Hawthorne, New York
I grew up in the wonderful blue collar town of Port Chester, New York and received my bachelors degree in Public Accounting from Pace University. After a year in accounting I took a job with JBFCS in New York at Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, a large 114 bed residential treatment center for children. I started as a child and youth care worker and did that for five years. I then became recreation director at Hawthorne and after five more years went to get my Masters Degree in Social Work from Hunter College in New York City. That led to two years as Director of the Adolescent Girls program at Hawthorne ( the favorite two years of my career in terms of direct practice. Working with teenage girls was very challenging but exceptionally rewarding; clearly I learned more from the girls than they likely learned from me!).
I then became Associate Director of Hawthorne and served in that role for 11 years. During that time I also became an adjunct faculty member at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service and remain in that role. In 1999 through a generous endowment from a lover of Child and Youth Care work I was able to become the founding Director of the JBFCS (Rita Markus) Institute for Child Care Professionalization and Training and continue to serve in that capacity. It was a remarkably positive turn in my career in that it allowed me a perfect forum to now teach, and continue learning from those still doing the direct practice, so much more about high quality child and youth care.
I have published numerous articles and
presented at many national and international conferences. I am very
proud that I have presented workshops at every Canadian National Child
and Youth Care Conference and every International Child and Youth Care
Conference since 1997. I have been a regular at the Scottish National
Child Care Conference and have also presented in France, India, and
Israel. I have seen first hand how much Child and Youth Care is truly an
international process and how much there is to learn from each other. I
have served on the Child Welfare League of America national residential
advisory board since 1999 and served on the committee that revised the
CWLA “Standards of Excellence for Residential Group Care in America”. I
became connected in the early part of my career to the theme of “Money
in the Bank” that I developed to explain the importance of relationships
in child and youth care work. Over the last five years I have worked
with Jill Shah to develop the concept of “professional package” as it
relates to professionalizing supervisory practice in our field. With
this large amount of varied experience it remains clear to me that the
most I have learned has been from the experiences directly with kids. I
still treasure the connections I made over the years and am honored to
keep in touch with so many of the youth I had the pleasure of coming to
How I came to be in this field
I was the first person in my family to graduate high school and then University. My degree was in Public Accounting and I seemed on the way to being the family member who would be a fine “business man” and make loads of money. But, alas after working as an accountant for a year, I had a girlfriend with different days off. So, where could I go to find the strangest and most flexible schedule for a year or so?? Residential child care, of course! I took a job at Hawthorne Cedar Knolls working in a cottage with adolescent boys and just fell in love with the work. I was completely taken with the idea of being able to come to work, play sports with kids, provide some counseling, be part of a team, and seem to make a difference in kids’ lives. As it turns out that expected one year diversion has turned into a wonderful and joy filled career (even with the reality that it is more complicated than just playing with kids, and without the loads of money!)
A favorite saying
“To seek joy in the saddest of places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated and never complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand."
This is my favorite quote and is from
Arundhati Roy, an author who also wrote The God of Small Things.
A few thoughts about child and youth care
When done well , child and youth care is among the most noble and satisfying of all professions
We must always respect science, but child and youth care is truly an “art”. It is about relationships and fine tuning ourselves, our perceptions, and our actions all the time
We should all be focused on continued actual and perceived professionalization of child and youth care. We must hold firm to keeping standards of excellence in education required, work ethic exhibited, and the expectation of all CYC’s to be self reflective about our work on a continuing basis
The power of relationships in life never ceases to amaze me. Believe in and nurture the kids we work with.
This is a photo of the Taj Mahal at dusk in Agra, India. Dusk is my favorite time of day and travel, and all we can learn from it, is one of my true loves in life. As a child I was in a family with very little (cash) money and with little “larger picture” of the world, but I still had my dreams. Seeing the Taj Mahal was one of the strongest ones. As an adult I have traveled extensively: all over the United States and Canada, Italy, France, Israel, Brazil, Portugal, Japan, Scotland, England, Mexico, and many other wonderful spots. But that first glimpse of the Taj Mahal at dusk was a strong reminder that life’s dreams really can come true!
Last thing I read, watched, heard, which I would recommend to
I just re-watched (for the 25th time?) the movies “The Godfather” and “The Godfather 2” in the past two weeks. I consider them “Shakespearian” in stature (no Italian jokes please!) and, if you look beyond the violence, full of important life philosophy. We do use Godfather clips in some of our supervision courses, you will have to attend one to see why!
A favorite Child and Youth Care experience
When I was working at Hawthorne one of the true joys of my career was that each year for 12 straight years we took a group of kids from the New York City area for a long weekend visit to Montreal at the end of May. There were many memorable and exquisite moments during the trips but one does stand out. One year we were taking a smaller group that included a ten year old named Reynaldo. Some other kids, and even some staff, felt he was not a good choice because he was so young, sometimes immature and very heavy set, maybe slowing others down. Reynaldo had very little family contact and while most other kids got money from home to spend, Reynaldo only had the money we helped him earn toward the trip. He knew this and felt badly about it. The night before the trip was to leave Reynaldo’s adult brother showed up at the campus. Reynaldo had not seen him in years and the brother was heavily into the street life. The brother left $20 for the trip for Reynaldo. The next morning as we were in the van preparing to leave Reynaldo asked the other staff member coming if he could hold his $20 himself. A small power struggle ensued with his cottage worker but I interceded and said I was going to allow him to hold it. When I opened the envelope and gave Reynaldo the $20 bill, he seemed annoyed and said “Can you give me two tens?” Sensing “manipulation” his cottage worker looked at me in an “I told you so” way. I made the change and Reynaldo turned quickly to his best friend Willie, who was coming also, and said proudly “$10 for me and 10 for Willie!” One of the many, many times I learned to never underestimate the good nature and golden hearts of kids in care.
A few thoughts for those starting out
Remember that basics and fundamentals are called such for a reason. Smiles, small courtesies like please and thank you, and genuine caring for kids will set the base for a satisfying and impactful career.
Always hold your expectations for kids extremely high but never reject a kid who can’t meet them.
Begin every “confrontation” in your work with the words “help me understand”. See confrontation as a way for both parties to grow, not a way to correct people or shut them down.
Be shameless in your quest to get as much training and education as you can. Try to get to as many conferences as possible. Try to hear Thom Garfat give a keynote speech and marvel at how sophisticated someone who just “tells stories” can be. (I remember writing Thom for advice the night before my first keynote speech and his reply of “forget the fancy power point, just tell stories, it is the essence of our work”).
Don’t sit around waiting for excellent supervision to find you. Be proactive in getting the most from supervision and be willing to discuss your practice openly.
Be committed to professionally packaging your practice. When asked about the secret to his success basketball great Bill Russell (his teams won 11 NBA titles with him as the focal point) downplayed any great talent and said simply “when someone pays me $5 for a day’s work, I give them $7 worth of work, it is what makes me a professional”. Be a “7 for 5” Child and Youth Care worker!
If you become a supervisor one day try to understand the immense power you have in people’s lives and look for ways to healthily balance it. Think about the idea of “professionally packaging your supervisory practice” Professionally Packaging Your Power in the Supervisory Relationship (PDF)
While there are many proven and excellent treatment approaches I believe none will work well without relationship. Put relationship “money in the bank” with kids and families every day and remember “money in the bank” is like a seed. You never know when it will grow and blossom. Be patient with kids who resist your attempts to develop a relationship. Nature will take its’ course.
Some writing of my own
“Defining Supervision in a Professionally Packaged Way”, Journal of Relational Child and Youth Care, 22, 1, Spring, 2009
“Professionally Packaging Your Power in the Supervisory Relationship”, Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 5, 2, June 2007
“Using the “Professional Package” to Help Supervisors Enhance Cultural Sensitivity When Confronting”, Journal of Relational Child and Youth Care, 20, 1, Spring, 2007
“If I Could Supervise My Supervisor…”, Journal of Child and Youth Care, 15, 2, 2002
Influences on my work
There have been so many. I have had the pleasure of having a number of wonderful supervisors over the years in my career. Certainly working for 12 years together with Norman Friedman’s as associate director at Hawthorne taught me so much and the support and wisdom of those like Fred Steffen and Silvio Orlando helped shape my style. The senior leadership over the last 20 years in my agency (JBFCS) of Alan Siskind and Paul Levine, who exhibit the best of “CYC flavor” by being CEO’s of a giant agency yet still knowing so many workers on a first name basis. Becoming part of the Child and Youth Care Conference circuit has had immense impact. Among the very many people there who have impacted me I think of Thom Garfat, Tony Maciocia, and Jack Phelan who have all left me so impressed with their approach and commitment to the work, and someone like Jenny McGrath, clearly one of the many younger, emerging voices to hear clearly. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of newer people to the field who have brought so much fresh insight and intelligence to the process, most recently working with Jill Shah to develop the “professional package” concept and developing courses for supervisors to increase their effectiveness and impact. Floyd Alwon and Lloyd Bullard at CWLA have provided so many insights for me and have been great role models for “professional commitment” to CYC. There have been so many friends and loved ones who sensed my commitment to Child and Youth Care and gave me the space and understanding (with many half eaten dinners or 3am phone calls) to let me continue to do the work as a priority in my life. Special mention to my mother and father, both deceased now, but I am still reaping the benefits of the "money in the bank" nurturing they (and grandma and grandpa!) put in with me. And, of course, way too many kids to mention who have graced my life with their tremendous hearts and sense of fairness about it all.
It has been a brilliant ride so far…with so much learned from so many….and so much more to learn from so many more.