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Exploring the role of community Child and Youth Care workers in South Africa: Where to in developing competencies

Zeni Thumbadoo

Humanism has demonstrated itself differently in different times in history and the humanists were historically not committed to one particular set of beliefs. Crain, referring to Hawthorn (1961) and Fromm (1967), indicates that “Humanism historically has emerged whenever people have felt that some system or authority – political, moral or intellectual – was undermining human dignity or human unity” (Crain, W. 1992:317). Human dignity is being devastated in the context of HIV/AIDS and poverty. The time is ripe for a clear humanistic orientation to the Child and Youth Care practice in South African.

The humanist theories embrace developmental, social ecological and phenomenological theories. Also significant is the European educateur model embraced within the humanistic theories. Development implies improvement in the social conditions and in the quality of life of people in society (Gray, 1996). Grey also indicated that Social Development is a specific approach to social policy, which requires a society to have a sincere commitment to eradicating poverty. It is further noted that, “the transformation of South African society can only be achieved through the adoption of social development policies within the context of a national social developmental plan” (Grey, 1996, 1).

Community work is historically connected with neighborhood work, yet many professionals have moved away from the community. “Social work, for example, in it’s push for professional status abandoned it’s community thrust for clinical theory and practice both in South Africa and abroad” (Gray, 1996, 10). The Social Work profession exposes many errors of judgment in the development of its profession in South Africa – resulting in a noticeably irrelevant and inadequate service provision. As I reflect on importance of these debates for childcare, I am convinced that the childcare workers in communities are vital players in ensuring that the blend of clinical practice and community work finds synergy in South African society and that within the humanist theories lies the creative blend of community social development work and clinical child care practice applicable to South Africa. It was the humanists, after all, who called for renewed attention to inner experience and the need to suspend ordinary ways of classifying people from the outside and understand how the world feels to people from the inside (Crain, 1992: 327).

In Child and Youth Care Garfat (1998:155) has said that “There is no field on earth whose mission is to tie as closely as possible to the lived experience of our client group: children youth and families” and that “the phenomenological orientation offers the opportunity to humanize the experience of Child and Youth Care practice and to be better positioned to understand and appreciate their individual stories”. He further states that the phenomenological orientation offers the “opportunity to encounter others in a way that is intimate, close, human, real” (Garfat, 1998: 155).

The humanistic theories captured in the educateur approach represent a relevant theoretical approach to the widespread need for developmental care for children in communities. The educateur approach was developed after the Second World War in Europe where large numbers of war orphans were at risk and traumatized. Children needed to be cared for creatively and in large numbers. The educateur approach focuses on health and well being versus illness, teaching versus treatment, learning versus personality reorganization, the present and the future versus the past and the holistic social context versus individual psychological make up (Technikon SA, 2000). It embraces the creative spirit of the child and encourages the opportunities for children to play, paint, sing, dance, and act as ways of learning, developing and understanding their world. Young people in communities facing poverty and grief require an intervention that heals and prevents further deterioration in their lives.

The humanistic approach may provide a relevant theoretical base for community Child and Youth Care in South Africa and through the educateur approach and phenomenological orientation, the opportunity to explore the yearnings, fears and creative urges towards health and personal integration. They offer direction for the competencies required by the workers.


Crain, W., 1992. Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Garfat, T. (1998),The effective Child and Youth Care Intervention: A Phenomenological Inquiry. Journal of Child and Youth Care 12 (1).

Gray, M. (1996). The importance of community development. Social Work/ Maatskaplike Werk, 32(3), 193-204.

Technikon SA. C 2000.Child and youth care 11: Study Guide 1 for CYC201CE. Florida.

Thumbadoo, Z. (2006). Exploring the role of community Child and Youth Care workers in South Africa: Where to in developing competencies? In Garfat, T. and Gannon, B. (Eds.) Aspects of Child and Youth Care Practice in the South African Context . Cape Town: Pretext

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