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issue 14 MARCH 2000 / BACK
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On being in charge

Thom Garfat

The other day, while working my way through the postings on CYC-Net, I read once again the question about how come we, as child and youth care workers, are not in charge of our own programs. It seems that many of us frequently we feel like we have no control, that our programs change and develop according to the whims of others in government, in agencies or in different professions and that our good and useful knowledge and skills are not recognised.

I was tempted to answer with my typical response which is usually something like “We are not in charge because we have chosen not to be in charge". Typically, following this, I would go on to comment about how we don't show up for meetings of our associations, how probably only 10 per cent of youth care workers actually belong to associations, how we don't go to training because we are waiting for others to train us, how we don't even read our own literature, etc., etc., etc. But I found I was boring myself before I had even started to respond in writing.

Fortunately, a line in the posting got me to thinking a little differently.

The writer had said “... we walk around as helpless as our clients ..." and I started to think about the parallels I see between how we sometimes complain about not being in control, and then set off to blame it on others. I then fell to thinking about how this is so much like the cry I have heard from so many children and youth in programs. “How come I have no say?", “How come others get to decide what is best?", “How come others keep messing in my life?", “Why won't you let me do what it is that I want to do?", “My social worker won't let me!", “If it wasn't for you guys, I'd be fine!"

Anyway, I'm sure you have heard the refrain and get the point. I don't know what the answer is to the question posed by the writer. Why aren't we in charge of our own programs? I don't know why it isn't important to some people. I can only conclude that it isn't important because people – us, we, youth care workers – aren't doing that which is necessary to make it important.

Words are wonderful – but action seems more truthful. When we behave as if we are helpless, we are helpless. When we behave as if a situation is hopeless it is hopeless. When we give up, we give up. When we blame others we don't take responsibility. When we don't take responsibility, nothing changes.

I don't know why some people don't have the commitment, or energy, or whatever it is that is required for us to make the changes necessary so that we might 'be in charge'. I do know that in some areas child and youth care is slowly coming in to its place in the scheme of things. But it has taken hard work, commitment and persistence on the part of a number of people who have been able to:

I don't know how many times I have said that child and youth care work is a different way of helping – it is clear, it is definable and it is available to anyone who wants to access it. If we want to be in charge of our programs we have to first be in charge of ourselves. Whether or not child and youth care continues to grow, or whether it is stifled at its current stage of development is really not up to anyone else, it is up to us.

Now I am guessing that some of you might think I am just blowing hot air. I can only say this: I have seen it happen. I have seen youth care programs within which the staff felt defeated and unrespected become valuable, respected, self-controlled, and sought-after resources to their community. This is do-able. We can do it. And let me tell you, it's wonderful to work in an effective child and youth care program where people know their stuff and believe in it. As I like to say to kids, “Well, if you don't do it, who's going to?"


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