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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Boundaries and relationship

Carol Stuart

Self-awareness and the exploration of values, behaviours, emotions, thoughts, and actions are critical for Child and Youth Care education. Only by defining the self are we free to come to know the other. Garfat and Charles (2007) observe, "self and the encounter of selves, is, in fact, the essence of the helping relationship. By being truly self with other, we are in the condition of helping" (p. 13)

The new worker is attempting to become a competent care giver and trying to establish personal safety during the first year of practice. This stage of development is characterized by the worker's efforts to create personal safety and boundaries for him/herself before being able to create any therapeutic relationships with youth and families .... the new worker focuses on establishing external control and creating a safe environment for him/herself and the youths. The internal process for a new worker is characterized by frequent fight or flight reactions as he/she encounters intimidating situations .... Level 2 workers automatically think about individualized approaches and discard general descriptions and strategies as they plan interventions. At level 2, the process of living alongside the youth/family also becomes a living with them and the boundary dynamics become more intimate and more clear at the same time. (Phelan, 2003, n.p.)

As educators, if we stop at this revelation of the construction and building blocks of the self, we do the Child and Youth Care practitioner a disservice. Like the actor, the practitioner has to enter and exit a professional world of pain and ugliness and must make strategic decisions about where to place boundaries at a particular point in time, while maintaining a strong and open self. Tapping self brings the professional character forward in relation to the demands of the script and the reaction of the audience.
Donald Winnicott (1970), cited in Hardwick and Woodward (1999) in a public lecture, said:

It may be a kind of loving but often it has to look like a kind of hating, and the key word is not treatment or cure but rather it is survival. If you [the Child and Youth Care practitioner] survive then the child has a chance to grow and become something like the person he or she would have been if the untoward environmental breakdown had not brought disaster. (p. xv.)

Child and Youth Care practitioners must explore their definitions of love (Skott-Myhre & Skott-Myhre, 2007) and consider how these lead to ideas about boundaries and power within relationships. The idea of loving clients is often frowned upon. Love can occur without power, though in the minds of the children we work with it may often be associated with power. Thus, we need to "survive" their love and help them to redefine both love and boundaries. It is in this process that counter-intuitive understanding and the development of boundaries becomes essential. The intuitive response to hate and hurt is to build a wall for protection.


Garfat, T., & Charles, G. (2007)' How am I who I am? Self in Child and Youth Care practice. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 20(3), 6-16.

Hardwick, A., & Woodward, J. (Eds.). (1999) Loving, hating, and survival: A handbook for all who work with troubled children and young people. Hants, England: Ashgate Publishing Co.

Phelan, J. (2003) The relationship boundaries that control programming. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 16(1), 51-55.

Skott-Myhre, H. A., & Skott-Myhre, K. S. G. (2007) Radical youth work: Love and community. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 20(3), 48-57.

Stuart, C. Shaping the Rules. Child and Youth Care Boundaries in the Context of Relationship. Bonsai! In Bellefeuille, G. and Ricks, F. (2008). Standing on the Precipice: Inquiry into the creative potential of Child and Youth Care practice. Edmonton: MacEwan Press. pp. 164-165

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