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Recognizing and Preventing Caregiver Burnout in Children's Third Places

In every corner of our community, there's a special kind of magic that unfolds before and after the school day. These are our 'third places' - vibrant spaces beyond home and school where our children and youth discover, play, and grow.

These cherished spaces outside their homes often become sanctuaries where they feel loved, secure, and free to be themselves. These community havens, from afterschool programs to community organizations like The BGC , YMCA and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and so many more are more than mere spaces; they are the nurturing soil for the seeds of our future – our children and youth.

I am always honoured to work with many of these organizations building their workplace culture, reducing burnout, and reactivating the play in their work.

Yet, in recent times, a shadow has fallen over these vital spaces. The decline in funding and support for these third places is not just a loss of venues; it's a fading of opportunities for our young ones to find solace, learning, and joy outside their homes and schools. These places, often the safest and most loving environments for many children, are where mental and physical health flourishes, where the laughter of play and the joy of learning echo against the walls. It is where children learn resilience, confidence, courage and connection.

But let's not forget, the foundation of these third places is the people – the dedicated professionals and volunteers who pour their hearts into nurturing our children. They are the unsung heroes, often working in the shadows, their efforts unnoticed by the broader society. Yet, they continue, driven by a singular, noble cause – to help children and youth.

People suggest that these caregivers and educators are pouring from an empty cup;I would suggest that they have not had the time or the energy to even look at their cup lately. Their workplaces are brimming with overwhelm, heartbreak, and burnout.

They face the daunting task of kindling hope and joy in others while their own flames flicker in the winds of fatigue, anxiety and unpredictable change.

This is where the essence of workplace culture in these third places becomes paramount. We must nurture and value these caregivers, ensuring their mental and physical well-being, creating an environment of psychological safety. For without them, the concept of a third place remains an unfulfilled promise.

Ray Oldenburg, in his insightful book "The Great Good Place," eloquently describes third places and placemaking as the anchors of community life, fostering broader, more creative interaction.

These are spaces where status and rank dissolve, where conversation and playfulness reign supreme, creating a home away from home. But let us remember, a home is only as warm as the hearts within it. Our third places need the warmth of well-supported, valued, and mentally healthy professionals to truly thrive.

As we advocate for the sustenance of these third places, let's champion the cause of those who make these spaces what they are. For a child cannot have a third place without caring professionals who are supported, valued and feel safe enough to play.

In this journey of nurturing our third places and those who hold them up, let us be guided by the understanding that the mental health of our caregivers directly impacts the cultural and emotional landscape of these spaces. Let's strive to create a culture of support and appreciation, where caregiver burnout is addressed, and mental health is prioritized.

Brandi Heather

Playful Change Maker

Keynote Speaker

Best Selling Author

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