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A philosophical stroll through child and youth care

Gerry Fewster

At the core, every young person we encounter is a flawless energetic being who, like me, is concerned with the developmental task of becoming human. What I see from the outside belongs to me, to my reality, and may be irrelevant to what is actually taking place in the world of the Other. If I want to understand that person's reality, then I must come to know and, in the moment, suspend my own. Only in this way will my curiosity and my senses be free to explore and experience the unknown. Only in this way will my own Self be able to recognize an Other. Then, when I find my Self in the role of teacher, counsellor, or friend, I am fully aware that I am working with another human being whose participation in the process is essential ... for both of us.

However troubled or chaotic the young person's life might appear from the outside, his or her inner struggle is always the same as my own – the challenges of a Self seeking to be seen, heard, and expressed in a world that can never be fully known. As a practitioner, my most pervasive task is to invite my young partner to come forward and meet me, Self to Self. In that meeting, there can be no postures or pretenses. If I am not there – available, vulnerable, and unadorned – the opportunity for connection and growth is lost and both Selves remain alone with their illusions.

Whatever problems might be presented or "diagnosed," the fundamental issue is always one of reconnection. Whether the troubles are expressed physically, psychologically, socially, or spiritually, a return to healthy growth and development involves a process of reconnection, in one form or another. Since the disconnection is located somewhere within the subjective experience of each individual, it cannot be conveniently identified and repaired from the outside. Regardless of his or her designated area of expertise, the art of the professional practitioner is one of helping the client to explore this experience and draw upon the internal resources that promote well-being and growth. The central agent in the deployment of such resources is, of course, the core Self, and the context for reconnection is the Self-Self relationship. For me, this is what is meant by the term working from the inside out.

In child and youth care, as in the other "helping" professions, we come to know people through their problems and define our task remedially. From this perspective, it's easy to lose sight of the conditions that promote opti mal growth and development. Given all that I have said thus far, it seems to me that children whose subjective experience incorporates the following blessings are unlikely to become candidates for professional intervention.

Bonding. From conception onwards, children need to know that that there is at least one person in this world who accepts and loves them without conditions. Early bonding is the blueprint for all future relationships. From this experience, the most essential human qualities of trust, empathy, compassion, and love are nurtured, giving unequivocal assurance of the child's secure and rightful place in the scheme of things.

Attunement. At the most primary energetic level and throughout the development of conscious awareness, children need to experience the presence of someone who acknowledges and responds spontaneously to their inner experience. This is a distinctly human process through which the Self can become seen and heard.

Breathing room. Every child needs the space to create a boundary, make the choices, and take the risks that allow the Self to create a viable and unique place in the world. This provides the foundation for individuation, personal autonomy, and Self-responsibility. Above all, it is the means whereby children learn how to trust their inner resources, have confidence in their abilities, and know beyond all doubts that they create the lives they want. Since less than 5% of people come into this world with genetic deficits (Lipton, 2002), 95% of the kids we meet have all the resources they need. Our task is to assist them in accessing those resources and learning how to use them effectively.

A final word
As I look back at my deliberations, it all seems so deadly serious. Well, it ; really isn't. Child and youth care has given me the chance to have a ball, to play, to dance, to thumb my nose at authority, to act the fool, to trespass on other people's property, and to be the kid that I've always been. 

Fewster, G. (2002). The road less graveled: A philosophical stroll through child and youth care.
Journal of Child and Youth Care, 15, 4. pp. 173-175.

References
Lipton, B. (2002). Paper presented at "Biology and Belief" Conference, P.D. Seminars, Gabriola Island, British Columbia. 

 

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