of my head" list of do's and don'ts:

Don't take it personally. Reframe problems as challenges. Seek new challenges (I find that a major new challenge about every 3 years keeps me going - and these might not be positive challenges - such as budget cuts, doing more with less, etc.). Get involved locally, state or province-wide, nationally with other professionals - build networks outside your agency. Leave your job at work - you can think about it at home, go out after work and talk about it with coworkers, be obsessive with "learning every aspect" for a few years but eventually need to develop other "hobbies". Always be open to learning new skills, refining your knowledge base, participating in training (pick an area of interest and do training in it) - never think you know it all" or know "enough". See yourself as a professional with a role outside your agency and communicate with and network with your peers. Have some fun (in an appropriate way) and don't take it personally.

Steve Cable
...

Thom,
You are just making an assumption that we are alive, refreshed and engaged. As a "long timer", I just have more experience looking alive, refreshed and engaged. Excuse me while I attend yet another meeting and "continue on."

Jon Deactis
...

What would you consider to be "long timers"? 10, 15, 20 years? I am reluctant to reply in case I don't fit the long timer criteria.
Ron Moore
...

Good topic. It may take you a while to get replies, as the question requires a lot of reflection. I know my reply will be written in chunks".

I graduated in 1986 with a BSW. My intention was to work in child and youth care for one year. My rationale was that if I was going to work in the Child Welfare field, I owed it to my future 'clients' to know their turf in order to be effective in any type of decision making process that would affect their lives. In 1988 I became a Certified Child and Youth Care Worker through CYCAA. I was also promoted to supervisor in my residential placement.... Today, several promotions later, although not directly front line, I am still very much involved in this field and proudly consider myself a child and youth care counsellor. I'll get close to answering your question sometime soon...

I think that there are "lifers", such as myself, and then there are those who come in to the field, do some solid learning and good work for a couple to five years, then move on. I think that this is great! I truly believe that this field is a gift. We have people willing to get into the field, be committed and do a good job. So that every thing that they have the opportunity to learn in that time they are able to take with them, and all the skills they have are totally transferable to any field or career path. So with this, they become better and more understanding teachers, lawyers, administrators, parents, lumberjacks, etc. They become better people for having given to this field, even if for just a brief time. Thanks for the visit! Using this field as a 'stepping stone is a good thing.
So why do people burn out? ? They don't recognize when to move on ? They have stopped learning ? They have lost their "balance" ? They have stopped believing in what they do ? They have forgot why they got in this field in the first place ? They don't believe that they are making a difference ? They may have allowed themselves to be put on a path that wasn't of their choosing ? and so on...

And what keeps us happy campers alive, refreshed and engaged?

 I appreciate and respect the incredible gift that I have been given to be able to work with these children, youth and their families
I learn something new every day
I have my head screwed on straight, know when to go home and have boundaries and priorities
I know that what I do is a "good" thing
I remember why I'm here
I know I have made, and still am making, a difference
I've chosen my path
I value what I do and know that I'm good at it
I don't expect my needs to be met from the children, youth, families or staff that I work with
and so on...

So Thom, thank you for reminding me to remind myself how lucky I am to be in this field. Take care.

Respectfully,

Pati Chrusch-Page
...

I think the 'secret' is a bit different for each person. However, there have been a few things that I've noticed over the years that may help to answer your question.

First, the ability to maintain perspective when working with very difficult clients over long periods of time is essential. Knowing or understanding that the client that is calling you names or attacking you today will, with patience and effort, become a much better person over time. Gaining this sort of perspective is very difficult for new staff in particular.

I've worked with severely disturbed children and youth for over 20 years. I've given former female clients away at their weddings, have become the god-parent of several children of former clients, have been to college graduation ceremonies of former clients, get letters from former clients who are in the military and from those who are working jobs that pay much better than mine, etc. All of these people were in a very desperate place when they first entered our program. Now they are adults leading meaningful lives.

Secondly, high expectations of staff for client change can place undue pressure on both parties. Some folks who try to work with troubled clients want to see results...NOW. So, they place a lot of pressure on clients to make changes that they are often not prepared to make. When this fails these staff start to feel that they or the program is failing. I often see staff in this position begin to go outside of the program with 'interventions' that they hope will make some sort of quick impression on the client and cause a higher rate of positive change. However, the result, invariably, is that of creating much less consistency within the program which leads to more client testing and misbehavior which leads to more staff frustration, and so on.

I have come to sum this up in my head as follows: in general there are two kinds of people; hunters and farmers. Hunters get hungry, head out, harvest an animal, and eat it. Farmers, on the other hand, carefully prepare the soil, pick out only the best seeds, place them carefully in the ground, and then tend the young and growing plants over time. Farmers must have faith that the seeds they plant today will grow and bear fruit in the future.

It has been my experience that hunters tend to burn out quickly in our field and move on. Farmers tend to have better results and stick around longer. Just some thoughts...

Jeff Glass
...

Thom,
I am amazed at how your question has struck such a responsive chord in the people who have replied, including me. I have been in CYC work all my working life and I can't imagine doing anything else. I started in 1967 and have had a variety of jobs in New York, then Colorado, and then Canada. My energy comes from a boundless curiosity about people and how they decide to do what they do, a sense of humor where I can laugh at myself, others, and some fairly unhappy-seeming events ( a NY Irish trait), and the good fortune of being smart enough early in my career to get outside of my own immediate agency and experience by joining professional associations and going to conferences to meet others on the same path. I love other CYC people and can "recognize them in the dark" to quote Tony Macciocia. I believe that CYC work is different and special and have used this "truth" to give myself energy when I needed it. That's all for now.

Jack Phelan
...

I love the role -- and all the different people I get to hang out with. Not very profound but true for me. (15 years in the field & 13 years with one organization)

Ernie Hilton
...
I am definitely not a dictionary definition of an 'old timer' in the field if the criteria means 6 years of education and ten in the field, however if life experience is of any importance, I have been in the field since I was very tiny. Resilience? Man, tell me about it. I could tell you stories...I have been around I guess you could say, and all my life what kept me going was just believing in myself, even if at times, the world told me different. I knew my heart and I knew my head, always have and always will. I stand my ground.
But in the times I have gotten tired, it was not because I had lost that sense of self, it was because I was starting to believe what others believed, and started to live up to everyone's expectations instead of just living up to my own. In the programs, I am running now, sometimes the youth expect me to be at work 7 days a week,and my children expect me at home 7 days a week. How could I possibly live up to all those expectations? I realize that the only expectations I honestly need to live up to is my own, keeping in my heart and mind what I hold to be important and true of my character. It is about balance. So ya, sometimes it may seem I am telling the world to go fly a kite, but that is who I am, sometimes I fly the kite, and sometimes I just sit back and watch. It is all ok with me, and that is how I stay true to myself and happy.

Tracey
...
Dear Thom:
What a question! I am celebrating my 21st year in our profession as of Oct. 2002. Like all or many of us I have had periods of "What am I doing?". For me the spirit of youth care and one's optimistism lies within each of us. The need for periodic renewal physically, emotionally, spiritually are the key components of endurance. I learn everyday from the youth in our care. Over the years, I have learned the value of play, humour and just being present. I have learned success as defined often by youth care workers is often more stressful and frustrating than any other situations. I realized around the third year in my profession that I created my own stress, simply because my expectations where completely out of sync with the life experience of the youth in our facility. 21 years later, I enter my facility always with the thought that today is another day that can make that profound difference in a youth connecting to themselves and others.

C. Connors
...

My secret to longevity: somewhere along the way I learned that I AM NOT GOD. A valuable lesson---we can't save, change, mold anyone else--so we need to look after ourselves---and recognize/celebrate the beautiful moments in our work. It continues to amaze me. More later!

A good topic Thom---what about you??

Karl Gompf
...

I have been in the youth care field for nearly 20 years and continue to find it challenging and rewarding. What keeps me excited about youth care are two very basic aspects; 1. new information, research, treatment models and youth care advancements. And 2. the depth, care and energy that the new generation of youth care practioneers bring to the profession.

The new generation of youth care workers have insights and experiences which enhance the entire field of youth care. I truly enjoy working with the next generation. As for my own personal means of avoiding the despair that often times over takes those in the healing arts, I keep one foot and hand in the earth and one foot and hand in the sea. Nature is therapy for me. It washes away while nurturing growth. My family also participates in this process we often times walk the beach together looking for the wounders nature that are left for us to discover. I am greatful for the stress and feeling of being drained by work. I makes those time with my family and nature even more important. The paradox of healing. Each of us need to find a place to be grounded.where we can retreat to. To be accepted and embraced with no expectations. To be held by the sound and smell of the sea. I drift upon the waves with no thought of work for a time. My daughter handing me a rock she found while saying I love you daddy. I desire that all find that place of grounding which provides rest, acceptance and balance to life.

Larry James
...
Hi there!

 I am not sure if I am an "veteran" in this field or not. There are definitely a lot more people out there who have been doing this for a lot longer than I have. However, I have worked with youth in some different aspects now for going on 10 years. I have been taking the C&Y Care program at GMCC and have found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! Anyway, about you query. I have been keeping a watchful eye on your question and have been reading most, if not all, of the responses and have realized that here we have one of the best ways to stay fresh and keep ourselves going right under our noses (literally!).

Here we have a great networking system where we share our ideas, stories, experiences and, in the words of a great teacher, our "truths", with many colleagues from all over the world! We can share with each other different strategies for keeping ourselves happy and healthy so that we may continue to be the best possible person we can be and to be the best possible c&ycw for the kids and their families who come into our lives. We are a special breed of people and we should gather ourselves close to one another in order to become stronger.

 However, we need to remember those important people outside our job as well. I myself came to a situation not so long ago where I almost burnt myself out and I was terrified that I could not get out of that "place". Thank goodness I did and I think it is very important for people to not only learn ways of preventing burn out - but - how to cope and come back from it if ever in that situation. Remember your teachings! I cannot tell you how much they helped me. All of what we are taught to help the kids and their families on how to deal with certain situations can so be used in our own lives. Different strategies on how to deal with stress, grief and loss, and self-care, to name a few can be used for ourselves as well as our clients. And what better way to keep learning than by using these strategies (we are our own private testing fields!) ourselves and what better way to role model to a child than by "practising what we preach". Remember that it is ok for us "professionals" to ask for help too. That just because we are the "professionals" doesn't mean that we are perfect!

 Use your support system and take the time to stop and really think about our lives for a few minutes each day and realize just how lucky we are. We have the opportunity to work in (in my opinion) one of the most challenging, rewarding and wonderful careers in the world. We are like caretakers of some of the most beautiful gardens in the world and we have such amazing flowers in that garden, each one beautiful and unique in it's own way. From my past situation has arisen some great and wonderful opportunities for a very rewarding and humble future. I have been able to take not just one or two steps back but yet have taken back up to near 10 steps back and really taken a good look at myself and those around me, my affect on them and their affect on me. Know yourself, know your limits, know what you are and are not capable of doing. If you can't do it then that is ok! chances are you will know someone who can. That is what teams are all about and really and truly that is what we are - we are a bunch of little teams who are coming together to help out our children!

It all comes down to resiliency, theirs and ours. I have the ability to bounce back from adversity and to come out stronger and more aware of myself, and what it is that I want out of this and how I can use this wisdon and strength to achieve this goal for myself as well as for "my children" both in and out of my "professional" life. There have most definitely been some tough times in the past for most, if not all of us, and I have no doubt that there will be more for us ahead. However, if we remember who we are and what we are about then we shall do remarkable and wonderful things. Especially if we remember that it is all about US, so that we are be able to make it all about the KIDS. Don't lose sight of the big picture, when things get so small that you can't see anything else around you that is going on (and trust me - this can happen far too easily!!) that is when the burn out will hit and you won't even see it coming! (well that is novel enough for one time isn't it!)

All the best to you,
Cory-Ann Woods
...

I have been pondering the question Thom posed for several days now, with the intention of responding when I came into work tonight. I am struck by how similar my thoughts are to the many others who have responded. I have been a Youth Care Worker for nine years now, not as long as some, but a lifetime for me. Over the past nine years I have gone through several brief periods when the passion, enthusiasm, and certainty seemed to have left me. I have discovered that this usually means my life is unbalanced: perhaps I have been negelecting my physical health, or the spiritual part of my life, I might need to take a little time off to spend with my family, or perhaps I need a new challenge at work. Just as others have said, balance is key, challenge and change are essential. That's a pretty good life rule I think.

Kim Nicolaou.
...

Thom Garfat asked a while ago: "I would be interested in hearing from some 'long timers' about how you kept alive, refreshed, engaged with the field of child and youth care practice. What's your secret?"

Thom, So nice to see your insightful comments on the net. Your question regarding resilience of Child and Youth Care Workers refers. I guess that I am one of the survivors of South African Child and Youth Care. I have been in the field for more than twenty years. I enjoy my vocation, and we do best when we are having fun. Life for me is a gift and it has always been my philosophy to share the joy of living, in spite of the odds, with everyone else. My retiring question at night is "Have I done the best I could, today? We have to reflect. (However also to be aware of the delusion of indulgence and the professional miasma and leadership scotoma.)

The open-ended question about whose needs have been met, mine or those of the client remains a sobering one. As a person who has been socially excluded in a country where the apartheid idealogy created causualties and heartaches in great numbers, there is one unacceptable reality that repeatedly rips my gut - when the opressor speaks on behalf of the opressed and publicly states "I understand how you feel and what you went through." Really? How can you speak on my behalf? Likewise, this has often been a humbling experience for me in child and youth care. Can I really say to a client that I understand how they feel when, for example, their mother is a prostitute, father an alcoholic and when such a scenario has not been my lot? I have tried to let clients express themselves. My servanthood role includes teaching and modeling that the possibility to change is the essence of hope. The power to change lies with the children and families. Stress and burnout is often the result of taking on more than we are able to. We grew up as children and our parents had us use our fingers everyday as we had to say: IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME. After twenty years I still enjoy the work that I do and would not want to do change it for the world. I believe that even those children and families that we term "dysfunctional," have dreams. I will help them to keep the dreams alive ... or else be haunted by them.

Michael Gaffley
...

To Michael Gaffley, looking for a response to Thom Garfat's question from long timers.
I'm a long timer, but usually don't feel that way. From the beginning of my career in child and youth care, I knew I was home. Not sure why. I like to play, I know that, and I like the struggle. It's good, hard work that I think I know how to leave behind. I have other things to do. It's interpersonal when I'm in it, but I don't "take it personal." Figuring it out, I think, is part of why I stay. Curiosity is a big part of it. And of course, the people, like you, Thom and many others.

Mark Krueger
...
I have been having a wonderful experience over the past few days. A while ago I posted a question asking what it is that keeps, or has kept, people in the field. How come some stay? Well, over the past little while I have been re-reading all the responses to the question and it has been a fine read - invigorating, and hopeful. I wanted to thank everyone who posted. As I promised, I am going to make some kind of a summary and post it on cyc-online - just because it is interesting.

However, a few of the responses helped me to realise I had made a mistake in the posting. I asked about 'long-timers' - people who had been in the field for a while. Some people asked be how long I meant. Well, really, I guess I did not have a time in mind - sometimes you have made the commitment and know you are hanging in there after a very short period of time.

So, I wanted to ask if anyone, and I do mean anyone, had any thoughts about what keeps people hanging in this field. Why do you stay? Perhaps in knowing why people stay, we can be more helpful to others, as well.
Thom Garfat
...

Hi Thom, I had the same query and did my Masters Project at the Maritime School of Social Work in 1998 on that very question. The short answer, after a year of research was, that, "personal and professional values become congruent".
Linda Wilson
...

I have worked as a CYW for 11 years. I am 2 credits away from my CYC - BA and I am leaving the field.

I looked closely at why I love being a CYC. I love knowing that I am there to help a child at, what is most often, the lowest point in their lives. Being a CYC gives me constant challenges. It's never boring. You must always be on the ball. The daily interactions and positive counselling sessions always recharge my batteries. I love working with kids. I love helping them. I love looking back over the years and remembering all the children I have worked with and all the families I have helped. I have had a great deal of fun being a CYW.

Now I am leaving the field. I can no longer work the hours necessary for the shift work of front line, and do not wish to have the head ache and lack of kid contact hours that comes with management. I am moving into teaching and hope that all I have learned as a CYW, and all I love about my job, will also be found in teaching. Maybe someday I'll return, and I will still continue to focus on the professionalization of CYW's. Maybe I can help make a difference for CYW's in a new field.

Tara
...
Greetings
Why do I stay? The answer is very simple. I enjoy what I do each day, and thoroughly. I enjoy the challenge and that is what motivates me each and every day. Some of the children that I have cared for in the past, visit me on a regular basis and we still have that great bond that was established whilst they were placed in care. That makes me think - wow! I must have done something right. Events like these urge me on and keeps me focussed on what I am doing. I stay knowing that with all the tools at my grasp can help make a small difference in some troubled child's life. If I can make a difference in one, then I have achieved a lot. I enjoy being with children and having the opportunity to share their joy, sadness and various events in their lives. I never chose to enter into the field. I believe that I was guided and have made good use of every opportunity that presented itself. Children are special and we must keep in our minds that they are also our future.

Regards
Rev. Kaz Vickerman

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