This “thought piece” is about Child and Youth Care practice. Over the years I have come to appreciate the complexity of Child and Youth Care practice and the pressure we experience to “do the right thing” in order “to make things right”. In essence we believe that if we “do it right everything will be all right”. In fact, the complexity of practice works against us doing anything right. Here’s why.
Child and Youth Care practice does not occur within a vacuum, isolated from the rest of the world or people’s lives. It occurs within the relationship that develops between the practitioner and the client(s). It occurs in light of the multiple relationships that the practitioner and the client(s) have with the rest of the world. The process of practice involves the practitioner, the client(s), their families, the official ministries that are involved, the community, the organizations of all parties, ad infinitum. It is this web of relationships that creates and adds to the complexity of the practice process and as Child and Youth Care practitioners we are in the middle of it.
As Child and Youth Care practitioners we can be overwhelmed by the complexity. Often being overwhelmed is dealt with by our tendency to isolate fragments of the whole in order to make it simpler and easier to handle. Unfortunately this approach results in fragmentation and reductionism which fails to capture the complete circumstances of the client(s) and the Child and Youth Care worker.
In order to deal with the whole of people’s lives it is necessary to be involved in all aspects of their lives. To understand this is to understand a number of principles for planning Child and Youth Care practice while embracing complexity.
Find out as much as you can, and then find out more.
Understand that no amount of good will or resources will resolve it, but might improve it.
Get comfortable with partial solutions and limited results.
Do the best you can and choose the best option for the moment.
Document the real assessment of what is needed, explain why you have made a particular choice or taken a course of action, recognizing that it will not be enough (you are not stupid, resources are limited).
Figure out who else is involved and how you might work together.
Collaborate even if it means breaking the rules.
Exercise your discretionary authority, recognizing the tensions of working across differences whether they be ministries, agencies, contexts or people.
Stay in inquiry.
Plan your practice, practice your plan and revise when necessary.
These principles may surprise you, indeed I hope they do. I want them to surprise you because I want you to appreciate that in these times the complexity of our work demands that Child and Youth Care practice expectations be changed. You do not have to know. You do not have to have all the answers.
You will make “mistakes” for whatever reason. You will make mistakes for no particular reason or for reasons outside of your control. You will be expected to learn from those mistakes.
You will make more mistakes. Hopefully you will learn from these too.
Simply put, Child and Youth Care planning and practice is a continuous and never-ending process of inquiry, interpretation, discretionary choice making, and learning. It is an emergent process which is a process for making things known through inquiry and trial.
It is a process of embracing the challenges of complexity in changing times. We must prepare for this challenge knowing that by tomorrow the challenges may be different.