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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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Skill set needed for residential social worker

Dear All

I have a question: What are the different skills that are required for a social worker working in a residential care facility as compared with a social worker doing field work? In answering this question I would ask you to please be specific if there are differences.

Alfred Harris

Dear Alfred,

Your question is an important one, because in asking it you are already indicating that there SHOULD be a difference in skills sets. However, in my humble experience, the skill set is not so important. More important than anything else I have realised is the attitude of the social worker. It is more important for me that the person is able to learn, and is willing to learn, than that the person comes with a specific skill set. I have encountered people in the field who are highly educated and experience, but are just poorly matched when working with children. Skills are something anyone can learn, but attitude is not so easy to change.

But, if I can name something that I specifically think is important, is that a social worker should have a very good understanding of the principles of Child and Youth Care (even if she is not a Child and Youth Care worker), especially developmental work, and life space intervention. Too often social workers see their jobs as "office" bound, and in child residential care, the social worker – just like the child care worker – should intervene in the life space of the child. The office is a place where you write your notes, nothing more. But again this comes down to attitude I guess, more than skill set.

How useful this is to you I don't know. But, I would much rather appoint a social worker with minimum qualfications and no experience and the right attitude, than the other way around.

Best of luck.

Werner van der Westhuizen


I think that the skills are the same but because the context is different, the nature of the relationship will change and some skills may need to be refined a little more. The most obvious example from my experience is the skill of managing challenging behaviour. In community settings in the past I have applied a no tolerance approach where kids were given warnings and offered help with situations but ultimately the policy was 'toe the line or go home'. In res care the child is home, so I need to have another layer of responses that are more likely to be able to hold the child in his difficulty, and help him to find a solution. In short, I need to work harder!!!

Generally I think that the skills required in both contexts include;
1) The ability to be aware of self and others
2) The ability to be intuitive
3) The ability to be aware of environment and its impact on people and situations
4) The ability to use self and relationship in a non manipulative way to promote positive outcomes
5) The ability to draw from a range of theoretical frameworks (especially non verbal communication) to enhance professional practice and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes And most importantly of all
6) The ability to have and retain compassion in the face of challenging situations and
7) The ability to know when you get it wrong, and have the courage to admit it to your client!!!!!

I have recently put all these together and called it 'The Craft of Social Care Practice'.

With very best wishes,
John Byrne

Dear Alfred.

I am sure the admin is equally 'critical', tearing into quality time and service with children placed in alternative care. Social workers NEED the support of Social Auxiliary Workers w.r.t. reporting, admin etc. This social worker would focus on group work, casework, focussing on "the family", life skills orientation, a great deal of patience, since not all family members are equally ready, and always able to be re unified. SW should enter the residential care setting with a self care plan in place! That, should be a pre requisite. as part of his/her toolbox of preventative work.

Looking forward to read the replies.

Dear Alfred

I'll send you material about the free online caregiver education . Meanwhile, have a look at the site.

Niels Peter Rygaard

Werner sure nailed it. In my opinon, attitude is what makes a worker special. You can teach and help people to develop skills. Developing attitude is an almost impossible challenge, in my opinion.

John Stein
New Orleans

If I can add to the helpful responses already posted, this question about the relevant 'skill-sets' for different contexts was the starting-point and main focus for my own book on Working in Group Care. It is not so much that there are different skills required in different settings, but that the balance and required level of these skills varies.

In particular I suggest that in the residential context we need to attend especially to the influence of the group (of both staff and young people) and to the whole network of relationships involved; we also need to always be ready to 'seize the time', making skilful and sensitive judgments about when and how to intervene 'in the moment' – this is what I called 'opportunity-led work'.

I would add that I think it is also about temperament – some people are much better suited to one-to-one work in an office or clinic, whereas others feel cooped-up in that setting and tend to do their best work when they are free-range. For what it's worth, I'd count myself among the latter.

Best wishes to the Child and Youth Care 'group'/network
Adrian Ward

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