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CYC-Online Issue 92SEPTEMBER 2006 / BACK
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Relational research at degree level

Niall McElwee

“Child and youth care work is relationships, that is if we are talking about relationships that empower by integrating self, teaching, counseling, and learning into a myriad of interactions throughout the course of the day”. – Mark Krueger

"Relationships are the essence of child and youth care practice for it is within the context of meaningful relationships that young people might have an experience of themselves different, and hopefully more satisfying, than their previous experiences. In the context of a caring relationship, they might find new ways of structuring their experience of the world and the encounters they have in it. The attention to relationship and being-in-relationship while utilizing everyday life events for therapeutic purposes is one of the ways in which the professional practice of child and youth care work distinguishes itself from other forms of helping." – Thom Garfat

The Process of Relational Research
Readers of my column (please, say there are some dear editors) will be aware at this stage that I am fascinated by “relationship” as I have touched on this theme many times over the years with CYC-Net. I found myself wondering again lately, what does that so-often used word actually mean. How can relationship be used effectively? Is relationship really any different in child anyouth care teaching or practice from other areas of life? What status should relationship have in daily life events? What is the role of relationship in the College environment? Let’s hear again from Yvonne.

A Word from Yvonne
“The process of doing relational research on drugs for me, as a social care practitioner, and a as person native to the town that the research was conducted in, I found to be a motivating, emotional and a real eye-opener to the “darker side” of life. What I noticed throughout my research was that many communities more often try to hide the fact that there may be a problem around them, by not addressing it when it first became a problem. This, in turn, leads to adverse environmental, physical, emotional and psychological effects for the people of that community and, indeed, the heroin misusers themselves.

Being given the opportunity to do a study like this, that undertook a relational approach, motivated me to continue more work and, hopefully, more research in the area of drug misuse because using a relational approach opened a window to give a much deeper insight into the hearts and lives of the people directly affected by drug misuse. Sure, the standard forms of research are fine but with a relational approach you get to hear the peoples real life stories which captivates you into their world and therefore gives the reader a more “realistic” and “in touch” piece of work. At least, that’s the theory.

This was an emotional area for me to undertake in a thesis because I am from a village just outside of the town that was researched and I hold it and the people in it close to my heart and also for the reason that I have my own background knowledge in this area. The study posed a challenge and that’s why I was more than happy to take it on. I saw from my own experiences, through reading “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, in carrying out interviews and having general chats with the heroin misusers themselves that drug misuse has a terrible aftermath that effects those left behind and the misusers also that have rehabilitated themselves. This will remain a burden on these peoples” hearts for the rest of their lives.

When I was faced with having to do a thesis in 1995-1996 for my Degree in Applied Social Studies, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that was expected. The thoughts of “what I was going to base it on”, as I had no idea at the time seemed very daunting. We were told at the beginning that when we were deciding our themes for the thesis, we should try and be as original as possible and try to choose different themes than what had been chosen by students in previous years. So, this left me with a difficult task of trying to be original, when the majority of themes had been covered in some shape or form and I had to try and ensure that whatever theme I picked actually interested me. Because I knew the piece of work that I was about to do was going to be extensive, I had to have a real interest in it in order to keep going with it throughout the year.

So, I decided to go and talk to Dr. Niall McElwee about my options for the thesis, because two weeks into the academic year, I still didn’t know what I wanted my theme to be. Dr. McElwee asked me what my interests were and what area of work I would like to do when I finished college and I replied that I was interested in the area of drug misuse and that that was an area I’d like to pursue a career in in the future. Dr. McElwee then offered me the opportunity to do a one year follow-up on a study he and Ms. Grainne Monaghan had completed entitled “Darkness on the Edge of Town”.

I was surprised, amazed, thrilled and excited at the opportunity and I was also a little scared of this as well because this was going to be an important piece of work and Dr. McElwee explained to me that if I was going to take this on that I was going to have to work extremely hard throughout the year and put a lot of time and energy into this study. I also felt that this was an opportunity for me to discover more about the world of drug misuse and its consequences and also I saw it as a way to express myself and my experiences in writing which, in turn, helped me to develop some closure.

I found throughout doing the study, that having a deep interest in what I researching motivated me throughout the year immensely to keep the work going and I was so grateful for that as I had noticed how other students lost interest in their topic of choice half way through the year, as they discovered that what they had chosen wasn’t something they wanted to pursue in the future. Throughout doing the research, I learned a lot of things about the field that you just cannot read in a book, and for me, going out and talking to heroin misusers and listening to their stories and afterwards just “hanging out” with them, was a great experience.

When I had finished the thesis and looked back over the work that had been done, I was amazed and excited with the finished piece. Amazed because I didn’t think I was capable in the first place of completing such a piece of work and then the realization in the end that it hadn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. I actually enjoyed the whole process and I was excited because this was a big piece of work that was going to be used in further research in the future, and the feeling of completing a piece of work such as this was amazing. I hope to do further research in this area in the future, as it is an area with many windows...”

So, Yvonne completed her thesis and her Degree. It is a milestone in her life for all sorts of personal and professional reasons alluded to in this and an earlier column on CYC-Net. Sometimes a thesis is “just a thesis” and, of course, sometimes it is much more than that. It stands as a measure against which one can say, “I did that!” Yvonne has spent the summer in New York City in the US doing what many students do when they complete their Degree studies – she is hanging out. Now, where did I hear that was a fundamental part of “doing” child and youth care work? We are in weekly correspondence so I guess we are being relational even though our College relational piece of work together has been completed. And, of course, this is being truly relational.

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