Why do we do this work?
From: Thom Garfat, PhD
I was talking with some friends the other day: friends who work in our field. We were discussing 'why do we do this work?' instead of, for example, work in the world of business where the financial rewards might be greater. Once we got through our initial (and may I say, perhaps, superficial) responses, like 'because I care', 'these poor children', I have no choice', etc., we started to talk deeper about things like 'it has to do with how I think of myself as a person', or 'it has to do with what I think is the purpose of life', or 'the influences of my upbringing ..." Anyway, I am sure you all get the point.
So, to the question ... which I hope might be answered from a hundred different perspectives.
Why, beyond the simple answers, do you really do this work? I mean, really, why do you do it? What do you get out of it? How does it – if it does – relate to why you are in this life? What do you say to yourself in the dark nights of sleeplessness?
Honest, deep, reflective, real answers appreciated.
I don't normally add to these emails but after reading yours I thought I should put my reasons in. A lot of the people I work with these days say that they have been through a lot of the same stuff that the youth we work with have been through. I on the other hand have not been through anything close to what they have been through.
I believe that I do this job because if no one else does it then who do these kids have to count on? Who will be their cheering section? I'm only 21 but I know that I already have a lot to offer these children and youth who (if we didn't do our job and weren't around) wouldn't learn from anyone and would most likely fail at life. We are saving these kids. Not all by ourselves though. I always say that I work with them ... because its not just me who changes their life; we work together.
These kids have had so many things happen to them and don't have a lot of people that they can count on and look up to so that's why I'm here. Besides the other thousand reasons such as, I enjoy the job, my mom does the same thing so I grew up around it, its just the person I am.
Hope it was helpful,
Here are a few of my deep cavernous reflections on the question of 'Why this work?'
The work I do is complemented by my skills as a CYC. The work I do is assisting, supporting and educating mothers and daughters, young women and men. Addressing addiction, self image and sexual health. I do this work because all of what I know to date lends me to offer an expertise in supporting people with these nuances in life.
Am I meant to do this work? I choose this work with the purpose of giving what it I know I can offer – and the bonus to making this choice is receiving lessons along the way.
On first read, I wasn't motivated to respond as I agree there always are pat or superficial answers. I then took the time to truly be present with your question. However in answering this question, another question naturally rises to the top.
I have always seen this work as a journey where my inner self joins with my outward self, my past, present and the part of me that is in the making. My specific responses to youth or their questions may have changed over the years because I now bring to the work my life experiences that grow each day. However, the part that never changes is the relationship and the desire to truly understand where the other person has journeyed from and where they want to go. By witnessing and companioning that journey I am also on a journey of self reflection and growth. So the work is my selfish way of also growing as a person. I tell students all the time that though we can be cognizant of professional boundaries we need to be real. Who you are when you leave the job needs to be who you are on the job. If you can't be accepting of yourself in relationship with your clients, then they know and conversely can't be accepting of themselves in relationship with you. The question that I referred to that seems to also surface is: why do we continue to do this work? The answer to that too (for me) is because I learn so much about myself and the world around me. I learn as much from clients as they do from me.
That is why creating a therapeutic milieu is so important for me in my role as a CYW, Mom, Friend, Play Therapist, Sand Tray Therapist, Human Being. The trust, space and opportunity to journey together while providing the routines and anchor points in the day that help our clients to know that we care enough about them to help them prepare for whatever journey needs to be walked or rested for today.
So that's my two Canadian Cents.
I admitted to myself years ago that I have been doing this for 37 years out of absolute selfishness.
If I don't do this work I am not happy (selfish). IIf I don't do this work I don't get to be with like-minded people (selfish). If I don't do this work I will have to learn another language (selfish). If I don't do this work I may not get my ego stroked (selfish).
What I believe my selfishness does for myself and the field of Youth Work is allow me to not spend time whining about what others, like governments, institutions, individuals etc. are not doing to help the field. All this selfishness doesn't mean I don't care and I'm not dedicated to the work -- it simply means I'm selfish.
Why we do this work?
I just love some questions that come up once in a while! In regards of the CYW field:
First of all who says financial rewards are not the same as business world? (Depends what you like to do in the field?) I see the problem as that we never thought in college or university how to be a business person in our field. I see myself love to make money, but I do not like to sit behind a computer. I like to teach a child, or work with a child with autism and make money. In my case, I have no grasp of technology, but I am creative enough to find a way to work with a child who does not like to do certain thing. Also, we have to realize that if we stay as a CYW graduated from college, there is not a lot out there for us, and as a result money is not good either.
A computer programer does not like to face a challenge with a child who has sensory integration imbalance which results in some challenging behaviours, but loves to sit hours and hours to create a program how to defeat a virus!! (makes great money)
A speech pathologist or OT works hours and hours with individuals with challenging behaviours, and is creative enough to come up with strategies to help them out in order to be able to be more involved in their world (and they make great money)
For me anyway it's about what I enjoy at the end of the day, and I love working with children because it keeps me on my toes, and being in a children's world is more pure and innocent than adult world with all ....
In my experience working with people in this field also is easier than any other field. As a qualified soccer coach I love to coach primary level age 10-13 too because it is fun, pure, and healthy competition!!
Well, this is why I do this work, and I love it, and I will try to make more money everyday!!!
Not too long ago I asked myself the same question. I recently started a job as a Community and Family Facilitator, and soon realized that all the referrals that I was making for my clients, are resources that I qualify for. When I realized that I fell into the low income bracket and that some of my clients made more money than me, I became discouraged and disappointed in my personal and educational accomplishments. My whole life I have wanted to help people be their dreams, and suddenly my dream wasn't "good enough."
After a lot of tears and negative self loathing I started to pray. I prayed for encouragement and empathy. I kept asking myself if the economic sacrifice was worth it, and if it was, where will I find my passion and strength again.
The next day I went to my second job at a girl's homeless shelter, and was very quickly reminded how important my job is. One of our girls had been sexually and physically assaulted on her way back to the shelter. As I helped this young lady fill out police forms, and when I held her as police took samples, I knew I had a purpose. It took another person to go through horrible circumstances, for me to realize that I am here for a reason, and my purpose is above anything I will ever know or understand. I held her and cried with her until she fell asleep. With every unconscious breath this young girl took, my anger and self pity disappeared and I was left with calmness. My purpose in life is to help people in need, and to be one of God's angels on earth. This is why I do the work I do.
I have to answer your email ... myself we had teens ourselves going through some hard times ... as parents we, no matter what, committed ourselves to being there ... not all kids have this. I decided 3 years ago that I wanted to try to make a difference in the world for all kids -- change one mind, change the world so to speak. I feel that if I can help one child/youth through a difficult time that I may help be a part of a better life for even one child in this world. They are our future. Look in their eyes and tell me why we do this work. In the dark and in my dreams all these kids are there ... hoping that maybe today I made a difference in their lives. No work compares to helping a child, regardless of the pay; the rewards can never be topped.
Very Interesting question and when I looked at it I also came up with the stock answers. Then when I look at it in more detail it made me look back to when I first started working with young people who were leaving care and trying to fit in to a society that has not only disadvantaged them but has placed them in boxes with big labels saying I have been in care don't trust me. I then thought well why after 24 years am I still working with children and young people? Why am I still getting a buzz from it? Then I thought about the reaction from the young people I have worked with when things work out for them and they achieve something the feeling that I get from this is one that I get from no other area that I have worked in, that feeling of pride in the knowledge that against all the odds and all that is thrown at them they have managed to achieve a goal that they set for themselves and that I have played a small part in that achievement far out weighs the occasional feelings of despair when I fail with a young person. I am lucky that I still have contact with a great number of the young people that I have been involved with in the past, and this helps to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground but also gives me the continuing desire to keep fighting and making a difference for these young people.
I'm just gonna blurt this out, because it's bublin inside me. I believe the longer I live this child care life that I was and am called to it.
Called? By who you ask? By God I reply.
The question you've raised is so multi-layered, and for me, and others I
hope, one for which the answer has, and is, evolving. This calling thing
to me is closely related to the notion of professionalism. To be a
professional has to do with living/practising what you preach; with the
living out of what in your core you value. I find my self often
reflecting on the things that lead me to this place, and a childhood
memory comes to the forefront. I'm maybe 7 years old in a chaotic family
, and I have the measles, and a fever, and I'm laying on the couch in
our living room. Sitting next to me listening to my heart with his
stethoscope, is a kind and distinguished older gentleman who I recognize
as my family doctor. In his presence, I feel safe and warm, and like I
matter, a lot. He wasn't there for more than 10 minutes, but this memory
has stayed with me, and dare I say sustained me at some of my life's
most challenging moments. (As the youngest of the 8 children in my
family, all of which he delivered, I was named after him.) In these
moments when someone cares for me, or when I care for them, I mean
really join them in their joy or suffering, I am closer to and see more
clearly the God that I believe in.
For me it comes from my childhood when my parents gave us as a family the choice to get a TV or to adopt two boys. We adopted the boys and they have had a great life. When the birth parents came onto the scene it was really hard on us. My brothers were a part of our family for 20 years then the birth parents wanted to have the boys back. As we are a family of 8 children you can imagine we struggled on but as a child we wanted for nothing. My brothers' birth family had everything a 20 year old wanted, boat, holiday home, taken on overseas trips, money.
We just let my brothers make their own choices, they enjoyed the good life, cannot blame them. They called us to a family dinner and said they were sorry for playing one family off against the other. They said although the birth family had everything there was one thing they could not give them that our family has and is still giving them. They said the one thing was LOVE – you can imagine not a dry eye at the table.
This experience made me think if I ever had the chance to give someone else a chance in life I would take it. So once I was married we decided to give looking after children a go and 14 years later we are still going strong looking after 9 young boys and the main thing we are still having fun looking after the young people.
Thanks for the chance to share.
I am one person amongst many, a small voice against the tidal wave of inequities rife in our world, yet I cannot stay silent. I have always believed humankind (and our youth/families) to be possessed of great potential, extraordinary resilience, and intractable resourcefulness. I have come to terms with my place in this world, which is to give voice to those who have none, and to challenge the corporate and cultural machine which grinds forward with unconscionable certainty. When "we" are gone "our children" will carry the torch of our future, and that future will be dictated by the character of those who carry it. When I pass from this world, I want no excuses for what I have or have not done, and I am determined to leave it in better condition, and in better hands than I found it. I am in this profession because I believe in it, because I believe in the youth, families, and professionals who compose it, and because I believe "we" cannot do without it.
Why I do what I do?
I've always wanted to do something important with my life. Money never really mattered to me. I grew up with nothing and desire very little in my adult life. Sure it would be nice to drive around in a new truck and take trips around the world each year. But what matters the most to me is seeing my clients overcome their trauma and become healthy human beings. A person doesn't enter this field for the money. I live in Alberta and there are more jobs than people right now. If I wanted to make a lot of money I would work in construction or work on the oil rigs. But I know I could not live such a mundane existence going to work everyday drilling for oil or being a labourer. But I can go to work everyday helping an abuse child.
For doing this I know I have made a difference. I have also paid for my dedication in making a difference. I live with a constant pain in my left knee from when I had to do an emergency restraint on my client. My client ran in front of a bus, he was very upset. It was during winter and the roads were ice. The bus tried to stop but just slide on the ice. I was able to pull my client out of the path of the bus. But in the process we both fell and in the process I injured my knee. Since I was only a part-time employee I didn't have any benefits to pay for treatment. And since I worked in child care I didn't take home a big pay cheque. So the doctor told me that I will live with this pain for the rest of my life. But if I had to do it again I would. For I have saved the life of a child and made a difference. This is why I do what I do.
In reply to Thom's question:
Why, beyond the simple answers, do you
really do this work? I mean, really, why do you do it?
It's about the commonalities that each person with another. It's about the differences that provide opportunities and challenges for self knowledge and growth. It's both selfish and ultraistic. It's about being my brother's keeper.
And in those dark and sleepless nights ... I can tell myself that if, for a moment, that someone knows they are not alone on their journey; Then I can rest well.
No man is an island. It is not independence so much as interdependence that nourishes the inner being.
Trudy K. Owen
Well – I BASICALLY FELL INTO THIS WORK OVER 20 YEARS AGO BY ACCIDENT.
I almost quit until a little thing happened to me. I had a kid come visit me. Well. He was no longer a kid actually. He was a 25-year-old man. I had been pretty hard or tough on this guy and he was constantly complaining to my manager about me. However, I saw potential in this youth and I let him know it. When he came to see me, he just came to say thanks and that he felt like I was the only one who believed in him. This still happens to this day. I don't get kids visiting me as soon as they leave, but they will show up a few years later after they mature. This gives me a natural high as I know I have made a difference.
Mister Home Chef
Response to Jill,
I loved your email, and I actually read
it to my class. I teach the child and youth care diploma at a college in
Nova Scotia. All of my students have expressed several different reasons
for being here. Of course – some had things happen to them and they want
to give back, some feel they want to work with the children and youth
simply because that is what they want to do. I agree with the fact that
a lot of kids simply have no one, and sometimes staff is all that they
have. That is why it is so important to have people like you in this
I think it has something to do with the puzzle of life. You in some way want to solve it. There are moments when you find a piece that fits. For me, I don't think I can find those small pieces without connections to others.
Perhaps it was fate or part of the puzzle that opened up an opportunity for me to work with young people. Working with the disadvantaged gives me more clues to the nature of living and perhaps some thankfulness that circumstances have given me some extra advantages in life. I receive a boost which nurtures my spirit each time I believe I have made a difference.
Perhaps it is though I have in some way cheated the fear in the world for another day.
I've been in this field for over 15 years now. I've worked with adults in a day program, I've worked with special needs children from autism to mild/moderate developmental disabilities to my present field in psycho-ed working with Emotional Behavioral Disorder. Why do this work? ... because I love it, good days and Bad. Why and how do I do this work is a question many friends and former co-workers have asked. They will praise me tell me as one co-worker said ... "you will receive your crown in heaven" To put it simply, I tell them you either want to do the work or you don't. I am no one special, but I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work in a field where maybe I along with each individual child or teen's life I come in contact with will someday help them attain their goals no matter how big or how small. If I can be a source of strength for them, encouraging, giving them a boost when they think they cannot achieve, then my job is done and no amount of money is more rewarding then the smile on a child's face who realizes he/she can do it. I often said to my coworkers in the past that I admired them for working with "normal" kids in our system. They do for regular kids what I do for high risk kids so we all work together for the benefit of all children.
Honestly if you are in this field for the money then consider something else. I know why I'm here and that's for the children and teens. This job can feel thankless at times, no raise or overworked and underpaid ... LOL but then you have one little guy or little girl who tells you thank you or you're the best or thanks for being there for me and not giving up ... what more could you ask for?
I love my job,
I do this work because I continue to have hope. Hope for the youth who are in our care. that they will find their way and become productive beings in a society that gave up on them, when they needed to be rallied behind. I have hope that families will once again recognize the importance of raising a child with love; a cuddle, being present, listening, etc., not "material love". I also have hope that the levels of government will recognize the importance of providing education for families to lift themselves out of the destructive cycles we continue to see destroying our culture of humanity. I do this work because I continue to have hope that my care can have a positive impact on even one caught up in the cycle.
I connect closely, or perhaps exactly, with Michael. Perhaps his thinking, or the context in which he is thinking, is different than mine but it is certainly a calling by God. I recently left Youth/Family work a year ago, 16yrs in the field, to go to work for a humanitarian organization. We helped feed the poor, helped the ill and even people who just came upon hard times because of unfortunate circumstances.
Through all of this, my relationship with God has become even clearer in the most intimate sense as the teachings of Christ are fulfilled as we care for the uncared for. I do this work because I can contribute to helping another human soul, the very thing that God tells us is his core concern and he asks us to contribute, to give of ourselves. The beauty is, as we desire to imitate God in his nature we care for others because we want to, not because we have to.
Geoffrey R. Levy
I feel compelled to write an answer to this question. I have really enjoyed reading and hearing the different and similar reasons why we do the work we do.
I really feel that I was meant to work in the child and youth care – it could be a calling, it could be that I CANNOT sit at a desk all day and not have human contact, and maybe I want to change the world (or somebody's world for the better). I have volunteered, worked in the social service since I was 16. Why? because it is who I am. I took a course this summer and the instructor asked us if what we do was more a part of us then it was a job or career and I never really thought of it that way but the more I contemplated the more I find myself living what I believe and my values are reflected in what I choose to do and how I choose to live my life.
I know that one of the reasons why I choose to do child and youth care is that I know the difference one person can make in a child's life. I had a great childhood with its regular ups and downs, there were times where I wanted to be anywhere but home. My aunt's house was the safe and accepting place where I could be myself and where I felt unconditionally loved. My aunt and her love made me realize that I could get through the bad times because I had one person who understood me. That is why I do child and youth care, I feel that every child or youth can be successful if they even have one person who accepts them for who they are and encourages them to reach their potential.
Thanks for the thought-provoking question!
Why do I do this work?
The underlying motivations for me goes back to the influences of a grandfather who instilled in me a sense of responsibility to help others when they need it, without expectation of reward; the influence of a mother who gave me (I guess I accepted) the role of peacemaker among my siblings; and empathy for others I still am trying to understand fully (some of my earliest memories are about crying when other children failed at something or had to do without).
Even in the dark moments (that we all have) when I wonder how long I can do this, I have no alternative that appeals to me.
I think that I do not really want to grow up and have to get a "real job".
Working with new mother's and often times with their mothers the grandmothers, to strengthen their relationships especially with the newborn infant in the family is what I do these days. The families that I work with are First Nations and they recognize their need to relearn the old ways of child rearing which was based on respect for the child's innate wisdom and interdependency. I am trying to establish some relationships with Elders to be more astute in how to support families to raise their children.
The formal knowledge that I have from the
educational settings has gained me this position but it is the people
that I continue to learn who I am from.
In my work I see the infant often from
conception or early pregnancy and am there to encourage the
communication between mother and unborn child. In this population new
life is celebrated and accepted, the mother is supported by family and
services. It seems to me that sometimes the mother needs to be mothered
to be able to take care of the demands of the baby.
My personal life parallels my work, I
have two daughters who are young mother's who are conscious of and talk
about their childhood with me as their mother whose needs as a child
were not adequately meet and how that impacted who we are today. They
respect my knowledge and seek my support and advise, but it comes down
to the fact that all that I know is simply food for thought and the
solution is in how they relate to their children given what they know
and the ideosyncracies of their child's personality. It is a powerful
message. I don't have the answers for all of the families that I work
with. But I do care, and they seem to recognize that and they keep
inviting me back, and I hold up the mirror for them to see how special
they are and how important their positive interactions with their
There is no doubt in my mind that I am here on this earth for a reason and it is not to gather things, it is to share myself and my passion with others.
With Great Gratitude