When I showed up for my visiting shift in 1974, I never made it into the home. A worker flew out of the door with a young person who had slashed, her forearm covered in gore. I was handed a cold cloth and told to press it on the wound and soon was escorting this young lady to the hospital. Residential care was just beginning to become established at that time. The complexity of the work was fascinating to me and unlike a stream of colleagues who moved on within a few years, I stayed intent upon getting this work, well, to work. It was like a constantly fraying cord, you would realize some goals only to find even more emerging. At the six year point, I became a supervisor and soon was in crisis. The separation from working with the youth was too extreme and disorientating. I felt burnt out, disconnected from the work. Soon, I discovered there were many such group homes in the community, many privately owned and operated and I entered one such home as a Senior Child and Youth Care Worker which was more or less my role for the next thirty years. I also worked as a proctor for a young adult for eleven years.
Also in the early 80’s, I became involved in the revitalization of the provincial child and youth care association. The challenges were similar, getting people to commit and dedicate any contribution to the cause. The advent of the personal computer allowed for applying organization to the membership process, newsletters and a website. Membership grew incrementally yet persistently and the association was able to host national conferences in 1986 and 1996. I was made our provincial representative to the Council of Canadian Child and Youth Care Associations and was able to apply similar computer assisted contributions to it as well. In this position I was privileged to be present for the beginning of the Academy of Child and Youth Care Practice and to participate in the planning of several international child and youth care conferences. It was at the ’96 national conference that I became the first recipient of the National Child and Youth Care Award. It was difficult being first as there was little to refer to but in the years since this award has continually gone to CYC’s who have worked beyond their frontline employment to innovate and develop the profession externally and generally.
In 2004, there was a confluence of a series of losses, personal, professional and volunteer that saw all the elements of my mature years disappearing. I broke down and soon found myself needing and valuing the benefits of counseling. I transferred into administrative support, charged with creating databases and computer resources for my agency. The work of the Council was central to moving forward with some continuity and with new challenges. Being invited to take on a column for the Journal of Relational Child & Youth Care Practice was very special. How often I had thought on shift, “someday I may write about this”, as a way of making sense of the immediate novelty of the moment. Six years of columns have now come and gone and the Relational continues to be one of the most significant resources for child and youth care professionals out there, in my view.
Child and youth care work remains the core of my identity. I have been privileged to participate in the development of the child and youth care association movement at many levels. Creating and administrating cyccanada.ca and some individual member web sites has been an ongoing initiative since 1995. The Poster Project for the Council has allowed me to draw upon a lifelong interest in photography.
Following a decade of designing and administering data based tools for tracking population, critical incidents, containment data and client career profiles, I retired from formal work. I remain as webmaster for the Council of Canadian Child and Youth Care Associations and writing a column for the Relational. Following the contribution of Canadians on the international stage at events in Cape Town and Vienna have been the highlights of recent years. Also, continuing the efforts of the Council to support and further the aims of CYC-Net through advertising and reporting on Clan Gatherings remains an ongoing activity. Establishing a country home in Manitoba’s Interlake region has allowed me to go back to the basics of carpentry, land management and forestry on a small scale; still enough to offset a significant digital reality.
One of my early papers in university involved exploring the Summerhill School program and arguing for establishing treatment homes in the community. My university roommates had summer jobs with a local child and youth treatment centre with just such homes. Fascinated with their stories, after graduation I went there and was hired. They went on to conventional work while I remained determined to master this complex work experience – a career long reality.
Oh stink; it’s show time folks; stuff happens.
One of my bearded collies illustrated the core qualities for youth care work:
• Focus: constant eye contact to the extent of just sitting there
• Being with you: constantly being present, sitting near by and moving from room to room with you.
• Humour and joy: Beardies exhibit a constant delight in living expressed through smiles, hugs, play, and bouncing.
• Stamina or going the long way around: once my dog herded a deer penned in a zoo. She established eye contact and then ran around the pen in large loops from side to side. With each successive and shrinking loop, the deer advanced until it came to rest at the corner pole, nose to nose with the dog. The dog then rested, exhausted and content. This became a metaphor to me for how youth care work involves going beyond simple direction to working with the young person and their environment through relationship, anticipation and much legwork. For example, don’t just tell them not to run away, give them many reasons to want to stay in the group home.
Wounded Souls: A collection of poems and songs by Ingrid D. Johnson
Being isolated and alone with the group over the course of a four day, early fall blizzard that paralyzed our city. Also, any of our road trips to camp and visit other provinces and states.
Be with the young people throughout your shift. Be generous and kind with them and with yourself. You will be able to hear, field and process any horrors they may act out or share with you, knowing these are but a remnant of their original experience. Although it may never be apparent to you, the young people in your care will hold you in a high regard which is very vulnerable for them and as such, deserving of your highest respect.
My first supervisor, David MacDonald had a passion and intelligence for establishing child and youth care work that has been a constant influence. For association development, the work of Dennis McDermott in Ontario to offer substantial services to the membership was central. Heather Modlin has been a constant source for wisdom and support around a shared endeavour to extend the profile of child and youth care. Finally, unnamed but never forgotten, the many young people and team members I have known over the years who each brought their best forward in our time together.
Last updated October 2016