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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 140 OCTOBER 2010 / BACK
Listen to this

care workers

Advice to child and youth care staff

John Digney

This little document brings together some reflections collected from CYC-Net's "Personalities" feature.

  • A good question to ask yourself as many times as you can is “What the hell am I doing here”? As long as you can answer that question, you'll be just fine.

  • Activities are a great way to connect with people – don’t be afraid to play and have some fun.

  • Advocate for supervision.

  • Always be aware of the honour you are receiving when the young people and families you work with let you into their lives.

  • Always be proactive and not reactive with our students in crisis.

  • Always find at least one positive about every young person you are working with every day, and share it with them.

  • Always remember that change is measured in moments.

  • Always remember we’re in it for the kids.

  • Always, always, reflect on your part and your feelings in the relationships, the events and the processes engendered by your work.

  • Attend training and conferences, read, study – you will never know all that you need to know but it is important to try.

  • Attune to what you are feeling (in the moment and generally) and explore what this has to tell you about what’s going on for you and what you might be picking up from the young person. Work hard to decipher.

  • Be able to laugh at what goes on around you – and at yourself.

  • Be curious about self and other and the world around you – about why the sky is blue.

  • Be generous and kind with them and with yourself. You will be able to hear, field and process any horrors they may act out or share with you, knowing these are but a remnant of their original experience. Although it may never be apparent to you, the young people in your care will hold you in a high regard which is very vulnerable for them and as such, deserving of your highest respect.

  • Be humble in all you do.

  • Be open to letting the young people and families you work with care about you.

  • Relationship is not just a one way street.

  • Be patient with yourself.

  • Be willing to move beyond your comfort zone. That means working out where the boundaries are between comfort zone and beyond comfort zone.

  • Be with the young people throughout your shift.

  • Become a storyteller. People listen to and learn from good stories but most importantly to be a good storyteller you really have to pay attention to life.

  • Care from the depth of your being; be gentle, kind, understanding, and always listen.

  • Children are not attention seeking, rather they are letting you know that they need you to pay attention – there is a difference.

  • Clock-watchers seldom make good child and youth care workers.

  • Connect with colleagues who will support and challenge you.

  • Consequence = Outcome.

  • Crisis is always a chance to connect.

  • Cultivate curiosity 'your own, your colleague’s and young people's.

  • Do not let a youth put a water snake in the glove compartment for safe keeping. Glove compartments are not fully enclosed and snakes can escape becoming free to roam throughout the vehicle (and your clothing!).

  • Do not lose the opportunity to share your experiences. Write down your real online experiences somewhere – good or bad and share them with others.

  • Do not wait for others to work effectively before you do, however unpopular that may make you with colleagues.

  • Do your best and learn from your mistakes.

  • Don’t let the bastards grind you down – I’m not talking about the kids here.

  • Don’t stay on the floor too long, take a break or move on.

  • Don’t worry too much about behavior. Rather, worry about each child. When you take care of a child, the child will eventually take care of the behavior.

  • Every child has all the resources he or she needs – on the inside.

  • Figure out as best you can who YOU are and be yourself in everything you do. This is the essence of genuineness.

  • Find and remember the strengths in our kids that we serve, this will help us discover the strengths in ourselves.

  • Find gratitude in every experience and remember to say thank you at the end of every day and when you get up in the morning to three people.

  • Find time to invite nature into your week.

  • Find yourself a mentor, someone you respect, someone who will help you grow as a professional – no matter what new adventure we start out on, it’s better to have a guide. The best mentor at first is someone who can get the kids to bed on time. After a year you will probably need to find another mentor.

  • For Freud's sake – have fun.

  • Get involved in your local Child and Youth Care Association. You have a professional obligation to contribute to the field, and the networking will be invaluable.

  • Give up fear, hesitations and excuses if you really desire effective practice.

  • God did not intend for you to have all the answers. Learn to find them.

  • Good child and youth care services are not determined by the cost of the services.

  • Hang on to your dreams.

  • Help kids make sense of how they feel and how they think and point them in a more appropriate direction but never try to force them to go there.

  • How well do you hear what children and young people are saying to you, whether they use words or not?

  • If a youth tells you that he will punch you if you get any closer, believe him!

  • If you can’t laugh, you can’t last! Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the kids. Enjoy your colleagues. Enjoy the silliness that only CYC’s can invent, because only those with 24 hour exposure can see the kids in ALL of their glory “their tics and twitches, their outrageous explanations, their trickery, their cleverness, their resilience and their vulnerability – everything that makes them wonderful.

  • Ignore the behaviour but address the need.

  • In every activity make it the most fun, most amazing activity ever invented and act as if there is nothing else in the world you would rather be doing.

  • In the words of Douglas Adam, “Don’t panic !”.

  • Integrate indigenous knowledge into child and youth care practice within a child rights framework – adapt and make personal meaning of C and YC theory.

  • It is always about Reclaiming.

  • Just because you think you’re one of the good guys won’t stop you being tested mercilessly by kids.

  • Keep on studying – this is good for your own professional growth, the field and most importantly for those you serve.

  • Laugh.

  • Learn how to manage your emotions so they don’t manage you.

  • Learn to step back!

  • Listen carefully to the voices that speak loudest and what it is they have to say! And remember, the loudest voices are not likely to be from children and young people or their family members!

  • Listen to the children, youth and families – you will learn more from them than anyone else.

  • Look after your Self.

  • Look beyond the behavior to the pain that drives it. When we only focus on what we see, we don’t understand what’s going on inside that person. If we don’t understand, we can’t help.

  • Look for organizations or projects to work in which subscribe to parallel process, knowing that we cannot expect the levels of generosity and thoughtfulness that is asked for in child and youth care work from people who are treated disrespectfully by their employers.

  • Love them before you act.

  • Make mistakes. Be comfortable in not being perfect.

  • Native Idahoan Chief Joseph was known for his use of strategic retreat – thereby avoiding direct confrontations ' applicable for the Nez Perce people as well as being a daily feature of the practice skills tool box for quality child and youth care.

  • Networks are about relationships, and the extent to which these relationships are nurtured over time.

  • Never expect a client to do something you would not do or expect of yourself.

  • Never forget there is a family attached to every child or youth we work with.

  • Never get caught up in the behaviour – behaviour is the manifestation of the inner kid, a symptom.

  • Never support the cause of the “victim”.

  • Never think you have to have all the answers. You will never have all the answers. What you need to have is the curiosity and willingness to search for them.

  • Never think you know it all, keep an open mind.

  • NEVER underestimate the power of good child and youth care work – even if it is only coming from you.

  • Never, ever do something solely because that’s how you did it yesterday. This is and always has been the most idiotic rationale for doing anything.

  • Never, never, never, take yourself too seriously – our work is serious but always remember the power of being playful.

  • No blame, no resentment.

  • Once/if you’re out of direct practice it’s the good times you'll remember.

  • Opportunities in child and youth care seldom come packaged and labeled – they usually look just like hard work.

  • Patience is not weakness. It’s also a poor excuse not to act.

  • Read everything you can get your hands on related to the work. There is so much amazing stuff out there, college barely scrapes the surface.

  • Realise that what you've learnt from books or teachers doesn’t always connect directly – hopefully it might make some sense somewhere along the line.

  • Relax, it is only a crisis!

  • Remember self-care!

  • Remember to think outside the box, whatever your box looks like!

  • Remember, it is not about you!

  • Residential Care is an incubator of Child and Youth Care development. Spend at least a year there.

  • Roll up your sleeves and get in the thick of it.

  • See possibilities and potential in everything and allow the creativity to flow as you respond uniquely to each child and each issue in C andYCW.

  • Self-reflection is key – consider why you are going to respond in a particular way, consider if it is working as it occurs and de-brief with yourself after.

  • Sense of humour, not at the expense of the kids, maybe at life.

  • Show up every time you work.

  • Stay – and make sure you learn.

  • Stay in shape.

  • Stay only as long as the fire is burning.

  • Take risks and go with your gut. Interventions don’t always come from a book.

  • Talk child and youth care work over tea.

  • Tenacity – understand the work and the importance of never giving up. Hanging-in is critical.

  • The best way for us to support our peers is to challenge them and let them challenge us.

  • The broader system in which we work can often be quite dysfunctional and crisis-driven. It’s easy to get caught up in this and spend all of your time banging your head against the wall. Learn to recognize what you do and don’t have control over – and then spend your time focusing on the things you can control. This is how positive change occurs.

  • The ones you like the least could be the most like you.

  • The only person you need to fear in this field is yourself.

  • The process is long and challenging and you will make mistakes. Learn and grow from them.

  • There are many amazing people in our field. Connect and network to be sure to find them, and spend as much time in their company as you can.

  • There can never be a “manual” that will tell us what to do, because we never can predict what’s going to happen. That’s the joy of it all. We stay on our toes, awake and alert, and sometimes we catch it and sometimes we miss it. When we catch it and help it, we get tremendous satisfaction and joy. When we miss it we learn. Either way, the work will always keep our interest. As others have said, once you lose the joy, do everyone a favor – yourself, the kids, and your colleagues – and leave.

  • There is much to learn and unlearn: read, ask questions, and know that you don’t know. You don’t need to know everything; you need to be open to learning.

  • These kids are not sick – fight the pharmaceutical bullshit.

  • This job is like Neverland, there is a part of you that has to resist growing up.

  • Trust must be earned from children – it is not a given right just because we are CYCs. The children we come to know may “auto-attach”, which may seem to make developing therapeutic relationships a breeze but your role then is to help that child or youth develop healthy attachment and boundaries.

  • Try different stuff, don’t always conform to what the experts say.

  • Use physical touch – appropriate of course, but we are humans and humans need physical touch and affection to thrive – find an appropriate way that adheres to policies and procedures and boundaries (yours and the clients) to display positive affection.

  • We have the true privilege of working with people who grant us entry into their lives.

  • What you learn in school is not necessarily reality (an oft made statement about academics) – but if you believe it will work and you work at it long enough, you can make it your reality.

  • When things don’t work out, it might not be anyone’s fault.

  • When we do things to young people and not with them, it’s not going to work so well.

  • When you begin to wonder “why did she/he so that?!?!” don’t forget to appreciate that there is a valid reason and seek it out without communicating judgment or shame.

  • When you feel safer and more competent, things that were frightening will become funny or at least interesting. This will happen between six months and a year.

  • When you get professionally lost, know the indicators in advance, and seek out your mentor.

  • When you have worked hard for long hours, no matter how tired you may be, if you are satisfied with what you have accomplished, you feel fulfilled. It is a great feeling. You can rest easy. When you are not satisfied, rest does not come so easily. Give it your all, then rest easy.

  • Whether you like it or not, you will become a surrogate parent – good luck.

  • Work to become aware of your own stuff.

  • Work with a parallel personal plan for your own development and growth.

  • Personalize the information and material (what does it mean to me, for me?).

  • Write, write and write. It is important that everyone contributes to the ever growing body of knowledge in the field.

  • You are always your best tool / resource!

  • You can’t give what you don’t have.

  • You cannot control anything – however, you can influence everything.

  • You cannot fix another person, any more than you can make them happy.

  • You have to like, and I mean really like, kids.

  • You know far more than you think you do; never be afraid to challenge others, especially your colleagues.

  • You will feel physically upset for the first six months as you go to work.

  • You will never know everything; use what you know to discover more.

  • You'll have days when you wonder if this is for you. For some people it might not be – others will get through.

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