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24 JANUARY 2001
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Child and youth care work in the school environment

Carolynn McCully

Our children's home is situated within the Chatsworth area of Durban and caters for the needs of 104 troubled youth and children. During 1998 there was an increasing demand from school staff for support from the child care staff in managing children and youth with severe behavioural problems and academic underachievement. The co-operation which developed between Child and Youth Care workers and school staff is now regular and ongoing. However, this required careful planning and implementation.

The idea of involving such workers within the school environment was recommended to school staff at discussions which highlighted and clarified the role and functions of Child and Youth Care workers. Hence, there was a positive point of departure to the programme. The programme was aimed at a target group of ten children, ages varying from 6-1 2 years, at a primary school. The target group was identified by the school staff as requiring immediate support. Child care workers offered to provide three hours per day over a period of two months and to be followed by an evaluation with children, the child care and the school staff.

The children involved in the programme were interviewed individually and 60% of them said that they experienced the role of the Child and Youth Care worker as supportive. Further, they felt comfortable sharing their difficulties with these staff as compared with the teacher whom they perceived as more authoritative and easily frustrated. At the same time, 40% of the children indicated that they were embarrassed and felt labelled due to the Child and Youth Care worker involvement in the classroom. They suggested that these staff should be made accessible to the entire class, thereby removing the “children's home" child stigma.

The care workers indicated that they experience recognition as full members of the team. Further, they viewed working within the life-space of the child in the school milieu as an exciting and challenging venture. They felt that they were able consistently to address the children's developmental and academic tasks and needs, thereby building their competency and thus enhancing each child's self-esteem. The Child and Youth Care workers shared that the majority of the children involved in the programme felt supported and experienced them as being sensitive to their needs, whereas a few children reflected some discomfort but were nevertheless co-operative. According to school staff, behavioural changes were noted in those children involved in the programme. Specifically, they became more attentive during lessons, they completed tasks, there were fewer hitting out behaviours, their tendency to leave the classroom frequently was reduced, there was far less truancy from school, and they made an effort to be more responsible about their homework and care for stationery. The school staff indicated that the role of the Child and Youth Care worker had provided for modelling of behaviour management and other intervention as well as creating an awareness of the non-academic needs of students. Hence the school staff viewed the involvement of child care workers as supportive and complementing their role as educators.

After school hours
The programme has created an awareness within the community, and parents have reached out to the children's home for guidance and support in relation to their children. They have also suggested the idea of extra-curricular activities after school hours and during school holidays. The programme has been a positive learning experience for both child care and teaching staff. It is clear that the role of the Child and Youth Care worker in the school environment can enhance the ability of children and youth to achieve scholastic, developmental and therapeutic goals.

A view from another country

I am a Child and Youth Worker who is working in the school system and have just completed an art program with a Grade 7 class. This project involved making masks, formed to their face (this took one day) and the next week we painted them. I asked the kids to think very carefully about what they wanted the different colours to represent. The idea was to have them personalize their masks further with colours representing the different aspects of themselves that they find hard to verbalize. The following week they brought in different items with which they further decorated the masks. These items were to represent values, important happenings, family interests etc.

It was wonderful to see how completely different each mask was. Each student described their mask to me and 10 out of the class stood up and described symbolic meaning to the rest of the class. This exercise in itself proved very therapeutic for those involved, as they had an opportunity to explain something important about themselves.

I took this opportunity further by picking out different students in the class, some with esteem issues, to take part in a drama presentation. I used the reading of “The Masks” (not too sure if there is an another title to it.) It starts out “Don’t be fooled by me, don’t be fooled by the face I wear ...' I broke this reading up into three reading parts. I worked with the three readers to get them to dramatize the words.

Each reader has a mime who uses body language to interpret the words. The mimes have their masks on during the presentation. One of the students plays the piano so we have a music piece to start the production. Another of the students is very athletic so we were able to bring in another dimension to our production as they bring the mimes to life. Three other students from the class are doing a backdrop for the presentation to the school.

For a short piece of drama it has turned out to be a tremendous opportunity for many students in this class to give expression to their lives. Five of the students are going to tell the meaning of their masks and the backdrop will include all the masks made by the class. They will later be seen in a display case.

It has been very interesting and revealing for me as I work with these students. For some the experience is extremely beneficial as they struggle with expression of themselves. The esteem building is a “happening”. The local community newspapers have been called and are coming out to view the presentation. The students involved in the drama part have also invited their parents. I will be videotaping this event as well. Hope this happening, gives you some ideas.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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