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:
explain what child and youth care is, and how it is the same or different than other forms of helping. It is not enough to just ask for or demand that people understand what we have to offer. We need to be able to articulate clearly who we are, what we believe and how we practice. It is our responsibility to be able to answer the question “What is child and youth care practice?' It is not enough, for example, to simply say we are a relationship-based practice or we utilize daily life events. We have to be able to explain what this means in both practical and theoretical terms. We have to be able to explain to the uninitiated, in clear and precise terms, the theoretical foundation of child and youth care practice. If we can't do this, how can we expect others to understand?
have the courage to give voice. Once we can articulate what and who we are, then we have to be willing and able to give voice to our way of helping in conferences, in case meetings, in discussions of all sorts where the question of how we are going to help is raised. I know it can be intimidating when we are around the table with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and others who we typically see as more advanced than ourselves. But if we do not speak, if we do not offer clear alternatives to other approaches, if we do not make our way known, then we have silenced ourselves. If we do not believe in ourselves, how can others? To those who might say “they won't listen", I would say “If we do not speak, we have no voice and if we have no voice, there is nothing for others to hear".
demonstrate the effectiveness of youth care through the development of effective programs. It would be nice if everyone just believed us when we said there is a better or different way. But the truth is, people need to see in order to believe. I think that we need to focus our energies on making our programs work using a child and youth care approach. We need to demonstrate that we know what we are talking about when we discuss child and youth care programs and the only way to do this is to create programs that are effective. Make your program work, make it effective, and then watch how people listen to you. Be a resource for helping and then you will be respected. If you can't demonstrate the effectiveness of your approach, then it isn't effective. To those who would say “They won't let me", I would ask, “Do they really control everything you do?"
network with other youth care workers for support and learning. We tend to work in isolation – it is the nature of our field. Even when we work in group care with others, we tend as a group to be isolated from other youth care workers. Get connected. Draw strength, learning, and inspiration from the work, the struggles, and the successes of others. Feel the power in being a part of something greater than your own little program. Open the boundaries around your program and your work. When you are connected, when you are in relationship with other child and youth care workers, you are more able to do what needs to be done in order to facilitate change in your own program. If you tell me you “don't have the opportunity", I'll respond with “Pick up the telephone".
let go of out-dated methods and find newer, creative solutions which reflect today's realities. Perhaps the old ways of helping used to work well with the children and youth in the context of the time in which they existed. But the reality is that many of the old ways just don't work anymore, or just don't work in today's context. Take residential care for example. While it might have worked in the past to isolate children and youth from their parents, and to place the child in residential care seven days a week, the reality is that this approach is inconsistent with today's beliefs about how lasting change occurs. Our programs need to change with the times and reflect the best practice knowledge available. And to those who don't want things to change, who think there program is just perfect the way it is, I would say “Look around and ask that question in the silence of the night when you have no choice but to be honest with yourself".
continue their own professional growth and development. We all need constant upgrading of our skills and knowledge. It is not enough to be satisfied with the training you received ten years ago or what you have learned with time. Imagine how you would feel about taking your child to a helper who either didn't have specific helping training or whose training was out of date. You'd soon be looking for a different helper, is my guess. You would want the best for your child – so why shouldn't the children in our care have the best treatment available. Ongoing professional development should just be a given in your commitment to your profession. And to those who might say “They don't give me the training?", I ask the question, “Are they supposed to do the caring, or is it you?"
be realistic in terms of what youth care can, and cannot, do. Sometimes in our desire to promote ourselves we seem to act as if we can do anything, even without ensuring that we have the skills or knowledge necessary. Take working with families, for example. Everyone is quick to jump on the wagon to help families but I get worried sometimes about people who just jump in without the training, or guidance or support that they need. Working with families is a complex thing. (And by the way, there is a way of working with families that reflects the child and youth care way, and is not just an imitation of some other profession's approach). We have to be careful about what we say we can do, and be honest about what we cannot do. If we are unrealistic we set ourselves, as well as the children and families, to experience failure. And that just undermines our growth as a field. We can learn to do many things, but before we start to do them, we should ensure that we are adequately prepared and then limit out commitments to that which we can do.
advocate for the development of the field, within and without the field. Unfortunately, even within our own field, there are many who do not know or understand much about the child and youth care way of helping. And there are, also, those who don't really believe in this way. If we believe in it and believe it to be effective, then we need to advocate for ourselves. We can't wait for others to do it for us. But it is not enough to just advocate. We need to be articulate advocates who can explain what we mean. Which, of course, brings me back to the beginning of this discussion ... we need to know our own field.
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?"