Child and Youth Care is another profession that falls under the social services sector. A contextualization of child and youth care field within the broader socio-economic South African context is presented. In particular, the contribution of child and youth care as a unique field is outlined in this study.
The ecological systems theory was used as the theoretical framework to underpin the study. This theory acknowledges that child and youth care as a field and child and youth care workers as professionals are not working in isolation, but are affected by the socio-economic dynamics within the broader macro-system. In the context of applied research, this study investigated the challenges and coping strategies of child and youth care workers in the South African context. Qualitative methodology was used to allow participants some reflection on the challenges experienced and coping strategies used by them. By utilizing the collective case study design, 11 focus group interviews were conducted in six provinces of South Africa to collect data from 93 participants. The participants were employed in government organisations and non-governmental organisations. Participants further represented child and youth care workers from rural, semi-urban and urban areas.
Findings revealed that child and youth care workers are faced with an array of challenges which fall under the following categories: psycho-social challenges, professional challenges and socio-economic challenges. Under each of these categories, a range of themes and sub-themes have emerged.
Themes and sub-themes that emerged under psycho-social challenges are as follows: inability to disengage from work environment, disengagement from socialisation activities, personal trauma, invasion of personal boundaries and emotional well-being issues. Coping strategies that emerged are: non-existent coping mechanisms, personal mission, substance use and quitting.
Under the professional challenges category, the following themes have emerged: dealing with clients’ behaviours, personal risk, lack of tangible and immediate results, poor stakeholder relations, lack of clarity on the role and title of the child and youth care worker, inconsistent job requirements, lack of recognition, lack of training and promotion opportunities and inadequate working conditions. To cope with these challenges, the following strategies have emerged: non-existent coping mechanisms, personal support networks and professional support networks. A range of concepts emerged under each of the sub-themes.
The specific features of the sub-theme ‘personal support networks’ include:
rationalizing, self-protection and self-care. Coping strategies under professional support networks include: colleagues, team meetings, supervision, and psychological support systems.
Challenges that emerged under socio-economic category are: inadequate remuneration structures and inadequate programme funding. To cope with these challenges, it emerged that participants resort to budgeting, formal and informal lending mechanisms, and alternative income generating streams.
Upon closer inspection of all the challenges, the study revealed that many of these challenges originate from child and youth care workers not being fully recognised as professionals. Formal recognition of this category of workers will go a long way in resolving a number of challenges raised by the participants. It is also assumed that when registered, child and youth care workers will experience better working conditions which will also enable them to be remunerated properly in line with their counterparts within the social service professions.