Tacit knowledge and dilemmas experienced by youth professionals in a preventive and environment-centred approach to working with parents and children
On 1 January 2015 the new Youth Act, one of three recent reforms in the social domain, came into effect in the Netherlands. The Youth Act has profoundly altered the relationship between citizens/parents and professionals. While the welfare state, in which professionals play a central role, is gradually scaled down, parents and young people themselves are given a more active role in both managing and implementing the support they receive. This implies that professionals are expected to help parents implement the practice of self-management and empowerment, whereas in the past their role was to provide care for the parents and young people who were “entitled” to it. This transformation of the youth care sector is unfolding within a dynamic social context that, since 2011, has included the creation of a Youth and Family Centre (Centrum voor Jeugd en Gezin (CJG)) in every municipality. The task of these CJGs is to stimulate a positive environment for parents and children from -9 months to 23 years of age.
This transformation raises questions not only for policymakers, but also for scientists and educators, and particularly for youth professionals. This contribution assesses the consequences of this transformation for the work of youth professionals who operate at the forefront in CJGs or social district teams. The nature of their work is undergoing a shift from specialist to generalist. Although the work of youth professionals remains focused on identifying early warning signs, assessing risks and supporting individual children and their families, they are now also expected to work on strengthening social cohesion in local neighbourhoods and villages. The new method of working is referred to as the “preventive and environment-centred approach”. The approach is defined as follows (Wekker, 2013). Youth professionals should:
1) take account of the living conditions, lifestyle and living environment of parents and young people and invite them to use their own resources;
2) strengthen social cohesion to improve the pedagogical climate in their neighbourhood;
3) mobilize and/or extend the social networks of parents and young people; and
4) identify risk situations and intervene where necessary to prevent escalations
This study investigates how youth professionals working with parents and children in interdisciplinary district teams consolidate the preventive and environment-centred approach. In practice, what do they do? What are they good at? Which difficulties and dilemmas do they face? The value of this study lies in the insight it provides into the experiential knowledge of youth professionals, and the identification of points of attention for the further development of the preventive and environment-centred approach in social district teams.
We investigated this issue by following experienced youth professionals working at the forefront of CJGs in their daily work. To gauge the professional knowledge of these workers, which is deeply rooted in practice, we used the concept of “tacit knowledge”, also known as experiential knowledge. The study was conducted in two CJGs in two districts of the municipality of Groningen, the Netherlands: Oosterpark and Groningen Zuid. Both CJGs include youth professionals from various organizations who work closely together. In each CJG, we selected six youth professionals who, according to their colleagues, successfully apply the preventive and environment-centred approach. Of these 12 professionals, three were male and nine female. They included five youth/social nurses, four youth workers, one paediatrician and two parenting consultants. In order to provide further depth to our observations, we conducted interviews with all 12 youth professionals. The objective of these interviews was to identify their motivations, the ways they legitimize their actions, and the dilemmas they face. Finally, the findings of our observations and interviews in each district were submitted in the context of a focus group aimed at all youth professionals from both CJGs. The objective of these focus groups was to reach a consensus regarding the knowledge, attitude and skills required of youth professionals in order to implement the preventive and environment-centred approach in their work, thus extending the applicability of this approach.
Our observations clearly indicate that youth professionals are able to effectively take into account the living environment of the parents (Aspect 1) and adopt a preventive approach (Aspect 4). Aspects that are less strongly developed include the ability of youth professionals to reinforce social cohesion and, in particular, to improve the pedagogical climate of the district (Aspect 2). The network of citizens who are doing well (Aspect 3) is also not yet optimally used.
In the interviews and focus groups, youth professionals identified three important obstacles. The first was lack of time (substantial case load, time involved in collaborations). The second was physical location (open doors and the vicinity of the location), and the third was selective inclusion (highly educated parents and parents who are not experiencing problems are difficult to include). A preventive and environment-centred approach is not always easy to implement. In practice, youth professionals face a number of dilemmas. First of all, there are moral dilemmas in relation to the parents’ own resources. Youth professionals are afraid that when parents seek help from within their own environment, they may actually be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. In addition, privacy is an issue. Youth professionals are afraid of damaging fragile trust by sharing information with third parties. A methodological dilemma concerns finding the right balance between a specialist focus and a generalist focus. Time forms a third organizational dilemma, not only with respect to balancing administrative tasks, team formation, and the time needed for the families, but also with respect to a healthy balance between work and private life. Finally, the relationship between the parent organization and the interdisciplinary team is sometimes strained.
The preventive and environment-centred approach appears to be a promising one for CJGs and it can and should be strengthened further. Our advice is to further develop the preventive and environment-centred approach of experienced professionals by promoting self-aware, T-shaped professionals working in an interdisciplinary context within improvised teams. Management, administration and policy should be adapted to facilitate this new way of working, particularly by offering professionals the space to further develop their skills in relation to the preventive and environment-centred approach.
Ervaringskennis en dilemma’s van professionals in preventief en omgevingsgericht werken met ouders en kinderen
De transitie en transformatie in het sociale domein vraagt van jeugdprofessionals een nieuwe manier van werken, namelijk preventief en omgevingsgericht. Preventief en omgevingsgericht werken kent vier aspecten: 1. aansluiten bij de leefsituaties van ouders ter bevordering van eigen kracht; 2. werken aan sociale cohesie ten behoeve van het pedagogisch klimaat in de wijk; 3. het mobiliseren en/of vergroten van het sociaal netwerk van ouders, 4. signaleren van risico’s en ingrijpen waar nodig. Dit artikel gaat over de vraag hoe professionals die met ouders werken handen en voeten geven aan deze nieuwe werkwijze, welke ervaringen ze hierbij opdoen en welke dilemma’s ze tegenkomen. Deze vraag is onderzocht door professionals werkzaam in twee Centra voor Jeugd en Gezin in de stad Groningen te volgen in hun dagelijks werk. Daarbij is gebruik gemaakt van een methode die gericht is op het ontdekken van hun ervaringskennis. Deze methode bestaat uit het gericht observeren van professionals in hun dagelijks werken en uit het voeren van gesprekken hierover met professionals om hun overwegingen bij het handelen te achterhalen. Daaruit blijkt dat twee van de vier aspecten van preventief en omgevingsgericht werken sterker zijn ontwikkeld. CJG-professionals sluiten vaker aan bij de leefsituatie van ouders en pakken vaker risicosignalen op. Minder vaak maken ze gebruik van het sociale netwerk van ouders en werken ze aan sociale cohesie in de wijk. In het handelingsrepertoire lijken de preventieve aspecten sterker te zijn ontwikkeld dan de omgevingsgerichte. Professionals ervaren zowel morele, methodische als organisatorische dilemma’s bij preventief en omgevingsgericht werken.
Doornenbal, J. et al., (2015). Ervaringskennis en dilemma’s van professionals in preventief en omgevingsgericht werken met ouders en kinderen. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice. 24(4), pp.3–22. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.464
Doornenbal J, Kassenberg A, Polstra L, Wekker C. Ervaringskennis en dilemma’s van professionals in preventief en omgevingsgericht werken met ouders en kinderen. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice. 2015;24(4):3–22. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.464
Doornenbal, J., Kassenberg, A., Polstra, L., & Wekker, C. (2015). Ervaringskennis en dilemma’s van professionals in preventief en omgevingsgericht werken met ouders en kinderen. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice, 24(4), 3–22. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.464
Doornenbal, Jeannette, Annelies Kassenberg, Louis Polstra, and Charlotte Wekker. 2015. Ervaringskennis en dilemma’s van professionals in preventief en omgevingsgericht werken met ouders en kinderen 24, no. 4: 3–22. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/jsi.464