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CYC People

Laura Steckley


West of Scotland


I worked in direct practice in Child and Youth Care for 11 years; the majority of that time I also supervised staff and managed units. In one center, I also developed and ran an in-house training program. I’ve worked with kids in Colorado and in Scotland; they have much in common. Practice in each country is similar yet different, and it has taken me a long time to get my head around this. I’ve worked in a positive peer culture program, a more traditional treatment program, and in care (in Scotland). Each has advantages and disadvantages.

For my undergraduate degree, I studied political science and philosophy. I also took a smattering of psychology, but it wasn’t until more recently that I realized that it was the philosophy major that equipped me the most for the work. I was fortunate enough to have the option to take a dedicated MSc (in Advanced Residential Child Care) at the University of Strathclyde, and enjoyed it so much that I started to teach on the course in 2003. I now direct the course and teach on it (and on the MSc in Child and Youth Care Studies, by distance learning and the BA in Social Work), while also trying to juggle the demands of research and writing. I’ve never been good at juggling, but I keep getting opportunities to work on it.

How I came to be in this field

I thought I wanted to be a lawyer (hence the political science and philosophy). When I completed my undergraduate degree, I knew that I needed a couple of years of full time employment in order to grow up enough to manage law school. A friend helped me to get an interview at a residential treatment unit in which she was working. I swallowed the hook. It took me a while to realize this, however, as after 13 months in a crazy adolescent treatment unit, I left and ended up working as a health care coordinator for a time. It was during this time I realized that, despite the considerable demands, I missed the work at the treatment centre. More specifically, I missed the kids and the kinds of adults who want to work with them. So I decided the world didn’t need another lawyer, and I never looked back.

A favorite saying

'Truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing'. This simple, beautiful saying captures the complexity of how motivations and desires shape what is seen. I also use it to remind myself that, to a greater or lesser extent, my reality is my construct; the more I want something to be a certain way, the more that shapes what I see and how I see it. 

A few thoughts about child and youth care

I remember when I was in my twenties and full of enthusiasm about our work, telling the father of a colleague who was a decorated government official, that there is no more important work than the work we were doing (Child and Youth Care work). I told him this with absolute certainty and a bit of arrogance. When I think back on it now, I still have the certainty but cringe a little bit at the arrogance.

I have been fortunate, even in the face of doubts and disappointments, to consistently have a sense – deep in my being – of the value of this work. Being part of various communities of Child and Youth Care practice has helped to nurture it. I think it’s important for anyone who wants to make a long-term commitment to this field to find such communities, and CYC-Online is a prime example.

Last thing I read, watched, heard, which I would recommend to others

My strongest recommendation of a recent read would be How to be Both by Ali Smith. 

A favorite CYC experience

I met up with a former resident from my unit about a year after he left us. He had been working and was telling me about his job and the trouble he had been having with a co-worker. He was in the kind of job where shit rolls downhill and swearing at people is generally accepted – and he was at the bottom of that hill. Given his tender age, history in care and shy nature, he was probably seen as an easy target.

I wasn’t surprised when he told me how the crew leader was consistently disrespectful and verbally abusive towards him. I was surprised, however, when he recounted telling the crew leader, “when you can speak to me with respect, I’ll be happy to hear what you have to say but I’m not going to stand and listen to you when you’re being verbally abusive and disrespectful” (or something along those lines). According to the former resident, the co-worker’s jaw was hanging open and he didn’t know what to say. We had such a laugh about all of this.

All wasn’t perfect, as he was hauled into the supervisor’s office about the whole thing, but he did say the guys on the crew treated him a bit better after that, and most importantly, he retained his dignity through the whole thing. 

A few thoughts for those starting out

A recommended child and youth care reading link – the editorial for this issue (which is available on this link) is still brilliant! 

My favourite child and youth care-relevant link and why, of course! I also really like There’s lots of good stuff to be found here.

Finally, I find this Ted Talk extremely inspiring:

A writing of my own

Influences on my work

My parents, Mr. Doubt (primary school P.E. teacher), Mrs. Mitchell (6th grade teacher), Mr. Spang (high school teacher), Cathy Sandquist, Jen Wallace, Fiona Sheridan, Tae Kwondo, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Pema Chodron, Ram Dass, The Indigo Girls, Vedran Smailovic, Fritz Redl, Mark Smith, Andy Kendrick, Thom Garfat, Jim Anglin, Leon Fucher, Francis Ricks, Henry Maier, Jack Phelan, Varda Mann-Feder, Kim Snow, Martha Holden, Joan Tronto, Donald Winnicott, Isabel Menzies Lyth, Wilfred Bion, Gillian Ruch, Heather Piper, John Bowlby, Ray Land, Adrian Ward, Thomas J. Scheff, Ruth Emond, Autumn Roesch-Marsh and many, many others. 


Last updated October 2016

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