CYC-Online 61 FEBRUARY 2004
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from the soapbox

When youth ends: A new focus for the field

Karen vanderVen

It’s the work we do (not the age of the clients, the setting in which we work, or categorical descriptions of client groups as being normal, disturbed, physically challenged or the like) that gives us the potential of becoming a “full” profession. Our “child and youth care" work will not be a profession, I have continually intoned, until it serves people throughout the life span. I have often suggested, that like a puzzle with missing pieces, we should fill the board in with attention to new client groups beyond children and youth.

Now a new age range focus seems to emerging, and perhaps it’s time to acknowledge it: The young adult, from age 18-25, making the transition from home and school to work, community life and/or higher education, and in some cases, back to home. In the child welfare system, the well known “aging out” phenomenon for youth in foster and group care programs is recognized for suddenly throwing many youth out on their own without proper support. In higher education, reports are that more and more students have developmental issues related to relationships, separation from parents, academic achievement, career choice, substance abuse – and that there is an increase in real mental health issues such as depression. There is also a concern with family issues as young adults today, for economic reasons, may often return home to live after finishing college and while holding a job – posing a special set of concerns.

There certainly seems to be some commonality between core developmental issues of children and those of young adults. I remember with a smile how some years ago students in one of my class did a study of “transitional objects” (traditionally associated with young children) used by college students. They offered many developmental insights as to why so many student beds had tattered but beloved bears, dolls, and blankies on them.

The developmental approach is not directly offered by other human service professions and so the door is open for us to embrace it, applying the knowledge and skills as described in the North American Competency and Certification approach. Or, putting it more simply for now, what I used to call “the child and youth care perspective” – focusing on relationships, activities, and the like – can be adapted and applied to a new population.

In my study of career pathways in child and youth work, I have suggested that one way career growth and mobility for a life long career could take place was by being able to shift between different age ranges. A practitioner “burnt out", say, from working with middle school age adolescents, might change to work with preschoolers or, as I am contending here, perhaps with young adults. For the more mature practitioners among us, a shift to the young adult age range could provide a new and refreshing challenge, as well as bring a needed developmental approach to providing young adults the supports they need at a challenging time of life from a developmental point of view.

The idea of us including young adults among our client groups is not new. I recall an interesting conversation I had with Leon Fulcher a few years ago as he discussed his work with young adults, students in his university position. We seemed to agree that this could be an exciting and relevant area for child and youth work to consider in the future. In our own program in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, we now have students who work as residence and admissions counselors and the like, and who tell us that our courses in child and youth development, and life span development along with intervention skills such as counselling and even play, can be useful in their work.

There must be a number of people “out there” who are doing “young adult” work already.

It would be interesting and valuable to hear from them and see if we can include young adult work more formally within the scope of our emerging profession.

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