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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 105 OCTOBER 2007 / BACK
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postcard from leon fulcher

From a Great North Eastern Railway carriage

I’ve travelled by train a few times during the past month and that always gives opportunity to engage in that favourite pastime: people-watching. One particular incident has left me thinking about child care skills, and why so many parents and grandparents don’t have them.

In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building 1

Mother, grandmother and two children, boy aged 4ish and girl aged 6ish were travelling South like the rest of us in a full carriage. Somewhere south of the Scotland-England border, the little girl started throwing a tantrum because she didn’t want to be wearing her school uniform. The tantrum went on, and on, and on. About 40 minutes into the tantrum, people started moving out of the carriage in search of seats elsewhere on the train. On my way to the buffet car, I made eye contact with the little girl and without stopping, I stared at her without anyone noticing, all the while with my finger pressed vertically across my lips in the international sign language of “Shhh.” It had no effect and she, continued to “gurn” or whine.

In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building 2

After she’d been going at it for more than an hour, folk at our end of the carriage who hadn’t found alternative seats in other carriages were all grumbling about it. I wasn’t enjoying it either. Finally, I decide it’s time to go and see what was actually going on. Yes, I can hear you all groan about me being a meddling sod sticking his nose into other people’s business. In defence, I'll asset that surely I’m not the only child and youth care worker in this world who has opted to meddle when it comes to the behaviour of other people’s children.

In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building 5

I walked back and simply asked the mother and grandmother how long this tantrum was likely to continue. They shrugged their shoulders and said “We don’t know what to do!” Noticing that the little girl was continuing her tirade from under the table, I crouched down, established eye contact and said, “It’s time to STOP!” To my surprise, and everyone else's, the tantrum stopped. Everyone sighed in relief, perhaps none more than the young mother and grandmother. The funny thing was that it had little to do with my wizardry as a child care worker. It had everything to do with the little girl being exhausted after an hour-long tantrum and she finally fell asleep. How often does one find children travelling with adults where little thought has been given to how they will be occupied, or at least distracted from boredom with a colouring or puzzle book, pencil(s) or crayons, perhaps a deck of cards, or even a book for reading to them! These carers had nothing except repeated “Shush” messages. Groan.

In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building 6

Now let me give you a quick explanation about these photos. They were all taken by an amazing young Brazilian who won this year’s highly coveted international Oskar Barnack Award given in honour of the man who invented the first 35mm camera. With his series of photographs, Bittencourt gives face to the homeless people who had been living in house No. 911 on Prestes Maia Avenue in the heart of S“O Paulo since November 2002. The building had loomed conspicuously empty for over a decade, neglected by its tax-delinquent landlord. It became home for 1,630 people, including some 468 families and 315 children; the largest squat in South America, complete with library, and site for workshops and other educational activities.

Go to and see the amazing portfolio of Julio Bittencourt’s award winning photos about community life in a derelict urban high-rise building that has since been demolished. He took the photos from an adjoining highrise.

Bittencourt’s own website at worth a visit, even if you don’t know Portugese, the colourful language of Brazil! Enjoy!

In a Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building 9

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