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CYC-Online Issue 17 JUNE 2000 / BACK
Listen to this

what is child and youth care work?

Responses to Billy's mother

Over the past few issues we have been exploring the question “What is child and youth care work?" This month, the first of a two-part series from the Journal of Child and Youth Care (See Part 2)

Thom Garfat writes: In an editorial in the Journal of Child and Youth Care, we described a scenario in which a mother confronts a child and youth care worker with a question. The woman's child, Billy, was about to be admitted to a residential treatment centre, and she wanted to know, “What is it that you child and youth care workers can do that all the fancy help I’ve paid for hasn’t been able to?" She warned the worker to keep it simple, saying, “I go to sleep when people use too much jargon."

Rather than try to respond to Billy’s mother’s question, we asked readers of the Journal to let us know how they might respond to her. We were a little anxious that no one would answer our call but we decided to take the risk anyway. It was well worth it! Replies to Billy’s mother came from all over. They came from Labrador to Alberta and from Detroit to California; they came from students, from front line workers and from seasoned teachers and trainers. What follows are some examples of how people in the field might reply to Billy’s mother. We have not edited, screened or censored these replies. We share them with you for your pleasure and learning, and, ultimately, in the hope that they might stimulate you and your colleagues to discuss these important questions.

* * *

From the programs

Eric Skoglund from the Labrador United Church Group Home in Goose Bay took some of his lunch hour to offer the following: We give our time and attention to the individual and start where they are at. Most kids are in trouble because they’re being ignored, or not heard, or listened to, or understood. Others need some direction and limits from an adult who has more life experience than they do. They all need caring, which includes positive attention and confrontation of problem behavior, and a good listener, who can acknowledge their feelings. Most of all, they need someone who will hang in there when the going gets tough, and I guess that’s where my commitment as a Youth Care Worker is at. You have to believe that you can communicate with kids, and that everyone needs a caring relationship with another person. What we do, we don’t do alone in an office, we do it by getting out there on the same level as the other person, and talking to them. We also know and believe we can make changes, with each other’s help. Remember, E=MC2 (Effectiveness = Me + Child/2).

Zygumnt Malowicki from The House of The Good Shepherd in Utica, New York sent the following reply for Billy's mother: Child and Youth Care Workers are in the business of getting kids to do things they don’t want to do. How we do this involves a multitude of techniques used by other professionals. But what makes us different is our constant presence, our involvement in the little details of life, and our willingness to face and channel the lion of defiance in each child placed in care. Much like it is with parents, it is in these ways that we demonstrate our willingness to care, our ability to control, and our desire to help kids grow into responsible adults. We see ourselves as “doers" rather than “talkers."

While this is what we do best, we also know that we need to accomplish these tasks as part of a team. A team that includes you, your family, and other professionals. So “hang in there" and let’s get to work!

Tom Lazor from Toronto, Ontario who defines himself as “an avid reader of the Journal," offered a front line worker’s response to Billy’s mother: Child and Youth Care Workers are health care professionals, specifically skilled and trained to work with various disturbed and troubled children and youth. These practitioners regularly and directly look after the client’s physical and psychological needs. Often working with other professionals (e.g., social work, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, lawyers), Child and Youth Care Workers establish and implement treatment programs to achieve therapeutic goals.

Chris Bieszczadcsw from the Children's Home of Detroit in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan suggests that the answer is “pretty simple and straight- forward" and he offers it without unnecessary jargon: We will help Billy understand that his mistakes are okay if he tries really hard to learn from them. We will help him discover why he has made some pretty bad choices. We will show him that he can’t genuinely like and care about others if he doesn’t first like himself and feel good about the things he can do. If he can be honest with himself and others, then our job is done and he can return home and continue to grow and learn with your love, support, patience, and guidance. We have no “magic wand" other than your personal support and commitment. The only “fancy jargon" we have found most effective is PATIENCE, TIME, and our wealth of past experiences.

From the colleges

Grant Charles from the Child and Youth Care Program at Lethbridge Community College in Alberta shares with us, in a very personal and moving response, some of his confusion. In doing so, he shows us at least one way that our own questions can be a valuable starting place in our work with others.

Half of my life-time ago when I first started in the field of child and youth care, it never crossed my mind to try to define my profession. I was a youth worker in the west end of London, England and I clearly knew who I worked with and why. I was not sure however, that I knew or even cared that I was part of a growing profession. I believe that I didn’t even know what a profession was.

In those days if I ever thought about who I was, it was in connection to me as a person and not as a professional. As an aging adolescent I worked at attempting, often unsuccessfully, to define myself as an adult. The difference between myself and the young people worked with was more often than not in how we were labelled instead of our maturity level or interactional abilities. I was a youth worker and they were runaways. I sometimes think that the difference was that I was a youth who worked and they were youth who didn’t. I’m not sure I saw a need for any further distinction.

When I returned to Canada I worked in residential care centers. It was the first time I became aware that there were other professions who also worked with “troubled" youth. I became aware of psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and special education teachers. I began to define myself as a Child and Youth Care Worker. It was quite easy. We were the ones who “really" knew the young people in our care. We knew them because we spent the time with them. Quietly, after the case conferences, when the “outsiders" were gone we would often disregard and sometimes ridicule the other professions. After all, how could they know anything about the young people when they only spent an hour or so with them each week. It wasn’t the best way of defining oneself but it seemed to work because my peers and I agreed that it worked. We were different than the others and we believed we were better.

This definition began to come apart for me when I began to meet social workers, psychologists or teachers who had been front line child and youth care workers. These people were one of us but not quite so anymore. Many of them also seemed more insightful than me even though they didn’t “know" the young people as well as I did. My definition of who or what a Child and Youth Care Worker was started to become blurred.

My confusion became complete when I decided to return to school to get my undergraduate degree. I was a child and youth care worker, but an undergraduate degree in the profession was not an option for me. Social work, for a variety of reasons, became my choice. I was suddenly now a social worker. I still felt like a child and youth care worker but somehow I wasn’t considered one anymore.

In my school of social work I still hung onto my self definition of being a child and youth care worker. There was a group of us who had been workers. We set ourselves apart and felt we were at least covert child and youth care workers. Our old peers considered us sell-outs but when we were together, and if no one else was around, we would talk about who we were as child and youth care workers. We could never come up with an adequate definition but we somehow felt special asking the question.

Since that time I have worked in a variety of positions and settings. Each of the positions have somehow been connected with young people. Some have been traditional child and youth care positions and some have been traditional social work positions. Throughout each of the jobs I have considered myself a child and youth care worker. In each job I’ve tried to ask myself what that meant. I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer.

Today, as a child and youth care educator, I still ask the question, “What is child and youth care?" I still don’t have a clear definition. Many of my peers, especially the better ones, in the different helping professions have worked as child and youth care workers. Are they no longer workers because they now have different labels? Many of my college students would not see these people as child and youth care workers. The students would see them as social workers, psychologists, or teachers. However, these people still feel like child and youth care workers to me. They still care and they are somehow unique. Maybe, to me, that is what child and youth care is all about.

The point is that I am less clear today on what constitutes being a child and youth care worker than I was when I started in the field. The longer I work the less sure I am of my definition. I know child and youth care is more than I previously thought but I’m not sure precisely what it is. I’m no longer even sure if the answer is important. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that only the question is the key. As long as we struggle with the question we continue to grow and be challenged. Maybe that is what makes us unique. Maybe that is what makes us special.

We are indebted to Jack Phelan of the Child and Youth Care Program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. For not only did Jack reply that:

"child and youth workers create healthier self-control in young people through modelling, skill building and providing learning situations for behavioral and emotional growth,"

but he also asked a group of his students to answer the question. Below are some examples of their replies. We are grateful because it is not often that we have the opportunity for insight into the thoughts and ideas of those currently studying in the field, those who will influence the future of our profession.

... We teach them ways of dealing effectively with crises in their lives, and we are there to guide them through these difficult times. We aid them in coming to terms with themselves and we offer them encouragement to become the best they can be. “Pat Vogel

... We help them understand that they are not alone and not always at fault; that other people help cause their problems and how they can overcome these problems and how they can deal with them effectively. “Debbie Kelsie

We try to teach kids that they are responsible for their actions and that no matter how hopeless things may seem, they can change and make a better life for themselves. We provide constant support and caring throughout this process. “Maureen Beier

CCW’s spend most of the day with the kids which allows them...to view the kids in several situations a day which gives the CCW a better or more complete view of the child's personality, characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, dislikes and likes which allows a more holistic treatment approach. “Marilyn Holmes

... effectively intervene in their life to help them recognize their strengths as well as their weaknesses and to be able to recognize and cope with the differences between the two. “Myrna L. Roy

Child and Youth Care Workers spend more interaction time with their clients, using daily routines and events in a therapeutic way, influencing lives in a more informal and consistent way. “Susie Eichner

We implement... develop “give and take" trusting/intimate relationships with them. We are compromisers not orderers. We advocate for the child and focus on all aspects of the child's life “school, play, family, goals, etc.... and by doing so we are able to set them up for treatment and deliver it. “Leah R. Mattinson

... most child and youth care workers are less likely to have blinders on that this is the only treatment that will work or the child has to be counselled in this way. ... through seeing them in everyday situations and difficulties they better under- stand what would help that child to be the best they can. “Ruth Gates

... Because they are flexible in their methods and beliefs with youths, I think that they are more willing to discover what combination of therapy works best for an individual child. Since children are unique, I believe that child/youth care workers recognize this quality and help the child benefit to realize his full potential to become his BEST SELF. “Shawn Shumlich

... Billy and I work with his positives and strengths to discover why he thinks and feels the way he does. I listen to him with an open mind. “L. Duboski

More willing and flexible in working around the clock... Work at the development level with the client, i.e., treating client equally and fairly at their level... More willing to listen, more open minded and find it easier to remain objective... Less competitive because of the personal caring and more satisfied with smaller achievements. “Nancy Marty

The key thing we do as Child and Youth Care Workers is work directly with children on a full time basis... and by being around a child for forty hours a week it is helpful in building a relationship. Once a child has a relationship with a child and youth care worker, many other things grow strong, such as trust, honesty and love. “Darin Perpar

We are able to interact in several different ways from eating meals together to playing sports, in this way a child care worker can observe and is better able to see all of a child's problem to help them set goals on changing their behavior. The worker is also there to see if treatment is working and where it may be adapted sooner then perhaps a counsellor would. As well we are role models for these children, demonstrating appropriate behaviors. “Elaine O“Brien

...Are there for the kids for the entire day. When the child is eating or sleeping or raising hell, the child care worker is there for the child. The child care worker gets the opportunity to help the child as their problems occur, not just talking about it afterwards. “Dennis Farn

Child/Youth Care Workers live with the child/youth, experiences both the positive as well as the negative actions of the youth. Provides support, encouragement, understanding and promotes trust on a continuing basis. “Dawn Anderson
... Though residing with youth on a professional basis we have the opportunity to manage surface behaviors that other professionals do not observe during therapy sessions. We explore and work with not only a child's mental well being but their physical, emotional and spiritual well being. “Sheila Horvat

Child/youth workers care about the youths they are working with 24 hours a day. We won’t set up appointments for the youths and only care during that time. We don’t stop caring for them because they have gone to bed, because they are at school or because our shift is over. That’s why its called a caring profession. “Holley Belland

... In a group setting a child can benefit from a variety of experience from different adults. This gives the child a better opportunity to find someone who he can trust and help him resolve some of his problems. Child care workers take a practical approach to helping children. Techniques which are useful in dealing with behavior are taught to the parents. Parents have the chance to try them out and see if they are effective. It is the total approach of a child care worker, taken involving himself, as teacher, part time parent and making use of outside resources such as parents and professionals that make him different... “Barry Andrews

Next month: From the Trainers

THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)

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