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108 FEBRUARY 2008
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relating and communicating

Connecting – while connecting the dots

Karl Gompf

I love the way Child and Youth Care allows us to connect the dots. A seemingly minor life-event happens and we relate it to our practice in a meaningful way. We hear a story and we translate it into action in our attempt to make this a better world for children. We read a book, an article, a short affirmation, or an e-mail message – it triggers something inside our child caring guts that moves us forward to a deeper understanding about relationships or why “hanging in there” is the most critical mantra in our profession. So here’s what’s happened lately! The dots connect!

The event: Relationship expanded
A letter arrives from the local Financial Institution. “The time for the renewal of your existing mortgage is drawing closer and we would like you to have the benefit of knowing all of your options. Please feel free to contact us anytime at your convenience.” And here’s the clincher ... wait for it!

“We plan to contact you again closer to your actual maturity date to discuss our “relationship” pricing features.”

At long last, concrete proof that other professions most assuredly have learned from the Child and Youth care field that relationships do matter. Pricing features are no longer just figures on a page; they are relationship features. So now the challenge is to approach my mortgage renewal with greater sensitivity, focusing on the context, the intention, and my own vulnerability before signing on the dotted line.

The connection? It is clear that our profession has arrived – that we impact meaningfully on other professions. Even the hard-nosed financial world has caught on, using the language of relationship. In our child caring world, the focus on relational understanding hopefully pays off for children, youth, and families. Now to find out if the Financial Services world pays off for me. Will my engagement in discussions about relationship pricing features mean that I truly do impact my mortgage rate? Surely the FSO (Financial Services Officer) who penned the letter is also a part-time or former Child and Youth Care practitioner. We will no doubt connect on a deeper level, previously unattainable, in establishing that my current needs are greater in this relationship than the needs of the FSO and the Financial Institution.

The story: A child's innocence
An eight year old girl is interviewed on CBC radio about her fears regarding the current bombing of Iraq. In the tiniest, most innocent voice she expresses her concern about what will happen to the families being bombed, in particular the fate of the children.

She says, “I worry about them. I think they will be a little homeless.”

The connection? As the saying goes, “out of the mouths of babes!” What a beautiful way to look at the most horrendous of situations. The innocent child, perhaps not understanding the depth of the devastation resulting from war, knows instinctively that the Iraqi children will be a “little” homeless. She worries, in the concerned way that eight-year-olds do, but has faith that someone, somewhere, will help the children to be “less” homeless. The adult view may be that there are no degrees of homelessness “it’s all or nothing “one can’t be just a “little” homeless. But wait – the child's view speaks to a proactive stance – let’s get busy and help those who are just a “little” homeless.

Now, leaving Iraq (please) and moving this closer to home, translate the child's approach into a Child and Youth Care approach to helping children, youth, and families. Without ignoring the complexities in the lives of those with whom we engage, maybe it is just a matter of seeing it through the eyes of a child. A “little” poverty, a “little” mental health issue, a “little” family disruption, a “little” breaking of the law, a “little” homelessness. For most of these issues, our focus on relationship can do a “little” bit to make meaningful connections that lead to a “whole” lot of insight, creativity, and plain old hard work in promoting healthy choices on the path to well-being.

The message: Delivered but not received
An e-mail message is sent. “Will meet you for lunch at Branigans. Noon on Friday. Looking forward to seeing you,” No further contact. Result – no friend, no lunch. Message not received.

The connection? What a marvelous technological advancement! The Internet and e-mail allows us to connect and interact with others in ways not imagined only a few short years ago. We are able to find old friends, make new friends, keep in touch with distant family and friends, and learn more about most everything in the entire world and beyond. In the Child and Youth Care field, we are learning from each other around the globe and should be comforted in knowing that we have a powerful body of knowledge and powerful contributors to the promotion of the profession. We truly have “come a long way, baby.”

Now, here’s the problem from my perspective. The wonderful possibility of lunch with a good friend was shattered due to the naive reliance on an e-mail message. She simply did not read her messages. No personal contact was made – only the assumption that she would receive the message and meet at Branigans as intended. Our lives, our knowledge, our very being may be enriched by this advancement – but, we can also screw things up from a relationship viewpoint.

For example, I can now ignore my sister in new and enhanced ways by not returning her messages. I can misinterpret her “intention” by assuming that she is angry at me when she may be only making a comment about a touchy family dynamic. I can choose to delete messages and claim that they were lost in cyberspace. I can claim that I had hundreds of messages and had no time to read yours. I can distance even further while maintaining that I have a relationship with you, while the superficiality continues to solidify. I can tell you that I care or even that “I love you” when in reality I’m also talking on the telephone or focusing on my tuna sandwich.

So, here’s the challenge! Child and Youth Care practitioners know that relationships matter, that our connections, attachments and commitment to relational practice are elements of our work that make us special. So we don’t rely solely, or even predominantly, on technology such as e-mail that may keep us distancing from others in reality, while believing that we are connecting.

Let your friends, family, and particularly those children, youth, and families you work with, hear your voice. Personal contact means personal connection. Who have you ignored lately? Who in your “relational” connection would love to hear from you? What connections have you missed recently? What youth did you connect with, move on, distance from “but you still have a lingering sense that they may feel abandoned? Would a simple telephone call help?

If I happen to be on your relationship list, direct contact may be made by finding my number in the Winnipeg directory.

This feature: Gompf, K. Connecting while connecting the dots. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, (16) 2, pp. 74-75.

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