Child and youth care settings are busy places. There is activity, there is traffic, there is noise. People come and go – colleagues, visitors, and of course the youngsters themselves, who are always a fluid and changing group. It's seems hard to establish good individual relationships against this background.
One of the qualities of good child care workers is our ability to think on our feet – constantly to make sense of the situation in a group and to act responsively to each kid's needs at the time. We make sure that all this activity is grounded upon a strong undercurrent of attitudes and knowledge which keep us facing in the right direction. More important, by the way in which we manage the "crowd scenes" we are building the hygienic and helpful climate which is the foundation of good individual relationships.
Check out the following questions. Imagine how a youth in your care would answer them. How would you respond to the answers ...
Do I convey welcome? Am I pleased to see you? The needy and grasping child often draws out exactly the opposite feeling from us, and so will go on being needy and anxious, and tomorrow will need even more from us. Instead of keeping people at arms length, or even intimidating them with my "don't cross this line" message, can I at the very least give this child – all children – the gift of welcome, inclusion, belonging, so that they feel comfortable with me?
Do I listen to you carefully to hear what is on your mind, on your agenda? Am I careful to learn from you the demands and realities of your world, rather than imposing the expectations and judgements of mine? Do I try to understand your feelings and behaviour in terms of what you are fearing and needing and reaching out for in your own life, without confusing things with issues of my own?
Do I try to keep you functioning? Instead of labelling you as "dysfunctional", or making excuses for your non-functioning – or simply grounding you so that you cannot function – do I show you the way back up to where you were coping, do I suggest to you the next step, encourage you to try again – get you past the hurdle that I know is hard for you so that you can get going again? And then rejoice with you when you find once more that you can manage?
Do I help you maintain your balance between skills and responsibility? When you don't manage, instead of criticising do I take the trouble to show you how and teach you how? And when you have learned how, do I give you a shot at trying it for yourself?
Do I acknowledge your growth and change? Do I secretly keep you categorised as "troubled", incapable, anti-social, or do I notice and applaud your movement and success towards greater maturity and competence? Do I recognise your changing status from struggling to coping, your changing role from helpee to helper, and your growth from child to adolescent towards young adult? Do I notice your strengths and in particular watch out for new and emerging strengths?
Do I model for you good values? Do I simply demand from you acceptable behaviour, or do my actions towards you reflect kindness, respect and encouragement? Do my actions match my words, so that I model integrity and honesty? Which of my attitudes and styles will you act out in your relationships with others in your life?
Do I offer what you might expect from an ordinary loving parent? Do I give you the feeling that, no matter what, you are a loved child and significant to me? Otherwise your learning and confidence will be impaired as you walk the anxious tightrope, all the time fearing that one mistake will mean rejection.