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CYC-Online Issue 9 OCTOBER 1999 / BACK
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EDITORIAL

Hanging-in

Last month in the editorial, I indicated that “hanging-in and hanging-out” were two important characteristics of good child and youth care work. I spent so much time talking about hanging-out that I never did get to hanging-in, which is the topic of this month’s editorial.

“Hanging-in”. What could it mean? Well to me it means something like “staying the course, not giving up”, or “remaining committed”. Unfortunately it is not something which we, as a field, have been too good at in the past and, fortunately, that's something that is changing. When I look back over my years in the field and think about all the youth and children come and go, I can't help but wonder if their lives might have been a little bit different if the staff working with them had been more committed to “hanging-in”.

There are a million (or more) stories like this, and they all have one common theme – a failure to hang-in, when the going got rough.

Now don't get mad!

I know that it can be extremely difficult to hang-in, and I know that, in a few cases, hanging-in is not always the best thing to do. But it does seem to me that, in general, we have tended to give-in rather early in the complicated process of our struggles to help children and their families. And I realize that it is difficult when:

But, ultimately, this work is about them, not about us. It is about whether or not our actions are beneficial to the youth and families we are trying to help. It is not about whether or not we are comfortable. Because this is not a “comfortable” business we are in.

So, I think about the children and I wonder how Mary's life would have been different if, when we said “no”, we had stuck with it rather than giving in to the tears and anger; or how Ralph’s life might have been different if we had maintained those boundaries when he was pushing for an inappropriate intimacy; or how Judy’s future might have been brighter if we had just stuck to our belief that she needed to experience intimacy, even though, because of her fear of being hurt, she ran away every time she started to have that experience.

Hanging-in is one of the hardest of youth care competencies. It stretches us to the limits of our abilities. It threatens our sense of commitment. It demands professional greatness. And, above everything else, it challenges our self-talk about why we are in this field. But in the end, isn’t this what most of our children need? Someone to hang-in with them when the times are tough. Someone who says to them “We believe in you" – and then proves it through their action. Someone who is not frightened away by the way they, the children, act out their own fear of intimacy and connectedness.

For in the end, much of the children's behaviour is about this very central issue. Are you going to reject me like everyone else who said they cared? Can I scare you away, too? Will you back away, or back down, like everyone else? And ultimately “are you really committed to me?”

Hanging-in and commitment – it's the same thing. If we don’t hang-in, are we really committed? And without commitment, how successful can we be?

Thom

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