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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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How is Child and Youth Care work unique – and different – from other fields?

Karen vanderVen

Reflections on Time, Space and Context With Thanks to Albert Einstein

"The doctrine of space and time..." – Albert Einstein

"Space – time.., a structural quality of the field." – Albert Einstein

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (Einstein, 1961, 1954) encompasses the notions of time and space, and how they operate when their field or context is taken into consideration. There seem to be intriguing parallels between Child and Youth Care work and Einstein’s theory, which thus serves as a metaphor for defining the essence of the field, its unique distinction, and ways of advancing it in the future.

The Nature of Child and Youth Care Work
Child and youth care work is different from other fields; it focuses on children and youth in their life space, improving quality of life in that space, and and ensuring that the space is developmentally and holistically growth producing. It is the way we arrange the space of these interactions that connotes how well we care, and inexorably influences the significance of the caring message being given. There is no other field that embraces the nature of the spaces that contain its clients, works to adapt these spaces to the clients’ needs, and uses the spaces as a context to empower its other services.

Child and youth care workers must respond to the ongoing shifts in these contexts and in the spaces that comprise them, which include other children and youth, adults, families, schools, and communities. Child and youth care workers are the ones on hand at times of joy and crisis, of growth and setback, where and when they happen: on streets, in living rooms, school rooms, and bedrooms, in homes, and on playing fields. Child and youth care workers communicate when and where children experience these real events of their lives – hence the term "life space interview."

Unlike practitioners in other fields which deliver services in prescribed spaces, such as offices, and prescribed times, usually by appointment, Child and Youth Care workers interact with their clients on an ongoing basis, and so spend the most time with the children in their care. Paradoxically, spending a great amount of time with children does not dilute the impact that Child and Youth Care workers have on their charges.

In Child and Youth Care, every moment is highly significant and has the potential to cumulatively contribute to the growth of its young clients. Child care workers, like parents, spend a proportionately large amount of time with children, taking on similar significance as influencers of their charges. Here the old analogy between child care and parenting is appropriate, for research shows that it is the micro-interactions between child and caregiver (either parent or substitute) that set the tone for the quality, and hence the impact of the interaction.

The ultimate task of the practitioner is to weave these fundamental elements – time and space – together in a cohesive integration that is meanful to children in the shifting contexts of their lives. Dana Lewis (1981) puts it well: "Time, space and movement for the practitioner." He describes how "Sequential analysis of child care situations enables.., to take all element into account, seeing them holistically... seeing parts as they relate to the whole" (p. 101). Thus the notion of field, or context, comes in. Child and youth care work is predicated on the premise that ecological or contextual influences on development, ranging all the way from family and neighborhood to the broadest values of society, are specifically utilized, and intervened in when necessary, to promote therapeutic and developmental growth.

Professionalization of Child and Youth Care Work
Despite the compelling significance of the unique work of child care, and its symbolic compatibility with the most powerful theory of modem science, the field is not yet a profession. Here again the time-space-context concept provides a conceptual framework for examining the status of the field.

The length of time deemed necessary for preparation of practitioners is a factor that differentiates Child and Youth Care – negatively, unfortunately – from other related human service disciplines. There is no profession that relies on brief, uncoordinated, non-standardized trainings to prepare its personnel. Until Child and Youth Care work insists on a professional level of preparation for initial practice, it will continue to be a subsidiary of other fields that deal with children and families. There is simply no substitute for time spent in specifically acquiring the knowledge, skill and attitudinal base of the field.

Time, space and context have further implications for training and education of practitioners. From these notions the field gets its content or distinct knowledge base which deals with the nature of children, relationships, and the environment. Consider the following book titles: Children of Time and Space (Ekstein, 1966), Time and Mind (Fraser, 1990), Spaces for Children (Weinstein and David, 1987), and consider common language in the field, such as "inner spaces" and "sense of timing."

The fact that the effective Child and Youth Care worker must be able to deal with contexts is compelling stated by Demers. He makes a powerful case, showing that competency based, linear educational models used by other disciplines are not adequate to enable Child and Youth Care. Citing Beker and Maier, he calls for a systemic, "holistic perspective emphasizing pattern of thought and skills which would allow workers to connect their ongoing experiences" (Demers, 1988, p.22 1).

The variable of time relates also to the issue of professionalism when considering the amount of time the clients of Child and Youth Care – youthful by definition – have lived. All other human service professions deliver their specialty to persons throughout the life span. Until Child and Youth Care recognizes that it has a unique configuration of knowledge and skills to meet the developmental needs for caregiving and intervention of human beings of all ages, it will not be a profession. One day – in time – it will be. Developmentally oriented care in the life space will be provided to people throughout the life span, with Child and Youth Care work a major subspecialty.

Even though Child and Youth Care work is the major human service discipline practicing in situ, it has been further restricted in development by its own limited view of the contexts in which it works. Many have thought that residential settings, day care centers, hospitals, or schools are the exclusive sites for practicing Child and Youth Care. In fact, all of these, and more, are appropriate arenas or contexts for Child and Youth Care work.

The field of Child and Youth Care work is particularly exciting because of the fact that it is not totally organized. Its boundaries are fluid, allowing for further extension and growth. We can look at space as reflecting the fact that there are ever increasing opportunities today for Child and Youth Care practitioners to expand into new roles in practice, and new locations or contexts to apply these roles.

A Time for Action; a Space to be Filled
Like the planets lining up in favorable synergism, the forces supportive of the advancement of Child and Youth Care are in alignment now and we should take advantage of this positioning. It is time the growing number of those committed to the value of Child and Youth Care gather together and work proactively to advance their field as a profession; there is a space in the array of human services that can and must be filled by informed child care workers, with their unique approach of practicing in the context of children’s lives.

Perhaps the greatest implications of the metaphor of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity deal with relationships among the bodies of the universe, for the nature, status, and future of Child and Youth Care work are for the field thus to realize its cosmic power. With Child and Youth Care work’s profound connection to daily life, the field is indeed the sun, the moon, and the stars. Utilizing the energy of the critical mass of those who believe in it, Child and Youth Care has the great promise for making a positive impact on many lives in the future.


Demers, M. (1988). Child and youth care education: Perspectives in transformation. In R. Small &F. Alwon (Eds.), Challenging the Limits of Care. Needham, MA. Trieschman Center.

Einstein, A. (1961). Relativity: The special and the general theory. (15th ed.). New York: Crown Publishers.

Einstein, A. (1954). Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown Publishers.

Ekstein, R. (1966). Children of Time and Space of Action and Impulse. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

Lewis, D. (1981). Working with Children: Effective Communication Through Self-awareness. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

Weinstein, C., & David, T. (1987). Spaces for Children. New York: Plenum.

VanderVen, K. (1991). How is Child and Youth Care Work unique – and different – from other fields? Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol.5 No.1. pp 15-19

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