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Developmental Group Care of Children and Youth: Concepts and Practice

Henry Maier

With the development of greater attachment comes independence and greater freedom. The awakening notion of inclusion in a group – dependence upon a social network – while maintaining previous attachment support, is part of all autonomous independence striving (Bardwick, 1974, P. 51). With each acquisition of dependence, a new region of independence is also achieved. In turn, with each new step of independence, freedom is gained for the development of new attachments. New levels of dependence are in the making (Maier, 1986d). Children’s ability to separate and manage on their own is anchored in the degree of security of their attachments, combined with their acquired capacities to get to, and to do more with people, activities, and things that provoke their curiosity (Maier, 1978b, pp. 144-151; Segal & Yahraes; 1978; Sroufe, 1978). Consequently, one might say parents neither push nor cajole their children out of the nest – rather, they widen the nest. By allowing social space and encouraging children to expand their interactions on their own, parents support children’s continuing efforts toward new mastery. Throughout life, growth requires that continuous support come from previous attachments, from peers, and from new attachments.

For school-age children, peer attachments serve as added resources and become vital freeing factors in the sequence of human development (Hartup, 1979). Peers, along with parents, make up school-age children’s primary support systems, and it is largely through the child’s attachment to peers that life’s important attitudes and behaviors are shaped. Forms and degrees of school-age aggressive behavior, the overcoming of fears and anxieties, or establishing norms for doing with or without material items, represent distillation of peer interactions (Segal & Yahraes, 1978, pp. 237-242). Studying the manner in which school-age youngsters relate to their peers can give pertinent prognosticators of their developmental progress. Reports of a child’s performance in school should therefore include an account of the scope and quality of the child’s association with his or her peers.

A primary assertion is that child add parent, or caregiver and care receiver, need each other reciprocally and need to find their mutual fit. In this country, children are rarely responsible for the economic maintenance of the family; now, they are needed for expressions of care. Parenthood and the child’s natural maturing are becoming more of a search for self-fulfillment than an issue of either economic or socioreligious family survival (McDonald, 1978, p. 53). In this search is the inherent desire to maintain each other’s love. Parent and child (as well as worker and child), need each other for their own validation and verification (Kagan, 1978, pp. 41-45). Maybe we have been recognizing not only the "Year of the Child" but also the year of the parent and child.

Recent research strongly indicates that children mature satisfactorily when they are assured a pattern of reliable dependence. It is through this assured dependence that they repeatedly find freedom to grow. Steps toward freedom must be underpinned by a sense of anchorage through dependence. "Have you hugged your kid today?" asks a bumper sticker and TV spot. The same question is embodied in Bronfenbrenner’s poignant conclusion: "Every child needs at least one person who is really crazy about him or her" (Bronfenbrenner. 1977). Briefly, the issue of dependence and freedom can be summarized in the statement made by a 3-year old to his parent: "Stay here – so I can do it myself!" (Matthew Daniels, Seattle, Washington).

Maier, H. W. (1987) Developmental Group Care of Children and Youth: Concepts and Practice. Child & Youth Services Vol. 9, No. 2. NY: The Haworth Press. pp 127-128.

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