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Relationships

A visitor to the CYC-NET web site posted the following question through the "Question and Answer" page:

I keep hearing so much about the centrality of "the relationship" in the work of child and youth care friends. Are they for real -- or is this a bit sentimental and bogus? Surely the doctor and the plumber and the auto repairman must equally have good relationships with their customers/clients/patients? What's so different with child and youth care people?

Jon (Jack)
...


Child and youth care work is relationships, that is if we are talking about relationships that empower by integrating self, teaching, counseling, and learning into a myriad of interactions throughout the course of the day.

Mark Krueger
...

The relationship is crucial because of the previous experiences of the youth and the fact that the youth worker 'lives' with the youth daily. To me the relationship is a key, but not the only component of the work. I am fond of citing a trilogy of As: Attachment, Attention, and Activity. All of these are mediated through relationship. At the same time the 3 A factors affect the relationship — e.g. an activity can serve as a focal point to develop relationship.

Karen VanderVen
...

Relationship is in child and youth care work just as crucial as it is in social work activities. I agree with Karen that the three As attach, attend, activity are helpful structures in relationships with children and youth, especially working with the kids who are hurt in both emotional as well as in physical ways. However, relationships with children and youth are well reflected in the writings of Buber and Kirkegaard, the meeting of the I and the Thou ant the I and the It. These are complicated propositions but useful to understand for appreciating how relationship with children and youth become crucial.

Hans Eriksson
...

Karen and Mark have responded to the question raised below, and I certainly agree with their observations. I would only add two points.

First, it is precisely in the area of relationships with others that many of the youngsters with whom we work have been most deprived; therefore, they need to experience real, wholesome, deep relationships if they are to be able to learn about relationships and how to relate positively to others. I think these can only be learned meaningfully by experiencing them.

Second, a related point, the plumber, auto repairman, etc., need to relate to others as a means to an end; for the child and youth care worker, the relationship is an end as well as a means -- it is, in many ways, the focal content as well as the method in the work.

Therein lies the difference, at least for me, in the role of relationships in our work compared to the work of other fields such as mentioned by Jon.

Jerry Beker
...

I agree with Karen V's 3 a's and have been very curious lately about the work that is being done to understand how relationships, skills, knowledge and self awareness are used in context in child and youth care.

There have been a number of good studies and papers on this topic lately in the journals. The metaphors tossed around are jazz, dance, self in action, etc. In other words how does one use one's self skill and knowledge in a range of circumstances, situations and activities in a manner that empowers and promotes growth ... and conversely what are the activities that allow on the opportunity to maximize this potential.
Personally, I've been doing a thematic analysis of relationships -- i.e., been observing workers, analysing their stories and reflecting on my own experience to identify themes in successful interactions. So far I'm focused on presence, meaning, rhythm and atmosphere. For example, in successful interactions workers are present in the moment, curious about and sensitive to the meaning of an interaction or moment for a youth as interpreted through his or her cultural lens, attempting to get in synch with a youth's developmental rhythms for trusting and growing, and sensitive to the atmosphere in which the interaction is taking place.

This, of course, is a very general description of the themes, all of which are much more complex in meaning and practice. And a lot of fun to think about.

Mark Krueger
...

An understandable question -- and a short answer:

Jon partly answers his own question by pointing out how necessary it is for people to establish relationships with others - not only with the significant people in their lives but also with the plumber and the garage mechanic. Young people who come into child and youth care programmes are the very kids who have been failed in their relationships with others, most often to the extent of losing their own ability and confidence to establish and maintain positive and reciprocal relationships.

Child and youth care workers like meeting people, being with people, listening to people - and are good at this with those who find it difficult or threatening or hopeless. The value to the child of the relationship in child and youth care work is simply the relating itself, the experience of being with people who can offer a respectful, responsive and rational relationship, which will survive the expected mistrust and testing.
The youngster gets to the point where he realises, Hey, I can do this; with whatever imperfections, doubts and false starts, I can have a fair shot at relating, mutually, with others -- without having to bully and dominate, or having to submit to too high an asking price, or having to employ neurotic or manipulative methods. Just me.

This is no quick, simple lesson for most of these kids to learn. It takes a lot of knowledge, method, created opportunities, patience and generosity on the part of the child care worker - and getting them "up to speed" where they can take this back into their real lives back home and at school. With the significant people in their lives - and with the plumber!

Brian Gannon
...

I agree with Brian. Other points to remember about the relationship – A great deal of modelling of appropriate behaviour is taking place. The child is involved in a relationship that teaches skills of conflict resolution, caring and problem solving.

Debra Cockerton
...

Another thought to add to the growing and thoughtful pile: the power in relationship is based in very ordinary moments being exchanged, that is moments many of us take for granted such as having someone give us something they took time to think about [not just pick up a quick something that will do], knowing when to touch and when to hold back, noticing something interesting about a person and telling them so, asking someone to help "you" [rather than the usual youth worker role of helping someone else], putting down what we are in the middle of because a child/youth has approached us "now" [rather than asking them to wait just a minute ... ], having a food fight ... Well, that's my addition to a most critical conversation I think — without relationship, all the technique in the world is nothing but dead baggage.

Penny Parry
...

Jon,
Well, I can see this is a provocative question. Like Mark, I too wondered at first if this was a serious question. Perhaps that's because a question like this cuts, in its simplicity and directness, to the heart of the matter and questions what we see as the very foundation of our work. My first reaction was to say `you can't be serious' and then to move on. But I did keep coming back to it. Because it is a question I deal with every day in my work with staff. Whether expressed or not, it is there in many of the alternative questions I hear:

Like, shouldn't he learn a lesson?
Or what makes him think he can get away with that?
Or why should we tolerate that behaviour?
Or How am I going to get him to do that?

At times I wonder out loud: `Are you in this relationship, or are you outside looking in, monitoring and manipulating, but not `being' in the relationship?' For the relationship is this thing between us, but it is also us being together. It is us, we are it. I know, it gets kind of zen-like at this point, but let me continue to struggle — my struggle is about connectedness, by the way.

Think of a time, I might say, when you had a feeling of ‘we’-ness with somebody. It might have been when you were dancing; or playing catch; or walking in rhythmn down the street — at these moments there is a sense of connectedness, of moving together in harmony.

Imagine some other time when, for example, you worked on a common project with another person, and you had a sense of `being in this together' as you both shared the excitement, and frustrations, of trying to reach a common goal.

Or sometimes, in all our lives, we have the experience of being `at one with somebody else' — a time when there is a `fusion of joint experiencing' with another person. Now, I'm not referring to a time when I am you and you are me, but rather a time when we are us.

These are all times when we are `in relationship'. And the word `in' is important here.

You see, effective youth care practice is not just about `having relationships' but about `being in relationship' with youth; about entering into the relationship, not just getting along with someone else but about being in the getting along. We don't just `have' a relationship, like having a chocolate bar, or a new TV or a shinny penny. We enter in to relationship and from within the context of that relationship we help to facilitate change.

Now it is true that the plumber, the car salesperson and the gardner like to have good `relations' with their clients, but they don't enter in to a `relationship'. Effective youth care practice is not about having, it is about being.

Jon, this is an important question for your work with young people. Because how you frame it, influences what you do. So, good for you for asking it.

Anyway, as always, I ramble. Let me suggest a few youth care reading areas to explore:

Mark Krueger on presence, rythmicity and relationships
Gerry Fewster on being in relationship
Henry Maier on attachments
Leanne Rose on being a youth care worker
Bill Halpin on seeing I to I
Karen VanderVen on self in activities
Edna Guttman on the fusion of self and experience
Leon Fulcher on joint experiencing
Lorraine Fox on healing through relationship.
Or even my own stuff on connected experiencing.
Finally, there was an issue of the Journal of Child and Youth Care (Volume  5.2) I think, which addressed the question of how is youth care the same as or different from other helping ways. It covered some of the territory which may be of interest to you.

Thom Garfat
...

Dear Jon,
Thank-you for asking about relationships in child and youth care. You have touched off one of the better dialogues on a topic in weeks.

Everyone who parents has probably become aware of the buzzword 'quality time' as they continue the daily struggle to balance work, housework and lifework. It is no different for child and youth care workers who find their job descriptions becoming increasingly burdened by more and more all the time.

Far too often, child and youth care workers become caught up in catching up and miss the obvious that they are there for the young people and conversely the young people are there for them. Quality time, being in the moment, one to one, whatever one may want to call it, that valuable time simply spent in enjoying living with the young people is what it is all about. Strive to make such time the priority after the other is said and done and come to see it as the reward for work well done. Carve out such time and simply enjoy the moment at whatever activity you each have chosen. You will find both your work and your purpose rewarded and rewarding.

Often younger workers ask, what happens to these kids or does it ever work out? It does and it does primarily around relationship. Chance meetings, ongoing contact and Christmas and Mother's Day often find former young people, now adults and often parents themselves coming forward to express appreciation and just review old memories. If you were truly in the moment, you will find you just go there again with that person and over your shared memories to enjoy the best reward this work offers, a small celebration of healthy humanity. Coincidentally, these confirmations tend to come from the very young people you once struggled the hardest with, may have thought of giving up on and of course, had the strongest feelings for.

In the end, this is the stuff of time and determination. Time carved out of busy schedule, time taken to simply enjoy life on an equal basis and determination to do both. Last week, my young people and myself sampled an eighty foot, frozen toboggan run together. As we all faced the challenge of surviving that sucker, each at our own levels of courage and endurance we shared lots of laughs, emotions and a few passing boo-boos and overall a solid chunk of real quality time which got us out of our usual skins and transformed us into survivors of the slide and perhaps of much more besides. Such opportunities are everywhere in your workday, seize them and go with them.

Garth Goodwin
...

Wow, what a great discussion about relationships - thanks Thom and Penny - I think we're doing professional development. I'm thinking about some of those moments and questions you raised ... cool.

Mark Krueger
...

Greetings!
I've spent the last half hour or so catching up on the relationship dialogue of the last week. I would like to jump into this discussion, but would first like to try and summarize my understanding of some of the key points raised thus far.

1) that "the relationship" is the central mediating force through which attachment, attention, and activity can produce development (Karen);
2) that the study of themes and rhythms in relationships can reveal much about "successful interactions" between children and youth, and those of us who care for them (Mark);
3) that "real, wholesome, deep" relationships are precisely what is needed for the children and youth with whom we work because of their relative and typical deprivation in these very areas, and that in child and youth care, "the relationship is an end as well as a means" (Jerry)
4) that the primary value of child and youth care is in "the relating itself, the experience of being with people who can offer a respectful, responsive and rational relationship, which will survive the expected mistrust and testing," and that this "lesson" is complex to learn and demanding to facilitate (Brian);
5) that "the relationship" ultimately models "appropriate behavior" such as "conflict resolution, caring and problem solving" (Debra)
6) that the power of "the relationship" rests not so much in that which is extraordinary but rather in the "ordinary moments being exchanged" between child and care giver (e.g., "noticing something interesting about a person and telling them so") (Penny);
7) that it is the "zen-like" process of entering into and " 'being in relationship' with youth" that inevitably "facilitate[s] change" (Thom).

From what I can tell (and I hope I didn't miss anyone or any essential point), it seems as though everyone so far agrees that "the relationship" and the "relational process" in particular are at the transformational heart of child and youth care. If this conclusion is fair and accurate, I would wholeheartedly agree. However, I would like to share an experience I recently had that feels relevant to this discussion, and raises additional questions in my mind.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day with a large group of child and youth care practitioners and supervisors in North Carolina. Among other objectives, one essential task of our meeting was to determine what was at the very core of child and youth care as these individuals lived and defined it..
They said many of the same things that we are saying here (e.g., that the ability and willingness to create healthy and healing relationships with children, youth, and families is essential to their work). In fact, these individuals generated a number of examples of "best" and "worst" relationship practices in child and youth care; and it would probably be fair to say that they considered it a given that "the relationship" and "the relational process" were at the heart of what they did. But, as such meetings have before, this one also revealed at least three interrelated questions.

First, how do we best ensure that those individuals who are selected to develop relationships with children, youth, and families are willing and able to do so in a healthy and healing manner?
Second, to ensure and facilitate such relationships, what if anything should be required of these individuals before they are hired and while they are on the job?
Third, what effect, if any, would such requirements (e.g., acquiring or demonstrating specific skills or areas of knowledge) have on a care giver's ability to cultivate the kinds of "connected" and "being with" relationships that we all value?

As with Jon's original question, these three may also be basic (i.e., have been asked before, in one form or another). But, I'd be curious to hear any thoughts from the group.

Craig Shealy
...

Craig,
I don't think I said it was a `zen-like process' but rather that in explaining my idea, I said it 'gets a little zen-like' at this point, referring to the process of explanation, not the relationship. I guess my idea was that being-in-relationship, as a concept, is far enough removed from our normal way of thinking about `relationship' that thinking about it this way, requires a shift in the `how' of our thinking.

That being said, it is worth reading an old article by David Austin and Bill Halpin, on the `I to I' relationship, where the zen-like approach to thinking about relationships is promoted.

I am looking forward to peoples response to your questions.

Thom Garfat
...

Craig Shealy ended his summary of the relationship discussion so far with three questions —
First, how do we best ensure that those individuals who are selected to develop relationships with children, youth, and families are willing and able to do so in a healthy and healing manner?
Second, to ensure and facilitate such relationships, what if anything should be required of these individuals before they are hired and while they are on the job?
Third, what effect, if any, would such requirements (e.g., acquiring or demonstrating specific skills or areas of knowledge) have on a care giver's ability to cultivate the kinds of "connected" and "being with" relationships that we all value?

Hi Craig,
Just some quick thoughts on your three questions.

First I think we use the best available instruments to screen individuals entering the field to see if they have the personal attributes as well as the capacity to develop skills to relate with children in an effective way (I know there are lots of loaded terms in this statement).

Then I think we also interview candidates with panels of experts, child and youth care workers who have demonstrated over a period of time the ability and capacity to relate. Personally in my experience as a supervisor I found the latter source a more accurate predictor. I also felt it was important to stayed tuned in to one's gut feelings and instincts and the collective guts and instincts of people on the recruitment team.
While on the job we develop mentoring and supervisory relationships with workers to support them and expect that they continue to demonstrate their ability to relate--there are any number of evaluations processes to determine how someone is doing. I prefer the qualitative measures.

The skills of relationships and the knowledge base have been articulated in many forums, including the Journal of Child and Youth Care, and the Child and Youth Care Forum over the years. The body of knowledge is extensive and should be required. Personally I believe we should work towards a minimum of a bachelors degree with a focus on relationships. In other words, as workers are with youth they weave as much care, learning, and counseling as possible into their interactions with sensitivity to discovery and context. The goal of course is to empower.

These are just a few quick thoughts, each of which can be elaborated upon with volumes of materials and experiences - thanks for outlining the previous discussion.

Mark Krueger
...

This discussion on relationships has been very stimulating and has let us to thinking about the value, also, of written materials for all of us.

Throughout the discussion, for example, there have been references to various articles, so we were thinking of two things.

One, perhaps we could post the occasional article — from one of the Journals — on CYC-NET web site so people who were interested could access it and read at their leisure.

To try this out we are posting Austin, D. and Halpin, W. (1987) "Seeing I to I: A Phenomenological analysis of the caring relationship." Journal of Child Care, Vol.3 No.3

Two, we were thinking that perhaps people who have them could send along appropriate references and we could post them as well. They would have to be references which were relatively easy to access for most people — e.g., journal articles. We thought that for some people this might expand this discussion. What do people think of these two ideas?

Brian and Thom
...

Greetings, Craig, and colleagues.

Thank you Craig, for your excellent summation of the various comments about relationship. This could be the foundation of a more extensive discussion and ultimately, publication ( sound interesting?). I think your three points are very well taken and agree absolutely.

1. We need to do exactly what you state, ensure that those selected to form relationships with children, etc. are willing and able to do so in a healthy manner. The challenge will be to the whole system and context that we work in — it is not only the literal selection process, but the complex of societal forces that shapes the agencies and programs that utilize workers and the ways in which they are used.
2. Certainly things should be required at the time of hiring and on the job — again, going above and beyond ( that is the challenge to our future) of how much training, pre-service and in-service should occur — as important as that is. Again the issue is both specific and systemic.
3. To me, skills and areas of knowledge ( and I believe we know what they are for this work) — enhance care giver's abilities to form relationships and 'be — with'. It gives care givers a stronger and more complex frame of reference with which to make decisions 'in the moment' ( a kind of information retrieval process) and presents a more enriched personality for kids to relate too, i.e. more 'hooks' for them to anchor to.
I have NEVER been one of those who believed knowledge and skills both within the field and out interfere with 'spontaneity' and ability to relate. ( an old argument against training and education. Too much 'professional' education limits spontaneity. Total nonsense — to be professional in this field one would be encouraged in use of self and would know how and why one was doing this, and for what purpose.

Thank you again for your comments — I DO enjoy hearing from you - and let's all keep up the dialogue. Hope someone's printing it out - shouldn't be lost to cyberspace.

Karen VanderVen
...

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of plumbers — gardeners — and car sellers -
Not cabbages and kings -
And why the 'net' is boiling hot -
Does 'relationship' have wings?"
Relationships — relationships -
Are they not all the same?
In toilets — gardens — vehicles -
Is it just another name?
Do we maybe need a manual
To establish such a claim?
"For what of us," the plumber cried,
"We plumb, we do relate,
We care, we share, we worry -
Morning early and evening late.
We answer the call of duty -
At low, low hourly rate."
"And what about our gardening?"
The gardeners shall wail -
"We plant, we weed, we nurture -
Relationship's our grail.
Our tending is so beautiful -
You can't ignore our tale."
"But don't forget our profession,"
Car salespersons will squeal.
"We do our best, honest we do -
To close for you a deal.
And when you pay a bit too much -
Your pain we truly feel."
"O Walrus," said the youth care soul -
"Let's solve this riddle now.
Whose 'relating'- whose 'relationship'
Should get a first rate bow?
What meaning are we seeking out?
Do we have the 'why' and 'how'?"
"I know, I know," a child cried,
"For I have been in care.
The folks who helped me out the most -
Were great at 'being there'.
They came so close — they moved away -
Their presence they did share.
They cared, they shared, they let me grow -
They took the time to see -
They knew that in 'relationship'
They had to let me be -
They knew when I seemed different -
That it was still just ME."
But — my Mom sells cars and she gardens -
And my Dad a plumber is.
And I am in 'relationship' with them both.
With no apologies to Lewis Carroll (C.L.Dodgson) or to walruses.
A slight tinge of guilt for leaving out the oysters.

Karl W. Gompf
...

A quick note to add to Mark's ideas on how we "get" people who are good at relating/relationship: amongst the experts who might help plan the hiring process and do interviews, how about some young people who have had direct experience with what has/has not been helpful? I would be interested in people's thoughts on this as this is an "easy" thought and a considerable challenge to put into practice.
However, I've been spending some time recently with young people who are involved in hiring and "no flies on them" is all I can say!

Penny Parry
...

The relationship discussion has intrigued me and like several others who have jumped in to comment, I have scanned briefly and noted that I want to pay more attention to this discussion and should come back and re-read the posting. So last night I printed them all off (Yes, Karen, someone is doing that!). I ran out of time to read at work and so took them home. In what I thought was a quiet moment as dinner was cooking in the oven I grabbed them to review. As I sat down to read, my 11 year old plunked herself in the chair opposite and started chattering. She was quite distracting and I was REALLY interested in the ideas that people were expressing on relationship.

However, when I hit the ideas about being present and being in the moment (not new ones, just there on the page), I tossed the stack of papers and decided to JUST DO IT! We had a wonderful conversation and I was again reminded of how important we are to each other.

Later (much) I reflected on the opportunity she presented and what I learned from our interaction. It seems to me as our field professionalizes the demands for paper, accountability for change, focus on positive outcomes for the children, youth and families that we work with impinge upon the nature of our work and our relationships both with clients and co-workers. Some of the skills demanded to do these things, are actually counterproductive to developing relationships because they require the ability to organize, schedule, and be systematic and I think these demands can pull us away from relationship, if we aren't aware of how we respond to them. So, in response to Craig's questions about ensuring people can develop relationships, I might sarcastically suggest that we look for self-aware individuals who are disorganized, late, and avoid paperwork. I also believe that we need to provide time for them to explore and develop their awareness in the context of our relationship and co-worker relationships.

As Karl's poem points out relationships are everywhere. While their essential character may change, they are everywhere. The character of any relationship is ever changing-as long as I attend to the relationship and the person. This is the power of the work we do with relationship. Youth and children come to us and try to create relationships as they know them-patterns of communication and ways of being with each other that don't work. We work to create something different for them and the patterns change. Trying to get these concepts across to young people just entering the field is a challenge.

I am enjoying the discussion about the requisite knowledge, and skills, and self-awareness that promote the ability to be in relationship. I don't think the relationship itself is teachable, although we can tune up some skills and knowledge to enhance it. Helping workers to know who they are and how they interact in the world with others, being aware of themselves is fundamental though.

Dr. Carol Stuart
...

This has been one of the most stimulating of professional exchanges on CYC-NET and I wanted to tell all of you who participated how much I enjoyed your contributions. For those of you who have been lurking in the luminescence of your screen, I invite you to jump in, especially those of you who are living this on a day-to-day basis in your work with youth, families and colleagues. Any exchange like this can only benefit from your presence.

And we need you here on-line.

Relationships are the essence of child and youth care practice for it is within the context of meaningful relationships that young people might have an experience of themselves different, and hopefully more satisfying, than their previous experiences. In the context of a caring relationship, they might find new ways of structuring their experience of the world and the encounters they have in it. The attention to relationship and being-in-relationship while utilizing everyday life events for therapeutic purposes is one of the ways in which the professional practice of child and youth care work distinguishes itself from other forms of helping. I thank all of you who, over the past few months, have contributed to my professional development.

Thom Garfat
________ 

 

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