CYC-Net is open-access. Find out how you can help.

CYC-Net on Facebook  CYC-Net on Twitter
Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 41 JUNE 2002 / BACK
Listen to this


Notes on change, transformation and transition

Jackie Winfield

Some initial concepts

"Change. All of creation is in a state of constant change. Nothing stays the same except the presence of cycle upon cycle of change. One season falls upon the other. Human beings are born, live their lives, die and enter the spirit world. All things change. There are two kinds of change. The coming together of things (development) and the coming part of things (disintegration). Both of these kinds of change are necessary and are always connected to each other.

Changes occur in cycles or patterns. They are not random or accidental. Sometimes it is difficult to see how a particular change is connected to everything else. This usually means that our standpoint (the situation from which we are viewing the change) is limiting our ability to see clearly." (Bopp et al., 1985:27)

"Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal." Bridges (1991:3)

Change is about endings and new beginnings. Psychological transition requires that one let go of the old ways of doing things.

This process consists of three parts:

1. Endings
2. Wilderness
3. New beginnings

Seven Guidelines for Transition Management

1. You have to end before you begin
2. Between the ending and the new beginning is the wilderness
3. The wilderness time can be creative
4. Transition is a developmental process
5. Transition is a source of renewal (similar to crisis as opportunity)
6. People go through transitions at different speeds
7. Organisations (and individuals) need to be "transition ready" (create temporary rules until "the new" is created)


Endings which might be important in child and youth care programmes: transfer or resignation of a staff member; admission of a child/youth; transfer of child to another group, programme or placement (including home); ending of a student's practical placement; a death; end of school term or year. Such endings often represent crises in the lives of young people.

Leadership has a powerful influence on how crisis is managed and therefore, how change occurs. The leader is required to assist individuals and groups to cope with transition as effectively as possible. This may be done in the following ways:

1. Identify who's losing what

2. Accept the reality and importance of the subjective losses

Imagine the following situation:
Ronnie is a sixteen-year old who has been sent to the child and youth care programme as a result of his involvement in selling dagga (marijuana) in his community. He smokes dagga every day and says that it helps him to relax with other people. The use of dagga is not permitted in the child and youth care programme.

What do you think might be the subjective experience (thoughts and feelings) of Ronnie when he hears that he will not be able to smoke dagga while attending the programme?

What behaviours is he likely to display?

How might a child and youth care worker assist him to manage this transition?

3. Don't be surprised at "over-reaction"

4. Acknowledge the losses openly and sympathetically

Losses must be brought out into the open and acknowledged. Concern should be expressed for those affected. Child and youth care workers should have skills in this area – helping others to identify and express feelings

5. Expect and accept the signs of grieving

Loss or separation often results in a grieving process which is similar to how one deals with the death of a loved one (the ultimate loss).

Grieving is a natural process which occurs as a result of loss and endings. Signs of grief include:

In a group, individual members might exhibit diverse reactions during transition. As a leader, your task is to ensure that all members have an opportunity to express their feelings.

6. Compensate for the losses

This is not always wholly possible. For example, one cannot replace a loved one who has died. However, whenever possible, the leader should try to provide something to neutralise the effects of the losses experienced. For example, a young person who has been placed in a residential centre experiences loss as a result of the separation from home, family and community. The programme might attempt to compensate for this by providing opportunities for other meaningful relationships in the life-space and by facilitating visits and other contacts between the child and family/community. It is important to remember that the relationship between the worker and the young person should never replace the parent-child relationship. Professional child and youth care practice does not involve substitute parenting.

7. Give people information, and do it again and again

Endings remove people from "the known" and thrust them into "the unknown". This causes anxiety which may be allayed by providing adequate information. This helps people to know what to expect and decreases insecurity and anxiety.

8. Define what's over and what isn't

It is important that people are reminded of those aspects of their lives which remain stable. Take the example of a worker who is leaving the programme. The young people need to be reassured about those staff who are remaining, about the continuity of particular activities and about the continuation of their own individual programmes.

9. Mark the endings

Rituals are often used as a way of marking endings. How are different endings marked in society? Remember cultural diversity. Remember that rites of passage include initiations and certain birthdays (e.g. 21st).

Think of appropriate ways in which the following endings might be marked:

10. Treat the past with respect

It is important that "the old" is not treated as "all bad" and "the new" as "all good". Positive memories and an appreciation for the past should be encouraged where appropriate.

11. Let people take a piece of the old way with them

Lolly arrived at the child and youth care programme clutching a plastic bag. Inside the bag were a number of objects: a torn photograph of an old woman, some sticky (old) sweets, a dirty teddy bear with one eye, an empty cigarette box and a few stones. The child and youth care worker took the bag from Lolly and looked inside. "Yeuch!" she exclaimed. "This bag should come with a health warning!. What on earth is all this rubbish? The stones belong in the garden, the sweets and empty cigarette box can go in the bin. There's no need to keep these torn and dirty things. We can replace this old photo with a nice picture and I have a new teddy bear as a welcome present."

12. Show how endings ensure continuity of what really matters

This links to point 8 above. The idea is to help people understand "the big picture". For example, the transformation of the child and youth care system requires a new way of working with young people. Despite the end of the old system, there is continuity of what really matters – what really matters is a service which offers assistance to young people and families.


This is a period of great difficulty. The wilderness is where most young people are during their time in child and youth care programmes.

Characteristics of the wilderness:

These features are common in troubled children and youth.

Remember the notion of "crisis as opportunity" – when there are no rules, creativity is called for; innovation should be fostered. During the wilderness, the role of the leader is to:


"The mystery of all endings is found in the birth of new beginnings. There is no ending to the journey ... The human capacity to develop is infinite."

Beginnings are psychological phenomena involving new values, attitudes and identities. Think about a significant beginning in your own life (e.g. moving to a new house, setting up home with a partner, starting a new job/career, having a child, etc.). What were some of the feelings which you experienced at that time?

Identify a person who helped them during this phase of transition. What did this person do which facilitated the transition? This person served as a leader in their lives. The role of the leader is to provide:


1. The marathon effect – people are able to cope with change at different rates. Some people make transitions more easily than others, embracing that which is new. Others struggle with transitions, preferring to stick with what they know and where it is more comfortable. It is perfectly acceptable for people to change and grow at their own rate.

2. Don't overwhelm people with the overall vision/picture. Particularly at the beginning of the transformation process, too much detail about long-term plans can be overwhelming. The vision/picture must be perceived as realistic and one with which people are able to identify. Breaking the vision into smaller steps (stages or objectives) makes it more manageable for people.

The following hints will help leaders to facilitate transformation:

Registered Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (PBO 930015296)
Incorporated as a Not-for-Profit Corporation in Canada: Corporation Number 1284643-8

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa

Writing for CYC-Online / Board of Governors / Constitution / Funding / Site content and usage / Privacy Policy / Advertising / Contact us

iOS App Android App