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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Interactive youth and family work

Mark Krueger

The dynamics of groups and families are similar in many ways. Families, like groups, are large and small and comprised of various combinations of individuals, each of whom plays a unique role in the group or family. Members of groups and families develop unique patterns of interaction. In some families and groups, the members might openly express their feelings; whereas in other groups and families the members are more reserved.Some group and family patterns of interaction are harmful. Abusive families or groups develop patterns of denial, hurt, and rejection. Or in some families, the parents without knowing it – or for what they think are good reasons – criticize or punish their children in ways that leave emotional scars.

Groups or families have different Influences on each participant depending on a number of circumstances. In some situations youth try to be like their parents and peers, and in other situations they try to be different. The meaning of group and family influences is also constantly changing. Each new experience in youthwork and life adds a new layer of meaning to the youth’s sense of self and the influences family and peers have on the development of that sense of self. In any given moment or interaction, the role of the family or peers in influencing a youth’s behavior and feelings might be a major or minor factor with any number of other factors contributing to a situation.

Youth worker Nicole’s role with groups and families is similar to the process described a moment ago. Her goal is to create as many moments of connection, discovery, and empowerment as possible. She is sensitive to presence, rhythm, meaning, and atmosphere as it applies to each individual. She gets a sense of where the family as a whole is in the midst of a discussion or a task as well as where each individual is in the process. She feels where she is in relationship to the family members and their need for closeness or distance and shifts her position or directs her comments, trying to engage each person.

For example, Nicole sits down to eat with the youth in the group home, aware that mealtimes have a different meaning for each youth. For one youth the meal evokes memories of a time when dad came home drunk and argued with mom. In another youth’s home, often there was not enough to eat. Another youth ate alone in front of the TV.

She makes eye contact with a youth as he or she passes the fried beans, extending her hand as if to connect with a youth for a moment. “Try it, I think you will like it,” she says. As they eat she is present with sensitivity to the tone and tempo of the meal.

Similarly, she sits with a family having dinner while listening and observing. She is aware that their individual experiences of what is about to occur are different than her experience. She also knows the family has a history of eating together and that they have developed unique patterns of interaction at meals and elsewhere. As they talk, she searches for opportunities to connect. She also looks for opportunities to help family members discover solutions to their own problems and feel empowered. At one point she suggests to the father that perhaps there is another way to get a youth off to school in the morning, and the father says, “Yes, perhaps if I wake him up earlier it will be less of a struggle.” Or, she gives the mother a phone number to enroll her daughter in a computer class.

Krueger, M. (2003) Interactive youth and family work. In Garfat, T. (ed.) A Child and Youth Care approach to working with families. New York: Haworth. pp.55-65

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