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Life space work

2011

Dear colleagues
 
Isn’t it time for Child & Youth Care Workers to go back to basics? It is extremely worrying if many of us cannot articulate what we do and explain who we are. I have, in many instances heard Child & Youth Care Practitioners defining who we are by articulating what other disciplines like Social Work, Psychology, Probation work do. It is clear that some of us have lost sight of what defines us and distinguishes CYCW’s from the rest of other professions. We are not Social Workers. We are not Probation Workers. We are not Nurses. We are Child & Youth Care Workers and ‘life space work’ is what we do. I suggest that Child & Youth Care Workers re-visit characteristics of child and youth care approach. We use daily life events as a focus for intervention; individuality of approach; we are with people as they live their lives; we focus on the context of interaction and intervention; we hang out with people and hang in – good and bad times etc. Life space work should underpin all these characteristics. At the time when the South African Child & Youth Care Sector is fighting for professionalization, Child & Youth Care Workers, particularly in South Africa, MUST know their scope of work and what is central to what they do. What meaning will there be if our field is professionalized and we do not know what the scope of Child & Youth Care practice is? As simple as 'life space work' may sound to a non- CYC practitioner, this is, amongst many others, what defines who and what we are. Life space work is a specific approach to working with young people and families and this is particular only to our field. We should not, as has been the case in the past, follow the approaches of others instead of our own.
 
Vincent Hlabangana
SOS Children’s Villages South Africa
...

Replying to Vincent Hlabangana's question ...
 
Vincent,
 
This is very true.
 
Michelle Linger
Sos Children's Villages
...
 
Vincent, I totally agree, we are not a piece of the pie, we are the pie! The only thing missing is the youth, there is no shortage of them!

Clayton Ellis 
...
 
Hi Vincent,
 
What you say is so true.  I do however feel that this "push and pull" is like an either/or situation - either you are a "real" child care practitioner or not.  Is there no room perhaps for a both/and position?  Let me explain.
 
Child care workers as qualified and registered professionals have a unique identity and field that no-one else can lay claim to, and that is rightly so, because the profession has several very unique aspects of practice. But, there are so many people involved in the field of child care work, who may not have qualified as child and youth care workers per se, that one perhaps needs to find a way to include them.  There are many people from the fields of social work, psychology, education, and so on, that work as child care care workers, and some of very foremost advocates for child care work in the world are qualified as social workers or psychologists. 
 
I think there must be a way to secure the identity of child care practitioners while at the same time finding a place within the field for all the others from different disciplines.  To be honest, this sometimes creates mixed feelings for me when, one the one hand, I strongly support the development of the profession, but on the other hand, I sometimes feel "pushed away" because I am not a "pure" child care worker, yet there can be no doubt that I am practicing in the field of the child and youth care work.

We can have a both/and position: we can have child and youth care practitioners, and then also have social workers (and others) practicing in the field of child and youth care work.  I think those of other professions working within the field of child care work also face the dilemma sometimes of losing a bit of their identity - when you work in the child care field, your perspective changes permanently, and you cannot go back to an "old paradigm".  For those of us in that position - it separates us again from our peers in other fields because we stand with one leg in child care work and another in social work. 
 
Anyway, these are just my ramblings, but would love to hear from others on the topic.
 
Werner van der Westhuizen
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
...
 
Hi Vincent,

A well timed rallying call. I have just completed a book chapter on the 'life space' and appreciate how hard it can be to explain what it is we do. I really like the notion of 'hanging out and hanging in'. There is also the social pedagogic concept of 'head, hands and heart' that sums up how we bring together our skills to support children and young people. We do need to shout out about our work and our shared moments of joy within the life space.
 
Peace
Jeremy Millar
...
 
Dear Vincent
 
I agree - that's why I made Fair Start, to define a professional role for orphan caregivers
- www.fairstart.net/training
 
med venlig hilsen/ Yours sincerely
 
Niels Peter Rygaard
...
 
Hello,
 
I am currently a second year Child and Youth Care Counselling student in Calgary. I really liked your post about how the work of a Child and Youth Care Counsellor is that of life space work. I feel that often times in my practicum I get placed into the category of a social worker as most of the people in the position are social workers.
 
I always get a little taken aback when people introduce me as a social worker because that is not what I am and my philosophy does not follow that of a social worker.
 
When I chose to go to university in grade 12 I had a friend who wanted to be a social worker and though I knew I wanted to work with children I never wanted to be a social worker or get so involved in the politics of being a social worker. When asked by a close friend in high school what I wanted to do I would always reply with “ I want to love children so that every child knows they are loved.” After that I started looking into options that would allow me to do that.
 
I came across the Child and Youth Care Counselling program and found that it was perfect for me. Through my university classes I have also learned how to build deeper relationships with children that will help me as I move into this field of work.
 
I believe that relationship is SO important in life and that using relationship you can change a person’s life. Not through programs or sending them off with strategies. I love the whole idea of the life space interview as well as the conflict cycle and the circle of courage. All three I have learned in school and believe they can be extremely effective when you have a relationship with a child. All children want to know is that someone cares about them.
 
I hope that one day people will be able to see care component in child and youth CARE workers and be able to identify the difference between our work and that of a social worker’s.
 
Ashley Nussbaum
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