When I was invited by Dr. Niall McElwee to write this chapter, I gladly accepted because I shared the concern that men, in the United States as in Ireland, weren’t studying and staying in the field of child and youth care. I also knew, however, that it was a complex topic “each man like each woman had his own reasons and these reasons were as diverse as the men and women themselves “and since I only had a limited time to respond, I wasn’t sure if I could do the topic justice. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to focus on why some men did study and stay in the field, including myself. This, I thought, would shed a little light on finding a solution. Thus, in the following article, I will provide some background on men in child and youth care in the United States and a few themes that appear to emerge from their stories, then focus on my own perspective, which was shaped by the following experience:
I arrive at the residential treatment centre, a two story, brown brick building on a hill on the west side of Milwaukee. It’s a late, humid August day, 1968, my first day on the job. As I climb the stairs to the living unit, I notice a strange smell “a mix of urine and disinfectant perhaps. I part the fire doors. Several of the thirty-six troubled boys who live here are in the halls. They size me up. One boy about my height, steps in front of me. His hair is tussled and his T-shirt torn. “You the new worker?” he asks, trying to look and sound tougher than his young face indicates. “Yes,– I smile and extend my hand. “You suck,” he says and moves a little closer, fist clenched by his side. I resist responding, circle around him, and continue toward the office. The tile floor is dusty; the cement walls barren, except for a couple of small paintings.
–Hello,” the supervisor greets me inside the office where he is having coffee with other child and youth care workers. I join them for coffee, then the supervisor shows me around, introduces me to the boys. After the tour, I am given a list of ten first names with first initials of last names, Billy P., John H. etc. My job is to get them ready for breakfast and school, then later after they return, help them with chores and engage them in recreational activities. The next few hours, days, nights are tough. I’m called names, threatened, and often feel frustrated and miserable, but there is something about the pace, tone, and struggle of the work that appeals to me. It is as if this is where, for some strange reason, I am supposed to be. Often, after work, I laugh at myself and some of the things the boys said and did.
Thirty years later, my friend and colleague Thom
Garfat is giving a keynote speech at a Canadian conference with another
friend and colleague, Penny Parry. They are playing off one another on
the stage, improvising as they reflect on their experiences in child and
youth care. At one point, after Thom describes an early experience in
child and youth care similar to mine, he says something like, “I knew I
was home,” and, as with many male child and youth care workers, I can
immediately relate to what he said.
Background on men in child and youth care in
the United States
In the United States the term child and youth care, like the term social care in Ireland, is used in
different contexts. People who practice child and youth care also have many different titles, youth workers, child and youth care workers, child and youth care counsellors, etc. (McElwee & Garfat, 2003). In general, child and youth care is a process of human interaction in which child and youth care workers promote the growth and development of children, youth, and families in a variety of group care programs (group homes, residential centres, shelter facilities, etc.) and community based programmes (after school programmes, neighbourhood centres, drop in centres, churches, etc). Most people who practice child and youth care work spend a considerable amount of time in the daily lives (lived experience) of individual and groups of children and youth.
A degree in child and youth care, or any degree for
that matter, is not mandated by Federal or State governments, although
many individual child and youth care agencies require a Degree in a
related human service area as part of their hiring requirements. Thus,
men and women enter the
field without Degrees or Degrees in related areas, such as social work, education, sociology,
psychology, or in relatively unrelated areas (business, science, etc.).
There are only a handful of universities with
programmes in child and youth care. Perhaps less
than 1% of the people in child and youth care have a specific Degree or specialization in child and
youth care. Most of these are women. For example, in my undergraduate and graduate credit classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, usually 80% or 90% are women, and this is similar to enrolments, my colleagues tell me, at the few other universities with child and youth care courses. One possible explanation is that in our society child and youth care is seen as a career worthy of advance study for women, but unfortunately not for men.
As was the case with the Irish experience until very
recently, child and youth care workers are
paid low salaries and often work long hours under very demanding conditions. Although considerable progress has been made in developing the profession, including research and curricula that points to the value of retaining knowledgeable and skilled workers, most workers still are not adequately prepared for the work, and receive only minimal supervision (CWLA, 2000).
Studies that predict commitment, satisfaction, and
longevity of child and youth care suggest that
men and women are more likely to stay and be productive when they have a voice in making
decisions about their work, have adequate supervision, education, and opportunities for
advancement, and receive a salary that allows them to meet their basic needs (Krueger, 1996;
McElwee, 2003). In child and youth care, as in other professions, in other words, men are more
likely to stay and work hard when they feel a sense of ownership in their organizations and are
adequately rewarded with pay, work incentives, and encouragement.
Men who have had fulfilling careers in the field
usually speak of a sense of calling, goodness of fit,
and/or opportunity to learn that drew them to the work. For example, in interviews with four male leaders (JCYCW, 1991), Jerome Beker, Larry Brendtro, Nicolas Long, and Henry Maier, each in their own way spoke of these as reason for why they chose and stayed in the field. Brendtro called it his “grand passion” (JCYCW, 1991: 45). Beker (JCYCW, 1991: 41), and Maier (JCYCW, 1991: 53) saw it as a natural extension of their experiences as children camping. And Long (JCYCW, 1990: 49) as an opportunity to delve into the mysteries of the mind. Similarly, others like Mike Baizerman (1990-present) and Canadian, Gerry Fewster (1990, 1999), have written about child and youth care as a vocation and process of self-discovery, respectively. Baizerman sees it is a way of being in the lived experience; Fewster as an opportunity to be present in the lives of children to learn and grow together. The Canadian Thom Garfat (1998) in his research and writing has been exploring the meanings of child and youth care from multiple
perspectives (see his columns in Relational Child and Youth Care Practice and on www.cyc-net.org).
I have worked in, studied and taught child and youth care from 1968 to the present, first as a
direct line worker for eleven years in two residential centres for troubled youth and for the
last 24 years as a Professor at the Youth Work Learning Centre, University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee, which I helped found in 1978 as a centre for teaching and studying child and youth
care. Like the men above, I am glad I found a home in child and youth care and curious about why. For me, there is something existential about it. I want to know the “what is”. Not necessarily the grand passion or journey, which are important for me as well, but the nitty-gritty of the daily struggle and joy, and the life experiences interconnected with it.
For several years I have been conducting a
qualitative inquiry into my life and work (Krueger,
1987; 1990; 2004). A major portion of my research is focused on how my experiences as a (male) youth are interrelated with my experiences as a child and youth care worker. Recently, several men have joined me in inquiries of their own. Their work is published in a monthly on-line column on http://www.cyc-net.org titled Moments With Youth. Our process of inquiry includes five basic steps. First we project ourselves into an experience through reflection. Second, we write a sketch about the experience. Third, we interpret the sketch. Fourth, we fragment, juxtapose and further interpret several sketches. And fifth, we look for themes that run through several sketches and fragments.1
Recently, I combined seven sketches in a manuscript,
Pavilion: A Portrait of a Youth Worker.
Following is part of the first sketch in which I was exploring how my youth might have influenced
my later decision to become a child and youth care worker:
One: Soft Shoe (formative years)
I run north along the frozen beaches. The sunbather is out, shielded from the wind by reflectors. I wave. He waves back. For a moment, he and I alone brave winter.)
(1957) “How did you feel when our father died?” my
uncle asks my father.
–Like the boy in James Joyce’s story about the dead priest, sad and relieved”.
–It was different when mother died, wasn’t it?” my uncle asks.
–Yes, God forgive us if we ever lose the benignity she tried to instill in us”.
–Yes, God forgive them,” my mother says to my aunt...
They’re in the kitchen of our second story flat on
Milwaukee’s Northwest Side, drinking cocktails. I’m in my bedroom “fourteen going on fifteen. My older brother is asleep in the bed next to
mine. After the company is gone and the house is dark, I get dressed and
go in the kitchen. The moon is out. Something moves. My father is doing
a soft shoe in the living room in the shadows of the
elm trees that cathedral the narrow street in front of the house. He.s wearing the shirt and tie he wore to the life insurance company where he’s worked all his adult life. His hands are in his pockets and his pant’s legs are raised. He’s smiling, but his eyes seem far away.
(1996) An old woman puts out her cigarette and
enters the church with The Glory of God and His Most Blessed Mother
carved in stone above the doorway. After mass, she comes across the
street to the coffee shop where I’m writing at a table next to the
window in the sunlight. Her face is painted like a small girl–s.
–Hello,” says the owner, a conversationalist, who is behind the counter.
–Hi”. She sits down on a stool and puts her cigarette on the lip of the glass ashtray.
–My girlfriend is coming this weekend.”
“We were in the same club in high school. we’re going to the beach.”
The owner nods and fills another customer’s cup.
She reaches for the cigarette, talks to her self, “I got a new swim suit. Maybe we’ll take my beach umbrella too.”
“That’s good,” a young woman seated a couple stools away says.
“Oh, you probably got a two piece,” she laughs.
(1957) I grab the car keys off the kitchen table,
tiptoe down the back stairs, and step outside. The
late August air enters my lungs like a cool drag of helium. I open the garage doors, back the Dodge into the alley and creep between the rows of clapboard duplexes, the houses and people in
them familiar by the steps I take to the grocery store and in games of kick the can.
At the end of the alley, I turn east toward Lake
Michigan. The street is bathed in the warm glow of
lights. I accelerate. A sole pigeon disappears beneath the hood and reappears for an instant
eyeball to eyeball with me before flying off. The playground where I shoot buckets and the
cemetery where my bother taught me to drive pass on the left. Once I reach Lake Michigan, I park next to the pavilion, which sits on the bluffs like a balcony above nature’s symphony, and get out.
(1917) From the step of a passenger car, my
grandfather watches the last of the passengers.
leave the platform, their silhouettes intermittently reappearing between the passing girders as they walk to the station. He rides the train to the yard and cleans up in the washroom, then takes the trolley to his bungalow on the South Side of Milwaukee on the corner of Bow and Arrow streets. My grandmother greets him at the door. He looks handsome in his conductor’s uniform. Dinner is ready. She sits across from him at the dining room table. Their sons, Will (my father) and Charles, ate earlier and went out to play.
She watches him eat then says, “The roof is
–I–ll take a look at it tomorrow.”
After dinner he goes to Turner Hall. The Turners are a society of German free thinkers, pacifists, and gymnasts. He drinks a few beers and talks with his friends about the war and his travels. When he gets home, he reads Nietzsche...”all philosophers have the failing of thinking man is now,” and falls asleep with the book in his lap.
In the morning, he eats breakfast with his wife and sons, then climbs on the roof to fix the leak. It’s a nice spring day. The sun feels good on his back. He works at a steady pace. In the distance, he can see the ships in the harbor and the cream brick buildings downtown that give the city its name, Cream City. Time passes unnoticed; morning slides into afternoon. When the sun sinks beneath the elms, he feels a slight chill.
(1957) A path from the moon runs to the shore
beneath me. Black white-capped waves pound the
(1995) “... a site of linguistic self-consciousness
and a point on the map of the modern world that
may only be a projection of our desire to give our knowledge a shape that is foreign to or other than it. Above all it is a place that is named.” I read Seamus Dean's explanation of Joyce’s use of
language to name place in the introduction to Penguin Books 1993 edition of A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man.
–Pavilion, pavilion, pavilion,” I repeat. Later in life I will learn that the writer Paul Bowles did this
with the word cup, but now, pavilion is just a word like any word that loses meaning with repetition. I stand a moment longer, then chilled, I get back in the car and drive home.
A few days later, Russo and I take the North Shore
electric train to the jazz festival in Chicago. He has a brush haircut;
I have a duck’s tail. we’re both wearing leather jackets. The landscape
blur, an endless stream of farms and telephone poles.
(1990) “I’m thinking of getting my ear
pierced like you,” I say to my son, Devon, on the Charles Bridge in
Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution.
–You–ll just look like a middle aged guy trying to be cool,” he smiles and hands an earring back to a young woman sitting on a blanket.
We leave the bridge and walk past Kafka’s father’s store to a pub in Old Town where we’re
seated with two young Hungarian men. Devon speaks to them in French. One’s a carpenter, the
other a tailor.
“They know where I can get a Soviet Army coat,” Devon says.
–Go ahead, I–ll meet you later on the bridge.”
He leaves. I stay and have a sandwich then return to the bridge. The night sky is clear, the water calm. I look at the castle where Vaclav Havel the reluctant president, a playwright who wrote for the Theatre of the Absurd and later single-mindedly from a prison cell, lives. Behind me an old man is playing the accordion, his arms opening and closing the billows.
“What are you thinking?” Devon asks. The light
is at his back. He.s wearing the long Soviet coat, his tall silhouette,
faceless, and his voice smooth, like the water that flows under the
(1957) To pass the time, we drum on our knees. Russo bums a cigarette. Slowly the farmland fades into brown-brick buildings then taller and taller buildings. From the train station, we walk inland. The city is like another planet: canyons of skyscrapers that block the sun, drunks, students, and businessmen all mixed together. We arrive at the Chicago Stadium early and toss coins with two other boys. Soon men in cardigan sweaters and women in evening gowns begin to arrive. Between us, Russo and I win a buck. By the time we finish, the stadium is almost full.
We mill around, find our seats. The buzz of the
crowd gives way to the mellow sound of Coleman
Hawkin's saxophone followed by JJ Johnson, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald (sweet Ella) and Miles
Davis with his back to the crowd. Afterwards, still high on the music, we walk toward the Lake.
Outside one nightclub, a picture of a woman on a swing with tassels on her tips is framed inside the cutout of a star.
–You boys ain’t fifteen, much less 21,” the doorman says.
On Michigan Avenue, Russo proclaims the Prudential
Building the tallest in the world. I’ve been to the Empire State, but
don’t protest. At the marina a man with broken teeth and a torn jacket
“Catch anything?” Russo asks.
–No, not yet,” the man says.
“What you using?” I ask.
“Bull,” Russo says.
The man reaches in his jacket, pulls out a package wrapped in wax paper, unfolds the paper,
and shows us the bacon.
–Never heard of that before,” I say as the man puts the bacon back in his jacket.
The man looks at me. “Probably a lot of things you never heard of.”
I turn my back to the lake like Miles Davis.
(1972) Beads separate the bedroom from the living room in our small attic apartment. She works on the floor, crouched over a canvas like a butterfly perched on a daisy, paint on her hands and face, the mandalas and serpents an extension of the movement of her arm. Late at night, I sit with my back to the bookcase, her work just beyond my reach, Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby Jane on the reel-to-reel tape player.
In summer, Devon pretzels out between her legs
with double joints and a slight case of jaundice,
looking just like the painting she did beforehand: the moonchild with cream eyelids and lashes of fine sable hair. While she breastfeeds him, I drive to the lake and walk out on the breakwater that separates the lake from the inner harbor.
(1957) “Where you boys been?” the man breaks the
–At the jazz festival,” I say proudly.
–No kidding. I used to play jazz.”
“What instrument?” Russo asks.
“Where did you play?” I ask.
Headlights approach on the sidewalk. The squad
stops; two cops get out. One pulls the man to the
side while the other talks to us. He asks us where we’re from and what we’re doing here.
–Milwaukee,” Russo says.
“We were at the jazz festival,” I say.
“Well I suggest you get back home. The last train leaves in about thirty minutes.”
As we run through the park, we hear the man holler. We stop and turn. The cops slap him. The
man spits at them. They pick him up and throw him in the water, shout, “Fag!” and leave.
–I can’t swim!”
We run back. Russo jumps in first: I follow; the man
struggles. For a moment my head is submerged beneath the murky water,
arms and legs thrashing about me. Russo pulls while I push
him up on shore. A small puddle forms around us as we sit with our backs against the restraining
“Thanks, I can’t swim,” the man says.
–No kidding,” Russo says.
“Why’d they do that?” I ask.
“Because they’re powerless assholes.” The man reaches in his pocket and pulls out a bottle of
Thunderbird wine, takes a swig, wipes the lip and passes it to Russo who takes a swig and passes it to me. The warm liquid rushes to my head. I take another, ask, “Why’d you stop playing jazz?”
–Lost my timing.”
Following is a section of a later sketch about one of my child and youth care experiences:
(1972) Daniel gets up from his chair and
approaches, his T- shirt tattered and his face wind-burned from several
days on the streets. He’s 14. He’s just arrived at the residential
center where I’ve been working.
–Mark.” I hold out my hand.
He glares at me, continues walking. I walk alongside and motion for him to enter an office.
–Hi Daniel, I’m Marjorie, your therapist.” Marjorie, a new, young therapist, holds out her
“Before Mark takes you upstairs I wanted to tell you a little about our program,” Marjorie says.
–I don’t give a fuck about the program!” He grabs a paperweight from her desk, throws it at her,
and takes a swing at me. I duck and grab him around the waist and quick-step behind him
remembering my supervisor, Ernie–s, instructions: “Grab both arms by the wrist and cross them in front of him, then put your knee behind his knee and dip like a basketball player taking the leap out of a re-bounder in front of him, and collapse together to the floor. If he’s small enough (Daniel just barely is) sit him in front of you with your legs hooked over his so he can’t kick, his body cradled in your arms and your head tight to his so he can’t butt you. Then prepare for a long wait. It helps to have something to support your back.”
–Marjorie, would you move that couch over here.” My voice shakes. She gets on one end of the
couch and pushes until it’s between my back and the wall. He twists like a dog trying to avoid a bath.
–Your mother sucks cock! Your ol” lady sleeps
with horses, cops, pigs!” The veins in his neck cord and his body
strains like a stretched bow. My arms ache. Daniel, 14, rests, then
jerks like a
fish out of water, rests and jerks again until gradually he gives up and the tension subsides and
we sit quietly, soaked in sweat, limbs intertwined, breaths as if coming from the same set of lungs.
–I’m going to let go of your left arm then your
right one.” Step by step I release my hold until
Daniel is standing across from me, showing no remorse. I wipe my nose and we walk together
upstairs, “Sticky suckers,” Suzanne calls the smell of urine and disinfectant that I bring home each night. At the top of the stairs, I part the fire doors. The other boys are in school.
–Your room is down the hall,” I say. He walks to
my side, runs his shoulder along the wall. A grocery bag with his things
is on the bed. He digs through it.
“Bastards,” he says. Ernie searches all the new boys things for drugs and weapons. Daniel takes out a T-shirt and pair of jeans, starts to change, then looks at me, “Mind.”
I give him a moment to change and unpack, wait outside the door with my back to the wall, question why I’m here.
(1947) we’re standing next to the railing on the
ferryboat back to the mainland from the Statue of
Liberty “my mother on one side; my father on the other. She’s holding her large black straw hat to her head; her black and white poke-dot dress and his gabardine pants blowing in the wind. In my hand is a small replica of the statue that I pleaded and begged for until my mother gave in. I begin to think about how bad I would feel if the statue fell into the water. I can’t get the thought out of my mind.
–I don’t know what gets into him,” my mother says upon seeing the statue splash.
“Boys are like that,” my father says as he stares out to sea.
(1972) When I enter Daniel is sitting at the
desk with a photo.
–None of your fuckin” business.”
I don’t respond.
“She’s nice looking... What’s this one?”
–None of your business.” He puts the photos in the drawer, asks, “Why do you work here?”
–I’m not sure.”
“So you can get your jollies, probably.”
“Want a coke?”
He nods and we walk to the day room. I keep an eye on him as I buy cokes from the vending machine then sit across from one another at a small table. He sips his coke, looks down, then up.
–Your shoe’s untied.” He stares at me.
I stare back.
I have written these and other sketches several times, each time learning something new that
informs my life, teaching, and understanding of child and youth care (Krueger, 2004). In most of
my sketches, there is something about my youth, the spaces and places in which I grew up, and my sense of being in child and youth care that informs me. Lately, moments of uncertainty and struggle, like the ones above, have captured most of my attention. Early in my work, my sketches moved toward resolution (a moment of connection or successful completion of a task), but in recent years I have learned that child and youth care is not necessarily about resolution but rather the struggle to reach that point even if we don’t. And this could indeed be a major part of why I’m here.
In an interview, Czech novelist, Milan Kundera,
said, “The novelist teaches the reader to
comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in this approach” (Roth
2001: 100). With time, I have also learned that the questions are more important than the answers, the quest to know more important than how much I know. There is tremendous pleasure, I have found, in the process of exploration. I have also learned that in life, as in child and youth care, the most powerful thing I can do is to try to understand “to be open and available with undivided attention to hear, think about, and question with genuine curiosity.
In my classes at the University, we begin by
exploring our stories and how they bias and enrich
our understanding of child and youth care. At a child and youth care program I visited in Denmark a few years ago, beginning students went on a camping trip and spent time in the evening sharing their stories around a campfire. During a workshop a colleague and I conducted in Copenhagen on learning from stories, an international group of participants spoke easily and enthusiastically across cultures about the learning from their stories. These appear to be good strategies for hooking and satisfying men, and women.
Thus, while we do everything possible to improve
public attitudes and increase pay and other
workplace incentives for child and youth care, a good strategy, which is consistent with a growing literature in human services (Austin & Hopkins, 2004), might be to highlight the opportunities for learning about one’s self and the work. Granted this probably won’t appeal to some men or women, but it should to those who are most likely to be effective child and youth care workers.
Austin, M. & Hopkins, K. (Eds). (2004). Supervising in Human Service Organizations: Building Learning Organizations. (In press).
Baizerman, M. (1998). From here to there, from then to now, along these roads and paths, Child and Youth Care Forum, 27, pp.441-446. (Also see his column, Musing With Mike in the Child and Youth Care Forum, 1990-2000) .
JCYCW, (1991).Interviews with leaders. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work. pp. 41-54.
CWLA (2000). A 1999 Salary Study. Report from the Child Welfare League of America.
Fewster, G. (1999). Turning myself inside out: My theory of me. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 13. pp. 35-54.
Fewster, G. (1990). Being in Child Care: A Journey into Self. New York: Haworth.
Garfat, T. (1998). The effective child and youth care intervention. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 12. pp.1-178.
Krueger, M. (2004). In the Rhythms of Youth Passing. New York: Haworth (in press).
Krueger, M. (2002). A further review of the professional development of child and youth care. Child and Youth Care Forum, 31. pp. 13-33.
Krueger, M. (1996). Job Satisfaction for Child and Youth Care Workers. Washington DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Krueger, M. (1990). Buckets: Sketches from a Youth Worker’s Log Book. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Krueger, M. (1987). Floating. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Krueger, M., Evans, A., Korsmo, J., Stanley, J., & Wilder, Q. (2004). A youth work inquiry. Forthcoming in Qualitative Inquiry.
McElwee, C. N. (2003). Males in Social Care: An Endangered Species.
Paper to the 3rd Annual
Conference of the Irish Association of Social Care Educators. Cork, Ireland. 17.10.03
McElwee, C. N. & Garfat, T. (2003). What’s in a name? Exploring title designations in child and youth care in Ireland. Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies, 4, 1. pp.5-21.
Roth, P. (2001). Shop Talk: A Writer and his Colleagues and their Work. New York: Vintage International.
1. For a detailed description of the process of qualitative inquiry see Krueger, 2004; Krueger, Evans, Korsmo, Stanley, and Wilder, 2004.
This feature: Chapter 3 from McElwee, N., McKenna-McElwee, S., Jackson, A. and Cameron, B. (2004). Where have all the good men gone? Exploring males in Child and Youth Care in Ireland. Center for Child and Youth Care Learning, Athlone Institute of Technology, pages 20-27
*This is the eighteenth in a new series of chapters which the authors have permission to publish separately and which they have now contributed to CYC-Online. Read more about this program.