Editorial: Contact and Communication

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Looking after children and young people is a difficult job, and workers need support from each other. Solidarity and encouragement help people to keep going when they are struggling and the sharing of ideas can refresh practice and help workers to see each child as an individual needing new and personal responses to his or her needs.

Forty years ago, residential child care workers in the UK used their only days off to share their professional problems at meetings of the Residential Child Care Association, and they looked to their monthly copies of Child in Care for their inspiration. Now they can make contact with colleagues, lecturers and others throughout the world by texting, emailing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other systems. Responses can be immediate, and it is not necessary to give up days off.

This sounds like real progress, and as far as the technology is concerned, the options today are light years ahead of the 1970s. But an important question is whether these systems actually lead to more careful thought, more informed discussion and better services for children. After all, whatever system one uses, “Rubbish in; rubbish out” applies, and the quicker the response, the less thought may have been given to the answer. Complex professionals issue require careful thought and use of words; a quick Tweet may simply be a distracting use of time. Developing good communication may not be a matter of reducing concepts to soundbites but of encouraging workers to find settling down to think and study rewarding.

It is not yet clear whether we have further technical developments ahead which will make communication significantly easier, or whether we now have available the main sorts of communication systems which professionals will be using over coming decades. Whether things will change or not, how do we best use the systems we have?

cyc-net

Aficionados of cyc-net have held a ‘clan gathering’ in Glasgow to consider these issues. If you are a reader of Children Webmag, but have not yet looked at cyc-net, we recommend that you do. Its aims and values are very similar to those of the Webmag. It has grown up in the same sort of way, with a Board, a core of volunteers at the centre and a network of contributors and readers.

Although they may feel financially hard-pressed, cyc-net has been better financed than the Webmag, though, and it has been much more successful in developing a wider range of material, for example by having a Learning Zone with training materials. It does a lot of the things which the Webmag would like to do.

The clan gathering was the first of its kind. It was a warm and friendly event, attended by about sixty participants from about a dozen countries, well organised with The Kibble at the heart, with a day conference in which thirty-six quarter-hour papers were given about different aspects of child and youth care. The rest of the time was given over to discussing where cyc-net goes next. It was a debate which reflected on not only cyc-net itself but also the way child care workers communicate world-wide and the global state of services for children and young people.

Five Thoughts

As concerned well-wishers from a parallel venture, we offer five thoughts for the future of cyc-net.

First, what has already been achieved is precious. That does not mean it is something you can preserve like a diamond ring in a box. Its value is that it is a living network, involving thousands of people, who make contact because they want to, without obligation. Clearly cyc-net has to have some form of organisation in the shape of its Board, but it needs to remain lively, accessible, responsive to need, changing format if that meets participants’ needs better, alert to trends in child and youth care and technical changes in communication systems.

Any decisions which create formal structures or fees to access material could risk stifling the creativity of the site. For example, if a membership organisation were set up on the model of FICE and AIEJI, which have both been around for over sixty years, cyc-net would not only be a rival to them but it would inherit the problems they are facing in keeping structures going that do not sit easily with the electronic age.

It should be noted that the success of cyc-net is the result of the personal impact of a number of individuals. At the risk of omitting some key people of influence, we should offer thanks to Brian Gannon, who has been at the heart of the enterprise, to Thom Garfat and Leon Fulcher, and to Graham Bell for the support of the Kibble. It is because these key professionals have contributed not only their time and energies but have provided the right sort of milieu, based on sound professional thinking and the right values, that cyc-net has had such an impact.

We need to recognise the importance of what has been achieved, therefore, and the need to maintain the services and approach offered to date.

In what ways could cyc-net expand? Our second point is that cyc-net is strongest in countries where English is the first language - USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia, for example. This is not only a question of language but of culture and professional approach. The child and youth care model of North America is dominant. This is not to criticise the model, but there are other models such as that of social pedagogy of Europe. A dialogue between proponents of these models would not only introduce workers to new ideas but help them question their own methods.

There are obviously many other languages spoken in child care around the world. There must be hundreds of thousands of people working with children whose main language is Chinese, Arabic, Hindi or Urdu, for example. Where does one start? We suspect that a network on the cyc-net model for the Spanish-speaking world would meet a similar need and be a good starting point. Like cyc-net it would need time to build up, but it could serve much of South America, Central America, some of North America and Spain itself.

Thirdly, we suggest alliances with other organisations such as FICE and AIEJI. They have experience in running congresses and cyc-net could piggy-back on their events, saving on organising time, avoiding rivalries but also having the chance for face-to-face meetings which enable greater depth of discussion and the development of relationships. Such arrangements would also create opportunities for interface between the world of child and youth care and the world of social pedagogy.

Fourthly, one of Children Webmag’s aims has been to unify all workers with children and young people under a common banner, to create a strong profession comparable to the other major professions. In the UK the profession is splintered, with workers too often remaining in silos, with separate professional identities, training, accreditation and registration systems, and often having few contacts with workers in other settings. There is a gulf, for example, between early years workers and those working with adolescents, let alone the wider gap between those working with babies and those with young people in secure settings.

We may be wrong, but we suspect that the bulk of cyc-net material focuses on a section of children and young people - not the whole age band, and there may be scope for broadening the field. After all, it is the same children who live through the different age groups, and the way they are reared when tiny affects what they do as adolescents. We need an integrated approach.

Finally, how about thinking big? Compared with the big industries, child care is a poor relation, and both Children Webmag and cyc-net are run on very tight budgets. There are plenty of millionaires in the electronic communication industry who could easily spare money to expand the services offered by cyc-net. For example, if the child care services of India and Africa could be offered laptops they could access the training materials offered by cyc-net, and a lot more besides. The impact on the quality of services worldwide could be enormous, and it only needs one millionaire to understand the scope of this proposal for things to take off.

We wish cyc-net well as it looks to the future.

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