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CYC-Online Issue 71 DECEMBER 2004 / BACK
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care workers

Saving Patty: Protective or professional?

A. Freeman

Megan has been working in the program for about three months. It’s her First job in child and youth care, although at 38 she is the mother of two children who are pretty well grown up now “one at college and another shortly to leave school. At her first staff meeting she had heard about Patty, the ten-year-old whom nobody on the staff seemed to get on with “she was resistant, contrary, whiney, and it was always hard work spending time with her and getting her to do things with the other children. She had also learned about Patty’s mother who, year after year, had not been able to sustain any “mothering" ability. Megan's combination of experience, along with the coursework she has recently completed, has helped her to draw Patty out of herself and on occasion has learned to “play" the child, rather like a trout in a stream. She knows when to loosen the line, when to look the other way, when to strike ... and she has succeeded in getting Patty to try some new things, and to join more often with the group, with a fair degree of enjoyment and success.

One day, early on, Megan unthinkingly called the girl “Trish" (an alternative abbreviation for Patricia and which was also the name of a niece of hers) and instead of getting upset, Patty liked this, and when with Megan she has come to call herself Trish.

The inevitable has happened. In the absence of a mother figure, knowing that Patty was getting on with no other members of the staff, Megan has been thinking that she has plenty of “mother" left in her and considering herself a possible replacement for this role.

* * *

Wait!! Before you make the mistaken assumption that the word “inevitable” refers to the fact that Patty is a young woman and Megan is a woman, let me reassure you that the “inevitable” refers to the fact that all of us, at one time or another, harbour such thoughts.

Child and Youth Care Work is an intense, inter-personal, relationship based form of work, and all of us, at one time or another get confused about boundaries. Who hasn–t, for example, thought about “taking a child home” with them at one time or another? Who hasn–t, at one time of another, been confused about who’s needs are being met by one action or another? Face it. It just happens.

So this doesn’t make Megan bad, or incompetent or unprofessional. In fact, it makes her human. And real. And the kind of Child and Youth Care worker that I like to supervise because she has so many skills and so much experience. Because she cares. Because she is real.

The issue of course, is that Megan is entitled to these feelings. But she has to watch out how she acts on them, and how they enter in to her relationships with the youth. And it is my job, as her supervisor to help her deal with this “not to help her deal with whatever personal issues exist for her which lead her to this place, but to help her understand the feelings and to help her ensure that her needs, and her feelings do not interfere with the young person's growth and development. And I need to remember that I am not her therapist, but her supervisor. My focus is not “why she is who she is” but “how she is who she is” here at work. Just like I have to help her maintain clear boundaries, I have to maintain clear boundaries myself.
Which means, of course, that I have to be careful of my own tendency to rescue Megan from this experience, just as she wants to rescue Patty. In dealing with this, Megan will learn how to deal with her own feelings about Patty.

I can control. Or I can teach. I prefer the latter.

THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)

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