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”:
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.