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CYC-Online Issue 6 JULY 1999 / BACK
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The child care worker: An ambassador in the land of troubled children

Brian Gannon

My Dear Sam,

You seem to have set yourself an awesome task, 'taking on', as you put it, both the children and the system!

It is hard enough, as we all know, to attempt to direct your energies 'downward' towards the children, listening to them, trying to understand them, offering them alternative ways of coping, teaching them to master new things, and being with them through the agonies of failure and doubt ... that is in the nature of child care work. But to feel that you must also direct your energies 'upwards' towards the senior staff and the management committee, places you at quite a crunch point in your organisation. While I wish you well in your endeavours, I hope you don't have unrealistic hopes of changing the world overnight!

Your problem with senior staff is common enough. Many child care workers feel unheard and misinterpreted by supervisors and principals. In your position at the 'coalface' of our profession, you get to experience deeply the hurts, the fears and the angers of the kids. That's why you're there, of course, because the other important adults in their lives didn't stick around for them when the going got tough.

And this is your first task: you are there for the children, to help them through the tough times, to help them untangle their feelings and to stop getting whipped by them. But there is a danger here. It can happen that you over-identify with these feelings, that you join the children in their hype and their anger. Then you may lose your perspective, and your status as a helping professional, as someone who helps them to make sense of their lives.

Your seniors and management committee are similarly placed. Their task is to represent the ordered community out there, and it is important that they do this or else they will deceive the children by promising them something other than the real world. It can happen that they, too, over-identify with the outside norms, become judgemental and unforgiving towards the children, and in turn lose their perspective and their status as a human service organisation.

As a child care worker you are in a unique position between the two, between confusion and order, between the children's pain and their health – and it is this transition that you are there to manage. You are the person who makes it possible for the children to cross from one to the other; you must therefore know and be known by both sides. You are an ambassador from the world of socialised order and reason in a land of troubled children; you are an ambassador from the world of deprived and dispossessed children in a land of often hard-nosed adults who don't understand.

And this is your second task: to represent (in your case to supervisor, senior staff and management committee) the plight, the condition and the feelings of the children “and the more dispassionately, objectively and diplomatically you do so, the better you will be heard. You are an ambassador, remember.

Like most ambassadors you are also a translator. Again, as a child care worker you are in the unique position of being able to speak and understand both languages: the vernacular of troubled children and the more polite, technical idiom of your organisation. Speak and understand. In your advocacy for the children it is not enough simply to relay what they say – you have to relay what they mean, and it is here that your special skills as a child care worker are important. You have learned to reflect back to the children what they mean when they express themselves so awkwardly. This ability allows you to convey this same meaning to your seniors and your management committee – and probably this is the best way for you to 'take on' the system: by scrupulously and objectively reporting the children's needs, their progress and their continuing problems.

A good children's organisation in any case builds opportunity for such reporting into its procedures; a less aware organisation can only benefit (and hopefully learn) from such feedback, and will want to respond helpfully when the message gets through. And the professional message should be that you are concerned about the kids, not that you are against the system!

So don't think of what you have to do so much as a campaign or a crusade. Think of it rather as simply what all child care workers have to do. And good luck with it!




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