helping kids grow—helping kids die

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    Helping Kids Grow--Helping Kids Die

    Although relatively few of us have actually been infected by the AIDS virus, AIDS has attacked us all. Our behavior and our thinking have been profoundly affected, our background (and foreground) anxiety levels have been raised, and we who work with young people have been affected professionally. And we have all been assaulted by much of what has been said and written about this subject as well. One hesitates to write more on the topic, lest we add to the burden without adding new light.

    Youthworker Jackie Thompson, who spends many hours each day with young people on the streets, has begun to struggle with clients who have AIDS, and it strikes me that her observations are worth sharing now, before most of us have been in that situation, since it seems likely that many more of us will be faced with the care of such young people in the future. Why, she asks, did we choose to work with "kids" in the first place? Answering for herself, she suggests that it was because kids are generally strong and healthy, kids are fun, and kids are growing-- an exciting combination and an exciting opportunity. AIDS, however, turns those attributes on their heads. People with AIDS are painfully weak and weakening, are sick are hardly fun, are mostly dying rather than growing. To help kids die is not what most of us thought we were supposed to do!

    Not long ago, Karen VanderVen (1986) proposed on these pages that our field broaden itself to encompass generic, cross-age "people-caring., Direct care workers with the aged do have a base of experience and expertise in working with dying patients, in helping people die. Perhaps AIDS provides another reason for the field to pursue this proposal.

    We must, of course, be concerned with prevention as well, but this concept is a notoriously poor motivator of the young. "It can't happen to me!" characterizes their perspective, in most cases, as they look at risk. Mike Baizerman and Beth Emshoff are among our colleagues who have proposed that we adopt the concept of personal protection to replace prevention in working with young people. Certainly many of them are familiar with the need for protection in some domains of their lives, and we might well try to utilize this notion as we talk with them about AIDS and other dangers that confront them.

    In the face of pain, it seems, we all the more appreciate comfort; in the face of death, we all the more appreciate life. Herein lies, perhaps, the opportunity and the challenge for us in working with all young people in the age of AIDS. As we work to enlarge areas of health, happiness,

    Child & Youth Care Quarterly, 16(4) Winter 1987 1987 by Human Sciences Press 225

  • 226 Child & Youth Care Quarterly

    and growth, perhaps we can draw new energy and determination f rom our confrontation with the spectre of a disease that cruelly threatens all of these, even as we continue the search for ways to prevent it and to ease the pain of those for whom it is too late.



    VanderVen, K. (1986). From child care to life cycle developmental caregiving: The numbered painting and the evolution. Child Care Quarterly, 5(2), 75-77.