“If you guys don’t load the truck, nobody’s goin’ nowhere,” shouted the youth care worker. “I’ll just sit here in the shade all summer. It’s no skin off my nose!” Rebellious earlier in the day, the boys hardly changed their positions in the hot June sun. No one moved toward the canoes, the camping gear, or the provisions that were to accompany the group on its nine-day trip into the Maine wilderness. “Don’t you guys have any appreciation for all the work we put into arranging this trip?” barked the worker. “We try to do something nice for you, and look what happens!”
In different ways, the foregoing experience is repeated in Child and Youth Care settings daily, whether in the presence of daily routines like cottage cleanup, recreational activities, or major events like the canoe trip. The incident can even be viewed as a metaphor for life in many group care settings-the workers do the work and the clients “take it or leave it.” This chapter proposes a wav of looking at the daily life experience in group care that will enable programs serving children and youths in residential treatment to capitalize on the phenomenon of group life as a positive, developmentally appropriate, growth-producing experience.
Play, work, and cottage routines are viewed as the content of an overall curriculum for learning through experience. So that the meaning of experiential learning is not simply taken for granted and its applicability to the work of residential treatment left unspecified, it should be noted that the concept of experiential learning includes both learning by doing and relationship learning. Although this is the primary goal, it becomes impossible to avoid seeing the new possibilities and new responsibilities for child-care workers that emerge through this curriculum approach to care, learning, and treatment: a new wav of looking at the child-care worker as both “milieu manager” and “here-and-now educator.” The child-care worker can then plan and orchestrate the ingredients of a learning milieu in the daily living of residential treatment, as in the approach used by the child-care workers staffing the canoe trip described more fully later.
To fail to operationalize group care fully on a developmental or educative model, to equate care with custody and control, and to see the child-care worker primarily as a behavioral manager and social controller reflect the lack of a clear and conceptualized application to group care of those principles of experiential learning that have been successfully applied in other sectors, primarily in summer camps and schools founded in the progressive education era (Arieli et al. 1990).
Arieli, M., Beker, J. and Kashti, Y. (1990). Residential group care as a socialising environment: Toward a broader perspective. In Anglin, J.P. et al. (eds.) Issues in professional Child and Youth Care. New York: Haworth Press.
Barnes, F.H. (1991). From Warehouse to Greenhouse: Play, Work, and the Routines of Daily Living in Groups as the Core of Milieu Treatment, in Beker, J. and Eisikovits, Z. (eds.) Knowledge utilization in Child and Youth Care practice. Washington DC: CWLA, pp. 123-155