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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

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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Boundaries 2

Dear Reader,

Boundaries, they are a very grey area in the Child and Youth Care field. I am a second year student in the Child and Youth Care program in Winnipeg, MB. I have a upcoming presentation on the ethical issue surrounding boundaries in Child and Youth Care practice. My question is geared towards finding out some of the most common boundary violations in the field along with what makes them boundary concerns, and for who? I struggle with the boundary issue regarding children in care being brought to Child and Youth Care workers homes. I personally feel that this could potentially bring about negative outcomes. Additionally, I feel that it is not allowing the Child and Youth Care to separate from work and I think it is essential for, especially our profession, to have that retreat. However, I am not completely one sided in that I can see the therapeutic aspect towards allowing this. Therefore, because this is such a grey area, I would like some feedback in terms of some general ideas surrounding the topic of boundaries or this one in particular. What do people think? I would love to hear the opinions of others in the field!

Janine Tucker


Hi Janine
For me the fundamental ethical premise is that the social care/CYC relationship is one of a professional helping relationship as opposed to a friendship. The key difference being that in a friendship there is a two way street for emotional support, where in the professional relationship the helper is there for the service user, and they get their own needs met elsewhere. The role of the professional helper is that of one who is supposed to make a conscious and consisent effort to create and utilise daily life experiences in a way that is most likely to have positive outcomes for young people. With that in mind there is no easy answer to your question about kids in the workers homes. I have brought city kids to my farm in the spring (with other staff of course) to collect eggs and feed lambs, and I had one kid who used to climb on the roof of the unit, so rather than telling him that he coudn't climb, we told him that he just couldn't climb on the roof, but he could climb as high as he wanted in the hay shed on the farm! Another kid couldn't get a job for insurance reasons, but he wanted to work so we gave him sheltered employment cleaning out hen sheds. (I stress we, as these were all team decisions, and could have had the potential to seperate staff, so a conscious effort was made accross the team to ensure that I wasn't the only staff engaged in these types on intervnetions). These interventions seemed to create positive outcomes for the children who are now young adults with at least some fond memories of childhood. I believe that there is a value in letting children see that staff are people too, and there are different kinds of people with different kinds of lives, the key here though is maintaining that VERY FINE line between professional and personal relationships. For me there is something very sad about the clinincal sanitisation of care in the name of professional practice, that deprives children of what should be normal childhood experiences.

John Byrne

PS: Didn't Donald Winnicott live with the kids, and nobody would suggest that that wasn't OK!

In reply to Janine Tucker
I would recommend the following recent article (by my boss, but that's not why I recommend it):
Davidson, Jennifer C.: Where do we draw the Lines: Professional Relationship Boundaries and Child and Youth Care Practitioners. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, 19 (2004), 31-42.

Alan MacQuarrie

Hello, Child and Youth Care list.

The issue of taking children to workers' homes used to come up frequently in my working days. While initially it sounded like a wonderful kind idea, further analysis did surface the potential of negative outcomes, e.g. The visit could stir up a fantasy that perhaps the child might one day be part of the worker's family – which of course would be a stunning disappointment and another ultimate form of rejection. All kinds of envious feelings could be set up among the children not chosen for such visits.

But a very viable compromise solution was proposed (by the psychiatrist who had pointed out the pitfalls above) and was actually implemented now and then with good results:

If a worker wanted to host a home based event, everybody available would go! So at least several children and at least one other worker would participate in the visit. This group aspect would address the issues of potential feelings of rejection and envy.
The visit would be carefully planned programmatically – not to last too long and not to be overly lavish in terms of food, presents and the like (not that it couldn't be pleasant and fun, with good things at hand). There was always the observation that after too much benificence at one time – the kids were left feeling angry and depressed rather than gratified.

The kids themselves should be able to give something to the visit – make some decorations or prepare a foodstuff themselves with the help of the workers to take along. This enabled them to feel giving and productive, rather than the unilateral recipients of 'noblesse oblige'- which deep down they resented.

Anyway, with the above in mind, the kids were able to have an outing into the community which was gratifying but which bypassed the pitfalls as described.

Karen VanderVen

My view of this type of boundary stems from the variability of staff preference in this area. If some staff are comfortable with merging their personal and professional lives, the client population quickly come to see that staff member as more caring, friendly, helpful, etc. This rapidly leads to misinterpretation of the original situation (eg.visit to a staff member's home) and development of inappropriate relationships on behalf of the client. He or she may view the visit as signs of friendship outside the professional/therapeutic relationship. Needless to say, this can cause numerous problems. If there are clear guidelines for ALL staff to follow regarding involvement of clients in personal activities, it limits the opportunity for misinterpretation or inappropriate expectations.

Steve Crema
Professor of Child and Youth Work Northern College

I agree with Janine that dual relationships can cause huge problems with boundaries, and lead to a boundary violation issue that I have found to be quite prevalent: Workers allowing personal issues to interfere with clients in a clinically appropriate and therapeutic way. Children in care have frequently been victimized in various ways, and they most need consistency and clinically responsible intervenions. Such is impossible when clinicians allow countertransference issues to cloud their judgment, and this is of course more likely to occur when clinicians develop dual relationships with clients.

Tracy Mallett,
LMFT, Florida

Hi Janine,
I agree that in the field of childcare the boundaries can get blurred. I think that part of the issue is related to that fact that our most important tool is the use of ourselves. We do get emotionally involved. I think the trick is to be aware of our emotions and actions with the clients. If a worker is taking kids home the question would be how will this better the relationship? An ever more important question would be whose needs are being met? I think it is all about finding a middle ground and self awareness. So back to your question, the most common mistake is lack of awareness on the part of the worker.

Chris Seibel

Hello Janine,

I would encourage you to look at two boundary articles written by Gerry Fewster and published in Relational Child and Youth Care Practice (Volumes 17(4) and 18(2)). I believe that they provide a cricial element on boundaries that is often missed.

Leanne Rose Sladde

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