Care Work Podcast featured image with host Alida Miranda-Wolff in a red dress and black headband smiling against a blurred outdoor background

Caring For Youth: The Big Impact of Many Small Actions – Episode 19, Minisode #4

How do we tackle the challenges of caring for underserved youth? In this episode, Alida Miranda-Wolff asks listeners to remember the benefits of taking small steps to build towards greater outcomes. You might not be able to shut down all the youth detention centers in your state tomorrow, but you can hand a homemade lunch out to a neighborhood child who needs one. Maybe the less overwhelming question is: What can you do today to help one child?

Episode Show Notes

Alida presents questions and deeply considered insights:

  • How the rearing of young by different bird species reflects our own caregiving approaches
  • Why everyone needs to decide if they love everyone or just their own people
  • Why you should never underestimate the beauty of smallness 
  • What steps you can take to start making a difference in the lives of youth, right now

Important resources from this episode:

Connect With Alida:

Advocate for underrepresented and underserved groups in organizations with Ethos –


ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. This podcast is for anyone in the business of providing care. Whether you’re being paid for it or not, you’ll discover what it means to offer care and how to take care of yourself in the process. For the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practitioner, a care worker myself, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. Now with this podcast, I’m hoping to create a culture of care in my community and help you do the same in yours.
ALIDA: Originally, this episode was going to be about the juvenile justice system, youth violence, and youth violence prevention, and all of the ways in which, especially living in a place like Chicago, we as a community, vilify youth and adultify youth, in order to avoid confronting the ways in which we fail youth on a regular basis. And I think that that is still the subtext. But as I was putting the outline together, I realized that I wanted to take this opportunity to finish out this arc, really built from the insights that Garien and Jenny shared by talking about nature versus nurture. And I know that that’s probably, old hat, for many of you listening, but it struck me, as I was reflecting, that the concept of nurturing children and youth, it doesn’t actually come up that much this season, and it should. If we’re going to talk about care work, we should really be talking about the care that kids, that youth need.

So this realization hit me when I was at the Field Museum field museum, and I saw an exhibit in the Hallhall of Birds birds about altricial and precocial baby birds. The exhibit compared two bird specimens side by side developmentally from the day that they were born to three weeks later, a. And then at the point of being fully grown., and TtThey were comparing a swallow, which is the altricial bird, and a shorebird, which is a precocial bird. And let’s just get some terms clear here. Altricial means that we’ve got baby birds who are born blind and without feathers, they cannot feed or tend to themselves, and they have to be fed by their parents. Precocial baby birds are born seeing, they have feathers, they can feed themselves, usually a few hours after they’re born. So in this situation, you would think precocial baby birds have the advantage. They don’t have all of that development time that’s required. But interestingly, in the exhibit at three weeks, the swallow and the shorebird were about the same size and phase of development. Despite the head start, the precocial bird had and then at one month, the swallow was fully grown and the shorebird wasn’t. The shorebird was only fully grown after four months. What stuck out to me about the exhibit was that the curator specified that because all altricial birds are fed by their parents and don’t have to tend to themselves or fend for themselves, they develop more quickly.

Obviously, this seems related to my research on care and time, if you remember back to minisode number three. Specifically, the idea that if we put in an upfront investment of care, we can actually compress time or shorten the amount of time needed in the future. It’s also relevant to one of the underlying themes of one of my favorite book series ever, which is the Neapolitan Nnovels –, which, yes, I have been rereading – , which is that we are shaped by the earliest moments in our development journeys and we may not change that much after that point. I will say that a big part of this revelation was just finally putting two and two together and realizing that when people say my toddler is precocious, it comes from precocial baby birds. That was a big moment for me.

But I want to go back to this idea of nature versus nurture. We’ve got two birds and we have one bird that seems to have a clearly natural advantage, being fully baked, so to speak. And yet the advantage the baby bird who was born blind, without feathers, unable to care for themselves, has, is their parents, is their community, is how they’re nurtured. They’re able to not only catch up, but exceed their precocial counterparts. And I was thinking about this related to juvenile justice and what youth need, especially in situations related to violence, related to a lack of resources, related to the current systems that exist today. And I just always remember the work that I have done on housing, and specifically fair housing, and the fact that if you have kids who don’t have a consistent place to stay, who don’t have three meals a day, or whatever amount of food would keep them satiatedsated, who don’t have a sense of safety in their basic needs, of course, they aren’t going to develop at the same rate as kids who do. And this is coming back to a very simple idea, which is, that if we really want to address these large social problems, that we discuss and define, it’s not something essential in the nature of people that we’re changing, but rather the conditions they’re subject to and the care they receive.

Where this comes up for me also is in an essay from Carvell Wallace about parenting during the pandemic. It’s called “Trying to Parent My Black Teenagers Through Pandemic and Protest”. And there’s just this moment in the essay that I think encapsulates a point I’m trying to make here, which is as Wallace writes, “I told my children that one of the most important questions you have to answer for yourself is this, do I believe in loving everyone, or do I believe in loving myself and my people? I told them that their mother and I had made our choices, but we could not decide for them what kind of people they would be”. We often talk about kids in the juvenile justice system, in detention centers, as having been left behind. Do we ask meaningfully who is leaving them behind and on what pretense? In the larger discussion, there are lots of conversations about the role of parents, the role of fathers, whether they’re present, whether they’re absent but there’s this bigger question, which is for those of us looking in on the outside, making judgments and analyzing the conditions of this group of so called left behind kids, do we believe in loving everyone, or do we only believe in loving ourselves and our people? Do we see those at- risk youth as our people? Are we caring for our young, our aAltricial young? When human babies are born, they can’t do anything for themselves. They’re as vulnerable as any human can be. What are we doing for them? How are we showing them care?

I think, in part, the reason that we don’t interrogate this at an individual level – . Wwhat am I, Alida, doing for youth in my immediate municipality, – is because it both feels very big and very small. Very big in that the problem or the challenge is very big and amorphous and nebulous and confusing. What am I going to do about city-wide segregation that results in everything from food deserts to housing insecurity and instability, to the need to be part of gangs because of lack of gainful employment opportunities? That feels very big. What am I going to do about it? But then there’s also less of an impact, less of a point of validating one’s ego, because a lot of what kids need at the individual level is care. And care for a child, especially one who isn’t yours, can feel very small. It can feel very small to talk to or engage with one child or a handful of children and offer them connection, guidance, support, food. The thing is, though, that, and I’m going to quote again, I’m sorry. I’m just such a bookish person. All I do is read, this is where I went to a university that was all about the life of the mind, and this is where it shows up Sarah Rule writes in “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater:”. “Smallness is subversive because smallness can creep into smaller places and wreak transformation at the most vulnerable cellular level. In a time when largeness is threatening to topple us, I wish to remember and praise the beauty of smallness in order to banish the Goliath of loneliness”. Care, whether it’s expressed by accompanying someone during a difficult moment, or making sure that a child has not only a safe place to go at the end of the day, but a beautiful place to go, or packing a lovely lunch on a regular basis for children, for youth around you. These small acts create something so valuable, so transformational, that they can banish the Goliath of loneliness.

I’m reminded of a story that Brené Brown tells where she talks about how driving around Texas, she always keeps Gatorade and Cliff bars in her car so that if she sees unhoused people, she can pass them out the window. And yes, there are so many other things that she could do, that we could do relative to unhoused people. Things like universa hl Housing, things like using her platform to advocate for policy changes and ultimately creating momentum around advocacy. I don’t want to invalidate any of that. I do, though, want to take a moment to pause on the gentleness and potential impact of just giving someone what they need in that moment unexpectedly. I’m not a Pollyanna. I don’t think that we can solve the world’s ills and evils by just being nice or being kind to one another. I think it takes a whole lot more. But I also think that human interdependence is developed through the accumulation of small acts of care, and specifically small acts of care, not only for those we see as being part of our group or groups but those outside of it, too.

There are a lot of refugees in Illinois right now because of the current political situation, not only in Central America, but in the United States. And I think we’re going to be seeing more and more refugees. I think with climate change, there’s going to be a massive upsurge in climate refugees all over the world. And it will be how a great many people show up in small acts of goodwill, connection, and generosity, that ultimately make the difference and push for a different way of doing things. That’s what grassroots is ultimately about. Grassroots is about the people within a community who is affected or impacted, building a coalition to care for those community members. And there are members of that community in the coalition, but there are members outside of it, too. I’m painting this picture and sharing these examples because I spend a lot of time working with the Illinois Justice Project and organizations all across the state of Illinois on criminal justice reform, especially as it relates to juveniles. And there are so many great initiatives out there, from closing down the final five juvenile detention centers to providing spaces for kids to go, that are safe, where they can engage in activities that help them feel a sense of community and also develop skills, whether they be built around the arts, sports, even STEM. There are also these programs that are really focused on expanding the world of supporters these youth have. Whether those folks are mentors, guides, teachers, peers, classmates. And I think we have to focus on, not only correcting the ills that exist and making reparations for the wrongs that our society has committed against people, especially youth, but also imagining a better future and putting practices in place that allow us to get there. For me, the question is, what are those small subversive acts that fight off loneliness, politicization, callousness, violence, that start to rewire the way that we collectively think as people today? And so my ask, my question for folks listening is, how are you tending to the many baby birds around you? And how might you offer more care than you do today? And if you already do this, please drop me a line, share how. I would love to compile more examples of hope, more examples that can be brought to more and more communities that others can adopt, that I can adopt. So please do share with me and let’s see how we might grow and develop the kids who need us.

ALIDA: Thank you for listening to Care Work. Please share this podcast with other care workers in your community so that we can collectively create a culture of care.
This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Your host is me, Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Theme music “Vibing Introspectively” was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass.
Production assistance was provided by Ivana Savic-Grubisich.
Audio editing and podcast post-production were provided by Organized Sound Productions.


Read Less Read More