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Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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Saying "I love you"


I am a second year Child and Youth Care student doing a presentation for a class called Ethics and Issues. I am looking for research regarding the effects and impact of saying "I love you" to the children and youth we work with. Does it violate personal and/or professional boundaries? Does it have a positive or negative effect on the child or youth? Whose needs are being met? Could attachment issues arise? How does it impact them now and later on in their adult life?

Any thoughts or opinions are greatly appreciated.

Markie Towers

That's a loaded ethical dilemma. For me I feel a statement like "I love you" to a child or youth you are working with is too powerful of a statement and steps over the boundary of professional, ethical practice.
I think there are many strategies that can be implemented with the child or youth that develop trust and connectedness without having to use the words "I love you" to a client you are working with. The practitioner is only one small piece in that child/youth's life and typically the length of time you're in a relationship is fairly limited, so I would worry about making a statement like that to a client, to then have to separate from that attachment.

Danielle Jimeno

I don't know of any research but will be watching to see if anyone else does. If we're not in this because of our love for the kids then I'm suspect of our motivations. At the same time, we want to remember that this phrase has been used by abusers to cover sins committed on the kids, such as telling them that are loved when being used for sex. I think it would be a good discussion to have WITH the kids, rather than just about them.

Lorraine Fox

I await the replies to this with interest. In the meantime I would add this to the mix – what about how you respond when a child says "I love you"? Is this just the opposite side of the same coin or is it something else altogether?

Ni Holmes

This sounds like a very good topic for the Child and Youth Care journal. Let us know how your paper results. I will say that my training in Spiritual Psychology asserts that this is one of the most therapeutic things that can be said in your work with another person. I can't remember ever saying that out loud to any youth but I certainly used to say it often inside myself to them. It can be extremely helpful to the care provider. You may want to Google Spiritual or Transpersonal Psychology for more on that topic.

I think one of the greatest forms of love is giving people the dignity of their process and not dumping on them anything that they cannot handle. I think on many levels, they get whether you love them or not. They may use the words caring, understanding or "being cool with them." Let us know what you find out.

Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.

Well, in regards to saying "I love you" I believe that it is something that should not be said. It goes without saying that as you work with children and youth you may grow to feel love for them, however, saying it crosses the boundary from professional to personal. We need to remember that for all intents and purposes in most cases we are in a child/youth's life for only a brief period of time. We may have a profound and lasting impact, but the relationship serves a purpose and is not intended to be a lifelong pursuit.

I am not saying that there haven't been instances where the relationship lasts beyond the therapeutic process, however, while you are actively engaged in the helping relationship it is necessary to maintain professional boundaries for the sake of both the child/youth and yourself. There are many ways to demonstrate caring without using words, including just being there and being available. It would be my assumption that it would have a negative effect on the child/youth, especially if the relationship comes to an abrupt end due to professional politics or other circumstances, and as such can have a long term detrimental effect on their self esteem and self worth.

Most of the clients we work with are already suffering attachment issues, do we really want to exacerbate the situation by creating a deeper relationship than we can realistically provide? Saying "I love you" is best reserved for family and friends; not clients.

Jillian Johnston

So you are asking if I can say "I love you" to a client? One who has had many people say I love you, now get out or I love you and hit? Where do you want to go with this child? If you want to and are able to adopt go for it? If you want to help and then let them go (home, foster care, live by self) then I love you has no part in that relationship. Some may not even be able to say I'm here for you let alone I love you.

Connecting with a child is not personal. If the child connects with you it is great but connection only needs to go one way. Please don't think I am heartless. I put my heart into my job for the "kids" but I don't lose my direction. The "kids" need to move on .. I am not a crutch only a stepping stone.

Donna Wilson

I think saying "I love you" is perfectly acceptable where children are placed in long-term substitute care, and where the relationship between the child and adult have evolved to a level where the adult is seen to be taking a parental role, and where the relationship is experienced by both as being deeply significant (with due consideration and sensitivity to any special issues like sexual child abuse etc, etc, etc). The context is very important.

Generally I think it is a good thing, children should feel loved, and sometimes it should be said so they can hear it.

Werner van der Westhuizen

Hey there Markie,

There's always controversy with ethics and issues in our field and in any profession. In the Child and Youth Care profession I know there are a few sides in regards to this. Currently our strongest focus in the Child and Youth Care profession is the relational focus and I believe saying I love you's to children will promote their growth. However it may hinder or intimidate each child depending on how you say it, when you say it and where you say it.

Professionally I believe that we don't say I love you to the child/youth until they say it first then you can always respond "you too" or "I love you too buddy"- I always said that when I was working with babies up to elementary aged kids. I am not going to tell them it's inappropriate to say that to us, or just nod and say good night, or brush it off at some sort. We are here to help them heal, grow, learn and all that sorts, and saying I love you's back to them will promote their feeling of attachment. If we are to attempt at simulating a typical family home with parents encouraging them and all of that sort it would promote a healthy growth through their development stages especially with the attachments. I have noticed that promoting that, these kids would have more healthier attachment, and boundaries in the future when they are older as opposed to those that are deprived of it, and moved around- they typically are the ones that have trouble, and have mild to severe attachment issues. It would depend on the worker's practice, how they believe in prompting and stimulating each child's growth and how willing they would share some of the love they'd have. I am a Child and Youth Care worker and I cherish the profession itself. I believe strongly in the relational approach, I can't imagine myself not loving each child. Each of them takes a small piece of my heart and it's something I'd always be honored to share in order to help them grow and have something to hang on to through tough times. We all have boundaries as a professional, how comfortable we are to flex our boundaries is up to us, the agencies and to the child. If a child has a severe boundaries issues, sexually offends, or something like that our sharing approach would be more rigid, I know my boundaries would be more stiffer but it won't stop me from providing the appropriate comfort they need in order to grow and learn. I believe that if it meets the child's needs, I have done my work. If it only meets our needs not the child then there's something wrong and something needs to be changed because we are here for them not ourselves.

The positive and negative effects it could have on the child really depends on each individual, the worker and the child. What is the purpose of the I love you's ? Is it for the worker's or the child's benefit? Is it something they desire in order to feel hope? Is it something they desire for something more deeper and inappropriate? Is it going to be presented on the right time, place, and how? These questions would be something we think in our heads quickly before we respond to the child's I love you's. I believe this situation is similar to hugs because they both have similar issues that could arise such as appropriate intention/purpose of doing this, the reason of doing this, crossing boundaries or prompting a good sense of boundaries, does it benefit only the worker or for the child, etc.

From my experience growing up in the system, those Child and Youth Care workers and Social workers that give me comfort, and I love you's are always the ones that stick with me for the rest of my life, and these people are the ones that I always had my mind on for hope through rough times. These people are the ones who helped me be who I am today and I respect them highly. I guess it will really vary in each individual but I believe saying I love you's will make a difference in a small way we'd never notice but a big thing for them in their lives...

hope this helped!

Amber Schultz

Hi Markie,

The draft copy of The National Minimum Standards for Children's Homes can be found at

Standard 11 says

STANDARD 11 – Preparation for a new placement or a move (including back to parents, etc)

Underpinning Legislation:

Regulations: To be agreed


"Children are welcomed into the home and leave the home in a planned and sensitive manner which makes them feel loved and valued."

The word loved is also used in the values section at the beginning of the document. This is quite a shift in stance within Residential Child Care.

Gareth Wall

Dear Markie,

I think there is a consensus that all children need the love of a good parenting figure. I think many of the troubled children with whom I have worked have either had this love withdrawn or have never really received it.

I think many of them have heard parenting adults use the phrase, "I love you", but the adults have – for a variety of reasons – been unable to convert the words into what Winnicott might describe as 'good enough' love.

My view is that we have to show youngsters first of all that we can be trusted and demonstrate our love of them by our consistent actions in serving them over a period of time so that they can both unconsciously and consciously come to perceive our actions as symbolising nurturing parental love. Situations may arise when it is appropriate to say "I love you" to a child or a young person once the relationship between the child and worker has been established as a securely attached, healthy, trusting parenting adult/child relationship. Just as with our own children when we say, "I love you" it has in a sense become superfluous because they already know it. Often the youngsters we work with are – with just cause – diffident and wary of adults making promises they eventually may not be able to keep.

Charles Sharpe

Hello Markie,

This topic is a very interesting one with many different views. I think that the effects of saying "I love you" are hard to predict. In most cases, I think children do not fully understand what it means to say "I love you"
and are searching for that connection with anyone who will show them the tiniest amount of admiration. It falls under the same category as fidelity, making promises we can keep. Expressing that strength of an emotion to a youth and then not being able to stay and continue to work with them can have detrimental effects on their progress...or emotional well being. I think in the end it would end up as an attachment issue, however on the other hand, some youth just say " I love you" to a specific worker but then the next day they find someone else who makes them happy and they move on. It all depends on the cognitive and emotional stability I would say. But using such strong emotions to express something that could simply mean "I like you" may confuse or alter the youth's perspective on love, and its true meaning. I think to each their own, however, I do not think it would be a good idea to use the term liberally in this professional field.

Elyse Peacock

Hi everyone,

It seems to me there are a lot of misperceptions and illusions about love out there among us. We have big hang ups about such a simple thing. I think the problem could be that there are no words to accurately describe the experience or act of love. And many of us vary in our capacity to be loving or to hold the space that loving can fill.

What a great question that Ni posed, " (do) YOU respond when a child says 'I love you'?" And Gareth reminding us of our professional responsibility to ensure that children feel loved. Thank you to both. I certainly learned from that.

I will say for certain that because a child may have had an association with love and hurt doesn't meant that a youth care professional can't ever say they love them and share love with them in its fullest expression (joy, healing, acceptance, connectedness, safety). Like anything else, though,you probably should be qualified to say "I love you" before you say it. You might want to be real clear inside about what you are doing and be able to hold a safe place for that to occur, knowing how to respond to anything provoked inside you or the other person. That comes primarily from experience.

With love comes responsibility from both persons involved (youth and CYC).I think that is what most people are saying and I'm saying some people can manage it better than others. So the answer to "Would you ever say 'I love you' to a youth." Yes, but only if the persons involved can handle that expression.

Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.

Interesting topic and not talked about enough not just in Child and Youth Care but overall in our society. I believe that if you are about to do anything with a child, youth or even adult that may be misinterpreted it becomes a teachable moment for both parties. Everyone has a different idea of what love is so it becomes important not to assume but to talk about it. If a child or youth has never or rarely experienced a "healthy" love then I believe it becomes part of your responsibility as someone teaching life skills to discuss the different kinds of love and their experiences with this.

In my experience I have found once I have had this conversation and shared the kind of love I have for them the relationship shifts. There is this foundational understanding that someone cares about them despite what they have done or who they are. I have found that discussing the relationship also assists in the transition of ending the relationship. Changes and losses are a part of the human experience and I have found it becomes a challenge or even "damaging" when one is left all alone to figure it out when it can be a growing and healing experience when discussed in a safe way. I'm all about speaking the truth. If you feel love for the person then say it but make sure you are prepared to go much further in explaining what that means and that you stay consistent with it. I have also found that saying "I care about you" to be a milder/easier way of expressing my love for them.

Serena Rotten
Beautiful Vancouver Island

I have worked with the early childhood age child, birth to age 5, for over 10 years. Many children have said the words "I love you" to me over the years. I have never once ignored them or put them off with a platitude. As many of us who have taken an intro to developmental psychology class know, children thrive in secure and safe environments.

I currently work with the toddler age group. These children really do not have a complete understanding of the words, " I love you". When they say it they expect a response. I have fifteen little ones and want them to all feel secure in my classroom. To be perfectly honest I do love all of them. They are each coming into their own little personalities and it is amazing to have the opportunity to be a part of their little lives. I do not feel that it is in any way inappropriate to say those words back to a little child that is being dropped off by parents and placed in my care for eight or more hours a day. The mission statement at our center states, "we are an extension of the family unit."

As children grow older and are better able to understand the meaning of the words "I love you" my views do change on the issue. For the younger crowd give them all the love they need.

Angela Holeczy
Pittsburgh, PA

Hi everyone,

Personally I don't use the words "I love you" as I also feel it oversteps the professional boundaries. However saying this I realize that it oversteps the boundaries based on what I believe those words to mean. Perhaps youth and children from different cultures, or based on past experiences believe the words "I love you" to mean something different. Perhaps if a youth were to say "I love you" to you, exploring what that means to them, and talking about how words can mean different things for different people....

Just some thoughts at the beginning of my day.

Hope everyone is taking care of themselves,

Nicole Mckeown

Hi Markie,

What an interesting research topic! I can offer you feedback based only on my personal experience with this. In my 20+yrs as a Child and Youth Care Worker, only once did a youth seriously say the actual words "I love you" to me while we were out for a walk. I must admit I was taken aback but in hindsight, this was a youth who had extremely poor self esteem (which is the case with most of the youth we work with) and the particular reason we were out walking in the community was for me to teach her "the other side" of how she viewed society as always being negative and "against her". It makes sense to me now that as she lacked social skills and the ability to "show" how much she cared about people, her only way of knowing how to express it was through "words".

I personally do not use those words lightly, meaning that when I tell people I love them, it's usually to those I have deep, close relationships with (i.e. family, my partner, close friends). After a brief moment of silence (because I didn't quite know how to respond and had to give it some thought), I told her that I very much appreciated that she cared for me that much and responded that I liked her very much too. I honestly told her that those words were intimate for me and that when I told people I liked them alot, it meant that in my heart I felt love for them. To this she responded, " Okay, I like you alot too". I think we need to be mindful of who the youth is and where they're coming from. Many youth I work with know that I love them or "care alot about them", through my "actions" and "how" I talk to them versus "what" I say to them. They show me they like/care about me through the level of trust they have in me, among many other happy moments we get to share together. I'll close off with a quote I "love" that I wrote on our blackboard at our goup home for all staff and youth to see; "Loving the people I know allows me to know the people I love".

Kind Regards,

Monique LeBlanc
NB, Canada


I don't know if it's the proximity to Valentine's Day that leads me to respond to this thread but here goes. I suppose, first thing to say is I'm delighted that the word love is re-entering the Child and Youth Care lexicon. Whether we tell kids that we love them is maybe a bit more complicated. It can feel to me too easy to say 'I love you'. Sitting on the bus to work I hear all sorts of mobile phone conversations. Increasingly, it seems, rather than just say goodbye, people sign off by saying 'Love you'.

I'm not sure what, if anything, it means. I remember a friend of my own son, a kid who was very much left to his own devices and whose relationship with his mum was pretty ambivalent, would always end his phone conversations with her with 'Love you' – it was almost as though he needed to be convinced.
Now, my own sons would never tell their mum or myself that they loved us, nor would they appreciate being told that. But I'm sure they know it to be the case. So it seems to me that kids will know what they mean to us, less through what we say than what we do and how we are with them. If within the context of a particular relationship we say 'I love you' then maybe that's good and well, but the expression of love needs to go beyond just saying so.

Or maybe that reticence to say 'I love you' is just me as a Scottish male.

Mark Smith

Thanks to Alfonso for picking up on my quickly thrown in remark before I headed off in search of snow last week. Now I have a little more time here is what I had in mind.

Lorraine is right to question what anyone is doing in this profession if they do not love children but use of the words "I love you" is not the way to express that. These words do not always carry the same meaning. The potential for confusion in a child is massive (do these words imply romantic intent, do they signify the onset of abuse, is this just a trite and empty statement or is it understood to express a humane concern for others?). This is not fair to the child. Expressing the associated feelings (care, concern, etc) appropriately and in a manner that the child can understand is vital.

Often within Scottish culture "I love you" is easier said when it is not meant than when it is (when it is just a throw-away line or as Lorraine and Donna both identified, associated with abuse of one kind or another). There is a huge cultural dimension that cannot be overlooked. Everyone should consider within their own context what it means to use these words, what meanings they carry, how much effort is involved and so on (similar considerations, by the way relate to the word "sorry", among others that are equally loaded).

When a child chooses to say "I love you" to us similar questions need to be asked about meaning and intent within the cultural context. Not to respond appropriately is as damaging to the relationship as it would be to respond inappropriately. If we are to reciprocate ("I love you too") we had better be sure that we understood the original meaning and intent correctly.

There is a value in developing a staff script, personal to each child that allows staff to acknowledge the feelings being expressed by the child and in return expresses the feelings of the worker but does not lead into areas where professionals should not be going. I wish I had a prepared script the first time I was surprised when a child said "I love you to me". I certainly made the effort to work one out for the next time so I could respond without having to think too hard. Staff teams should work together to ensure that the script is not trite, that it will always carry the desired meaning in a way that the child will understand and that it is not open to alternative interpretations.

The bottom line is much deeper than the use of three little words. It is right to examine our motivations in this profession. We should strive to create an attachment between ourselves and the children we are responsible for. That attachment should foster independence, not create dependence in either direction. It is right to demonstrate care and concern within our professional relationships and to do so with humanity. However there is no place in the professional relationship for a bond of love. If the words "I love you" in any way imply, intentionally or otherwise, a bonding there are serious issues about motivation, professionalism, child-centredness etc. that need to be urgently addressed.

Ni Holmes

I'm going to keep this simple: if a client says I love you... and it is appropriate by your standards and practices, acknowledge the client with a nod and a hug I work with boys 8-15 and usually I find this is the best way to deal with it, esp. post care... when seeing the client in a public setting with parent's, new caregivers etc.

Ziggy Stardust

I'm sorry, I have to disagree. This may sound harsh, but I believe that staff in a professional child care environment should not use the expression "I love you" with the children they are responsible for. It is not love but care they are supposed to provide for the children. The safest bet not to confuse the children or raise expectations the staff cannot (and sometimes must not!) fulfil is not to use those words. This also raises the question of boundaries, the balance of closeness and distance between staff and children; this has to be deliberated for each situation and each child individually. Children in care are vulnerable and there is a great risk of further hurt if words are used carelessly. If a child says "I love you", then it is a very different situation, and staff should respect and appreciate the child's affection, but they themselves have not got the right to use the same expression towards the child. As a child care manager I expect staff to have open and honest conversations about feelings with the children, let them explore what the expressions mean and become aware and comfortable with their own feelings, including love, affection, but also moments of sadness and anger... To conclude, I would suggest that the words "I care for you" or "I care about you" seem a lot more appropriate and safe for both parties involved.

Mag. Manfred Humer
Schloss Leonstein, Austria

I feel compelled to reply...

Recently a youth's mom that I work with passed away and the youth moved away to live with a family member. We are in contact with her as she has not moved very far from our city. My co workers and I have known this youth for about 8 years. I was talking to the family member and stated " We love(youth's name). I felt at that moment that I did miss her from our program as she is a vital part of it and I have loved watching her as well as the other children and youth that I work with grow up and become awesome children and youth. I guess I just feel that sometimes it is okay and appropriate to express something that you feel as it is the truth.

Kristina Dixon

I love you post

I know that this is a rather old post but but I would like to add some a different perspective. I work at a school base/ partial hospitalization program. I am only twenty-two years old and work with children with high functioning autism as well as emotional/behavioral problems who range in ages from 10-12. I feel that I would never say "I love you" to one of my students, I feel that if I would say "I love you" to a student it might put the wrong impression into their head. A lot of my students already have issues determining and distinguishing reality, so in my mind this would be a major NO!

Dani O'Neill

Good morning,

I wanted to pass along this passage as it spoke to the power of love. I agree with Monique that we have much to share when we "show" by our "actions" how much we love and care for an individual(s) we are working with. Love is not just in the words we speak but how we speak to someone and how we give of ourselves for the greater good and growth of their character speaks volumes. Compassion, caring, smiling, being with and giving with a warmth and a genuineness most often provides the same amount of love if not more than the words "I love you". Words to some of these kids might seem empty yet repetitive loving and caring actions can sometimes slowly warm and fill up the most emptiest of hearts.

"Today, even modern industrial societies are not always able to provide food and shelter for all of their people. These are very real and important needs. But there are other needs that sometimes are not so easily identified. Even when the most pressing requirements for food or clothing or shelter have been satisfied, that is not enough for the human being. There remains a hunger for something more. We want to be somebody. We want to feel secure. We want to love. Without any better way to satisfy these inner needs, we end up depending on possessions and profit – not just for our physical well-being but as a substitute for the dignity, fulfillment, and security we want so much.

Only by living for something that lasts, something real – rather than for passing pleasure and profit – can we achieve the lasting fulfillment, the limitless capacity to love, that is our birthright. "

- Eknath Easwaran's book Words to Live By

Susan Scherbak

This is quite a controversial topic I can see. I do want to throw out another angle to this, and ask this: For those children in long-term residential care, in other words, those children who are true orphans and grow up in a children's home – if their caregiver does not say "I love you" to them, will they go through childhood never hearing it expressed that someone loves them (like a parent loves a child)? What is the impact on a child never being told that someone loves them? If not us, because we are uncomfortable and don't want to blur professional boundaries, then who?

I do believe the context is very important, and that one has to be careful, and you certainly don't go around telling every child that you love them. But what about the child who has no-one else? What if we are the only "someone" they have who can tell them they are loved, and not just cared for?

Werner van der Westhuizen

Love is different to everyone. In Eastern Canada, it is not uncommon to call a stranger "my lover". For example, I worked with a social worker who was from out east. When we went shopping she thanked the teller by saying "thanks my lover", translation was " thanks buddy". When a youth says I love you, I think it is an excellent opportunity to explore what love means to them, and why. It may not be as serious as one might think, or perhaps it might be what was said to them in moments of abuse who knows, but I would never assume I do know.



I think you really know what this youth care business is all about. From what you wrote you showed genuine love for the youth you were working for. You shared what seems to be a very special moment in a way that was sincere, caring and honest. I don't want to read too much into it, but I think you may have provided a frame of reference for that child that they could use to guide them through other relationships. That is invaluable. Thanks for sharing your experience and your quote.

Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.

I think love is a word not to be used loosely, definitely depending on the age group. My children I work with are three and I love each and every one of them and I tell them. They would say it to me first and I would say it back, but like I said the older the group the more you must be careful or it could be misinterpreted and taken the wrong way especially when its teenagers. They may have many different emotional or self esteem issues that could make using that word a sticky situation. I'm also sad to say that being a male cycw makes a big difference for them – just to be safe they basically just stay away from the word love during their work with children.

Me as a women may have a child say I love you to me and I say I love you too, a parent may hear that and think nothing of it. But a male in the same situation may be looked at strangely and may even be asked what's going on – only because he's male. I also agree with the response on how we must be mindful as to who the youth is and where they come from. We could very well show them in our work action how much we love them by the way we care for them.

Terra Campbell

I have come late to this discussion but it is something that has fascinated me for many years. My colleague and friend David Wills used to say, 'It is love that these children have been deprived of and it is no sin for them to covet it.' David was a profoundly theological thinker and yet his language still seems fresh and relevant. So can we take his principle but eschew the word. Is love itself unable to speak its name? Erich Fromm in his astounding book The Forgotten Language says that the problem is that the profoundest of human experiences only has one word to describe it. CS Lewis in The Allegory of Love gives an historical account of this diminishment. Once there were many words for the unlimited range of experiences rightly called 'love'. I can remember sitting with a child over many hours who said that she desperately needed me to say that I loved her. I said that I liked her a lot. This was not good enough. Then I assured her that she was loveable This was not good enough. Then I told her that if I did say it that it was likely to be misunderstood, if not by her by other people. This was not good enough. In the end I told her that I loved her and explained what I meant. This was not good enough. So I told her that I loved her, which was true, and we both understood it. It had to be unconditional because that is what she had been deprived of. So why is there still a faint shadow of guilt over one of the most authentic experiences of my professional life?

David Pithers

Below are a few writings around the subject which members may be interested in by Mark Smith who is a regular columnist on CYC-Online. – Eds.

Love and God /CYC-Online -apr2009-smith.html

Letting go in love /cycol-0407-smith.html

Love tenderly /cycol-0612-smith.html

Limiting liability /cycol-0904-smith.html

The other side of the story /CYC-Online -aug2008-smith.html

Child protection: Conclusion /cycol-0404-smith.html

It seems that saying "I love you" is ok with younger children, such as to toddlers or preschoolers who say it casually. It's a simple way to gain their trust and comfort. With older children and definitely with teenagers, it begins to be inappropriate as others may think saying "love" to them is inappropriate and some of these children may have been hurt by someone they loved and it might bring issues of trust or painful memories.

A worker also shouldn't say love back to an older child just to set boundaries between professional and client. The best way to maintain a relationship is through comfort and empathy without having to say love.

David... finally, unconditional love. If we can preach non-judgmental in our everyday work... why not unconditional too?

Thank you for the insightful reply to this post.

Karen Hanlon

My clients know I am a father and that I love my son as much as I care about them , but I never even bring up the word love in conversation. It is so much easier to just offer up a hug, it basically says the same thing to these clients, esp. if you are male.

A lot of these children often do not have a male role model in their lives and, if they do, that person has been abusive or is currently the abuser.

Ziggy Stardust

In response to David's posting. Your account moved me to tears. It is so simple yet so profound a word that we must reclaim it. I also echo his reference to David Wills and I'd like to add this observation, approaches are all useless without the genuine loving concern for the child. The child is the only judge of whether our love is good enough.

Jeremy Millar

It is a great sadness that the reason children fall into our care (through the traditional safety nets) is exactly because adults have twisted the concept of love and provided them with "love" in a perverted way. It is exactly for this reason that we must not be afraid to love them, or to say it. I attended a seminar on developmental touch therapy a while ago and I remember the training saying that "it is the child who has been hurt through (inappropriate) touch who need to be touched the most". If we don't teach them about real unconditional love, or responsible and loving touch, we become part of the world that has taught them that they are unlovable (except in hurtful ways) and untouchable (except in perverted ways). Of course we have to take care when doing this because it "could be taken the wrong way" – in other words, we are afraid of dealing with the reality that the child's view of normal love has become distorted, and someone has to be strong enough to show the child how to love appropriately, and we are that "someone".

Werner van der Westhuizen

I think is our current world , the word love has become like the word sorry, over used and in the wrong context. In my career I have had children tell me they love me, however most of my career has been spent working with younger children, and there is an innocence that comes with this age group. My usual response has been to say thank you, or give a hug back. I agree with Werner that sometimes the children who tell us they love us are the ones that are in most need of our love. It's sad that these children may be reaching out for us and looking for something that does not exist in other areas of their lives.

Love is through action


I have been thinking about this topic for a while. Pondering it from many different angles, clinical, professional, ethical, therapeutic etc. There was no one way that I could see "fitting" or "answering" this very question until last night.

I work in a foster home that prepares girls to live independently. There is a foster mother and myself that works with the adolescent girls as they develop from the age of 15 to an "adult" at the age of 18. I have been here for 6.5 year and worked with around 26 girls in this time all with various diagnosis, mental health, learning disabilities and stories of abuse.

Last night I was sitting on the couch talking to a youth as she got ready for an overnight home visit with her family. All of the sudden the phone rings and she realizes that her parent is in the driveway to pick her up.
She scoops up her bag, throws on her shoes and runs to the door. She yells over her shoulder "Love you Tabs". I shout back "Love you too hon, have a great visit. Call me if you need anything". Then she runs out the door, down the driveway and into her parent's car.

Another youth that I was driving to the train station so she could travel to visit a friend gave me a hug on the platform as her train was arriving and said "Love you Tabs, thanks for the ride". My reply was genuine, "Love you too kid, be safe".

So I said the big scary "L" word to a teenager. And they are not the first. I believe that as CYCs we should be able to determine if this is something that the youth needs, wants, or is open to. I feel that we are professional enough to make that call. I also know that I do love my girls genuinely. Yes this word can be scary and emotionally loaded, however it does not have to be tabooed. It can be used in a human-to-human way and nothing more. It does not always have to be clinical or therapeutic it just has to be meaningful.
I know that there are some youth in the home that would not be open or comfortable saying/hearing it and therefore I would never use such language with them. I also know that I am professional enough to know the difference.

Keep Well,
Tabitha Woodall

To me the word love comes with many variables. The same way one would say they love their significant other would be different from saying they love their parents, or siblings, or friends, or possibly in this case clients.

I do not have any experience in working in the Child and Youth Care field yet, but I think I have enough of a grasp on this topic to share my opinion. Everyone deserves to feel loved and therefore I think that children who are gaining support from the work of Child and Youth Care should be provided with love if they so desire it. For younger children, I don’t feel there is any harm in expressing the words “I love you” back to them if they say it first.
For older youth I think the words “I love you” may be interpreted differently and therefore should not be so lightly used. The word love has a variety of meanings to individuals and I think in the case of Child and Youth Care work, it can be used in instances where the child is evidently showing that he or she is in need of feeling loved and if and only when it will benefit the child.

Lindsey Byrnes

“the most powerful therapy is human love.”
Perry & Szalavitz, 2006

Thom Garfat

I agree with is ACTION!

Muriel White

If a child or youth says "I love you" it is a wonderful opportunity to engage in a dialogue with them about the meaning of love and what it means to them personally. I believe that love is a give and take relationship and needs to be equal on both sides. Unless you can guarantee that you will be in that child or youth's life for the long term it is not appropriate to say it. If you say "I love you" you need to be prepared to make a lasting commitment to remain in the child's life. Many of the children and youth we work with have had people come and go from their lives much to easily. Their idea of what love means may be very different from your own. As with many things, saying those words is an incredibly personal decision, but I do not think it should be said without careful thought and consideration first.

Jillian Viens

Hi Lindsey,
I appreciated your comments and points of view regarding the phrase "I love you". I have experienced firsthand how a preschool or primary school aged child uses this phrase with support workers and teachers. Their child-like mannerisms are cherished by those adult peers in their midst. As school-based employees would we walk about the school saying "I love you" to specific children that we had made an amazing connection – no, because we are told it is not "professional", but I have learned a lot over twelve years within the school system there are numerous ways to show we CARE and look at the WHOLE child.

Spending extra time with them for a task that they have not grasped, listen to them when they display/appear stressed or emotionally frustrated. I have had parents share with me that they don't know how to tell their children they "love them", especially the children who displayed unmanageable behaviours and the parents have exhausted their resources... Intuition, which I live by, watch their eyes, listen to their voice tone, watch their body language, in most scenarios non-verbal communicative cues can assist with creating a connection.... All in all, most children and youth just want to be acknowledged, heard and affirmed! There are numerous way to show LOVE, other than words... Child and Youth Care work for me is a "vocation", not a job!

Leah Connell :)

Jillian, I am not sure that love is about give and take. I think that might make it conditional. I have just remembered a verse I learnt in childhood;

'Love ever gives, outlives, forgives
Ever stands with open hands,
And while it lives it gives,
For this is love's prerogative
to give, and give, and give.'

Don't know who wrote it. I don't want this topic to end, it's so fundamental.

David Pithers

I have enjoyed everybody's comments on this "I love you" discussion.

Jillian, your belief is very congruent with my own. Love is definitely a give and take relationship, and all too often the words are said without meaning or taken away too soon.

From my own experiences, I am reminded of various summer camps I have worked at over the years, especially Camp Health Hope and Happiness which is a camp for people with physical and mental disabilities. You work and live very closely with children for one week, so the friendship bonding cycle is quite quick. Inevitably some of the kids begin saying "I love you" towards the end of camp, and I know some of the other counselors would respond back in kind. For some of those children they were just words, but for others they took everything to heart, and I look back and wonder if any of them were later affected by those words not being able to be supported after the camp was over. I know, personally, even back then I would let the kids know that I cared about them and that I valued their friendship, but would never say "I love you" back to them ... even when I did in my heart.

Anyways, just wanted to share my two cents today :)


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