Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario
I’ve been working in the field since completing the 1982 version of
Algonquin College’s Ambulance and Emergency Care Diploma in Ottawa,
Canada. My first school-based assignment was in Cranbrook, British
Columbia the following year with Michael – a non-verbal, non-ambulatory
10-year-old who required constant watch-care due to frequent violent
seizures. For the first ten years, I worked in various capacities as a
‘child care worker’ within specialized classrooms from K-12 in that
school district. I also began caring for young people in my home as a
‘specialized foster parent’. I took my first undergraduate coursework
through distance after enrolling with the University of Victoria’s
School of Child and Youth Care in 1987. After moving to that city in
1991, I continued to provide contracted services to the Ministry for
Children and Families as a specialized foster parent. In addition, I
began front-line counselling at an in-patient psychiatric facility for
young people aged five to eighteen years – both employment situations
framed by the DSM-IV-R diagnostic manual for interventions. My first
degree in Child and Youth Care was completed after seven years part-time
study with the SCYC wherein I immediately took up MA studies. Also in
the early 1990s I learned about the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child, and began to see how various theoretical and political ideas or
‘constructions’ of childhood that were embedded with these legal, policy
and therapeutic documents were being played out as powerful shaping
forces in individual kids’ and families’ lives. I noticed too that the
development of these documents was very much historically, culturally,
politically and even economically-bound, shaped and influenced. Many of
the interventions I witnessed or took part in were supported, even
driven by heavy doses of medication, some of which benefitted immensely,
many of which proved utterly destructive. For example, Paxil was widely
promoted and prescribed for people under 18 throughout the 1990’s – a
psychiatrist in our facility wryly calling it ‘Vitamin P’ – but in 2003
Health Canada warned all psychiatrists to stop prescribing Paxil after
major lawsuits were settled against its manufacturer Glaxo-Smith-Kline
in the US and Britain.
Even with a multidisciplinary policy MA I found I was still relatively beholden to a myriad of other more highly ‘trained’ professionals in the child services systems where I found employment – mental health, social work, youth justice, and education – and I grew restless for more latitude to speak freely about the many abuses of power I had witnessed in my first 20 years in the field. Based upon my MA research in the new child rights policy arena (and a couple of peer-reviewed journal papers) I was fortunate to receive a doctoral fellowship at Stirling University in Scotland from 2001-2004. Since completing that degree, I have been a Professor of Child and Youth Studies here at Brock University in southern Ontario receiving tenure in 2009. While I view this latest assignment as simply an extension of all my other ‘child and youth care gigs’ it has also had more than its share of ideological and political challenges. I have nonetheless had a rich and rewarding time in front of the class connecting the lives of more than 20 years frontline service in British Columbia to the oft-times over-theorizing and under appreciation of applied employment perspectives that occur in higher education.
Like so many it was an accident and not really an intention. I had taken a year-long diploma program at Algonquin College but was unable to obtain the correct license due to a childhood eye injury. I travelled to British Columbia to see if their emergency care system was any more flexible and found the opposite, so I was reduced to taking my family into the welfare office for one long winter which motivated me to explore just about any legal option I could. A social worker acquaintance mentioned a 12-year old boy was having social and emotional problems at his school and I was successful getting my first 15-hour per week contract to support him. No real experience, no relevant training but my Emergency Care diploma was immensely helpful in landing my first full-time, school-based childcare contract in 1983 with a medically fragile young boy and the rest is now really, really history.
Without being too maudlin, I’ve been repeating a recently deceased Canadian politician Jack Layton’s parting words “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.”
I now have two beautiful children of my own now, 6-year-old Finnegan and 3-year-old Siobhán, who remind me daily of how important it is to be an adult who really listens to kids. I owe my entire 30-year ‘career’ and any of my achievements to the social worker who offered me a chance to change one young person’s life in the early 1980s – and to that boy and his family. Since then I have had the incredible privilege of supporting hundreds of young people in their struggles against the madness, savage abuses and ignorance that exist in all human societies and that is so often perpetrated upon its most vulnerable citizens.
With son Finn during a working visit to the United Nations in 2007.
Last updated October 2016