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The Known and the Used in Residential Child and Youth Care Work

Z. Eisikowits, J. Beker and E. Guttman

Ignorance is the curse of God
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.

W. Shakespeare – Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene 7

Residential Child and Youth Care work has access to this Shakespearean wing, the means to fly, yet the occupation is, too frequently, still not flying. Indeed, it sometimes seems unable to get off the ground! How can we make these wings knowledge – an integral part of practice so that the field can “take off” in its reach for increasingly effective service to children and youths? The knowledge we need is available, but we rarely use it.

The history of knowledge in child care is beyond the scope of this chapter, but it is important to note that the early residential Child and Youth Care worker was intuitive and ad hoc, improvising practice as situations arose. The worker performed many functions simultaneously or in rapid succession, such as caring, building relationships, setting norms, and “societal-representing” (Maier 1978). The job was done spontaneously, based primarily on immediate perception of the situation and on accumulated “practice wisdom” (Schlick 1974) without theoretical interpretation or much generalization from practice. A great deal of high quality child-care work surely resulted, with the emphasis on concern for the children rather than on using knowledge systematically to enhance their development. Heidigger (1962) has referred to this as the “intuitive” approach.

In recent decades, it has become apparent in residential Child and Youth Care, as in other human service occupations, that intuition alone, like love alone (Bettelheim 1950), is insufficient, as essential as both may be to effective service in this field. In addition, partly in an effort to justify their existence as well as to improve their practice, human service personnel have begun to address highly charged professional and political questions: What is unique about us? What is our expertise? What can we do better than others? How? In what settings? To phrase it differently, the movement toward professionalization in a range of human service occupations is under way. In this context, residential Child and Youth Care workers are among those who have turned to knowledge as a core component of professional identity (Eisikovits et al. 1986; Ritzer 1972; Schein 1971). This knowledge concerns both direct care of children and youths and such broader aspects of residential care as organizational functioning, teamwork, and social change.

Various theoretical orientations have made significant contributions to the knowledge base in the field. Such leading psychoanalytically oriented figures as Aichhorn (1935) and Bettelheim (1955) helped us to understand many facets in the origin of, and effective response to, childhood disorders in the context of the residential setting. The interplay between the individual child's behavior and that of the group, and how these factors influence mental health, were closely scrutinized. Various treatment approaches were developed, such as the child guidance model (ego-supportive psychiatric treatment) and milieu therapy using the “life space interview” (Redl 1966)


Aichhorn, A. 1935. Wayward Youth. New York: Viking.

Bettelheim, B. 1950.Love Is Not Enough. New York: Free Press.

Bettelheim, B. 1955.Truants from Life. New York: Free Press

Eisikowits, Z., and Beker, J.1983. Beyond professionalism: The Child and Youth Care worker as craftsman. Child Care Quarterly. 12(2): 93-120.

Heidigger, M.1962. Being and Time. Translated by J. Macquarrie and E.S. Robinson. New York: Harper and Row.

Maier, H.W. 1978. Three Theories of Child Development. New York: Harper & Row.

Redl, F. 1966. When We Deal with Children. New York: Free Press.

Ritzer, G. 1972. Man and His Work: Conflict and Change. New York: Meredith Corporation.

Schein, E.H. 1971. The individual, the organization and the career: A conceptual scheme. The Journal of Applied Behavioral .Science 7(4): 401-425.

Schlick, M. 1974. General Theory of Knowledge. Translated by A.E. Blumberg. New York: Springer Verlag.

Eisikowits, Z., Beker, J. and Guttmann, E.(1991) The Known and the Used in Residential Child and Youth Care Work. In Beker, J. and Eisikowits, Z. Knowledge Utilization in Residential Child and Youth Care Practice. Washington: CWLA. pp 3-4

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