I work in the youth justice field with young offenders in secure custody, mostly from Toronto. Throughout my career I have worked with a variety of people who all have different methodologies and agendas. I am not the type that believes that we can help every youth that we get into custody, however, I do believe that we can make a positive impact. Whether it is by something we say or something we do I think that most youths can take something away from their experience with us. My question is how do you handle working alongside other staff members who do not necessarily have the same positive outlook or tend to think that what we do is a 'waste of time'? How do you continue to work with the youths and to try to help them when the people around you almost ridicule you for doing your job? And finally how does one maintain a positive attitude when everything around you seems negative? I understand that one would hope that the people who begin a career in this field should all have a common goal, but I have seen firsthand that this is not the case. Any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated.
This is very sad to hear. I also feel that anyone in this field should realize that within every youth is good. We need to find this quality and build on their self-esteem. A major factor in helping a youth. You should talk to your co-workers and tell them how you feel. As far as I am concerned workers like this need a new career as this is not who we are as CYC workers. Maybe your co-workers have had some bad experiences, which does not justify their actions but may be a reason. They (not the youths) need to come to terms with their commitments to these youth. Don't give up, because without your support these youth may have nothing.
I work with high risk youth, and I have worked alongside some less than enthusiatic co-workers - thankfully I work with a great team now.
Some workers (staff), suffer from compassion burnout or for various reasons, don't have or don't apply their skills. I find that to keep my enthusiasm I have to regularly practice self care. Sounds simple, but it makes a huge difference in how I approach my day. That can mean different things to different people. For me, I have to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, but I also have to feed my soul with art, a good book and some getting away and travel. If I don't keep my own light bright, I won't have much to give.
I love what I do and I don't want anyone bringing me down. I find if I feel good about things, their negativity doesn't affect me and if it starts to, I am pretty blunt about not wanting to hear it. Still, it can be annoying and tiring at times.
May your light continue to shine!
Prince George, BC
Perhaps it would help to remember that the people around you who are negative probably started out just as positive as you did. Something happened along the way to "change their minds" about how much impact they can make. There are many things that can have such a negative impact, but when staff do not receive adequate support and supervision, and when their superiors are negative as well, that certainly makes it difficult. It might help you to probe a little bit at the right time about how they felt when they started out, and what impacted so negatively on them. It might remind them of why they are there, and even if it doesn't, it will give you some valuable insight to make sure you don't follow in their footsteps.
Werner vd Westhuizen
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Your question is quite a common concern in the field of youth care in general. My best advice is to keep doing what you are doing. It might not seem like it now, but your heart-felt approach will have a lasting positive impact on the clients.
Those who don't view the field from a positive
perspective are probably not in it for (justice) as are you. They are
probably in it for punishment. Two totally different things. Just keep on
going with your approach.
Canadian with 20 years in the field
In response to your e-mail I wanted to share with you that, although I have no formal experience in the CYC field, I am currently enrolled in the BA CYC program at University of Victoria.
I recently resigned from my job as a registered insurance broker. This is the job I've known all my working life and have to say that a lot of what you are experiencing with your co-workers was my experience in my field as well. I agree with you that in starting a career in CYC you would think that we all have a common goal and that is for the betterment of the children and youth we work with. I commend you for reaching out to others through this network as I believe you will receive the reassurance and responses you are looking for.
For me as a life long dream to be in a position where I
am helping youth I plan to faithfully remind myself every day that it is my
job and nothing and no one can take that away. This is my choice to be in
this profession and I want to be here, so whatever anyone else says or
whatever they experience is their issue. Keep your head up because positive
energy (light) overcomes negative energy (dark) and don't let it (or them)
suck it out of you ... let them find it on their own ... or even through
you, but not at your expense.
I hope that helps. Just know it is not just you and not just this profession from what I can see.
This is not something that I am suprised to hear about, in my short time working in this field (I have been working in a group home for a year now and am currently in my 2nd year of the CYC program at Mount Royal College) I have encountered similar situations.
Bringing this issue up with your co-worker is a logical
way to go about this problem, but I also think that often dynamics play a
large role in the effectiveness of doing this. This is a field with a great
potential to cause individuals to become tired, frustrated and burned out.
This is often reflected through their work and their attitude/perspective of
the work that they do.(To clarify I want to acknowledge that this not my
view of everyone working in the field, but may occur in some cases). These
things in themselves are a result of a number of factors that could be
discussed at length however going back to the original topic of working with
such individuals, I can agree that this does become a barrier for those who
are working along side them.
Some of the thoughts that I have had about this topic include education and training(or lack thereof). The more you know or the larger your tool box, the more ideas, options and strategies you have to work with to do the best that you can to help each individual each in an individual way- going back to the original comment about making a positive impact vs. making a change in their life. Without any of those things it's not possible to have any positive role in the lives of the youth we work with. Without those tools, I know that I would struggle and develop a lot of resentment, frustration and bitterness. Another issue is also lack of staff, fewer people mean that more of it falls on one person. This is where the importance of self-care comes in. I think that this is one of the biggest pieces when looking at the question of how can I do the best that I can do? (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy)
I believe that everyone in this field goes into it with
their own reasons and I can't believe that those are anything but positive.
It takes work to hold onto that reason and outlook because yes, it is
demanding and can take it's toll in a variety of ways whether we are aware
of it or not. In the case that I didn't see a change in my own work and
attitude, ideally I would want to know about it. It doesn't have to be a
negative thing. "Hey you seem tired, are you doing okay?" or "You seem to be
struggling with this client, what's going on?"
Looking at some potential reasons and risks for such "less enthusiastic colleagues" may put a different spin on things. As unpleasant as it may be to work in that situation I don't think that it needs to be about blame or dislike. Creating a team or work environment where those conversations can be had is a preventative way to create awareness of things that are going on, openess and comfort in having those conversations with each other, because sometimes all you need to do is talk.
The question I ask you is how would you want the situation to be dealt with if the roles were reversed?
I have recently experienced this in the field, but more in group care, as well as in an open custody home. At first I found it very hard to show who I really wanted to be in this field, but then realized it is not up to them to justify who I will be. I mainly gained this perspective every time I worked with one co-worker, who has been in the field for almost 10 years, and just smiles and gives it her all. So I asked her if it fazed her at all that some of the staff around her talk so negatively about the field. Her response was, at first I felt like I had to “fit in” with my co-worker’s, until I realized how I acted with the youth when no one was around, and she did see those times make a difference. It is an easy thing to fall into when everyone around you is being negative, my advice is know why you got into the field, and ask the people who are being so negative what made them choose this field as well! If you feel the light is burning out because of the people you work with and not because your passion is fading, then maybe try something new within the field! But mostly just know who you are, and why you do this! We all can make a difference if we want to!
It is admirable that you are concerned about your less enthusiastic colleagues. You can try to motivate them to recapture their passion for their work but that can be hard to do. I think that the best way to motivate them is to lead by example. Positive energy can be contageous and that may work. Going to work with energy and passion for your job is all you can do. The bottom line is that the kids we work with will be the best judge of which workers are in it for them, and who is in it for some other reason.
I have been in this business for many many years and one thing I have found is that youthwork has a cross-section of people, just like every other profession. There are people who are here because it is their passion, people who are here for lack of better situations, people who are here to figure something out, and people who see it as nothing more than any other job.
I am always happy to see young people in our profession
who are willing and able to give some enthusiastic years to this work ...
and, who are willing to energize the tired workers around them. They are the
ones us old fogies want to leave this business to. And, I frequently run
into people who have lost their desire to be here and yet know nowhere else
to go. The point is, part of learning to be a flexible youthworker is
finding ways to work with the challenges the youth give us AND the
challenges the system and the other workers give us. It is all part of the
work. I wonder what would happen if you simply observed those folks to see
if you can learn something from them that furthers your own practice?
In any field, in any arena, there are those of us who act upon what we know. Until someone challenges us, we are left to our own devices. So that is what I suggest. We need to create a forum of communication between workers where we can tell and hear what others are basing their actions on.
Although others ways may seem intrusive or somewhat offensive or just way off base, there may be something there. We need to have the opportunity to let fellow workers know how their style is affecting us. Some, of course, won't care but ... just as we can have an impact on the youth, we can have an impact on co-workers. We need to let go of our own beliefs for a moment and allow others to perform to the best of their ability. We need to work on relationships always. The youth are watching us ... we need to step up and perform better and better ... ongoing. Going to work isn't always easy but if we take the high road and challenge ourselves, yes, it will be tiring at first but I believe that the rewards will be plenty. It's really about self. What can I do to make this a more pleasant experience?
Being new to the CYC field, I have also realized the reality of your concerns. Through my daily routine, I have developed an awareness to finding the 'good' in the bad and 'taking care of myself' so I can take care of others.
Although these are also messages within the responses you have received, I also recognize the strength and motivation of those responses as well; and I believe that it is strength and motivation that will take us where we need to go in life.