September 17, 1989
Professionalism vs. Humanism
I need to write about my experience of another professional and how that has affected my thinking about my profession of child and youth care. I must be honest in stating that I also need to talk about my brother, Deryl.
My brother died of AIDS on July 22, 1988. He died three weeks after his diagnosis and no one, including the medical community, knew he was that sick. I miss him and would love to talk about the wonderful person he was but that is not the purpose of this entry.
I was never fearful of getting AIDS from Deryl. When he was in intensive care my use of the gown and mask were strictly for his protection not mine. I was encouraged by the nursing staff to hold his hand, get close, and let him know that I loved him with all of my heart; I did this every second I could although Deryl was unable to respond physically or verbally in any way. I always felt very supported by the nurses who attended to Deryl and I knew that St. Paul’s was a special place.
On the last day of Deryl’s human existence a new nurse came on to relieve our regular nurse for coffee. She instructed me to gown, mask, and wear rubber gloves before entering Deryl’s room. I was angered and insulted by the request. Who was she to think that I would not take the standard precautions of washing my hands thoroughly before touching him? This was my brother’s LIFE we were talking about. I denied her request; an open defiance I felt I had the right to. I washed my hands and then touched my best friend, skin on skin.
I was not disturbed by the nurse’s need to wear the protective rubber gloves herself due to her involvement with his blood work. I watched her. She opened the catheter valve; the blood rushed into the tube like a violently swift mountain river. She seemed unsteady and shocked by the speed by which the tube filled. She turned the valve off and upon removing the tube managed to get some blood onto her gloves. She was petrified. Dropping the apparatus on the bed, and rushing to the sink. She ripped the gloves off as if they were burning her, and washed her hands furiously over and over and over.
I left the room. I was angry, hurt, confused, and sad that this person had been so afraid of being with my brother. I was angry that the hospital would allow her there, angry that they did not support her in her fear, angry that my brother and my family had to experience the fear that some people have of AIDS patients. I was hurt and confused for many of the same reasons. The sadness comes in imagining what this woman, this professional nurse trained to care for the sick, must have felt when it was over. All the doubts she must have experienced and the guilt she would take on for acting human and fearing the unknown.
I pray that in my professional work with children and youth I will always appreciate that we are human. We can be trained, skilled, intuitive, educated professionals but we can never be anything more than just human beings and neither can those clients with whom we work. From this, I must gain an acceptance of the struggles that all have with some aspect of their profession and try to understand my weak areas and support those fellow workers and clients to understand theirs. Their human self.
An afterthought: This entry has brought to light the limitations of our traditional academic settings in accounting for personal issues which affect one’s performance academically.
October 24, 1989
"Too old for crafts?"
I have since thought about the “therapeutic" care of children and youth within my chosen profession.
I will have to put semblance to my thoughts through an experience I recently had with a fellow child and youth care worker. We were discussing a good time for me to come and do an observation within the residential child and youth care setting that she worked. I mentioned that any time was fine with me but if she preferred that I come at a structured time, such as crafts, then that would be fine. She answered me by stating that the youth (ages 15 -17) with whom she works do not do crafts. It struck me as odd at the time but I just passed it off as another avoidance technique to her commitment on my observing.
As the week has worn on I have come back to that statement in my mind a few times. I have wondered whether she meant that youth no longer need or want to express themselves through art? Whether creativity is no longer valued in front-line child and youth care? Is art not seen as part of the therapeutic process?
It was on formulating this last question that I began to think about the word therapeutic and about the “therapeutic care giving" that I profess to identify myself with.
What do I really mean when I use this term? My first reaction is to gurgle out some textbook definition that talks about planned intervention, good case planning, activity program planning, creating an environment which enhances the child's self awareness and self growth, etc. But as I think of these definitions I have to confront myself with the fact that my daily work with children is just not that contrived. Maybe it should be, and for some I’m sure it is. For me, I could not exist in such a sterile manner. So does that mean that I am not really a “therapeutic caregiver"? Maybe this is all leading to my overwhelming discovery that sometimes we, as human beings, need just to exist. That we just need to be in the now, for the now, not working towards future goals. This is not to say that we should give up striving for change, goodness, etc. Rather it points to the fact that our existence on this earth is very limited and sometimes we should just be for the sake of being.
Let me go back and look at art in this light. More specifically engaging in an activity, such as art, with children just to engage in the activity. Just to enjoy the beauty of being in the now. Some of my best times with youth, aged 15 -18 years, was during crafts. When we created together yet separately. When creating wasn’t a plan, a vehicle for assessing the child in any way, it was just a pure sense of being in the now.
My best “craft experience" with troubled youth occurred in a residential assessment home where I worked. I was responsible for the group that night, and did not have the equipment that I needed for the “planned" activity. So I just put paints on the table with very few pieces of paper. The youth in the home at that time were very volatile and had had a week filled with crisis, i.e., restraints, A.W.O.L.s, etc., and their patience level was low. About five minutes into the “paint what you want" activity, I noticed that they had all defiantly splotched paint on the paper and said they were done. Now, normally I would have used the rules and said that they had to be there for another 20 minutes before smoke break and hand them another piece of paper.
Instead, I put my hands in the paint and placed my hand on one of the girls' faces. All fun broke loose and we had the best paint fight I have ever been involved in.
Now I ask myself, was that therapeutic? According to the textbooks, no. According to me, it sure felt good. According to the youth, it changed the entire atmosphere of the home to a much more positive light.
So maybe a part of being a “therapeutic caregiver" for me is living for the now. Allowing children to just be sometimes, to experience the beauty of living, the beauty of the moment. The aesthetics of life.
October 20, 1989
"Letting your priorities be your own"
The “block" that I am experiencing needs to be discussed so that it may go away. In reading the material in the assigned text I am struck by two realities which serve to frustrate me and further require me to reflect upon my professional practice.
The first reality is my deficient vocabulary. I must spend half of my reading time with my nose in the dictionary trying to understand the jargon that is used by the authors. As I write this, I feel the anger inside me. I know that the information is something which I am eager to digest and reflect upon; however, the obstacles which I must overcome in order to understand fully what it is that is being proposed zap me of my enthusiasm. That is not to say that I abandon the task of reading the article; it does, however, make me question my absorption of the material presented. The implications that this realization has for me as a professional are interesting. A recent movement within child and youth care involves the practice of allowing children access to their files and allowing children to attend case conferences and planning meetings. This practice sounds very empowering on the surface, allowing children to partake in the decisions which affect their lives. However, through my recent experience of the class text, I have realized how disempowering that would be. The professional jargon, use of behavioural terms and categories, psychological terminology, and the distance with which professionals traditionally discuss cases must serve to make the client feel anything but a part of the decision-making process. I have often wondered why it is that children and youth rarely contribute to such meetings, when they are always adamant that they should be allowed to participate. I realize that it must be much like my experience of reading the text, wanting to understand but not being able to get past the jargon. Actually it must be worse, as these children are listening to people discuss their lives, and it all sounding like gibberish! How insane.
The second reality, which also angers me, is the way in which the academic world tends to segregate itself from the front-line people. I am sure that this is done unintentionally and “they" feel that their contributions to the field are in support of the front-line workers. And, of course, I am generalizing. However, good theory remains just good theory unless it gets filtered down to the front line.
The gap between the academe and the front line in my professional field is enormous! I can say that with a fair amount of confidence and experience. Through my recent journey through the Journal of Child and Youth Care, I have become very aware of the theory of working with emotionally troubled children, supervising child and youth care workers, effective program planning, etc. However, when I reflect upon my child and youth care experiences, I KNOW that this theory is not filtered to the front line, and maybe not even to the administrators in the field. At a recent conference for care givers, I made a point of asking those attending my workshop if they subscribe to, contribute to, or even know of our only Canadian Journal of Child and Youth Care. Only one person in a room of 23 had heard of such a publication.
These two realities have blocked me from doing the assigned “write about a phrase, sentence, etc. that strikes you," and have taken me off onto a tangent of my own. A worthy tangent, however.
This feature: Rose Sladde, L. (1996) Journal Entries. Journal of Child and Youth Care, Vol.11 No.1. pp.89-93