When we careworkers are working with the youngsters in our care, how well do we locate ourselves in helpful or appropriate generational or role relationships in our one-to-one contacts? For example, are we aware that our kids may be seeing us in parental/uncle-aunt/neighbour/teacher/even peer or some other terms? Or seeing us in quite different terms, such as of a previous generation/socially remote/expert/authority terms? Do we even think about such role positions or consciously use them to the advantage of the relationship? And then how would we (or do we) manage such variation in the group situations in which we work?
I appreciate the asking of this question. As a 41 year old male who has been working in the field for twenty years I know I am not a peer anymore. I have grey in my hair and beard. That said, I still am able to keep up with most kids on the basketball court or in the field. I am playful and youthful in my demeanor. I do find myself fluctuating in and out of connecting with kids as an adult or as an adult who is cool, down or hip. I am an authority figure in all my roles as a care worker, and I am more confident in my abilities to use my authority in ways that garner respect and confidence as opposed to obedience. I think much of what works for me in bridging generational gaps is being playful, curious, accepting and empathetic with folks I work with. I think race and gender are larger obstacles that generational differences really.
I think the most important thing is that we create a trusting and respectful relationship, no matter what our age is. We can’t control how a youth sees us but as long as we have clear boundaries and we have their interests at heart, everything else will fall into place. However they see us we still have to guide them as a role model.
As reflective practitioners we need to be aware of such views that are likely to be shared not only amongst YP but also staff. I started out in residential child care ten years ago at only 20 years old and the way the youth viewed me and my role was completely different to some of my colleagues. I had the privilege and good fortune to learn from professionals with many years of experience and whilst absorbing their good practice I was aware I could not expect to gain the same response from youth if I tried to act like their mother - but I believe that's one of the great potentials of working in a staff team. It's important for young people to have all different types of role models - back then I spent a great deal of time doing physical activities, pampering the girls and giving advice about relationships, how to respond to friendship problems and helping to build self esteem. My shift partner was seen as a much more motherly nurturing figure who the youth saw as being wise, knowing the answer to most questions and ensuring they were clean, tidy, understood the rules and reasons for them.
There was a diverse range of staff who each brought their skills and individual knowledge to the youth who needed this. Being a child care worker is a career not a job, and we evolve in our own lives, influenced by our life experiences and this shapes the way others see us. Ten years have passed since I first began my career and I am now a wife, mother and no doubt viewed differently - indeed I often ask myself in a crisis what my first shift partner would do and this helps to restore my faith in changing young people's lives for the better. I have also worked in staff teams when different role models have not been eviden t- the absence of male workers, or a caring motherly figure is a huge barrier to meeting all of young people's needs in group care and this should be taken into account when placing staff in different units. It is so important to create safe environments that promotes respect for individuality and diversity, where everyone is valued for their unique skills and contribution - where we are non judgmental and challenge discriminatory views and avoid promoting a hierarchy based on power. New workers often challenge the way things are - fine, and this can be useful for promoting healthy change- it's not enough to assume just because experienced workers say this is the way we do things that it is necessary the best practice. It's about listening to everyone and promoting opportunities to use the skills and qualities we have to enrich young people's life experiences.
Based on my personal practice and what I have experienced as a youth in the past. I believe that both experienced and new workers are needed in the field of child care. I find that youth often appreciate new workers because they find them more relatable to their lives. For example they may share more commonalites then an experiences worker. However experience workers have lots of experience; and youth may look to an experience worker for advice and guidance as the would to a parent. As Dennis mentioned I strongly believe if the youth’s best interest is kept at all times everything will workout and age won’t matter, ultimately we are role models for these youth. I also believe if a strong emphasis is placed on a youth’s strength it will help establish a positive relationship.