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Child and youth work as a profession

I am researching the area of child and youth care as a profession. In particular, I am looking for information on qualifications and pay structures and the lack of acknowledgement of the area as a profession. How professional are we?

Hi Claire,

You might want to read Gaughin & Gharabaghi (1999) in the Journal of Child and Youth Care 13(1) 1-18 or Jull (2000) also in the Journal 14(3) 79-88. You may also find Carol Stuart's (223) article in Relational Child and Youth Care Practice relevant.
Good Luck, Doug Estergaard

I'm writing to offer a slightly different take on the question of Child and Youth Care as a profession than you might get from some of the material you have been referred to already.

It is common for Child and Youth Care people and writing to claim that we are a profession, while at the same time talking about the need to do various things in order to become a profession. Thus, we have on the one hand numbers of articles and books in which we refer to ourselves as a profession, and many post-secondary education programs that like to tell their students that they are entering a profession.

On the other hand, we have countless, and apparently endless, efforts to professionalize Child and Youth Care: meetings to plan certification projects, attempts to lobby government to legislate us as a profession, discussions about the ways in which we lack professional power in relation to other supposedly "allied" professions that we work with.

One reason for this contradiction, I believe, is that all of the discourse and practice around the issue of "Child and Youth Care as a profession" is strikingly naive and unsophisticated from the perspective, say, of the sociology of work, occupations and professions, or from the viewpoint of social movement politics and identity formation. For the most part, so far, we just don't know what we are talking about when we talk about Child and Youth Care as a profession, or about Child and Youth Care becoming a profession.

You can search the Child and Youth Care literature in vain for a good treatment of the issue in which, for example, the historical trajectory of this form of work is studied in comparison to the professionalization efforts of social work or nursing, two roughly comparable professions. Likewise, you won't find anything that speaks in a serious and rigorous way to the social policy and political context in which we are claiming either to be or to be becoming a profession.

Further, if you examine the discourse that puts the claim that we are a profession forward consistently over the past few decades, you will find that it often originates from authors who have a powerful personal interest in promoting the idea that we are a profession, mainly academics (from other professions) who have secured positions in our post secondary programs. It's bad for business, and increasingly so as tuition rises faster than a rocket, to tell the young, hopeful students you hope to attract to your program that Child and Youth Care actually isn't and probably won't become a true profession in their lifetimes.

As well, Child and Youth Care education programs have failed us in this regard by not developing rigorous, scholarly studies on Child and Youth Care as a form of work, or as a 'developing' profession. Since most of the researchers in these programs are not people with Child and Youth Care education or much (if any) lived experience as a Child and Youth Care practitioners, this whole issue of Child and Youth Care as a profession has just never been something that concerned them (with some notable exceptions).

In fact, we have been failed by an older generation of Child and Youth Care "leaders" who consistently made this claim, but who failed to become sophisticated and daring enough in their analysis and political practice to make it come true. Why they continue to talk this way is mainly, I think, a testament to the ways in which older generations can become so self-congratulatory, self-enclosed and self-referential in their view of social reality, and so resistant to alternative viewpoints, that their fabrications become more real for them than reality. They even have a conference every year to get together to reinforce their illusory view of what Child and Youth Care is and where it fits in the world, and to congratulate each other for carrying on the fantasy for one more year, continuing to ensure that no real critical analysis gets surfaced and treated in serious ways.

All of this is not to say that Child and Youth Care people don't do wonderfully skilled, committed and caring work. Or that you can't get good jobs as a Child and Youth Care person. We do, and you can. As to whether we are a profession or not, however, this is a question that is so nuanced and complex that you simply won't find many truely useful answers.


Mike, gutsy letter Mike. I am not sure that I agree with you but I know that I do not disagree. We do tend to be a self congratulatory lot and more often than not define ourselves by what we are not as opposed to what we are. Also there tend to be a lot of folks out there who speak on behalf of the CYC field who are not from the field. I hope your letter provokes a storm of feedback. It is exactly what the field needs (as you well know)
Well done,

Bruce Hardy
Mike, I would like to see you extend your initial position here ... it sound's intriguing. So what is over the horizon that you are pointing at
Rick Kelly

I read Mike's reply to Claire with great interest. I am one of those academics who has attempted to throw my hat into the ring on this issue a couple of years ago (1998 in fact in the Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies and subsequently in North American journals). In any case, my argument has been that child and youth care in Ireland can best be seen as an emerging or emergent profession if we want to go down that road — and I'm no longer sure we should.

However, I might point to the work which describes child and youth care as a craft rather than a profession and I think there are some interesting nuggets for us to pick out on this one. Child and youth care has consistently looked outside to the external bodies and peers in social work and psychiatry to name but two ... for validation which infuriates me. Until we look inside, to ourselves, our own experiences we will always be considered second best by the more established professions.

Now to the colleges. Mike is right. There simply are not enough staff on course boards who are graduates of cyc programmes or have bought into a distinct child and youth care philosophy. This is entirely unpc to write but it is my experience. Until the colleges make a genuine commitment to cyc by appointing graduate staff we are on a no-winner.
Niall McElwee

I wonder if "the field" understands Professionalism. It seems there are several buzzwords tossed about. I think this is one. I firmly believe a good Child and Youth Care Professional can move into new situations whether within their agency or into another country and continue to be a good CYP. However there is no motivation for professional growth or contribution when there are no enforcable standards. Many of my 19 years in this field hve been reinforced by the clients of the past reconnecting in the present andnot by the enormous payscale or accolades of my peers. I believe however that there is a need for networking and cross training in as many circumstances as we can experience. This I believe is best served through events that have been facilitated through the academics of the field. If nothing else because they have the resources. Quite possibly we would be better served through ongoing and open debate than through the traditional style of workshop and inservice training. But the key here of course is a diverse representation from all facets of our field rather than a heavily represented segment.

Dan Suminski
A contribution to the debate re: professionalizing.

Mike, your comments are on track, but I curse the darkness only when I have a match. There are many powerful feminist critiques suggesting that child care work is still associated with, and devalued as, women's work (Oakley, 1994; Mayall, 1994, 2000) that have resonance with the kind of structural changes you allude to. Also, the agenda for social change that Marxists and feminists critique as missing from postmodernism may have some insight for a way forward (Atkinson, E., 2002, "The Responsible Anarchist: postmodernism and social change", British Journal of Sociology of Education 23[1]: 73-87).

Here's another excellent resource from the UK light years ahead of NA perspectives. I would encourage anyone involved in teaching/ professionalizing cyc students or themselves to get a copy of Peter Moss and Pat Petrie's (2002) From Children's Services to Children's Spaces - Public Policy, Children and Childhood. London: Routledge/Falmer. They discuss so many perspectives that would contribute much to shifting the medico-legal, modernist hegemony of NA child and youth care practice into the 21st century. One such nugget is adopting the European model of the social pedagogue which is more appropriate in my mind than becoming 'junior social workers' or worse, unconsciously applying DSM IV-R (or ICD-10) 'disordered thinking' solely in our work without understanding its culturally and historically located antecedents. Their notions are similar to Henry Giroux's idea of the 'cultural worker' (1999, Border Youth, Difference and Postmodern Education. In M. Castells, R. Flecha, P. Freire, H. A. Giroux, D. Macedo & P. Willis, Eds. 1999, pp. 93-115, Critical Education in the New Information Age. Boston: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.) advancing a Freierean style of 'radical democracy' through education.
In addition, these next 2 passages are from my PhD lit review arguing that cyc's adopt the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the framework to balance skewed and less generalisable childhood theories like Piaget's or Erikson's eg: those thinking locally and acting globally. At least the Convention has been adopted everywhere... (even in the US by the Missouri Supreme Court in August/03 to spare a man on death row who committed murder while he was a minor)...

"As with many postmodernists, Carlina Rinaldi (1999) also recognises that "childhood does not exist, we create it as a society, as a public subject. It is a social, political and historical construction" (cited in Moss and Petrie, 2002, p. 20).... ...Wyness (1999) declares that in spite of the shift towards localized and individualized provision of educational services, "the education system has singularly failed to redefine the pupil as agent" (p. 361). This kind of curricular 'tinkering around the edges' is reminiscent of Moss' (2002) modernist complaints that educational theory and pedagogy exemplifies the sort of authoritarian, rationalist and essentialising forces decried by postmodern theorists. In addition, Moss and Petrie (2002) argue that within children's services this sort of "incremental change avoids addressing questions of gender, the social value of the work and the true costs entailed". They contend this is "a sign of not wanting to think about work with children, and our understandings of the provisions in which that work is conducted, and the children using those provisions" (p. 146). They argue that European social pedagogy is appropriate for the children's spaces described in their text, the kind of pedagogy that aims at emancipation, not control. It looks to children, of all social groups, as citizens, exercising their citizenship in children's spaces, and beyond, engaged with each other and with adults in the ongoing transformation of society towards emancipatory ends (p. 147)...."
Happy professionalizing everyone,
Richard M. in Glasgow.

This business of professionalization has troubled me for some time. There are several reasons for this but a couple stand out in relation to Mike's post. It is important, I would argue, to think about how professionalization functions. In other words what is it designed to do.
It seems to me that the first thing it does is to separate us even further from the children and youth we serve. To become a formal discipline, a professional guild, even a craft implies that one has knowledge about an object or a set of skills which enables one to manipulate or transform that object. In our case, that object is children or youth. To become professional means that we would claim that we have a unique ability to do something to children and youth that other people cannot. Correspondingly, based on this claim, we would argue that we should be granted a certain status in society and recieve a certain level of monetary compensation for our skill. Now, of course this means we need to serve the society that grants us this status and pays us these fees. To do this we must show that we can control, discipline and shape the youth and children under our supervision to the ends of those who control the monetary rewards and social staus we seek. This means that our interests as a professional class must correspond to a large degree with those from whom we gain such status. Clearly such status is not granted by the children and youth we serve, but another group entirely.
It would seem obvious to me that this latter group (those who hold the money and social status) may not have the same political or social agendas as the young people we work with. In fact, based on recent history, one could argue that those in charge of money and privelege have not provided well for children and youth. Whether this indicates callous disregard or simply ignorance is a more complicated discussion.
If by professionalization we hope to better our lot financially, I would argue that we should be cautious about doing this within our status as adults. I would propose that we, instead, forge alliances with the young people we serve. That would mean recognizing that under the current sytem of global capitalism young people and child and youth care workers share many of the same risks and financial conditions. I would propose that we advance the field not by professionalizing but by forming political union with young people so that we simultaneously promote our joint interests. To put this more bluntlyit would mean working with young people to form joint unions to advocate for the entire field of child and youth care--not just the adults. There is much more to be said here but that's probably enough for now.

On a separate but related note--another troubling aspect in defining the field of child and youth care is the disconnect between child and youth studies and child and youth care. I would propose that there is a lost opportunity here if these fields do not begin a much needed dialogue.
Hans Skott-Myhre

I was going to let this go by, but it's too tempting. So here's my response:
First of all, it's really important for us to continue to think about the issues in professionalization as Mike Burnett as pointed them out — even though I think considerable work has been done over the years since 1980 or so to do this — I've worked and written on it (both in "child and youth care and in early childhood care and education; and so have such people as Carol Kelly, Mark Krueger, Jerry Beker, Herb Barnes, and Zvi Eisikovits.
There has been a look at child and youth work from the sociological perspective of a profession. I wrote a paper on it for the Conference Research Sequence in Child Care Education in about 1980. That considered where the 'field' was in reference to standard criteria such as controlled entry into the field, public demand, standardized curriculum focused on practice, esoteric knowledge base, external standards that are monitored, for pracctice; and code of ethics.
Continuing these kinds of analyses over the years, another more depthful consideration of the 'field's' place as a 'profession' was in 1992, in a paper on "Developmental Care in the Life Span". (Journal of Child and Youth Care, 7(4) This does compare the knowledge and practice of child and youth care as defined then (through review of a number of descriptions) with its relationship to nursing and social work.
Seminal in thinking about professions and shaping my thinking at the time was the work of the sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who described the notion of the "semi-profession". "The semi- professions and their organization". Unlike law, medicine, architecture and engineering, the semi profession is: female dominated; to move 'upwards' into greater responsibility requires moving sequentially away from direct client service, and is not always practiced independently (as I recall) — that is, that direct practitioners needed to be supervised.
My take at the time was that child and youth care was an "emergent" semi- profession. Why ? Because it was age-specific and at the time, client and setting specific (being more oriented towards exceptional children and youth in residential and group settings). In order to become a semi-profession we would need to have career paths that would enable supervisors, administrators and the like to come from WITHIN THE FIELD and also a career path that would lead to direct practitioners able to do increasingly advanced and responsible direct work — as more experienced doctors don't all become administrators, but rather specialists or experts that can work on the most complex cases. This yielded some conceptualizations of double tiered career progression models in child and youth work that I called both "direct" and "indirect" paths and these were in several child and youth care publications.

Following this then was the notion to me that if child and youth care were to become a profession, then it needed to focus on the nature of the work, rather than the client group or the setting. My analyses and studies showed me that no 'full' profession was age and category group, or setting specific.
Thus the work on "developmental care" (another name for it) it "in the life span" - and that if we focused on the nature of the work, it was distinct from that done by any other field or profession including nursing, education and social work (comparison was done) - although there were overlapping functions. This was seen as a good thing, a bit of shared function while enabling each field to do something very distinctive.
My analyses and studies showed me that no 'full' profession was age and category group, or setting specific. Other analyses (this article is full of charts and grids) showed that there are many parallels between the work of child and youth care, early childhood care and education, and care of the elderly, in nature of the work, function and structure of settings in which it is performed, personnel preparation, etc. There was also discussion of policy and political implications, e.g. this 'professionalization' would be more costly but would also give a much larger and powerful constituent base.

Thus to me the 'royal road' to becoming a 'full' human service profession is the life-span route.
I also proposed in this article and in one in the early childhood literature (which has a huge one on many facets of the "profession" issue) the notion of a "contextual" profession - that incorporated some of the notions of a "traditional" profession into the notion of a more flexible, practiced- in- situ field, and that child and youth care, as it made connections with other fields that did the same kind of work, could pioneer this transformed concept of a profession while still striving for some of the position and recognition that still seem necessary.
So here's another opinion now —
Yes, I agree with Mike, child and youth care is not a profession (neither is early childhood education although it is much larger and better organized)
That 'become a profession' is a good route to go in that there is a precedent that can lend a guiding structure.
That we just keep going with many of the things that have been done already in the name of professionalizing.
We can use the past but take initiative to pave the future.
As to the issue of identity and some of the current professionalization activities that Mike mentioned in the e-mail, this is enough for this one if anyone has gotten this far ! Just a bit more on these in another one.

Karen VanderVen
... and in a follow-up message from Karen:

More- on identity and current activities...
Some years ago I got interested in 'dynamical systems theory' as a lens through which to look at some of these issues. As a result, for the issue of developing a profession through connecting fields relating little to each other formally but doing the exact same kind of work I proposed a five phase model that has to do with how identities are formed in individual entities and then go through a process of reshaping their boundaries and (boundaries is a dynamical systems issue) being reconfigured as a larger entity that continues to grow.

The first phase means that an entity consolidate its identity and define itself. Two entitities need to be well articulated with boundaries, before those entities can redraw them.
This is the phase I think we're in now. We are doing (and need to keep on doing) all of those things that occupational groups, whether they're professions or not, do to establish themselves. Journals, conferences, certification programs, whatever. As these continue to claim territory so to speak, then there will be readiness to make connections to similar processes in related fields and continue to build — and build strength.
There's another dynamical systems notion that's relevant — 'sensitive dependence on initial conditions' — this means that a small action can have a ripple effect over time and end up with a major outcome. It's this notion that I hope we'll bear in mind with any activity that we consider . It means — DO IT ! RIGHT ON with our "profession building" and outreach activities ! This DEFINITELY includes the North American Competency Project ,the Certification Project, the journals and conferences, training and education activities, and CYC-Net. As these are done, they generate energy, gain some attention, build bridges, engage people and continue the forward process going. Even if things go by fits and starts, OVER TIME we are evolving as a dynamical system, entraining new people and groups, getting ever more complex — and effective.

I do think it would be good to have a somewhat more formal conceptual framework to situate and guide these efforts. But perhaps that will come.

Something tweaked my interest as I read Richard Mitchell's comments about CYC's becoming professionals. He quoted Carlina Rinaldi as having said:
"childhood does not exist, we create it as a society, as a public subject. It is a social, political and historical construction."

I wonder if that creates a cerebral point of tension..
If we dismiss "childhood" as a social construct, who does that leave to raise the children? Who gets to teach them to be men, women, parents, and leaders in the 21st century? You? Do we let children raise themselves? Do we want a feral community lead by feral children?
I think most people who are not intoxicated by the rarified atmosphere of postmodernist academia would rather raise their kids by some absolutes like love, trustworthyness, truthfulness, and the golden rule etc. Without consensus about some fundamental values, we wind up in the hell of "The Responsible Anarchist". The last people who would enjoy such a world would be the very ones who worked so hard to create it. They would prefer a world where everyone else had values except them!
This puts us CYC's in the difficult position of deciding whose values to pass on to the kids in our care. Our own? Or do we nail down a "once and for all" consensus of values to impart to the next generation? That would be tougher than uniting the U.N. We could surely call ourselves a profession if we pulled that off! Perhaps we cradle rockers should rule the world! But why curse the darkness if we have match?
Patrick Gillen

Thanks to Hans Skott Myhre for keeping it simple for me... I agree that regardless of whether we follow a model of relativism, absolutism, or anything else... it will still be a social construct. My question is "whose?" I suppose I worry that if we give up on "consensus" because it is such a difficult target to hit, we may fall into the other abyss. If we assume that children are naturally bent on good if only we pedagogues would stay out of their way, is to ignore history. Rousseau believed that humans are inherently good, yet his devotees like Robespierre, Pol Pot, Hitler, Marx, and either Stalin or Lenin [I forget which] are responsible for atrocities like the guillotine's slaughter of the aristocracy, the creation of a 'superior' race, the slaughter of an 'inferior' race, and death or gulag for those who disagree or even ask for clarity. I favor the Golden Rule as a starting point. [Or perhaps Kant's Categorical Imperative for the Jesus-phobes] Is not professionalism about having some consensus at least about a starting point?
Patrick Gillen

Its seems right that I should take the bait and crawl out of my self-congratulatory, self-enclosed and self-referential hole to participate in what may become a good debate regarding putting the profession into child and youth care work. As someone who participates in the child and youth care association movement and those annual, tri-, biannual conferences, that extend the fantasy, I have to express some alarm at the dismissive salvos fired over the Rockies here in this letter. Mike, I think you wonderfully capture the brio of a freshman hot-head out to banish the past, dismiss the present and put a damper on the future. My guess is if a person with these attitudes entered this profession, he or she would quickly flame out by the two year mark, as so many do. And yet, you nicely hit upon the contradictions and themes of the moment but perhaps lack the patience to see them develop.
I did not have a choice in viewing this as a profession. My first supervisor and mentor held fast to the view that child and youth care was an emerging profession and expected his team to act accordingly, twenty-four seven. At that time, the folks coming into the profession had their life experience, usually a degree and a lot of idealism to work off. Relative to sister professions at the time, child and youth care work compensation was in the ball park with nurses, teachers and even politicians. Now while a definite lag has taken place in that department, it is the case that generally, this profession offers decent compensation and generally, benefits are equally decent. The tough part is that there are times, sometimes a string of those times when it is all too easy to tell yourself no one can ever be paid enough to do this kind of work.
Also generally, few approach child and youth care practice as a profession. The concept of apprenticeship or internship is lost in our fast track training economy. As noted, many do not make it to the second year, let alone the fifth or sixth it can take to have a true understanding of the demands of practice. I also regret in part, the investment many are making in specific education for child and youth care work knowing the real crucible of the line demands qualities of character, commitment and passion that perhaps cannot be taught. Few who practice, it seems have the time nor inclination to profess as such, and often leave the person to find their own way through the demands and challenges of the front line.
Still, there is a definite place for education as it eases and promotes the professional process and of course, remains essential to its ongoing development. Educators have been at the forefront of the profession’s movement and will always have a prominent place. Practitioners are increasingly taking on the essential task of sharing their experiences from the front lines as well, something many who attend those fantasies every few years crave for and deserve. That such a fantasy has gone on now for over thirty years says something about a shared reality extending over time and with constant renewal.
It may be the case that the young people coming up do not have the patience to respect the past, appreciate the efforts those before them made, or even appreciate the efforts they must make before they can lay claim to being a professional. Often, it is a realization which emerges after several years in the profession and with a few changes in employment situation and/or status. The practitioner realizes he or she has a certain set of skills and an outlook that is unique and transferable to new situations. That this realizing process cannot extend to the level of social recognition, status, standards and so forth is a question this writer continues to ponder. It could be the demands of the work which often hardly allows time for family let alone professional development. It could be the uniquely individual syndrome that weaves its way through the child and youth care experience that prevents or hampers collective will. Your letter certainly demonstrates an aspect of that syndrome and the roadblocks that come to be created.
The young should and can be told they can become professional child and youth care practitioners certainly within their lifetimes and definitely within a decade or so of practice. They can be told undertaking specific educational study of the field is a definite plus but not an automatic pass into professionalism. That will come with time and practice but it will come. Also, that when it does not to expect too much beyond a decent living and a few words of appreciation now and then from those who made it as persons, parents and citizens who could now look back in amazement at how messed up things were for them and what they put you through. Its more than just a subject, it can be life itself.
Garth Goodwin

Hello everyone:
I just wanted to comment on Mike's email. Bruce identified the email as a gutsy letter. I am not sure I agree. Mike you have written before (changes in BC supports systems) and I find reading your info that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by your intense and definite statements, they cause me to react but then cause me to react to the intensity of the emotion behind the idea. Your ideas are important but your manner, in the long run, takes away from the idea.
I have once more found myself considering your words and felt agreement with some and reaction to others. First the reaction. I think that your statements are somewhat arrogant in that you paint all others that are not TRUE CYC people with the same tar brush. I appreciate others such as Henry Maier, Fritz Redl, Gerry Fewster, Jim Anglin and Martha Mattingly that have worked hard with a constant belief that CYC practice is a unique PROFESSION. I do not know why you need to aggressively shout the message of difference as I find the profession of cyc to be one of inclusion rather than exclusion, unlike other professions. A critical voice is a powerful voice a spiteful (maybe to strong) voice ends dialog and moves people to positions. Mike critique, critique, critique but don't let your frustration and anger (guess, sorry if wrong) over power your ideas.
So here is where I need you to clarify things for me. You said that the older generation has failed! (How?) You said they have not been sophisticated and daring enough in their analysis and political practice to make it (professionalism?) come true! What needs to be done? How can it be accomplished? and what are you doing? How would you build an education program? How many CYC practitioners would be educators and/or what other disciplines are OK? What points are the older generation resistant to?
I have found your writing provocative and useful but also very disrespectful, I own that. I look forward to hearing your answers to my questions and hope that I have not slapped you with disrespect as that would be....
Claire wow! I bet you never guessed that your question would provide such interesting dialog. My answer to how professional are we? I believe we are as professional as we want to be. We first have to move forward within ourselves, find our voice as people practicing amongst chaos and struggle. A professional is curious, influential, caring about self and others, listens with the heart and the head and relates that to knowledge. A professional asks questions and does not walk away from the answers. A professional works hard to speak for those that can not speak for themselves. A professional asks "Am I a Professional" and deals with the answer. A professional works in politics, education, community and peer environments to secure the profession with certification and ethical standards. A professional builds a profession over time one relationship at a time.

Thanks Mike.
Mark Littlefield

In regards to Patrick's thoughtful post of a few days ago. Thanks for acknowledging what I consider to be a central point in this business of professionalization. He states that any model we follow is a social construction but the real question is whose? For me this is where issues of power and privilege really come into play. The control, discipline, coercion, resistance and struggle involved in setting the dominant social constructions in any field have huge implications. In our field many of the dominant social constructions are set by professional disciplines with deep roots in the colonial structures and ideologies of Europe and North America. That includes beliefs about rationality, progress, maturity, productivity etc. which favor certain groups of people over others (adults over children for example). The battle over whose social constructions are allowed to form certain kinds of social relations, identities (gender, sexuality, race etc.) economic relations, class relations etc. takes place on a daily basis in our programs and policies. As Patrick pointed out in a more recent post these social constructions with their ability to include and exclude, marginalize and disenfranchise have had significant impacts on the DSM II, III and IV where one can watch the struggle over the rights of GLBT folks to claim an identity outside of the realm psychiatric pathology. There we have seen the social construction within the discipline shift from homosexuality as psychopathology to the more recent struggles in the APA over how deeply to censure and debunk their fellow professionals who offer reparative therapy to turn gay folks straight. Quite a journey indeed.
It is consensus that actually allows this sort of nonsense to take place. And it is only through contestation and struggle that such consensus is broken and new recognitions of people's abilities to produce themselves outside domination become possible. In her in depth examination of the notion of consensus and its dangers Nancy Fraser points out that consensus began with the desires and needs of the middle class and has seldom benefited those who, due to race, gender, sexuality or class reside outside the dominant ruling structures of capitalist society. She makes a nice argument for sustaining true democratic societies by breaking consensus continually. For myself, one of the reasons I oppose professionalism for our field is that it does require consensus on a number of very important issues that I think would benefit from ongoing struggle. One might argue that the example of the psychiatric community and the gay community shows that consensus is mutable and responsive; that it can remedy the wrongs it commits by an evolving consensus. I would argue that professional fields such as psychiatry, psychology, social work etc. exercise profound dominant force and that this force causes much hardship and damage when the truths they support prove wrong. How many suicides, homicides, depression and misery was caused by the psychiatric diagnosis of homosexuality as a pathology? How many such truths will we support as a profession--if we become one?
Finally--Patrick was concerned that I was suggesting we follow Rousseau in seeing children as naturally bent on good. I was not, in fact, suggesting that. Although I would have to say that Patrick's assertion that following Rousseau leads to fascism and genocide seems a bit over the top. After all poor Rousseau was also rather influential in the development of developmental psychology, modern democracy and modern education among other things. A bit like Jesus there--I personally don't want to hold Jesus accountable for some of the things his devotees have managed to accomplish. What I was proposing was that adults do not, in fact, have any moral superiority to children and -- not due to any intrinsic quality, but due to sheer power and force--have a rather poor history of moral behavior. In that respect I was arguing that characterizing children as verging on feral unless controlled by adults seemed to give adults too much credit.

I will have to leave Patrick's conflation of Kant and the golden rule to another time. Seems a bit of a stretch. Nice piece on the issue of the categorical imperative and its problematic relationship to the social construction of childhood in Tamar Shapiro's writings on ethics.
Hans Skott-Myhre

I am a youth care practitioner from Wisconsin. I have been in the field for 13 years and work directly with youth 40 plus hours a week. I have thought hard about what mburnett had to say as well as all the others who wrote opinions about youth work as a profession.

I agree with some and don't agree with others. I don't agree with mburnetts assessment of the field or of the people whom he states are basically living in some fantasy land. There are individuals working very hard to set standards for the field (all over the world), write and implement ethical guidelines and develop certifications based on competencies.
It is endless (Mike Burnett was right about that) The process is forever changing.
I've heard it all before, someone sitting on the sidelines who would rather look at what is wrong with a situation rather than what are the positives and what they could do to help. That is OK - I am, as a friend of mine recently stated, "at peace with that". I choose to be a part of the development of my chosen profession and that is, simply working with children and creating ways to do and approach my job better. I'm glad we put out differing opinions, they are all very meaningful. When people write like mburnett did, it just gets me pumped up and regenerated. I don't know how gutsy it is.
The real question is how can? and what can? we do to make it better for the kids we serve.
Is what we do a profession? As Heather wrote, some parts of what we are is a profession and some are not. I think that because of the dedication of those who came before, we are a heck of a lot closer than we ever have been. We are doing a job that traditionally (in societies minds) anyone can do, I don't know if that is true. I certainly have met individuals that (for whatever reason) could not do this job. I do believe that people can be taught how to become good youth practitioners. That will take a system that welcomes new youth care workers and mentors them along till they can be called a professional. That system has not been fully developed and might not be for a while, but that does not take away from my ethical duty to promote the field and to assist in the development of the field.
What is in the kids best interest (in my opinion), is to have competent youth care practitioners be able to work with children on a consistent basis within a system that allows for that to take place, that are supported by their agency or organization, follow a set of ethical standards, have professional certifications and degrees, have a set of competencies to guide and a career ladder to follow.
This is all occurring. I think mburnett missed that at the last meeting.
I have been blessed to have met a group of people who have taught me how to be a real professional over the past ten years. My leaders have not failed me. So I hope to see everyone at the next conference so that we can continue the path were on.
Jeff Kreeb
I have a question about the professionalization of our work. I work as a youth programs director for a support group for lgbt youth in Charlotte, NC. I have been at this position for two months and was a volunteer for a year and a half prior to be asked to fill this position when the other fella was moving on to other things.
My question revolves around ethics and guidelines of this work. We run a Support Group every week for youth ages 13-23 to voluntarily come to and talk about various pre-chosen or open discussion topics. We also provide drop-in support any time our doors are open, emergency housing, mentoring, and social events. We are not a counseling service- though we do make referrals to counselers and therapists for many of our youth. None of our paid staff (2) including me, are lisencesed social workers or therapists, though we have several on our Board and others who are availbale for supervision. However, our director is a dynamic force of a woman who founded our organization thirteen uears ago to provide support and advocacy to Charlotte's gay youth (a daunting task in the southern US Bible Belt where it is still to this day illegal to talk openly about sexuality in the schools). Our decisons are, by the very nature of the culture of the South, potentially litigious or at least socially unique. Affirming gay youth In North Carolina is still a political act and our ability to garner consistent public support and funding is a refelcetion of the climate that we work in.
However, that is all contextual. The question is more immediate to the idea of the professionalization of a grassroots organization like ours. We have new volunteers who are coming from masters of social work, clinical and licesenced backgrounds and agencies. One group of volunteers have drafted a "Volunteer Code Of Ethics" that formally mandates the "wills and wonts" of volunteer behavior. Statements such as, "[volunteers] will maintain professional boundaries during all inteactions with participants and volunteers" and, "[volunteers] are highly encouraged to structure relationships through formal mentor or other programming activities," appear to me and the Executive Diretor to conflict with our mission of providing support to lgbt youth becasue it creates too strucutred a boundary between youth and adult relationship building.

As a new employee of a grassroots youth serving organization and a graduate of a B.S. Youth Studies program, and a youthcare worker I tremble at the limitations that the language and intent of such behavioral contracts create.
Here is my question:
Is this type of contract and character of volunteer the product of professionalization of our youth care industry? Is the formalizing of programming guidelines that dictate and mandate behavior boundaries done for the safety of the youth? Or is it the safety of the adult? It seems to me that this type of contract comes from a place of fear of trusting volunteers to maintain healthy boundaries and to regulate relationships so as to minimize risk of getting "too close" to a youth. Gerry Fewster's book, Being In Child Care seems to refute this move towards boundary maintenance along "Professional expectations." Is this the nature and trajectory of Social Work practice and how will it impact/ erase what we do as youth care workers? Or should/ can we admit such formalization of behavior of volunteers as a means for safeguarding our careers and agencies, articulating boundaries, but when necessary for the integrity of the relationship between the youth and adult, to cross those boundaries? Or is it worse to state a boundary and then cross it than to never make that boundary in the first place? Are these boundaries necessary for creating "safety" for youth care workers? Is being "safe" an impediment to the type of work that we want to be doing?
Just a bit torn up about all of this.
Peter DeLong

Thanks to Hans for a thoughtful response.
If we work towards professionalisation and a starting consensus, we are faced with the problem of determining what that starting point will be. The usual consensus of a group often represents the values of the middle group [the socio-political mean], since they have got the greatest numbers. That phenomenon is sometimes called the "tyranny of the masses". That same middle group often alienates the fringes. They can be dangerous because it is very possible for them to believe something that is incorrect, and censor those who disagree. The middle group, for instance, rejected Galileo's assertion that the Earth orbits around the Sun, and ridiculed him into submission. My previous drivellings about Rouseau were about times when the middle groups literally killed the fringe groups [the Gulags, killing fields, and the guillotines etc]. If you think that's "over the top", you need to open your eyes to what the 'fringes' are showing you.

Abraham Lincoln said: "In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions."
Now that I think about it some more, another possibility emerges... Instead of starting off with a "prime directive" like the golden rule, perhaps we ought to start off with a commitment to apply the principles of solid science to our proceedings. Surely we must have enough resources, even within this web-group, to set forth the "rules of engagement"?

Patrick Gillen

PS- Hans, when you use the example of turning "gay folks straight", as "nonsense", I find it hard to imagine that you have actually read their accounts. Try for starters, or find the NARTH website.
PPS- The earth appears to orbit the Sun, but hard science professionals assert that they both orbit around each other.

Hi everyone
This has been a very interesting conversation about Child and Youth Care as a profession. I'm really quite preoccupied with some other things right now, but I will be responding at length to some of what has been said.
One thing that strikes me as interesting is that in response to my admittedly provocative post, I've heard a lot of dismissal, rejection, and defensiveness, while no one except Mark Kelly has thought to ask, "what did you mean".
Were I the arrogant, freshman whiner that some seem to have accused me of being, I might just say, "argument demonstrated by the nature of the responses", and leave it at that. As a messenger from the margins, it's good when people try to understand what you are saying before they open fire. But, have it as you will, and I will respond in more depth soon, when I have the time.
Mike Burnett




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