CYC-Online 18 JULY 2000
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the profession

Learning from nursing about youthwork

Michael Baizerman

There is a growing literature in nursing about “caring". We can learn a lot from it about child care work. Let us together explore some examples.

Sally Gadow (1980), a nurse and philosopher writes about nursing and the tension resulting from having one set of roots in biomedical science and the other in caring. She urges nursing to develop from a philosophy, not from an empirical sociology:

" ... nursing ought to be defined philosophically rather than sociologically, that is, defined by the ideal of the nurse/patient relation rather than by a specific set of behaviours."

By focusing on what could and should be, i.e., on values and on possibilities and hope, she lays the ground for her conception of nursing as “existential advocacy", a philosophical foundation upon which the patient and the nurse can freely decide (what their relation shall be.) Nursing, she argues, can be “distinguished by its philosophy of care and not by its functions."

In idiomatic usage in the United States, “what we are about" and “where we are at" is more than our tasks and skills. It is our deeper purpose from which flows our intent. All of this comes together “at (in) the moment" in which worker learns from the child how to care and how to help.

Bishop and Scudder (1990), a nurse and philosopher, struggle too with understanding what nursing is and could be. They suggest that nurses are grounded in caring which in turn has roots in a morality of caring, while they “articulate their practice almost exclusively in professional technical language" and not in the language of their moral purpose. Thus, when asked why she does what she does, a nurse is likely to respond in the language of biomedical science. We in youthwork and the human sciences understand her response as an “account" or a “disclaimer" which seeks moral legitimacy for her act. In American speech, her response is likely to be: “I did it because ... “ or “I did it in order to ... “; the forms of account and disclaimer.

In youthwork, we have adopted and even adapted scientific child and adolescent development and we use these as the substance of our response: “I did it because it fits with his developmental needs," or “children that age need ...". Could we move beyond this to a philosophy of human development to encompass the science of human development, and to a philosophy of caring to ground the science of development?

To Bishop and Scudder, nursing as practice should not import philosophy to help it understand what it is and how to do the work of nursing. Instead, ii should develop a philosophy of nursing practice out of what nursing does:

"When one actually philosophises from within and through practice, it is appropriately called philosophy of practice" in contrast to a philosophy about practice. This is akin to the distinction between applied science and practical science, and between the theoretical and practical human sciences. (Stresser, 1985). Bishop and Scudder link “nursing" to the experience of being a nurse and “doing nursing".

When I am a nurse through particularising the practice of nursing, then nursing is personal because I express my way of being through it.

My doctoral advisee is a youthworker extraordinaire. Jackie Thompson's doctoral thesis (1990), like the work of Bishop and Scudder, was a phenomenological study of street youthworkers, what we in the U.S. call “detached youthworkers" those who work with “street kids". The phenomenological structure of youthwork in her study was disclosed as “becoming a youthworker", “doing youthworker" and, crucial, “being a youthworker". She too found that, as with nursing, youthworkers do not see youthwork simply as an occupation. Rather, it is a way of being-in-the-world. It is more than one's personal identity; it is one's essence.

The essence of youthwork as a way of being in the world is caring.

In these notes I invited you to look to the literature in nursing as we look again, and continuously, at ourselves and our ways of being in the world as youthworkers.


Benner, Patricia and Judith Wrubel. The Primacy of Caring: Stress and Coping in Health and Illness. New York; AddisonWesley Publishing, 1989.

Bishop, Anne H. and John A Scudder, Jr., eds. Caring, Curing and Coping: Nurse, Physician, Patient Relationships. The University of Alabama Press, 1985.

The Practical, Moral and Personal Sense of Nursing: A Phenomenologlcal Philosophy of Practice. Albany: State University or New York Press, 1990.

Mayerhoff, Milton. On Caring. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Spicker, Stuart F. and Sally Gadow eds. Nursing; Images and Ideals. New York; Sprlnger Publishing Company, 1980.

Thompson, Jackie. The Price You Pay to Wear Tennis Shoes to Work: A Phenomenological Study of Detached Youthworkers. The Union Institute, 1990.

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