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Development of professional practitioners?

2017

Hi All,

I'm writing a doctorate dissertation through the Dept of Work Based Learning at the University of Middlesex. The working title is "The Development of a Professional Practitioner: Situating Selected Public Works in the Context of Child Care Social Work as a Vocation. A heuristic inquiry at and about the latter stages of a career". Heuristic derives from the Greek word heursikein and means 'to discover'.

I am in the latter stage of a career. Not about to finish but definitely at the latter stage. The work is a highly personal reflection for 40 years. I'm inviting comment from CYC no matter at what stage of career you are at. My question is:

What does the phrase 'latter stage' or 'vocation' mean to you?

Thank you.

Johnnie Gibson
Ireland
...

I am in my 29th year work as a CYC so I do see myself in the latter stages of my career and for me that means retiring from an organization and moving onto private work at a pace that works for me as I am getting older.

You ask about vocation and for me it is exactly that, it is more than a job, as it also connects to values and beliefs. Should cyc practitioners be afforded a legislated act that identifies and acknowledges the uniqueness of the competencies and skill sets necessary to be effective in the role absolutely. The young people who are cared for by CYCs deserve and a regulated body would help achieve that.

James Hartley
...

Hi James,

Thanks for taking time to reply. You have encouraged me. Yes I have many years service as well. I went into private practice about 20 years back and still enjoy it immensely. I imagine that when the time comes to stop that will not be easy so preparation now is important. In looking back I see huge changes. When I set out the way group homes were organised provided good quality care – that is – in terms of routines and physical care. At least there was a sense of order. But, the care was uninformed. Nowadays there is a mass of knowledge but the sense of order in many group homes is gone. There not many shining lights to inspire good practice in group care – many of those lights have gone out – so a part of me despairs for the future of group care – but there is also hope. I see that mostly in the knowledge base that is available now. I’m just not sure that in Europe – where I am – that there is the political will to make it work. Like you, my work has always been more than a job – the value base of respect and curiosity is or has become part of life. So ‘latter stage’ to me means preparing to end and finding ways to hand on the baton.

Johnnie

Hi Johnnie,

So far I’ve got all of you beat at 53 years. Ha. Although I am officially retired, you can tell by the fact that I’m responding to your email that my “vocation” continues. I’m thinking I will never quite disengage from our work, although like you I feel very discouraged by our lack of “progress” in my lifetime. While it is true that we have many more professional resources than when I started, I agree with you that the “will” to professionalize has never been there and still isn’t. Minimal training is still required in most facilities. Turnover continues at a pace that can only harm our clients in terms of lack of stability in their caregivers and the inability to predict who will be there for them. I also agree that while our knowledge has increased at a rapid pace, especially in terms of understanding the impact of childhood trauma, this knowledge rarely translates into practice of care in most facilities. This burdens my heart as I head into decreased involvement and the inability to provide much influence. Fortunately for us, “latter stage” still allows some degree of contribution in terms of writing and other things the “elderly” can do. I miss contact with the young people and I miss interacting with CYC practitioners who put their head and heart into the work, but I am able to feel somewhat still “engaged” by keeping up with CYC-Online and knowing there are still many fine people trying to give our children/teens what they deserve. I wish you well.

Lorraine Fox

So, Johnnie,

Let me slip in here just behind Lorraine with my 45+ years and comment.

First let me say that I am pleased you used 'latter stage' rather than 'end of career' which is what most folks may expect from us old folks :)

To me latter stage means things like:

1. Still staying engaged but to a lesser extent.
2. Passing things along as I have done with CYC-Net, RCYCP, etc., so the 'next generation' can be in charge.
3. Still being engaged with training and talks (limited now), writing (also limited) and networking, connecting people, etc.
4. Supporting the 'next gen' to live their passion for the field.

Like Lorraine, I suspect I shall never be 'finished' with this field - love it too much - and the people one encounters - kids, families, workers, are amazing.

Is it a 'vocation'? From what I read of the word, I guess I would say yes - but me, and many others I know, tend to call it a passion. But in the sense that vocation means 'something that fits' then, for sure.

I cannot ever imagine quitting - not because it is my belief that I can change the world - or even make the 'profession' grow a little - but because the CYC way is a part of my life and how I define myself - there have been numerous opportunities to define myself differently - psychologist, doctor, expert in child treatment, but none of them fit as well as the phrase "I am a CYC practitioner".

Thom Garfat

Just wanted to say that I went to a seminar Loraine Fox gave and I have never forgotten it. I've been working in this field for 20 years and know you can always learn from others experience.

Audrey

Johnnie I will step in to also have a say; being a practitioner, like you, for forty years in the field.

One of the places I would say has become common, in the latter part of my practice, is that I have come to recognize that CYC is a stance that I bring to any job that I am doing. Whether I am presenting a workshop, teaching a class or doing clinical supervision I come from the same values as I do when I am working with clients. For example I am always working to be relational, to be aware of the developmental stages, both in life and in the career of the people I am working with.

I also work hard to hold people as capable and this has what I believe has become most challenged in my years in the field. My belief is that in inviting people to bring their mental health issues out of the closet we have brought them to the middle of the living room. This has been greatly aided by the big pharmaceutical companies and thus it is a sense of a much less healthy world in which, in my world, everyone seems to have a label; and many seem to even treasure their label and the meds it may bring with it.

I recently created a workshop called “The three R’s to Helping – Relationship, Responsibility and Resiliency.’ This was one of the ways I work to bring in the wisdom that has been gained from the experience of working in the field, rather than relying on the many theories that would be out there. For me the only true way to empowerment is when I take responsibility for all of who I am and continually work to increase my capacity. This is also how I bring resiliency to all the work that I do as I still believe that I have truly done great work even when the other no longer needs me.

So in my latter years I strive to bring some practical wisdom to the table. I am working to do this through my teaching, my workshops, becoming more political, my actual practice demonstrations and slowly (honest Thom) through writing.

Sure we could call this a vocation. However, like Thom, I do not ever see myself fully retiring. This is what I do and such a large part of who I am that it is almost like a calling. I consider myself so blessed that I have found a field where I absolutely belong and thus a field from which I never fully intend to disconnect.

Janet


Hello Lorraine and Thom

Thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt replies – seems like we share convergent thought streams. I never gave much thought to my ‘latter stage of career’ until the time arrive. When younger, e.g. in my 20s, I do recall thinking my 60s are a long way off. Suddenly, I’m in the middle of that decade and wonder where the time went! I never contemplated latter stage in terms of career. It is such an exciting time to be involved with all the developing knowledge about trauma and attachment etc. Yet, so much child care practice is still instinctively informed by behaviorist thinking - and poorly formulated at that! Not that I’m a subscriber to that perspective at all. I’d be really interested to hear from some of younger colleagues on reactions to the idea of ‘vocation’ and ‘latter stage’.

Hi Audrey – sounds like Lorraine Fox made an impression on you. Great.

Johnnie

Hi Johnnie,

I guess am nearing the finishing line in respect of working for my pension but I am still actively enjoying teaching the younger generation and hopefully highlighting the oppressive forces both intentional and unintended that conspire to set back the progress made in my lifetime.

For me residential/group care has been a vocation and a passion. I always enjoy going into to fresh spaces when my students are on placement and checking in with my ‘worker’ senses to get a feel for if this is a benign nurturing setting or a controlling and functional one. Sadly the latter still proliferate; run to meet external regulation, offering little professional autonomy for staff, suspicious of relationships, focussed on outcomes that bear little relationship to happiness, creativity, daring to dream and having fun.

I am at this point seriously concerned that the fiction of austerity coupled with a backlash against human rights is slowly throttling much of the good work that is being done. The most concerning aspect is that we are training people to self-censure and comply to the risk averse myth that destroys the possibilities for growth in so many of us.

The old punk in me wants to rage but I have learned over the years just how adept the forces of surveillance and control are at presenting any critique informed by experience, practice wisdom and the evidence as lefty whinging, nanny statism and all the other negative stereotypes the right wing media trot out.

So in answer to your question I am at the raging or slipping quietly into the shadows stage of my latter stage career.

I feel it is a vocation as long as your life has been one of opposition to most of the orthodoxies. If not you have been an apparatchik (one of my favourite words that always deserves a wider audience).

Good luck with your work.

Peace,

Jeremy Millar

Hello,

Like Audrey, I had the pleasure of attending a Child and Youth Conference at Mount Saint Vincent University, where Lorraine was speaking and she made a lasting impression. I remember thinking she was genuine, funny, passionate and spoke of real issues experienced by CYC-P on the floor. Always happy to read your contributions.

I have just about reached my twenty-fifth year as a CYC-P and have been in transition of late. I worked the floor as a residential youth care worker for twenty years and due to mental health symptoms (burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma) transitioned into instructing an introductory Child and Youth Program, which I loved, but the values of the institution did not mesh with best practices so I moved on to another institution supervising Child and Youth Study students in their practicums, on a contract basis. These opportunities made me realize the importance of social and emotional intelligence development for youth and adults alike which led me to start my own business, Pick Empowerment.

I still have the opportunity to work with youth in my new role, as well as, adults. The skills I have developed through CYC experience and education are transferable to many contexts and I still identify myself as a CYC-P. I do believe that CYC is a way of being in relationship with, "little or big people," all have needs to be met to live a fulfilling life. As I move into my later years, of my professional career, I believe flexibility will be a social and emotional intelligence competency that will assist me to further develop my calling, allowing me to embrace, "helping" others in various forms.

Be well!

Charlene Pickrem

Thank you for the kind words Charlene. I hope to keep contributing – as long as I remember how to spell – by writing and I’m going to get better at posting things for downloading on my website. Refreshing to be hearing from so many “old timers”.

Lorraine


Hi Charlene and Jeremy

Thanks both for your replies. Yes Charlene, I too had a ‘bump on the road’ and met burnout. I recovered and detoured into staff development/learning/education. At heart I function best when facilitating – I’m not a manager and thankfully that ladder was blocked before I got opportunity to climb. In the past 12 years I have moved into supporting foster placements. I enjoy that greatly.

Jeremy – another one of your, helpful, thoughtful replies – thank you. Part of me despairs for residential care, essentially for the reasons, tensions, and pressures to conformity/compliance that you mention. I do see some creative risk taking but the tendency is as you say – to stifle. The field has changed, for sure, but not necessarily improved – oppression that fails to meet need for nurture, fun, excitement, human contact has moved in my life time from large institutions to smaller apparently nurturing facilities that are not emotionally held but are encased in and hemmed in and hampered by apparatchik thinking! BUT, having said that, there are pockets of good practice – sadly, my reflection is that we are not at a tipping point. Thanks for sharing you of your favourite words!

Johnnie
...

Good day all,

We need to be aware as to where we stand with regard to supporting the children and youth who come into our care. My post below represents an example of what I have witnessed many times over the years; and that is the children and youth being used as scapegoats when a service becomes frustrated with a young person who is highly difficult to manage. It is easy to use vulnerable young people and place blame when things are uncomfortable for the provider (wrong but easy and no one questions it). What does this have to do with the topic of professional development? My personal opinion is if CYC profession is ever recognized in a legitimate way with legislation and a proper professional designation; we would be stronger and hopefully more effective at advocating and supporting our clients when situations such as I have described come about.

After nearly 30 years of working with children and youth who have experienced a great deal of trauma not only within their bio homes and communities but it continues following being placed in care. I have recently become involved with a young guy who was removed from his mother' s lack of care at age 8 and during his time in care he has been in multiple foster homes and group homes. Documented physical abuse he experienced in at least one placement. Without going into too much detail 8 years later he is an angry young man, who trusts no one but himself. He has had many social worker guardians come and go and within just the last 3 years 4 guardians have left for various reasons. He has come into my world as a result of having court ordered conditions to attend for counseling and treatment as directed.

Very difficult first meeting with this young fellow angry, shutdown and refusing any supports. I did manage to engage him by talking with another colleague about nothing to do with why we were actually all in the room together. We talking about foods and camping and the youth started to add in his comments about the subjects of conversation and we were able to keep him engage for 1.5 hrs that way and what we learned during that time was helpful in allowing us to keep him connected to our service.

He has recently been released from a secure care situation to a community youth shelter. Over the last couple of years he has managed to blow out of every group home foster care situation he has been involved with.. I just started meeting with him twice a week and he is like a vault and hard to crack. The crime he was charged with was his first and a very minor one at that. He was able to share with me that he is angry that he did not have a normal childhood and that the system destroyed that opportunity and he will never get that back. He shared he wants a job and his own place and to be left alone.. He shared he did try when he was younger but after being placed in home where he was abused he gave up and he in his words hates the system that put him in those places.

I was at one point prior to his release from secure care ( not justice secure care) advocating for community services to develop a place of safety for him and they said he did not qualify. The supervisor suggested when I was next speaking with him that I should let him know that it was his behavior that destroyed his opportunity to have a resident to reside in. We'll imagine that, blame the young person who has experienced so much trauma within the system that was supposed to provide him a safe nurturing environment. I read his file and I could not believe what I was hearing. I reminded this supervisor that I have him file and I am aware of what happened to thing young guy while in care and hell would freeze over solid before I would never consider blaming him for his trauma, anger, his ability to attach and mistrust of a system that has scared him. Without skipping a beat the supervisor stated oh yes why that would not be right no you should not do that.

Moving forward I meet with this kids weekly and intend to do so as long as he continues to show up. We walk and talk about very little he shares a bit about what he is going to do to occupy his day and wanting to get a job as soon as he is living in an area where he wants to be.

My goal is to not push on him and help him get through a period of court ordered probation and hopefully a job and if at some point during the time we have together he identifies he wants more we will cross that bridge than.

James Hartley
...

James sincere thanks for taking the time to reply in detail. It is indeed sad that many kids experience this ‘double deprivation’. The question is, how do we get the system/s of which we are a part to look with reflexivity, that is, to look at ourselves as we create acts of ‘care’ that are designed to help? The child is the consistent factor – every thing else around the child is subject to change at a whim. I’m glad this particular young man has met you and that you have wisdom to bring to his situation. The ‘blame the victim’ part of your narrative is something I see too often – the child’s story becomes more and more disconnected from it’s roots over time and then gets responded to his their current behaviour. As the child’s story becomes more disconnected over time, so too does our capacity to show empathy and offer engagement. There is a passage from a scripture text that says ‘ the poor you will always have with you’. I don’t quote that in a patronising way, I offer it as a political insight about these kids for, after 40 years of this work we still lack the real political will to do what is necessary in a ‘big’ way. That is to truly value them. Yes there are pockets of excellent work, but left too much to chance.

I wish you well with your work

Johnnie

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