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29 JUNE 2001
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in a nutshell

The issue of “POWER"

Henry Maier

For some time I have been reflecting on the issue of power and its place in care work. Care work can easily corrupt workers to exploit their care interactions with clients, creating a situation where the workers become domineering masters. Let’s examine the following scenario.

A care worker tells youngsters, “It’s time to get ready for bed,” but the youngsters continue whatever were doing as if the worker hadn’t said anything. In order for the worker to reassure himself of his ultimate power he consequently demands that the youngsters get ready for bed “Now!"

Actually, here, the worker’s power’s got established by the childrens' response. The worker’s request to get ready for bed still stands regardless of whether that request has been honored. Workers have to be reminded that their sense of authority does not stem from the responses of the youngsters.

The issue is: What is the source of stress between the worker and the youngster? What are the circumstances causing the youngster to ignore the worker’s request? It becomes important here that the worker focuses on these latter concerns rather than turning the situation into a power struggle.

A prime issue is workers' perceptions of their actual position within the program. If they are aware of being a full member of the program, workers have less need to use their interaction with the youngsters as a source to validate their power position.

My column serves as a reminder that non-adherence is not an opportunity to enhance one’s power. Rather, we must reflect more readily on our personal relationships with the youngsters and our role within the organization. Please remember, one’s power does not have to be established on the back of the youngsters.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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