Childhood, Youth, and Social Work in Transformation

Childhood, Youth, and Social Work in Transformation: Implications for Policy and Practice

Lynn M. Nybell
Jeffrey J. Shook
Janet L. Finn
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Childhood, Youth, and Social Work in Transformation
    Book Description:

    Social workers today not only face competing claims concerning the rights and needs of children and youth, but they also confront contradictions between policy and practice. Social workers are expected to fight for the best interests of the child, even though financial support for children's welfare and education grows scarce. They are asked to save "children at risk," while, at the same time, they are urged to protect communities from "risky children"; and they are encouraged to "leave no child behind," while also implementing "zero tolerance" policies to keep educational environments free from troubled youth.

    A cutting-edge text that deals directly with the confusion and complexity of modern child welfare, Childhood, Youth, and Social Work in Transformation features contributions from a truly interdisciplinary group of practitioners, scholars, and activists. Examining the theoretical, political, and practical aspects of working with youth today, this volume breaks free from existing modes of thought and strategies of practice and prompts readers to critically reflect on accepted approaches and new possibilities of action.

    Contributors analyze how economic, political, and cultural changes over the last several decades have reshaped the experiences and representations of children and youth in the United States. They examine conceptions of troubled children and youth in contemporary policies and programs and assess why certain discourses about troubling youth are so compelling to professionals, policymakers, and the public. In conclusion, these skilled professionals explore the reinvention of social work policy and practice, including the need to forge relationships that respect the experiences, rights, and personhood of children and youth.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51852-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Rosemary Sarri

    Children and youth in the United States today, as well as in many other countries, are increasingly marginalized without having their physical and social needs met or their human rights honored. The social, political, economic, and cultural changes of the past quarter century have resulted in a substantial decline in the well-being of millions of children. Equally important, few policy decision-makers see meeting the needs of these children as a priority. As a result, the politics of childhood has shifted in the United States to emphasize responsibility for well-being far more heavily on the parental family than on the community...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction and Conceptual Framework
    (pp. 1-34)
    Lynn M. Nybell, Jeffrey J. Shook and Janet L. Finn

    We, the editors of this volume, have been wondering for some time about questions of childhood and the nature of social work. With the colleague who told us Mike’s story, we are eager to restore a place for “wondering” in the process of social work education. Like Mike, we hope to identify profound connections between apparently disparate things. In particular, in this text we hope to spur social workers to wonder about their work with children and youth and to connect this work with larger patterns of global transformation. We want to invoke wonder in both of its meanings: first,...

  6. PART I: Exploring Changing Discourses of Childhood and Youth
    • ONE Making Trouble: Representations of Social Work, Youth, and Pathology
      (pp. 37-66)
      Janet L. Finn

      As social workers we often spend our days engaged in the hard work of investigation, advocacy, and intervention with children and families. The urgent demands of the work rarely allow for the luxury of stepping back and reflecting on practice and the contradictions we face everyday. But it is important to pause and ask: What are we doing in the name of intervention with kids and families? What do we believe about the sources of their troubles and why? Are interventions done in the “best interests” of other people’s children ones that we would support for our own children? In...

    • TWO Missing Children: Representing Young People Away from Placement
      (pp. 67-91)
      Lynn M. Nybell

      On August 30, 2002, the Detroit Free Press featured a front-page story illustrated with a small portrait of 12-year-old boy named Prentiss under the banner headline, “State Loses Track of 302 Abused or Neglected Kids.” The article tied concern about the whereabouts of Prentiss to the predicaments of the 302 young people that the newspaper came to refer to as “Michigan’s missing children”—children and youth assigned to the care of the state but no longer in the foster homes or shelters to which they were assigned. The Free Press claimed that the state child welfare system had “lost” more...

    • THREE It Ain’t as Simple as It Seems: Risky Youths, Morality, and Service Markets in Schools
      (pp. 92-112)
      Linwood H. Cousins

      I am sitting in Mr. Hughes’s eleventh-grade English class, carrying out one day of the two years of ethnographic research that I conducted between 1992 and 1994 (Cousins 1994).¹ Mr. Hughes’s classroom is located on the north side of the school that I call Community High. From this vantage point on a clear day I usually see airplanes as they arrive and take off from Newark’s airport. But something else draws my attention to the world outside of school on this day. As the students and I peer out of the windows we see an automobile accident that has just...

    • FOUR “Stop the Super Jail for Kids”: Youth Activism to Reclaim Childhood in the Juvenile Justice System
      (pp. 113-124)
      Jennifer Tilton

      On a sunny afternoon in April 2001, a multiracial crowd of 150 teenagers and young adults marched in downtown Oakland to demand that the Board of Supervisors stop plans to build a “Super Jail For Kids.” Months before the county supervisors had unanimously approved plans to build a new juvenile hall, expanded from 299 to 540 beds, in Dublin, a far-flung suburb of Alameda County. At first this plan attracted little attention, but that changed as youth activists began a sustained campaign. At this first protest, Latino, Southeast Asian, Tongan, black, and Jewish high school students marched alongside local college...

    • FIVE Good Mothers/Teen Mothers: Claiming Rights and Responsibilities
      (pp. 125-144)
      Deborah Freedman Lustig

      By having children, teen mothers seek to assume the mantle of the good mother, yet in mainstream American culture the teen mother is the antithesis of the good mother. Discourse on teen mothers is a discourse of (im)morality, blaming teen mothers for the decline of American society. As one columnist claimed, “We face a quagmire of increased unwed motherhood, burgeoning dependence on social welfare programs, spiraling criminal activity, and a consequential ballooning prison population—problems caused, like it or not, by the proliferation of inadequate parenting,” which is later equated with teen parenting (Erbe 1994:A15). People Magazine’s cover story, “Babies...

    • SIX The Well-Being of Children and the Question of Attachment
      (pp. 145-168)
      Kerrie Ghenie and Charlie Wellenstein

      We have witnessed a growing preoccupation among social workers and child-serving agencies with the problem of childhood attachment and the treatment of attachment disorders. More and more, it seemed, young children in the foster care system were the subject of assessments and interventions that focused on their abilities to attach—to establish enduring bonds of emotional connection and trust to a primary caregiver. Over the past decade in Montana we have observed the increasing use of a diagnosis of “Reactive Attachment Disorder” and a concomitant trend toward “attachment interventions” in out-patient therapy, foster care, group homes, and residential care wherein...

  7. PART II: Contexts and Settings
    • SEVEN Childhood by Geography: Toward a Framework of Rights, Responsibilities, and Entitlements
      (pp. 171-194)
      Jeffrey J. Shook

      A consistent finding in the literature on decisions to treat juveniles as adults in the justice systems is that decision making varies substantially both across and within states (Shook 2005). Variation across states, at least in part, is the result of legislative differences regarding the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and mechanisms that exist to transfer juveniles to and sentence juveniles in the criminal justice system. These differences reflect the vague, conflicting, and inconsistent definitions of the category of “juvenile” employed by states to signify whether an individual “belongs” in the juvenile or the criminal court. Within-state variation is largely...

    • EIGHT From “Youth Home” to “Juvenile Detention”: Constructing Disciplined Children in Detroit
      (pp. 195-216)
      Luke Bergmann

      In June 1996 Wayne County’s executive officer, Ed McNamera, attended the ceremonial groundbreaking for construction of a new Juvenile Detention Facility in downtown Detroit. The event was accompanied by the usual accoutrements: a vacant lot, loosened dirt, hard hats, ribbons, scissors, and not a small dose of congratulatory rhetoric. Any public works project of this magnitude, after all, would require considerable and coordinated political and organizational work. And indeed, it was an event long in the making, and marked the conclusion of years of wrangling among multiple municipal, corporate, and residential factions within Wayne County and the Detroit metropolitan area....

    • NINE Educating All Our Children
      (pp. 217-238)
      Ruth Zweifler

      In 1975 I was among a group of citizens in Michigan who came together to establish the lay advocacy program that has become the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan (SAC/MI,) the only organization in the state offering lay advocacy support to children in both regular and special education. Our efforts to assure equity and excellence in education focus particularly on policies and practices harmful to those children historically least well served by our public schools: children of color and those who are poor or are in need of special services.

      Advocacy for individual children is the heart of our work....

    • TEN Constructing Ability and Disability Among Preschoolers in the Crestview Head Start Program
      (pp. 239-260)
      Patricia A. Jessup

      Within educational settings, perceptions of students are shaped by constructions of ability and disability, as well as by prevalent perspectives on children and childhood. These constructions influence educational policies, practices, and discourse and have real consequences for children’s education, even in the early years.

      In a larger research project that I draw on here, I investigated the interplay of these policies, practices, and discourses in the lives of young children in one Head Start program, Crestview Head Start (CHS).¹ In this chapter, I illustrate the ways that differing perspectives and discourses of disability affect where and how specific children like...

    • ELEVEN Children and Youth in a Medicalized World: Young People’s Agency in Mental Health Treatment
      (pp. 261-283)
      Ben Stride-Darnley

      This is a copy of “My Mad Plan.” It is designed as a contract between client-student,¹ teacher, and guardian, and it incorporates pictures to help clarify the wording, making it more age/skill level appropriate (unfortunately I have had to describe the pictures). It is a key tool of staff in guiding young people at Northern Ontario Service (NOS), a child mental health assessment and treatment service, toward better self-controlled behavior, the lack of which is one of the causal factors that contribute to their attending NOS. The guardian signature assists in consistency between home and educational settings, which staff noted...

    • TWELVE Accounting for Risk: Children and Youth in Community-Based Reform
      (pp. 284-300)
      Lynn M. Nybell

      Over the last two decades, social work practice has become increasingly preoccupied with identifying and measuring levels of risk to which young people are exposed. In the context of social, economic, and political change in the lives of young people, social work scholars have suggested that research on risk and resilience can offer guidance for the design and delivery of social programs (Fraser 2004:2). Frameworks of risk and resilience are now so broadly accepted that the Council on Social Work Education accreditation standards mandate that all social work students acquire knowledge about the impact of exposure to risk factors on...

    • THIRTEEN “At Risk” for Becoming Neoliberal Subjects: Rethinking the “Normal” Middle-Class Family
      (pp. 301-314)
      Rachel Heiman

      During the late 1990s I conducted ethnographic fieldwork on class anxieties and suburban life in Marlboro, New Jersey, a town on the fault line of the economic chasm growing within the middle class. This case study draws on a portion of my research carried out while I was working as an “ethnographic babysitter” for a family. The Sillens, as I call them for anonymity, lived in a subdivision of moderate-sized, colonial-style homes, the type of houses that used to be the norm in the town. But starting in the 1980s, and more so during the economic boom of the late...

  8. PART III: Reinventing Social Work with Children and Youth
    • FOURTEEN Child’s-Eye View
      (pp. 317-336)
      Janet L. Finn

      In this chapter I bring the Just Practice perspective—a critical approach to social justice–oriented social work that my colleague Maxine Jacobson and I have been developing over the past several years—to bear on thinking about practice with children and youth (Finn and Jacobson 2003, 2008). Throughout this text, contributors have argued that contemporary social work suffers from a serious lack of attention to meanings of childhood and worldviews of children. Further, we have argued that dominant conceptions of childhood, youth, and social work are inadequate for meeting the profound demands of contemporary practice. Every day social workers...

    • FIFTEEN On Project SpeakOUT
      (pp. 337-352)
      Derrick Jackson

      Once, while I was describing Project SpeakOUT (PSO) to a group of educators, an English teacher responded cynically, “You really get kids in Ypsi to write poetry?” Exasperated, I replied, “And they can read too!” Noting my obvious disappointment with his remarks, the teacher pressed on awkwardly. In the course of our discussion, the teacher confessed that he had a terribly difficult time getting his students to pay attention, let alone recite or compose poetry. He went on to tell of a poetry assignment he devised that brought only silence to his classroom. Hence, his conclusion, “Kids in Ypsilanti aren’t...

    • SIXTEEN The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project: A Case Study in Law and Social Justice
      (pp. 353-363)
      Maryam Ahranjani

      Over 30 years ago, my parents fled a corrupt regime in their home country of Iran in search of a society based on fairness and a sense of justice. They wanted to live in a place free from nepotism and greed by the ruling oligarchy, where there was a direct, or at least somewhat direct, correlation between hard work and achievement. Whether the United States is such a society is debatable. However, I argue that at the very least, the U.S. Constitution and legal system provide a framework for citizens to turn to in seeking fairness and justice. This framework...

    • SEVENTEEN “You May Even Be the President of the United States One Day”? Challenging Commercialized Feminism in Programming for Girls in Juvenile Justice
      (pp. 364-384)
      Sara Goodkind

      “You may even be the president of the United States one day.” These are words of encouragement from a staff member at a residential program for adolescent girls in a midwestern U.S. city. She offered these words to describe how she tells the girls that they can be whoever or achieve whatever they want, as long as they work hard and believe in themselves. Similarly, another staff member said of the girls, “If they dream it, then they can achieve it—they just have to believe.” These quotations illustrate underlying assumptions about the girls and the world in which they...

    • EIGHTEEN Youth Uprising: Gritty Youth Leadership Development and Communal Transformation
      (pp. 385-400)
      Jennifer Tilton

      Olis Simmons, executive director of Youth Uprising, talks a lot about “picking up kids.” One afternoon she rolled up on a group of young black men at a bus stop in East Oakland. “Don’t you know there’s a truancy sweep? Are you not in school? Do you need a job?” She finally convinced them to get in her car and drove them to the center. “When we get there, the kids say, ‘This is a trick. This is a truancy center. Do you work for the DAs office? Is this a cult?’” She laughed, “No baby it’s not.” A youth...

    • NINTEEN Young People as Leaders in Conflict Resolution
      (pp. 401-417)
      Charles D. Garvin

      This chapter describes a project to train adolescents to assume leadership positions in their schools and communities to peacefully resolve intergroup conflicts that arise between youth who differ with respect to social characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, culture, class, neighborhood of origin, or sexual orientation. Although the primary source of these conflicts can be found in the persistent social injustices that pervade the educational system, job market, housing market, criminal justice system, and political system, they often manifest themselves in interpersonal and intergroup conflicts. Thus, the goal of the project was to enable students to move beyond these differences,...

    • TWENTY Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project: Foster Youth as Teachers to Transform Social Work
      (pp. 418-428)
      Lori Fryzel and Jamie Lee Evans

      Our hearts break as we write this chapter. Today is the memorial service for a young queer woman of color and former foster youth with whom we worked. Her name is Ali’ze, and she died tragically this week as a result of her homelessness. Ali’ze was a founding member of a foster youth–led evaluation project of group homes. She cared deeply about improving the group homes and foster care system that played such a huge part in her upbringing. Ali’ze survived poor schooling and poverty as well as scary and sometimes traumatizing foster care experiences to have a promising...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 429-436)
    Janet L. Finn, Jeffrey J. Shook and Lynn M. Nybell

    In this book, we have invited you to wonder with us about the transformation of childhood, youth, and social work in the contemporary United States. The contributors offered us detailed portraits of social work practice with young people that provoked our curiosity about a wide assortment of issues. For example, they challenged us to think about the particular location and shape of our juvenile detention centers; the photographs of missing children on our milk cartons; the complex web of practices by which we determine that a particular young person will be held accountable as an adult in our criminal justice...

  10. About the Contributors
    (pp. 437-442)
  11. Index
    (pp. 443-458)