Schön (1983, 1996) introduced seriously the idea of the “reflective practitioner” by which he meant, it seems, a practitioner who consciously thinks about what she is doing both as she does it and after she has. He talked about “reflection-in-action” and “reflection-on-action”. Schön believed that it was the ability to reflect both in, and on, action that characterised the effective practitioner.

While the field of Child and Youth Care has heard frequent calls for the practitioner to be reflective-in-practice (See, for example, Hudson, 1994; McElwee, 2000; VanderVan & Stuck, 1995; van Weezel and Waaldijk, 2002) not very much has been written within our field about this, although one could argue that the recent focus on meaning-making invites us in to the territory of reflection (see, for example Garfat, 2004; Garfat & McElwee, 2004; Krueger, 1994, 1996, 2004). And certainly the Child and Youth Care literature on self-awareness encourages reflection-in-practice, albeit in a focused and limited arena.

But what does it mean, actually, to be a reflective practitioner in Child and Youth Care? And why would we want Child and Youth Care practitioners to “be reflective”? Perhaps it is, as van Weezel and Waaldijk (2000) suggest, that “the worker has to think about his reactions and to realise the effects of his interventions.”

As the above quote indicates, reflective practice involves thinking seriously – about one’s actions, the outcome of those actions, the context within which they occur, and one’s immediate experiencing of an event. Such “reflection” may occur during (reflection-in-action) or after (reflection-on-action) an event or experience. The primary goal of reflection is to increase the practitioner’s capacity for effective practice through a constant process of review. In the simplest of terms, reflective practice involves the cycle of Experience – Reflection Action. More formally, Reid (1993) stated that “reflection is a process of reviewing an experience of practice in order to describe, analyse, evaluate and so inform learning about practice”.

In reflection-in-action, the Child and Youth Care practitioner encounters an experience or an opportunity for action, reflects on that experiencing as it is occurring, and then engages in action. Depending on how one conceptualizes the act of reflection, it may involve thinking about what is happening, previous similar experiences, one’s own values and beliefs, possible outcomes or even one’s immediate internal experience. This reflection allows the Child and Youth Care practitioner to consider the experience in a manner that helps to stimulate a more effective position before acting. Given that one of the defining characteristics of a Child and Youth Care Approach to helping the use of everyday life events as they are occurring, and attending to the process of making meaning during experiencing, (Garfat, 1998, 2004; Garfat & McElwee, 2004) it would seem that reflection-in-action is ideally suited for the field.

In reflection-on-action the Child and Youth Care practitioner, following an action such as an intervention, reflects on that action to identify how things went and how they might have been different. The goal, in this instance, is to improve one’s future actions through the consideration, and development, of alternative ways of thinking and doing. In essence, reflection-on-action, which occurs at some distance from the event in question, involves the possibility of the creation of theory for future practice. Of the two, reflection-on-action is probably the most easily learned because of the time available for reflection. Reflection-on-action is an ideal learning strategy for new, as well as experienced, Child and Youth Care practitioners and should be an integral part of all teaching and training events (See van Weezel, & Waaldijk, 2002).

The field of Child and Youth Care needs reflective Child and Youth Care practitioners both to improve immediate practice and to enhance the possibilities for future practice. As van Weezel and Waaldijk (2000) have said “reflection is an important element in working professionally” and this holds true as much for the Child and Youth Care worker as for any other. Too often, it seems, we, as practitioners, act without consideration, or fail to reflect on our actions after an event is over. Acting without reflection raises the risk of the practitioner acting on “their own business”. Failing to reflect on past actions denies the practitioner, and the field, the opportunity to benefit from learning-from-experience and leads to the old “we do it this way because we always have” approach which is, unfortunately, far too common in our field.

We need to do better than that.

Reflective child and youth care practice, on the other hand, will help us to develop as effective practitioners. Now surely that is what we want.

And what the young people and their families deserve.


Garfat, T., (1998). The effective child and youth care intervention. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 12(1-2), 1-168.

Garfat, T. (2003). Four parts magic: The anatomy of a Child and Youth Care intervention. Available at

Garfat, T. (2004). Meaning making and intervention in child and youth care practice. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care. Feb/Mar, 9-16.

Garfat, T. & McElwee, N. (2004) Developing Effective Interventions with Families. Cape Town: PreteXt.

Hudson, J. (1994). Supervision: A UK Perspective. FICE-Bulletin. Vol. 10. p. 17.

Krueger, M. (1994). Framing child and youth care in moments of rhythm, presence, meaning, and atmosphere. Child and Youth Care Forum, 23(4), 223-229.

Krueger, M. (1996). Learning Child and Youth Care Work in Context: A Case Example. Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol. 11 No. 2. pp 1-6

Krueger, M. Interactive Youth and Family Work, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In Garfat, T. (2004) A Child and Youth Care Approach to Working with Families. NY: Haworth

McElwee, C. N. (2000). The Social Care Practitioner as Change Agent. Paper to the Faculty and Staff at Athlone Institute of Technology’s Applied Social Care Programmes.

Reid, B (1993) “But we’re doing it already” Exploring a response to the concept of reflective practice in order to improve its facilitation. Nurse Ed Today 13: 305-309.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.

Schon, D.A. (1996). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

VanderVan, K & Stuck, E. (1995). Preparing agencies and workers for family contract services. Journal of Child Care , 10(3), 13-26.

van Weezel, L.G. & Waaldijk, K (2000) Being, acting, reflecting. Available at CYC-Online

van Weezel, L.G. & Waaldijk, K (2002). Learning: What? How? Available at CYC-Online

From: CYC-Online, No. 77, June 2005