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Feeling like a failure? 

2014

Hi,

I am submitting this question as part of our Eastern College, curriculum: 
 
How does one not feel like a failure, when a Child or Youth, that you have been working with, refuses or can't be helped by yourself?

Cheryl
... 

There are many people working with that child if I cannot reach them I will keep my eyes open and make sure someone else is. If no one is then I feel it is my responsibility to point that out to the team. New eyes and new approaches can be used.

It takes a community to raise a child.

Donna Wilson
...

Hi Cheryl,

I think it is a very difficult skill to learn, but you need to be separated from the client emotionally. A person that doesn't want help at the time of offering should not be made to feel forced or badly about this decision. Continue to provide consistent care for them, give gentle reminders that you are available when they are ready, but most importantly you need to accept that boundary.

Do not feel as though you have failed someone who perhaps doesn't know how to accept or ask for help. If you can say that you've done everything, tried everything, then you were successful. It is up to the client if they are ready and open to the process of help.  A child/youth can be legally detained or mandated to be in a certain program or hospital or placement as a result of their behavior, but they may not get anything out of it as a result of being forced into it. Voluntary, willing participation will always yield better results.

Do not get down on yourself if your client is not ready yet. Give them time, consistency and respect. Be the constant in their life, you'll be surprised at what can happen!

Cheers,
Heather Forsey
...

Cheryl,
 
When the child refuses then, for me, I recognize, celebrate and appreciate the child’s or youth’s ability to know what is important to them in their own journey.  Note that in your way of defining failure you are imagining that them refusing to be helped, in the way you think they could be helped, means that they are not being helped or that you are not being helpful to them.  To me this is a lovely place to re-define what I consider to be helpful and how I may decide this fits for others.
 
When I can't help another, literally, then I look in the mirror and question if I have done all I can.  If I have then what more could I expect from myself?
 
My bottom line is based on how I am able to create relationship with the child or youth.  Whether we have a few minutes or a few years.  Have I met them where they are at and been always respectful of their capacity to do differently and to make their own choices?   Have I worked to align our goals in treatment and created a genuineness in our interactions?   Have I created opportunities for feedback and recognition for the differences in how we see helpful?
 
These are just some of the questions I ask myself.
 
Hope this is helpful.
 
Janet
...

Hi Cheryl,

 Some of the only ways we can fail is to not show up, refuse to adopt a caring approach, or to not be intentional about supporting the process of growth and change - both ours and the individual. The other person's internal response is only within their control!

James Freeman
California USA
...

Maybe you don't.  Maybe you allow yourself to recognize your own shortcomings (or your programs shortcomings) and from there work to change them for future clients.

If the child refuses even before you are able to start then I file that under 'not ready for service'.  That doesn't mean you are a failure, it means the client wasn't ready to accept service and may very well come back to the program in a few months/year etc. Or even access adult services to work on issues from their childhood.  You can't make someone ready, you can't make anyone do anything they don't want.
Lisa
...

Hello Cheryl,

With respect to your question about "feeling a failure" when children or youth refuse or can't be helped; this is a complex and intriguing question.

Firstly, I would like to emphasise that as time passes and you gain more experience working in the child and youth field, you will come to realise that every child and youth is unique and every situation unique and complex, and that sometimes, as child and youth workers, it is not always obvious that we are  "helping" or "changing" the children or youth we work with. However,  what you need to bear in mind is that every encounter we have as human beings relating to other human beings will leave an impression, a memory, a feeling or even just a thought, and that it is these impressions, feelings, memories or thoughts that are important. I know that as a novice child and youth worker it is sometimes difficult not to take a child or youth's reactions personally, but you must not at any cost, view a child or youth's negative behaviour/s, verbalisations and so on as a personal failing. This is very important to begin to understand when starting out in the child and youth worker field because it will be difficult to continue in this often very challenging and emotionally intense field if you view a child or youth's refusal to be helped as a personal failing. The children you will be working with will often (not always) have  experienced multiple and severe traumas and it is with this in mind that you need to work compassionately but with the understanding that  trust builds over time and the most important thing that you can do for a child or youth is to "stick with it," but that you might not see any obvious positive changes whilst working with specific children or youth Although it may sometimes seem like a child or youth is "refusing" to be helped, building a therapeutic relationship and gaining trust takes time. The work child and youth workers do is relational within the context of daily living, and even though the changes we would like to see in children and youth are often not obvious, visible or immediately apparent, you are making an impression if you are being a good role model and you sincerely care for the children and youth you work with.

It is also very important for you to realise that (as I wrote previously), many of the children we work with have complex histories and various challenges and that we can't always "fix" them. Child and youth work is about presence; about working "in the moment" and if you can "give" something to a child or youth "in the moment" that can become a memory, a feeling, a thought or a tiny seed that will grow, you have done a good job.

Also, it is very important for you to be able to talk to someone about how you are feeling when working with challenging children. You need to be able to discuss your feelings of "being a failure" so that you can gain some perspective and encouragement. Talk to your supervisors or to someone who is experienced in this field about these feelings because these feelings can sometimes get in the way of working effectively in this field.

There are a number of books which you can read on vicarious trauma and how this impacts those in the helping professions. You may want to find some of these.

Hope this helps.
Delphine Amer
...

Cheryl,

There is no such thing as one size fits all in therapeutic relationships. Your style, approach and personality will work for some clients, and mine will work for others, so between us we make a team. While staff do need to be flexible and capable of adjusting their approach from client to client, fundamentally, they are who they are, and no staff member can connect with all of the clients all of the time.

The challenge for the staff in the situation you describe is to ask him/her self 'what is success in the relationship?' and 'why does failure to achieve a particular outcome equate to failure as a person or as a worker?'. It sounds a bit like the worker has an unrealistic expectation that may be born out of a need to prove something to him/her self!

In answer to your question, the staff member needs to use professional supervision wisely to explore his/her needs in the relationships with their clients and work toward accepting that they are ultimately not responsible for anyone but themselves. You can only ever do your best, sometimes that is good enough and sometimes it is not. Unfortunately that is part of the challenge!

With best wishes,
John Byrne
Ireland
...

Hi Cheryl,

Wow, its difficult isn’t it?  When youth or children slap away (even metaphorically) the hand that we stretch out to them?  Leo Buscaglia in one of his classic videos says “This is a strong thing, this hand.  So what if someone slaps it away?  Put it back out there”.

I have felt frustrated many times when children reject my efforts to be helpful, but I learnt that my disappointment was more about myself than about them.  It was about my fear of rejection and feelings of inadequacy, rather than where they (children) really were at in their process.  And this is what reflective practice is all about – always asking the questions “What am I experiencing now? “.

If I have to say something that I think you might find useful, I would say: “It’s OK when a child refuses your help, in fact, it’s a good thing.  It shows that the child has some sense of mastery, at least enough sense of personal power to choose”.   We need to respect these choices.  It does not mean that we stop being available for them, or that we stop working at building trust relationships and protective environments – no, we carry on with that, we continue to put our hand out there, as many times as it takes.

Some children will be beyond your reach, but you are not responsible to save them all.  You are one of many, and you must trust that when you are unable to help, someone else will.  Consult with your team, see if there is someone else who has some connection with this child or youth, who can perhaps capitalise on that.

Our feelings of failure often go back to our own childhoods, our families of origin, and the core reasons why we enter this profession.  If you are open to exploring that, it might be worth your while discussing it with a supervisor or counsellor.  You are bound to experience a lot of rejection in your career (if one can call it rejection), and it is important to place that within context, both professionally and personally.  The tool that we use to do our work is ourselves, and we have to continuously sharpen that tool, because it’s all that we have.

I hope some of this is useful to you. Good luck – and know that you are experiencing something that we all face – you are not alone.

Werner van der Westhuizen
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
...

Hi Cheryl
 
I think by respecting the independence of another person more than an outcome. To understand that a young person is at a place he or she wants to navigate themselves through, even if it seems illogical to you. Even if I don’t always get feedback on my own impact on others, I hear enough about how young people talk about the impact of someone in their past to believe that even if we don’t see change immediately, we still have an impact in the moment - if we relate purposefully. There is value in staying reflective and to consider all possible realities that may be occurring at one particular moment.
 
To continuous exploring…
Rika Swanzen
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