CYC-Online 57 OCTOBER 2003
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philosophies of practice

Thoughts on being

Fred Schreier

Jimmy (not his real name) is accepted into a residential treatment program. His social worker calls him a gift to the agency. And indeed he is. Jimmy is polite, considerate, sensitive and entirely age appropriate. Something most of the other boys in the program are not. In no time at all he scales the level system. He excels at school. In less than a year he is laced in a good foster family. In a residential setting orientated towards problems and treatment plans, Jimmy does not quite fit. His case conference is lacking in raw data to adequately develop a behavior management package. The problem with Jimmy is not Jimmy. The problem with Jimmy is the family system cannot care for him. At the age of ten, Jimmy is put on a bus traveling from coast to coast. He is sent by a grandmother, no longer capable of raising him, to her daughter who is more Jimmy’s peer than his parent. Jimmy’s mother and boyfriend are caught ill-prepared. The boyfriend objects to Jimmy’s presence and subsequently Jimmy is placed out of home. Not for behavior problems, learning deficiencies, or any lack on his part: Jimmy does not fit.

What can a residential treatment program or group home setting offer a child like Jimmy, where often because of the negative attention seeking devices of other more disturbed children, he gets positioned in the background? While more acting out kids get treatment, Jimmy lives on the fringes of the milieu.

Sometimes words and all their many implications, constructions, theories, hypotheses, diagnoses, thingamajigs, and whatchamacallits get in the way, when a mere look or a simple touch would suffice. It is enough, sometimes, just to look, bringing all our power of observation into play. It is enough sometimes just to touch and by so doing, say: “Hey, let’s cut through the rest of this crap: I care about you.” In short, the power of being, especially when working with children, is a primary tool of the Child Care Worker.

Being, doing, having, giving, etc. are all states of human experience which find enhancement in the Child Care profession. My efforts are rewarded by contact with other human beings. Why, for example, do couples remain together year in and year out? Not because of the romance, necessarily, but because of the sense of being. What unites desperate members of the same family? Is it some genetic bonding characteristic of the species? Or is it again a sense of being?

Just as in the field of medicine (where the emphasis is on the treatment of disease rather than the maintenance of wellness) so too in the child care field (and the therapy profession in general) few of the reigning experts emphasize the positive states of co-existing with children which includes the sense of aliveness.

One of the pioneers in the Family Therapy arena is Shirley Gehrke Luthman, co-director of the Family Therapy Institute of Mann. In one of her earliest books, The Dynamic Family, she lays the foundation for a family treatment modality based on the concept of the Growth Model. In brief, the Growth Model incorporates the idea of “positive intentionality” developed by Virginia Satir (author of Peoplemaking) which asserts that individuals intend to grow and develop no matter what the obstacles, or the damage done to mind, body or soul.

In a recent book, Collection 1979, Shirley Luthman expands on her perceptions of “working from a state of being”: With commitment to our aliveness and a structure built around that, growth is no longer a struggle. It involves being rather than doing. However, the ability to “be" requires an internal structure that is powerful, resilient, and flexible with the inherent ability to challenge itself constantly. In that process of being, we will enjoy form, take pleasure in it and move with it, but we will be focused beyond it.

In the context of working with a child like Jimmy, this translates into the Child Care Worker bringing his/her sense of aliveness, well being, and finding reciprocation. Jimmy’s own integral sense of well being will be enhanced without a problem oriented approach. Some practical how-to’s for working with children from “a state of being”:

  1. Walks. Walks are good; taking walks and letting the child do the talking. Can be combined with clothing shopping and other practical outings. One-on-one is best but can also be done with small groups.
  2. Tucking in. This is the time of day when some children are cranky, tired, ornery and mean. It is also one of the best times to connect. Telling stories, recollecting the days events, foreshadowing the next day’s events, all contribute to making tucking in a valuable time of being together.
  3. Watching TV. TV is often overlooked or disparaged as a tool with which to connect with kids. But it can be more than a pacifier. Pick out a show that seems of particular interest to you and the kids and then discuss it. By putting some effort into the experience it becomes more of a sharing.
  4. Playing catch. This is one of those simple things so often taken for granted. But throwing a ball back and forth is the basis of many sports. Not only is it a great way to relate (in a non-competitive way) but it has a lot of variations. Frisbee, for example.
  5. Non-verbal exercises. Tai Chi Chib is movement concerned with the circulation and balance of the vital force or life energy. Meditation, Joseph Chilton Pearce (author of “Magic Child–) says is the key to rediscovering the astonishing capacity for creative intelligence in every human being. By making use of this technique Child Care Workers can help children overcome the impact of anxiety and the attention focused on the world “out there.” Using meditation the child gets in touch with his/her own inner resources and plugs into another conscious set of information that may otherwise go untapped. Joseph Chilton Pearce explains:

The brain is a computer designed to process information from two sources: the world out there, through sensory information, and creative consciousness from within. The brain is designed to handle these two different sets of information, to swing back and forth between the world and inner consciousness, through what I call a “gating mechanism.” What happens in all cultures is that this gating mechanism breaks down under the impact of anxiety. Meditation is simply getting the gating mechanism open again so a balance can be created in the brain.

It has long been recognized that one of the rewards of Child Care Work is the sense of growth experienced by the worker in the course of performing his/her duties. I hope that some of these Thoughts on Being further contribute to that sense of growth and that when you come across Jimmy you both experience a heightened sense of well being.

This feature: Schreier, F. (1982). Thoughts on being. Child Care Work in Focus. Vol. 5 No.1 pp 3-8. Reproduced with permission: The Association of Child and Youth Care Practice.

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