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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 3

I have a question that I really have trouble finding an answer for in any print literature:

How far are we called to go as child and youth workers? I have a really tough time setting boundaries, and I take on the burdens of the children in my life. What is the easiest way to distance yourself, without leaving a child left hurt? If anyone has any advice, I would greatly appreciate it!

Stephanie McIntyre

See these two previous threads:
- Eds.

Dear Stephanie:
Boundaries are not a matter of distance but of clarity. Within our personal and professional boundaries we enact certain roles, in this case, Child and Youth Care worker. A role is nothing other than a set of expected behaviors; when we act outside of that set, we are outside of the role and most probably have crossed a boundary, e.g., a child care worker seeking to be the child's friend. There is a difference between being friendly and being a friend. The first is an attitude; the second is a role. The child is with us for our role as Child and Youth Care worker and everything which that involves. How do you know you are crossing a boundary? Learn the "red flags" which will tell you that you are on the slippery slope to a boundary violation. An example of a "red flag": You find yourself about to say "Yes" when "No" is the correct answer, and you are tempted to do this because you want the child to like you.

There is greater hurt when you do not do what is expected of you than when you disappoint a child by denying him something he wants.

Nick Smiar
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


Just asking the question indicates to me that you will never leave a child hurt. Often the kids that we are with have so little positive attention that any builds them up. Depending on your employment situation that may assist you in establishing some boundaries. The others you will have to find your own limits. You need time for yourself for what I like to call "input" because we are always called upon for "output". Good luck it is a tricky line to find :)

Heather French

Hi Stephanie,
The simple answer is to create a distance and remain available. Boundaries are about making contact and you cannot do this if you don't create the space for yourself. You may wish to take a look at the two pieces I wrote on this topic in Relational Child and Youth Care Practice.

Gerry Fewster

I work at a Residential Treatment Centre for children ages 8-12. When I started working here in 2002 I was completely taken back by the problems and histories the children brought with them. They stay here anywhere from 6 months to a year so you really get a chance to know them. I believe that you really have to know and understand the children in order to help them and along with this you must take on their problems too. But, instead of letting this information get you down you use it to empower yourself to become educated to help them, to make them stronger people because of the adversity they have faced. When you show them you care you will never let them down or leave them feeling hurt. You will be able to leave at the end of your shift knowing that you are doing everything you can and that is all you can do. Your experiences with the children in your life do not go away at the end of the day. Being a CYCW is a part of who you are it is not just a job.

Nova Scotia

For those who have spoken about friendship and boundaries, this presents some confusion for me. What's wrong with being a friend. I think the work is really about priorities, ie as long as the carer is a carer first and a friend second then I really can't see what's wrong with being a friend. I think this is one of the deep needs of the children that the carer provides as well while they have the child in their care. However, even if we were to actually say that the carer is even a friend first and then what, ie what negative repercussions are we assuming. Doesn't a true friend fulfill all of the functions of a carer, I think we just use certain terms some times to give greater emphasis to the role being performed, however I don't believe that this needs to be to the exclusion of all other terms or roles.

I believe boundaries are established for ethical purposes to prevent that which is not in the best interests of the young person.
There's no doubt that within this unique work that a carer will develop intimate bonds with a young person as they constitute a part of each other's lives, spending great amounts of time together, sharing experiences, expressing concern, developing the young person, being intimate with them in fulfilling their emotional needs. The carer is not a machine there is no way that they can easily remove themselves or maintain some kind of 'professional' emotional distance. There is no doubt that, if they are genuine and human, that they will be affected by the interaction.

I think this is more about coping mechanisms, self-management and self-care. The carer needs to be able to do whatever is necessary to maintain their own health of mind and heart. Building themselves up in terms of their energy, clarity and preparedness, in some ways to be able to have a full reserve from which to be able to pull out from and share with those in their care rather than running on empty. This may mean taking a break, creating some distance for a short time, engaging in some form of leisure, relaxation or spirituality, seeking guidance, counsel and support from others. Not to mention as well that the carer always has in mind to act in the best interests of the young person and therefore ensures that they have that clarity of mind to be able to do so and not out of some selfish desire to fulfill an inner need or for any other reason.

Mankarios Mourad

Hi Stephanie!
My name is Tanya and I am a second year student in the Child and Youth Care Counselor Program. Your question interest me because I think it is an area in this field that most people struggle with. I consider boundaries to be formed in a variety of ways. First, it is important to be aware of your own values and beliefs, and how they can impact your work with children. Teach children skills by helping them through processes; do with, not for. The same as applying consequences; are they fair? Will they teach instead of punish? It is important to implement rules in a firm but fair manner. Spending the time to listen to the children and hear their worries is important. Interaction with the children also includes activities..quality time. It is also very important to follow through with your promises. It allows children to gain a sense of belonging and allows you to gain insight on what is happening for these children in their environments. These opportunities will allow children to take ownership of the problems at hand, learn coping techniques, and develop skills such as good decision making. By helping children, you are promoting confidence and independence with every success they experience and building a trusting relationship between yourself and the children. By helping to create autonomy, you are also creating boundaries.


I am a Child and Youth Care Counsellor student from Mount Royal College. I think that you should go as far as you want as long as the relationship with the children you work with is healthy and you are still seen by them as a child and youth worker and not their peer. How far you go with the relationship depends on each child or youth you work with. Instead of carrying their burden, you might want to help them understand their own issues better and letting them know that there are options. Some children and youth only want to be listened to and feel that you understand them, knowing that you will never know or fully understand how they feel. This is about phenomenology; we all have our own perceptions of an experience.

Even if two people live the same experience, their perceptions will be different now imagine you didn’t even live their experience, you are just hearing about it. Their burden is not yours, and they are the only ones that can carry it and work through it and we just stand beside them to help them whenever they need it. By carrying their burden you are telling them that they cannot. Instead empower them to do it and deal with their own life and let them know that you will be there.

I can also share with you the 7 Principles of Human Relationships. These are:

• Individualization: Recognize and understand each persons unique qualities.
• Purposeful expression of feelings: Recognition of the client’s needs to express his feelings freely, especially the negative ones.
• Control emotional involvement: Being aware and sensitive to client’s feelings, understanding their meaning and providing appropriate responses.
• Acceptance: Perceive and deal with the client as he really is, including his strengths and weaknesses. Focus on clients needs not your own. Promote growth by believing in client potential and his desire to improve.
• Non-judgmental attitude: Do not judge. Exclude assigning guilt or innocence, or degree of client responsibility for the cause of the problem. Do not impose personal values. See people objectively.
• Client self-determination: Recognition of the right and need of clients to make their own choices and decisions.
• Confidentiality: The preservation of secret or private information which is declared in the professional relationship.
I hope any of these helps you!!!

Martha Toro

It seems to me that the main difference between a professional helping relationship and a friendship is that in a friendship, (one would hope that) both parties depend on each other for emotional support and assistance, where in a professional helping relationship it is a one way street, from carer to child. That is not to say that the 'professional' helping relationship is not deeply intimate, of course it is, but the question that needs to be asked is, whose needs are being met by this intimacy? if the answer leans in favour of the staff, (above and beyond the need for job satisfaction), you MAY have crossed the boundary of professional objectivity.

John in Ireland
As well educated professionals we should all have a good understanding of what a true friend is. Can't see what's wrong with being a friend?

A friend will keep your secrets, collude with your darkest behaviours, back you up when you are wrong but you insist you are right to someone outside the friendship circle, slip you some cash just because you asked for it and not ask what its for, fight to protect that special relationship from incomers, tell you little white lies, say what you want to hear, etc., etc.. We really do need to learn to see what we do through a child's eyes!


This is in regards to Mankarios writing.

You sound as though you are a very passionate person when it comes to your work with vulnerable young people. I do agree with your statements about self care, as we were taught this very extensively in the CYW Program in Toronto. I don't however think that it is impossible to refrain from friendship while working with vulnerable young people. I believe that it is most imperative to keep boundaries between the young people and ourselves as professionals. Without these boundaries friends sometimes hurt, damage, and demean each other. Whereas a professional has been hired for a specific job and I don't believe that we need to falsify our role to the young people. They also need to know that we are here to help them through the fun and not so fun times while they cope with their lives transitional moments as well as any past difficulties that they may have experienced. I believe sometimes therapy isn't always comfortable, and we are the ones that are supposed to be providing the treatment for the young people, sometimes the treatment isn't always comfortable, but in the long run it will more than likely be productive. It is my belief that we can only provide clinical approaches when we work with vulnerable young people through being involved in a professional relationship.

Manjit Virk
President, Wholistic Child & Family Services Inc.
Toronto, Ontario Canada

I also agree with Mankarios Mourad. We need to teach children and youth how to have healthy relationships and the best way for a child/youth to learn that is through experience. Most children/youth in and out of care have come from distraught backgrounds consisting of broken or unhealthy relationships. I believe learning comes in steps and what better way to teach the first step of relationship building than to befriend your client. I know for alot of people who work with children/youth are doing so because of someone in their lives who once helped them and looked up to that person not just as someone who cared about them, but also as a friend. Yes work is about priorities and boundaries, but I think for everyone who is working with a child/youth, the number one most valuable and crucial priority should be building that relationship with your client so they know they can trust you into helping them with their lives.

Just because you are friends with your client, doesn't mean you need to tell them everything that you would to a best friend. You try and be the respectful, non-judging, healthy friend they need so they can then carry on that relationship building with other people they meet, and make positive decisions about people they surround themselves with. Although, just like in counseling sessions, you need to tell that child/youth those certain boundaries about what happens if they disclose harmful information to you, but with saying that if you build that relationship or rapport with them, they will be able to trust you even more to tell you if things are going on, or trust you after disclosing that information to you, that they will be safe and that no harm will come to them anymore.

Stephanie Roberta Szekely

In my estimation my friends are those I turn to for support, those that I am revealed/intimate with. I do not expect to be supported by the populations I serve, I am a support for them. I believe to do so sets youth up for a variety of emotions when they understand you are not their "friend" that the relationship you share with them is not an intimate one, rather one that supports them from your stance of professional not personal. I also believe we are role models for relationship, modelling what is a healthy relationship and therefore to intimate that a professional relationship is a "friendship" does not provide a health model for our youth.

Marjorie McQuarrie
British Columbia

Hi Mankarios,
Beautifully stated.

Hello Mankarios
I only read about half way through your article before I got worried. I am a Youth Worker for 20 years and one of the first things they teach is to keep a relationship professional. I have seen too many cases where people try to be friends as well as professionals. This is simply not possible and it disrupts the team approach.

If one wants to be friends with a client after they have left the system, then that is up to them. However, as long as a client is in care and one is an employee in the system, professionalism is of the utmost importance.

This also prevents the client from using his/her friendship against the employee. I could write you a list of other reasons as to why one must keep the relationship on a professional basis, but I would suggest speaking to your supervisor about this.

Mister Home Chef
Manitoba, Canada

My standing on boundaries is kind of along the lines of what both Tanya and Martha have said. I am Lindsay Thomas, also a second year student at Mount Royal College. Boundaries has to do with your own comfort levels and the client's comfort levels. Boundaries is such a diverse topic, that there are many different opinions and mine is that i have to know my comfort zone and be comfortable in it and know my values and beliefs before i help a client. My values and beliefs will be very different from those of my clients, and if there are no set boundaries, things could get very heated if myself or my client have different views about something very controversial.

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