So we approach another International Child and Youth Care Workers' Week. What has happened of note since last year in Ireland? Well, several things I guess. Perhaps the most interesting is that the Irish Association of Care Workers, the professional representative association for front line care staff since the 1970's, has decided to attempt to reinvigorate itself with the introduction of a new paid post of Administrator with specific objectives within a given timeframe. I am delighted that the individual charged with this reinvigoration is a graduate holding a Diploma and Degree in social care and has just completed a Masters Degree as well as having significant practice experience. We are beginning to promote from within.
The official view
The most recent Social Services Inspectorate Report (2002) has enumerated some 176 children's centres with 102 of these in the statutory sector and 74 in the non-statutory sector and this is a good reference point from which I might make some observations. In terms of staffing and continuity, the Inspectorate found that in 15 of 22 centres visited, there was a core group of staff that had built up significant relationships with the children and youth in their care. Half of the managers were in acting positions with only four of them having had management training. Ten of the managers had no deputies with whom they could share responsibilities.
Are front line child and youth care workers any better off? Certainly their remuneration is reflects the complexity of their work in a way that is heartening. Basic salaries for professionally qualified workers start at about €24,000 going up to the late €40,000. This is fully one third more than just five years ago. Again, in the Inspectorate’s report, it was noted that 28% of front line staff held a recognised qualification, which is actually a decrease from 2001 with 43% holding the (infamous) related qualification which is, again, a decrease from 2001 when the figure was 48%.
So, are child and youth care workers getting it right. Let’s hear for a moment what the children, themselves, had to say. They talked about “feeling cared about, listened to, and are treated as individuals”. On only a minority of instances were children negative about their carers citing “staff do not care about them, are no fun, are rule bound, unfair, and care for them as a group and not as individuals" (2003: 49). These comments are heartening.
International child and youth care week: The
same but different
I'll bet these comments could just as easily apply to any of the systems from where our readers are drawn. Again and again, I am reminded that child and youth care is similar around the world. The children and youth articulate the same issues – not being allowed to watch what they want on tv, not being allowed to dress the way they want with various body piercings and tattoos, friends not being allowed over to projects and houses and the like.
This year, appropriately, I will be celebrating international child and youth care week at the second annual conference of the New Brunswick Child and Youth Care Association in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. I am now a regular visitor to North America and enjoy it more on each visit as I get to meet front line workers, supervisors, students and instructors from the different provinces. The title of the NB conference is “Community of Learners” and that is exactly what child and youth care workers have become. We are no longer isolated to our own agencies, our own regions our own ways of doing things with children and youth in our care. Child and youth care is opening out and barriers and borders are falling by the wayside.
International mobility programmes are being written with North American and European partners. Indeed, as I write this monthly column I am putting the finishing touches to a Canadian/European proposal involving six partners where student mobility is at the core of the proposal – as are my counterparts in Canada. Thus, international child and youth care worker week is being celebrated by the submission of this important and historic document in our two systems next week.
Social Services Inspectorate, (2003). Annual Report. Dublin: SSI.