Sure, you've heard it all already – certainly from me, and at times from others: A “take” on what is needed to provide an effective education and training open system – and it does need to be an open system – for child and youth workers. So here goes – my holistic, systemic view of what I think would comprise it. Hold on – the list is 10 items long.
An open, or “complex adaptive system”
First of all, what do I mean by “system”? By “system” I mean an entity that has multiple components (i.e. training components, education components, and all the elements needed to provide these) – and that these all are connected with, and interact with each other. This enables the system to be coherent – to hang together as a whole so that activity in one component relates to activity in another. As a crucial part of this, “training” and “education” must not be seen as separate entities, but rather as an integrally linked part of the total system.
By “open system” I mean a system with open boundaries that can grow and change as it takes in new information from its context (known in complexity theory as a “complex adaptive system"). Training and education must be constructed as, and seen as, a complex adaptive system.
A professions goal
An ultimate goal or “driver” in the system, must be the intent to develop and grow as a profession (that old debate again – is this work potentially a profession or isn’t it? – comes to mind). As I’ve said before, I definitely think the work should be a profession, taking its side equally among other “human service” professions. Otherwise, it will have much less clout than it and its clients need. Our challenge is not only to comply with the current sociological concept of a profession, but also within this structure to show how this work represents an emergent profession appropriate for the times we live in and the needs of others for our special services. This includes recognizing the individual and artistic elements of the work – it is more than prescriptively applying a specific intervention. At the same time knowledge of such interventions is essential. The function of training and education is to enable practitioners (this means everybody considering themselves members of the field) to best deliver the services we identify as “belonging to us” as effectively as possible “in other words, functioning as professions.
Avoiding unproductive “mindsets” and “belief
One of the greatest barriers to the development of a coherent training and education open system are the contentions of some that “you can’t teach this work”, “knowledge destroys spontaneity”, “I know all I need”, “what worked with me as a child will work with these kids”, etc. These individuals and those that go along with these ideas will not enhance the field. In fact, the purpose of training and education is to challenge the belief systems of participants (we all have our own values and convictions about child rearing based on our own childhood and life experience) and encourage them to change in the face of new knowledge that challenges them.
Life span scope
If we wish to be a profession, we must stop viewing our work as delivered in just one type of setting (e.g. group and residential programs), offered to just one type of person (e.g. emotionally disturbed) and most particularly, to one or a few more age groups, exclusively. In other words, (which of course you've heard before, over and over) the focus must be on the nature of the work we offer, rather than a particular constituency that we do it with. There is no other profession of any kind that is age, category group, and setting specific. Within a broad profession, there are specialties that provide these foci – e.g. there is geriatric social work, psychiatric nursing, adult education. It will be a challenge, of course, to make the connections with related fields to provide the life span scope. One way will be to design both training and education that represent a life span focus. The message may gradually be picked up by others.
We need to have a comprehensive network of training and education activities. What I mean by this is we have to have enough training activities, and enough education activities, so that they are accessible and a visible presence, widely. Certainly technology can assist with this – although not do the whole job. There need to be majors at colleges and universities in every state, province (or whatever way a country is subdivided) There need to be training activities with similar distribution. The “regional training academy” concept pioneered by Floyd Alwon could and should continue to be, a viable and significant model for offering legitimate and effective training. Training activities need to be connected to the higher education system so they are recognized as having appropriate equivalencies to education offerings.
Guidelines and standards
There need to be established, recognized and actually applied guidelines and standards for both training and education activities. This helps pull different efforts together under a common framework of intent and understanding, and harmonizes activities so they are efficiently and effectively conducted. Furthermore they provide legitimacy and credibility to the many external constituencies who are needed to buy into the need for training and education in this field. The current North American Competency and Certification project is a strong example of the kinds of external guidelines that are needed. Their presence provides needed structure, around which there can be flexibility.
The teaching delivery methods, structures and pedagogies must be appropriate to both the learners and the work. This interestingly is one of the largest and most challenging issues in the field. Training workshops that do not relate to the reality of the work that practitioners do, whose applications are not supported and further developed once the workshops are over, have little transferability or make minimal impact on practice. Education that is centered on sequential information acquisition likewise may have little real effect. In fact I think, and have suggested elsewhere, that we need to radically rethink and restructure the way in which higher education in this field is offered. The initial classroom should be a practice site where students get to observe and interact in real situations. Academic information is built around questions and observations from practice that cause dissonance in the learner. Those current curricula that focus on self awareness and understanding as an initial scaffold to learning are on the right track.
Relevant knowledge must be both compiled and generated. This is the role of higher education and a reason why the field must be represented by offering college and university programs and curricula in the work. The question arises as well as to who will be the faculty in the future? The fact that competition for university positions increasingly requires new faculty to have an extensive research program paradoxically does not totally bode well for us. Certainly some faculty need to be researchers and able to do the kind of research that compiles and advances knowledge, but there is a crucial need for another kind of faculty and another kind of knowledge. Some faculty must come from the ranks of practice as well as having academic credentials so they are able to guide students in not only developing practice skills but also in the empirical and theoretical knowledge that undergirds them. Furthermore, a form of scholarship is needed that focuses on translating the mammoth number of empirical studies in professional books and journals into justified practice principles is greatly needed. The findings of this scholarship must be recorded and disseminated along with those of the “basic” researchers.
Multiple role options in the field
The child and youth work “emergent” profession must offer its practitioners multiple role options for practice that are both horizontal (opportunity to change populations and settings while performing the same activities) and vertical (opportunity to change form of practice). Role options include supervisor, administrator, director, consultant, trainer, education. All other professions have multiple role options. These enable the opportunity for life long careers and for upward career mobility. Such must exist in child and youth work if we are to overcome the turnover that diminishes the quality of the work and prevents a stable, competent, larger workforce from growing – those who can represent and continue to move its development as a profession along.
Many things occur in cohorts. There has been a cohort over the past decade or so of people who have worked hard to advance child and youth work towards professional status. Now these people are, as the saying goes, “getting on”. Before they are gone to retirement, it’s important that they try to leave a legacy of new leadership – up and coming practitioners who have the interest, energy and potential to develop exemplary practice skills and to take on the many roles that are now available to gain national visibility in activities that advance the profession, e.g. organization development and leadership, training and teaching, writing and editing, presenting, project direction, and the like. The more there are leaders from the field in key places, both inside and outside of the field, the stronger it will be.
Student Outreach and Recruitment
If the profession is to be created, and if there is to be a future generation of professionals to continue to develop and carry on with the work – and with training and education, we must ever be on the alert to let prospective students know that educational and career enhancing opportunities are available. Furthermore, we must do something that in general we are really good at doing: Encouraging workers we already know but who have spotty educational backgrounds to undertake an educational activity, and to support and cheer them on once they have started. We all know people who have reached new levels of achievement this way and became wonderful contributors to both children and youth and to the field. If we configure our training and education system and our pedagogies to be responsive to the selves of the learners, we will enable many fine human beings to actualize themselves in successful careers in this field.