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Transfer of basic life skills - are CYCs adequately prepared?

2009

Hi there,
 
I'll be graduating next year and I was wondering if current child and youth care workers feel that young workers are being adequately prepared to transfer basic life skills to those in their care? I have observed from practice placements that many young workers are, for example, unable to make a proper meal or replace a light bulb.
 
Does this mean that young people leaving care are not being taught a necessary basic self care skill set to support them in independent living? Should basic life skills training, like cooking, etc, be re-introduced to our college curricula?
 
Would love to hear any ideas,
 
Thanks,
Aisling Malone
Ireland
...

This is a great question!, and I think speaks to the "evolution" of our profession, at an important time in that process. The short answer's are 1)probably not, except for maybe by their family of origins and 2)probably yes, and 3) yes.

 Here's the thing though, how many "Professions" do we know who have a curriculum component on "life skills", like cooking, or personal hygiene, or starting a bank account, or changing lightbulbs? Most "professions" would see themselves as above this. The example from my own work experience is that of the nursing "profession". Nurses used to come from community colleges, and were primarily concerned with bedside care, and the capacity to be with people in the most frightening, painful, and humiliating times of life. They were grossly overworked and underpaid and undervalued. They became frustrated, and mobilized and became a profession and now must have a university degree. This, I believe, has greatly affected the number and kind of people who go into the profession. If you spend lots of money and 4 years of your life in university program, you are much less likely to be willing to work shift for the next 20-25 years, and more likely to want to be in management, or at least have a day job. I understand this having worked 25 years of shift work, and in most ways I respect their achievements of increased status and wage and improved working condition.

Now we have some college diploma programs in Registered Practical Nursing; their more likely to do the shift work, and be there in the frightening, painful, humiliating times. They're also more likely to be overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. I see lots of parallels between their discipline and ours. I remember my first job in a group home; the CCWs lived in for 2 nights and 3 days on a 6 day rotation; we cooked the meals, did the laundry, helped kids figure out bus schedules, sat in on family therapy sessions, and tried to maintain some sense of order in the chaos that is any "in care" adolescent life. And we did it for almost $8,000 per annum. Within 10 months we all quit, but having learned first-hand some invaluable life and CYW work skills.

 I know that now most group homes are hiring people who aren't trained CYC. The system can't/won't afford us. Here's the rub though, I'm pretty sure there are just as many kids going into those group homes, and last year a couple of young people in a privately run training centre came to the hospital I work at, and were directed to talk to me. They were in an 8 month program that was training them to "work in the social service sector", and one of them thought he'd work in group homes. I have a great job, in a great setting, and I'm thankful for that, and I believe that becoming recognized as a profession is an honourable endeavour. I hope that in doing so we don't lose sight of who we are and how we've come to be this.
I believe in academic growth, but believe we must remember our life skills teachings, and how significant they are to the young people we come in contact with. Of late, I've been tidying up around the young women in the program I work in. They wonder if I'm a neat freak. I tell them it's and ancient child care technique called modelling, and that my hope is that they'll see me doing it enough times to learn something from it.
 
Thanks for the really cool question. I hope my answer is helpful.
 
Mike Wattie
Ottawa Ontario
...
 
It's a lifelong process.  No I don't think cooking should be re-introduced to meet this specific need, I think many colleges offer it as part of their liberal studies.  What we can introduce in my opinion is a little more course work on the psychology of working as a team, learning from each other and the principles behind mastery.
 
Alfonso Ramirez, Jr.
...
 
Hi Aisling,
 
In response to your question about adding basic life skills training into the curricula, I personally believe that not knowing how to make a meal, change a light bulb etc does not mean the youth are not being taught a necessary life skill. However, it is not impossible to believe that there are some cases where Child and Youth Care Workers are not teaching such skills because of lack of knowledge. If that is the case in some places with some workers that is unfortunate.
 
Additionally, I do not think these skills should be added to the curriculum because they can provide a meaningful pathway to communication and relationship building with a child or youth. What a great opportunity to learn something together with the child or youth. For me, I believe Child and Youth Care is journey, therefore participating in it, expecting the unknown, being flexible as plans may change along the way, or being creative and inclusive with the unknown can all lead/ contribute to the evolution of a relationship with a child or youth that is deeply therapeutic, real and connected.
 
Sincerely,
 
Vanessa Lalonde
...
 
I am grateful to my mother for  two things. That she taught me how to cook and how to iron sheets. The latter skill is now redundant although it did used to make the children feel cared for to have the main crease up the centre of the bed. Because I had always cooked I could have up to twenty children in the kitchen [whoops, health and safety] all doing their own thing and then bringing it all together in the end. Teaching children how to cook and look after themselves is fundamental and it need not be seen as a task. A few years ago I met a child in the street who I knew had been 'looked after' and he appeared half starved. His store cupboard was well stocked with canned food. But nobody had shown him how to use a tin-opener. As we become increasingly well qualified and highly educated, and professionally recognised let us not forget that our first duty is care. Preparation to live inter-dependently should begin on the day the child first comes to us. Thank you for making the point.
 
Yours,
David Pithers
...

Mike Wattie also teaches an amazing group class, with some amazing skills and tactics ... he knows what he is talking about most of time, thus reading his response I suggest you learn from it.

Georgina Thomson 
...

Hey Aisling,
 
I think that it would be an amazing idea to introduce life-skills training into the schools. I know that for me, I don't even know how to make a decent meal. I can make one or two things but when it comes to cooking I'll admit that I'm not that good. Although I must admit that I can replace a lightbulb. At the practicum I'm at we do meal prep with the kids and sometimes I don't know how to answer their questions on how long to cook things for or what temperature. The placement I'm at is all about teaching life skills to integrate them into (hopefully) independent living. It would be very difficult for a new employee to come into the program if they were not capable of doing basic life skills because then it would be impossible for the kids to learn if they themselves cannot complete the tasks. For the kids to be able to learn new skills the child care works need to be able to demonstrate them. I think it would be a really good idea to introduce a life skills class so that then we are prepared and capable to teach the kids not only what we learn in school to counsel them, but also to cook and clean and change lightbulbs.
 
Maggie Kerr
Calgary
...
 
I find it funny that you have "seen" some workers who can't even change a light bulb. I myself can cook and take care of the necessities of living daily, but I can understand where you are coming from... It would get preachy if all we did was say to do these things, but yet when it comes down to it, we can't even cook. Your point there is understood. :)
 
I agree that all people should know these essential skills for life, but I wouldn't go as far to say that colleges or universities need to have another course added to an already stressful curriculum. As a student, I sure as heck wouldn't want another course, especially one that seems rather silly to be taking in the first place. There are institutes out there for extensive cooking training if you are so worried about not being able to cook, but then again those types of programs are aimed at the hotel and tourism industry.
 
Fortunately, I am at a practicum placement where there are a more than a few people who can change a light bulb and on top of that "amazing" skill, cook food as well. Some people just aren't good at cooking, but there are other ways those types of people can compensate for their lack of "life skills". Ways like helping with the food prep, or even setting the tables are other ways a counselor can help, I have a few friends who can't cook at all, but I wouldn't say they don't have the skills to live life, they honestly do.
 
As for if that lack of life skill should be considered, yes it should, but not as far as adding another course to the curriculum. Most places, Like Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, are not even equipped to handle teaching cooking classes.
 
In my opinion, adding another class in life skills would be kind of belittling to college or university students as the education we are experiencing is a lot deeper than not being able to cook, or change a light bulb for that matter.
 
If it boiled down to it, this would be a matter for the placement to look into. If it was a supported independent living placement or a mentor home, then yes, I see that there should be something done in regards to the policy about the need to cook, especially when in a position to lead, especially when a youth is transitioning into adulthood. But just youth work alone, not so much...
 
Take care,
 
Ken Wildman
Calgary
...
 
Hi Aisling,
 
Your question has actually raised some ideas for me. I am currently in my second year of the Child and Youth Care Counsellor Diploma Program at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  I am doing my practicum at a residential safe house for pregnant and parenting teens and young women. It is a voluntary program and Life Skills are an integrated and extremely vital part of the program.  The girls are all enrolled in Life Skills Programs, either through their school or in the community.

There are also many volunteers that visit the house during the week to work with the girls on various skills such as cooking, parenting, breastfeeding, and self care.  Some of the young women in the program come from backgrounds where they may not possess certain skills that to a lot of people are seen as common sense or basic knowledge. Some of these skills may include doing laundry, dishes, cooking proper meals, hygiene, making a bed, etc.  I personally have been taught most of these skills by my mother.  However, something that I do not excel at is cooking. What is interesting about this is that at my practicum each girl is required to cook one night per week.  Some girls at my practicum are amazing cooks and others like me, are inexperienced in the subject.  I have learned a lot about cooking from the girls at my practicum. I think, had I taken a class through the university to learn cooking, I would have never had the opportunity to build relationships with the girls in that manner. I think it also gave them a sense of mastery and belonging.  It was a teachable moment for both the girls and myself. It both humbled me and gave the girls the sense that just because I am the professional, I am not "all-knowing".  Everyone comes from different walks of life. This includes both the Child and Youth Care Professionals and the clients.  I don't think it is necessary for students to have to take basic life skills courses before embarking into the field, unless this is an area of their education they think needs to be enhanced before working with clients.  I think that if a Child and Youth Care Worker is inexperienced in a certain life skill it is an opportunity for the professional and the child or youth to build a relationship through learning new things together or from teaching each other.  I am from a small town and I just want to say that when I am out with the girls and they are able to direct me around the city and teach me things I was unaware of before meeting them, I see them beam with pride. I hope that my thoughts are helpful to you.  This is just how I feel about the subject, and I am sure there are many different opinions out there!
 
All the best in your work as a Child and Youth Care Professional

 Casey K. Collinge
...

How many Youth Workers does it take to change a light bulb?
 
Clayton Ellis
...
 
I haven't heard anybody speak about NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming). I was exposed to it about 2 years ago and it is a philosophy involving very specific techniques that I believe would help a great number of youth that consider themselves to be victims. I would encourage all CYCs to explore NLP and see how it could help in the profession with the professionals as well as the people that are served by the industry.
 
I think developing the mind effectively is the most important component of building life skills
 
Manjit Virk
...

Thank you all for taking time to reply.
 
The cooking and changing a lightbulb were just some basic examples! As a student I am still trying to learn how to support, empower and help prepare young people in care so that when or if they do move on to independent living hopefully they can cope a bit better.
 
Many thanks again for your thoughts.
 
I have found this discussion very valuable,
 
Aisling Malone
_______

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