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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

Direct care practitioners as promoters of child development

Frank Ainsworth

The first question, which has to be addressed when considering direct care, is about how development takes place, how children grow and develop. It has to be remembered, in fact, that development takes place around everyday life events, Everyday life events are the simple things that we can very easily ignore or forget about or not place enough emphasis on (e.g., bedtimes, mealtimes). They are the ordinary, everyday routines that should not be seen as routine because they are of immense importance. In Maslow's (1954) hierarchy of human needs, the baseline of that hierarchy is written in terms of food, warmth, clothing and, until all of these things have been satisfied, developmental progression or change is unlikely to begin, What Maslow does is to nicely emphasize the importance of the work that direct care practitioners do in regard to these items.

It is through the provision of these very important items that direct care practitioners actually provide children with nurturing experience. What converts a piece of physical care (e.g., tucking a child into bed when he/she is not feeling very well) into nurturing care is the involvement of another person in that act (Maier, 1979). These physical care duties should never be seen as simply routine events. They are the very essence of what has to be done in work with children. These tasks provide practitioners with powerful ways of actually conveying care and concern to children. Children need to experience this care and concern because that is what will actually help them to grow, and to get over some of the difficulties that they may have encountered. Often junior practitioners fail to realize, for example, that when a child comes to them and says “I need a clean pair of socks,” they have to do something about that. It is so much easier for them to say “Oh, I haven't got time at the moment,” or “Go see so and so,” and thus fail to recognize that the child is asking them to do something important for him/her and that they have to do it!

These are the real things that impact children in their drive towards healthy development, and most children do have a drive towards healthy development. That drive is, moreover, reinforced and reconfirmed through the very minutiae of ordinary life experiences. It is the minute details that need attention; it is the minute interactions that take place with children, around the provision of everyday life necessities, that really gets through to them. What is done, as well as what is said, is important – especially the doing.
An illustration of this can be given from some consultancy work that was undertaken with a hostel for adolescents. When young people were introduced to that hostel, they would be welcomed very warmly at the front door. A lot of things would be said to them about “how glad we are to see you” and “we hope your stay will be good.” Then, what used to happen was that they would be shown to their room and their room would not have been prepared: the bed was unmade or the place was untidy. So the verbal message was countered by a very powerful nonverbal message, and it was the nonverbal message that was absorbed. This emphasizes the importance of basic care giving as a core requirement for practitioners (Maier, 1981). Its provision is essential for children and young people wherever they are, whether they are at home or away in residential or day care programs. It is the cornerstone of practice aimed at developmental progression or change.

Ainsworth, F. (1985) Direct care practitioners as promoters of child development. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, Vol.1 No.1, pp62-70

Maslow, A.M. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.
Maier, H.W. (1979). The core of care: essential ingredients for the development of children at home or away from home. Child Care Quarterly, 8 (3).
Maier, H.W. (1981). Essential components in care and treatment environments for children. In Ainsworth, F. and Fulcher, L.C. Group care for children: Concepts and issues. London: Tavistock.



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