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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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Unliked clients 2

Hi everyone,

I am fairly new to the CYCW program. I am working on a research assignment, and my topic is working with unliked clients, values and coping methods.

I have already read through some of the responses on this website, but I was wondering if anyone had any more information or personal experiences that I could use in my project.

I appreciate the fact that CYCW should not have any personal feelings or opinions with clients, but as humans I believe that it is inevitable.

Any views/help on this matter would be much appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Kai Erkkila

This is not a story I'm proud of but maybe it'll be helpful or at least raise some interesting questions ...

About 20 years ago, I was working as a young CYCW in a residential Child and Youth Care centre and once or twice a week, I provided relief support in a unit where there was a little girl approximately eight-years-old. I really didn't like this child. I'm not quite sure why or possibly I've forgotten ... Prior to her case review meeting, she had met with the social worker and completed some activities/worksheets related to how she experienced herself in the various environments in which she participated. One of the questions required her to identify her three favourite people at the Child and Youth Care centre. I was completely taken aback when her CYCW showed me the worksheet where she had named ME as one of her favourite people! From that day on, I liked the child far more... I don't think this changed the way I behaved towards her (or perhaps, I was just quite unaware of myself) but I wonder whether SHE noticed any change.

Your assignment sounds interesting. Good luck!

Jackie Winfield
Lecturer: Child and Youth Care
Durban University of Technology

Hi Kai,

In my opinion if a Child and Youth Care worker doesn't have personal feelings about the youth they work with then there's a problem. The most effective medicine is the relationship between a Child and Youth Care worker and a young person. We shouldn't avoid all personal feelings/opinions in an attempt to avoid the inevitable negative emotions. We're all humans; of course we won't like every person we come in contact with. From my perspective, when we are in contact with an unliked client, the problem lies with the attitudes of the youth worker. A professor of mine told our class that instead of expecting people to meet us where we are we need to meet people where they are and then lead them to where they need to be. I think that a youth worker needs to work diligently to understand the "what" and "why" that drives the behaviors of the youth and families we serve; we need to be mindful.

In my experience, mindfulness (of my and the client's thoughts and actions) leads to a better understanding of another person which, in turn, leads to compassion. Our ability to be compassionate is the foundation of a helping relationship. My company has a saying "Idealism is imperative – nothing but the best." We are trained to constantly ask ourselves whether the care we are providing would be good enough for our own children/loved ones – if you evaluate yourself in this way it's hard to go wrong. This kind of thinking can be a practical, in-the-moment, kind of technique; when I am frustrated or feel negative toward a child in my care I imagine that they are my little sister (or any loved one) and treat them as if I was really interacting with my sister. This is what works for me, I hope this helps! Good luck in all you do!

Take good care!

Hi Kai,

I'm curious about your reference to "unliked clients" as I'm not understanding what you are meaning. I realize that this is a topic for your research so are you meaning how to work with clients a Child and Youth Care does not like? This runs the risk of presenting subjective for "liking or not liking" a client and wonder where this fits in our work and our responsibility to work with them. I would encourage you to think about the implications for writing a paper that focuses on "unliked clients" and think about an alternative angle for your paper as it seems that you might be struggling on working with clients you don't like and this realization is truly about self awareness and what is coming up for you regarding these clients.

Donicka Budd

Hey Kai,

Here is an excerpt from a paper I wrote on this very subject. Hope it helps!

And I whole-heartedly agree, as humans, we can strive to be as objective as we can; however, we are inherently flawed, so therefore, we can never be totally objective, our morals, values and experiences will invariably come into to play. But it is up to us to try to recognize our personal values, morals and experiences and to deal with them as best we can.

Good Luck and thank you for being a helper!

Ann Marie Beals

Hello Kai,

I think that research project sounds very valuable because it is a subject that is often faced by CYCW's in the field but that is also difficult to speak about. My thoughts are that a part of working from a strengths based perspective is finding likable qualities in a person and building on those.

I work with male youth who suffer from developmental disabilities in a residential setting where it is my job to prepare these youth for adulthood by supporting their life skills development. Social skills are some of the most important and useful of all life skills. So even though one of the young men that I work with is very challenging to enjoy I try to model for him in his life space the things that I do that make people want to be around me and I constantly pick up on the positive qualities in his personality as much as I can. Our relationship is now at the point where I can just ask him if we are going to have a good time hanging out today, and he is beginning to understand what types of behaviours result in 'having a good time hanging out'.

I hope my experience helps.

Amanda barry

One of the clients I absolutely despise, because of his continual behavior and physicality towards me in crisis, always says I'm one of his favorite staff when not in crisis even though you would swear I am the devil the way he treats me when having an issue. But then again it's the behavior not the child. Someone made him that way. Dislike, even hate the behavior, not the client.

This is a good quote that describes children in care as well as criminals. Deep down even the most hardened criminal is starving for the same thing that motivates the innocent baby: Love and acceptance.

Ziggy Stardust

Hi Guys,

First of all I would like to echo Matt's insightful posting. Secondly I would like to draw people's attention to the work of Sula Wolff, a child psychiatrist who published two excellent books Children under Stress and Loners – The Life Path of Unusual Children, the latter book opened my eyes to the complex reasons behind some children appearing unapproachable and often apparently unlovable. Once we grasp the 'otherness' we then have to challenge our skill to meet them where they are at. This requires the relationship, good support and a team commitment to holistic care.

There are a number of books that take our understanding to a new level and Loners was one for me.

Jeremy Millar

We are not going to "like" every young person we work with, just as we are not going to "like" every person we meet in this life. Heck, there are people in my family I don't "like". Liking or not liking a youth in our care is beside the point and not liking a certain individual does not preclude feeling empathy for them or caring about their well being. It's usually not the person we don't like, but personality characteristics that rub us the wrong way, offend our values and beliefs, remind us of ourselves etc. The important thing is that we are aware of our feelings and are able to control how they influence our interactions with the individual. Self awareness is key. Yes, liking and not liking is about us and not about them.

Kim Nicolaou

What is it that we dislike in other people? Usually something we don't want to know about ourselves. But we also need to ask what function being disliked means to the child. For all sorts of reasons they may want and need us to keep our distance. Possibly the person who abused them told them how much they liked them and they don't want to repeat that. Maybe they see themselves as potentially dangerous or contaminating and are actually trying to protect us from them. Or they might be testing us to see if we can take their 'badness'. Sometimes, I think, we want to love them better so much that we can't accept them as they are. By accepting, or at least tolerating, the unlikeable we may give them the space to come to us. I have been working with colleagues with a child who has a fundamental view that he is 'bad'. He said to me one day 'Why do you like bad boys, nobody else does'. He did not need an answer. It also occurs to me that when we say something like 'we love the sinner but hate the sin' or, in modern terms, that we accept the child but not their behaviour that we kid ourselves. When I face a child who is consumed and contorted with hate I can' t detach myself into that kind of rationalisation. His hatred is real and so is mine. That is what we have to deal with. For two years I endured the hatred of a particular child who did everything he could to demonstrate just how unlikeable he was, in this he succeeded, but that was no reason to reject him. When he finally told me 'in a mist of tears', about what his father had done to him his hatred became intelligible. But I still had to wait and that's the hard part!

David Pithers

Hi Kai

That is an interesting angle you are taking...I guess my way of thinking is that you will always have to work with people you don't like but the key is to find strategies to keep communication open...I agree with people where they are. One thing I have learned in my present job supporting students in the school system is to refrain from being judgmental...being supportive is WAY more effective:)

Muriel White

I had to deal with police involvement yesterday with a child I dislike, but the last thing I said to him after the police left and he had calmed down was that we do like and care about him, and it is the behaviors we don't like, you have to let the child know it's not him you don't like but more his behaviors that may make you dislike him. This kid constantly states I'm his favorite staff when he's in a good space, although he makes my life at work hell when he isn't, which is 90% of the time, so I play on that when he's in crisis.

Ziggy Stardust

Often when I have had supervisees be honest about not connecting with clients- I ask them what about the client pushes their buttons , who else in their life does the same etc past and present. Often is a teachable moment in transference and counter transference...Often good learning and really what we don't like is something about ourselves...

Theresa Fraser

Hey there,

I can understand where you are coming from Kai. However, being in this type of field you are going to be dealing with a lot of behaviours you won't agree with. And unfortunately it isn't the child's/youths fault. To a certain point anyways. Like Muriel said "be supportive". Letting him know you dislike him is not going to help you build a better rapport at all, but I believe that you must be doing something right if the youth said you are their favourite. Just my opinion. Hope it all works out for you.

Waddell Stundon

Hi! Kai,

I have worked with not only youth but people for years and have come to find that in order to help individuals and children in particular, you should keep in mind how you would feel in their shoes. What would you want someone to do for you? I believe that we all have qualities that are good and positive as well as those that are negative. The goal is to help this youth like themself and find something worthwhile that will help them be productive in life.

Look for the good is my advice. I know that it is there. Maybe they talk well or read well or have a leadership quality that you can harness. I it our job to help them find that. If you tell a child that they are smart after a while they will start to believe it and will govern themselves likewise. The same principle applies if you tell them they are dumb. All of us have purpose it is our job to help these children find it. Compassion not pity is key in helping you to overcome your feelings towards any one child it is a quality that will work every time. I hope this helps you in your efforts.

Celeste Clifford

FI've been following the discussion on 'unliked clients' with some interest. It's made an interesting contrast to the discussion about telling kids we love them.

Just wondering a bit. It's hard for me to imagine not liking one of our kids. I know that some of our kids have 'unlikable' traits. Those angry, belligerent, oppositional, deliberately annoy others, lacking social graces, remote or distant, hard to get to know and such kids. Those kids whom nobody likes. Even their peers. And they don't know why. They think it's because of their race. Or where they come from. Or because they don't have the right clothing. Or because of the way they look. Or they just have no idea why people are always picking on them. They have no clue that it's because of their behavior and the way they treat other people. When we help them to understand, we empower them to change their lives.

When I am faced with a concept I have trouble understanding, I look for an analogy. I often use cars. I like cars and understand them. I sometimes think helping a troubled kid is like asking a mechanic to fix a car that won't start without opening the hood. It's much more difficult when you can't open it up, see exactly what's wrong, and fix it. The starter and the wires and the battery and the fuel pump and the injectors and all those other things that are necessary to make the car run are very hard to get at if you can't open the hood. And we sure can't open kids. And wouldn't know what we were looking at if we did.

But a mechanic who doesn't like cars, who gets mad at a car that isn't cooperating because a bolt is frozen and the head brakes off , or the hood release cable breaks--he won't touch my car. Mechanics are supposed to like cars and to like solving and fixing problems to make cars the best they can be. Ok, maybe there are certain problems the mechanic doesn't like to work on or doesn't know how to fix, maybe an automatic transmission. Then, he's got to ask for help or send the car to someone else. But to get mad at a car that's broken, wrecked, worn out, driven too hard, abused, never had an oil change?? To dislike the car? A good mechanic doesn't get frustrated with the challenges a car poses, he gets frustrated with his own limitations.

The analogy isn't perfect. Cars can't cooperate in their repairs and feel grateful for what we did. Our satisfaction comes from seeing them at their best and knowing we had a hand in it. We sometimes expect children to cooperate with us and be grateful. Could that be the problem--we sometimes expect too much from our children?

Just wondering
John Stein

Theresa, I agree that transference and counter transference can often present themselves, sometimes with our immediate knowledge and other times it can take a while to realize that is occurring with a child/youth that we struggle with. In the first couple years of working in the daycare field, I worked with a little boy who just pushed my buttons and I had a hard time being patient him. However, the moment we as staff started putting pieces of information together that we were gathering from the caregivers, we realized that this little boy was going through some tough situations at home. The information on where this little boy was coming from was enough for me to gain a patience and care for the child that I didn't have before. I couldn't put my finger on why he annoyed me so much and to this day I still don't know what it was exactly.

This experience taught me that when there is a counter transference occurring that is negatively influencing your interactions and thoughts for a client ... it helps me to remember where they may be coming from.

Alison Friesen


Excellent analogy John Stein!

Ann Marie Beals

Hi John,
I liked your analogy it worked for me and I seldom look under the 'hood', not being a car man. A strength of our practice is being able to utilise our stories and our reflexive practice in order that what initially appears an insurmountable problem relates back to the continuum of human experience and becomes an acceptable challenge. I always strove to run a home that would work with all-comers rather than hear the hear the negativity of staff expressed through the rejection of certain youth that we 'could do nothing for' or 'we weren't the right resource'.

How's about guide entitled 'Zen and the Art of fixing Children'!

Jeremy Millar

I can honestly say that in the 8 years I have been in the helping profession there have been few youth I can say I haven't "liked". This year I worked with a boy that I found very difficult to "like" because of how he triangulated and worked support staff against each other....After about a week I wanted to try an approach with him that no one had tried, and my supervisor gave me approval. I looked for the one thing he was passionate about (it was hard to find something to be honest), and I asked him to teach it to me. You should have seen the look on his face! It turns out that the kid is a wizard at chess and enjoyed ever minute of "owning me" as he put it. I have to say I look forward to those hour chess lessons, and I have learned to like him. During these one hours sessions he has slowly opened up about himself and I think for just a small window a week I get to really see him. I still don't like most of his behaviours, but I have been able to set those aside from the real person I am getting to know.

Lina Thompson

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