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79 AUGUST 2005
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Challenges and Questions facing the Development of Child and Youth Care work in Canadian Educational Settings

Carey Denholm

This article describes a number of pressing issues in Canadian school-based Child and Youth Care practice. It is suggested that credibility, status and effectiveness of workers in schools are key issues within the current educational debate. By implication, the way in which these challenges are addressed by workers in educational programs will have both immediate and long-term effects on the Child and Youth Care impact in schools.

Child and youth care workers have been involved in a variety of ways within the Canadian educational system for the past 30years. Currently, there exists a wide range of program models, worker roles and functions, job titles, levels of accountability, referral and tracking systems, settings and therapeutic approaches. Professional- and Community-initiated issues which may be currently critical in one school district, may have been resolved in another. Therefore, what is termed “Canadian school-based Child and Youth Care" may refer to a myriad of programs containing individual histories, emphases, therapeutic and educational alms which are supported by differing structural and administrative frameworks. These programs occur within a variety of educational environments. In 1991, hundreds of Child and Youth Care professionals continue to function in a range of demanding circumstances with troubled children and youth, operating in diverse educationally-based programs. As a result of this fragmentation and the multi-faceted nature of this work, the first set of challenges concerning the future development and legitimate establishment within the education system, are clearly evident.

Challenge #1: Role, Function & Educational Preparation

Beavers are often described as being committed, intelligent, adventurous, innovative, hard-working, proactive, and they will work for very little money. This image aptly describes many of the school-based Child and Youth Care workers with whom I have had personal contact over the past 12 years. Previously I have described the primary role of Canadian Child and Youth Care workers within educational settings as “promoting behavioral change and personal growth in children and adolescents who are having difficulties coping within this setting. These difficulties could be a result of social, emotional and physical problems. With special emphasis and skills in the areas of child and family development, workers offer a range of non-academic functions within schools." (Denholm,1986). The focus for the Child and Youth Care worker is primarily to meet the student's behavioral needs, thereby enhancing the ability of the student to benefit from the educational program. One of the many strengths of this role is that Child and Youth Care education prepares graduates to have a sufficiently rigorous conceptual and theoretical background, coupled with a pragmatic understanding of the various systems which may be impacting on the student or family. This level of growth and attendant competencies, then, should allow practitioners to move across the boundaries of government ministries in order to coordinate information and support for the student. This role needs to be seen as separate and supportive and not in conflict with teachers and school counseling staff.

Analysis of regular functions listed in many job descriptions throughout Canada reveal five main groups (Denholm,1986). It must be noted that no individual school-based worker performed all these listed functions, but usually concentrated on several in each of these areas. Comments on qualifications and educational background are also included.

1) School-related functions include:

2) Individual student functions include:

3) Group intervention functions include:

4) Family-related functions include:

5) Community functions include:

6) Qualifications and educational background.

A three-year diploma from a recognised Child and Youth Care community college program appears to be the minimum requirement for employment in school settings. With the 16th year (1991) of the BA. in Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria and the establishment of degree status at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (Toronto), the trend for completion of higher education level is becoming stronger. In British Columbia, for example, of the approximately 190 programs employing school-based workers, more than 50 percent had Bachelor's degrees in Child and Youth Care, Psychology or Education and 6-10 percent had Master's degrees (Denholm & Watkins, 1987. Therefore, in the near future, the ideal candidate would most likely have a B.A in Child and Youth Care with supervised practice in an educational setting. Additional skills such as life saving, outdoor wilderness, recreation, and counseling and assessment skills in the areas of addictions, abuse, pregnancy, suicide, career education, and learning difficulties are an asset. Other factors which increase suitability are a positive view of the educational setting and an ability to work with teachers to promote the learning process (Denholm, 1988).

Throughout Canada we now have a solid idea of who Child and Youth Care workers are, and what they do in schools. Yet, there are many school board administrators and teachers who do not know this information. How will they learn unless every school-based Child and Youth Care worker continues to educate, inform and demonstrate these perspectives and related functions on a daily basis?

Challenge #2: Program Models Within School Settings

The primary purpose of programs involving Child and Youth Care practitioners is to assist in coping with the growing numbers of students dropping out of schools, who are experiencing problems with transition, lack of social skills, or are being attracted to street life. Establishing these programs, however, remains largely a reactive process often requiring community groups and agendas to form lobby groups and petition for government funds. Thus, impetus for the establishment of these programs comes as much from “push" as “pull" factors. That is, educators who may assess that it is not their mandate, or who may lack specific training to deal with “specialized" student behavior, request that students be removed from the regular classes. The increasing emergence of seriously disruptive in-school behaviors by youths who openly use weapons, are verbally and physically aggressive, and conduct extortion, prostitution, and drug businesses during the school day, are other factors. Although actual removal of a student from school sometimes solves the immediate problem for that particular school, these students continue to have a serious and longer-term impact within the community. The kinds of actual programs operating throughout Canada vary on the basis of location, size of student population, staff complement, funding structure and mandate. However, within the following descriptions of these eight models, most existing programs can be seen to fit.

Model # 1. In this program, one worker is assigned to either a regular junior secondary or secondary school with the primary responsibility of working with non-handicapped children or youth and their parents. The worker may be supervised directly by the school principal or a person external to the school.

Model #2. This is similar to Model #1, however, the worker is assigned one or several handicapped children or youth throughout the entire day. These workers are often attached to special education classes or classes for the mentally handicapped.

Model #3. This program model involves one worker (or more) assigned to several schools. Again, these may be regular junior secondary or secondary schools with the principal or the sponsoring agency maintaining responsibility for the supervision and implementation of the program.

Model #4. Workers also become involved within the school system on an itinerant basis. In this situation the worker is hired by a community agency to provide service to families and youth within a designated geographical area. Contact must be made with the school principal, relevant teachers and school counsellors concerning referred clients. The school may provide a room in which the worker meets with the child.

Model #5. Often termed the “alternate school," this type of program has a number of variations but in most cases the program occurs in one specific location. In this model, the building is attached to an existing junior or senior secondary school. The staff are directly responsible to the school principal and students for the program (primarily adolescents) come from within this school population.

Model #6. This variation from Model #5 finds the same arrangement concerning staffing, however, the building is physically separate from the “parent" school. The students are usually referred from specific neighbouring schools.

Model # 7. Here the school building and program are autonomous. the education staff are employees of the school district and the workers responsible to a community agency or board of directors. Students may apply to attend from any school and admission screening takes place internally.

Model #8. This last model is to be found within the day clinic or centre where students are placed for short-term intervention and later returned to their regular school program. This is generally a nonresidential program and intervention may involve family counseling and support, child assessment, and teacher in-service education concerning the needs and approaches utilized with a particular child or youth.

The second challenge facing school-based child and youth practice lies at the level of programming and a number of related questions are raised. Should Child and Youth Care workers be collecting data on program effectiveness? Should certain program models be preferred over others?

Without hesitation the answer must be either “yes" or “let's investigate" to all questions if it is the collective desire of practitioners to “change gears" and move forward!

The question becomes not one of doing what we feel, but doing what we know and can demonstrate. Clearly, the second challenge facing school-based workers is to integrate research skills and methods into daily practice in order to contribute to the growing network of theoretically rigorous and proven programs that can clearly state what, how and why they do what they do.

Challenge #3: Image and Profile

At present, official recognition of “Child and Youth Care worker" or “youth and family counsellor" (with training and education in Child and Youth Care) in the Canadian education system is limited. If the educational system is viewed as a totem pole, the question might be: How can this newest professional group carve their place on the “pole" and be recognized as integral within the education system? Perhaps it is equally valid to ask if this is even a desirable goal.

One perspective maintains that Child and Youth Care is supplementary to the instructional component. Continuing with this position, the primary purpose for these services is to be supportive to the delivery of educational services. Therefore, as a support service (as distinct from a service providing “direct educational benefit" to students), the cost of this service is not a proper charge to the educational budget. The cost, it is argued, cannot be borne by the educational tax dollar. This is also where the issue of financial constraints and education “cutbacks" becomes a factor. The funding formula applied to schools is often tied to school size. With declining enrolment, services seen as additional to classroom teaching (e.g., librarians, learning assistants, Child and Youth Care workers) are often reduced.

Alternately, when Child and Youth Care is seen as integral within the school system, the functions of the worker become a necessary extension of activities and experiences designed to benefit the “whole" child or youth. These practitioners are then seen not exclusively as supportive to teachers but as a specialized component of teaching. Therefore, the provision of these services in a school setting is a legitimate and proper expenditure of the educational dollar. When workers are seen as impermanent and without an established place within this system, many questions arise which perpetuate uncertainty about their position. Such issues continue to be asked on a regular basis and are a constant reminder of the tenuous nature of the position. Nevertheless, discussion about the value of this work often leads to other key questions.

Personal interactions with school-based practitioners have been consistent in the listing of daily, weekly and annual issues. In fact, I have experienced several workers repeating the same complaints yearly at Association conferences (Figure 1). These issues should not necessarily be seen as all negative but merely predictable and recurring scenarios which “colour" this type of work in schools.

Clearly, in this era, the demand for competent “front line" professionals to work alongside educators with difficult children and youth is great. Within educational programs for troubled Canadian children and youth, the need for highly skilled and educated workers exceeds the demand. Educational upgrading for these particular students is indeed a critical mandate but must also be balanced with the need to provide safety, sanctuary, support and advocacy to all students. It is within these latter three areas that competent Child and Youth Care workers can potentially have maximum impact.

Work in educational settings is nevertheless fraught with daily demands and new practitioners would be well-advised to design intentional strategies which assist in developing their acceptance and the perception by fellow staff of being a skilled and useful “team" player. The following practical tips for school-based workers may facilitate this process:

Figure 1

Some of the daily, weekly and annual issues experienced by school-based Child and Youth Care workers as recorded at two annual conferences in British Columbia

Daily Issues

Role and role conflict with teachers
Monitoring records.
Having to alter prearranged schedules.
"Avoiding" teaming and other non-mandated duties.
Having to locate and deal with children separately from the class.
Making good judgements independent of support and colleagues.
Behaviour management and intervening with crisis situations.
Being positive on the job.
Differences in the way teachers deal with student behaviour.
Discipline and maintaining authority.
Drugs, alcohol and physical abuse.

Weekly Issues

The level of participation in the writing of individual educational plans
Report writing to district and ministry personnel.
Professional identity.
Conflict with teachers over the importance of students' academic goals as compared to social needs.
The public perception of the worker's role and that of the program.
Anticipating student behaviour after weekends.
New admissions.
Liaison meetings.
Pregnancy and sexuality.
Chronic lack of contact with families.
Resentment from teaming staff about seemingly flexible hours

Annual Issues

Uncertainty with program funding and program continuity.
Ratio of staff to students.
Budget for staff development and equipment.
Hiring and variability of qualifications with other Child and Youth Care workers
Power in decision making about program direction.
Turnover of teachers.
Parent interviews.
Follow-up of graduates.
Educational excursions.


Many questions relating to status, training and accountability of Canadian Child and Youth Care have been raised. The organization and supporting philosophy of the Child and Youth Care presence in educational programs for troubled students clearly remains at the “frontier." Although much has been developed and is now in place. what remains as territory yet to be explored is a serious commitment by educators to Child and Youth Care in these settings. It is quite possible that a strong commitment may never come. In this case it will be the decision of every practitioner to believe that their voice and presence can make a difference. Perhaps the most import question remains: Who is willing to take up the challenge and seize the day?


Denholm, C.J., &Watkins, D. (1987). Canadian school-based child care. In C.J. Denholm, R Ferguson &A Pence (Eds.), Professional Child and Youth Care: The Canadian Perspectire (pp. 64-68). Vancouver: UBC Press.

Denholm, C. (1986). Child care workers in Canadian schools: What do they do? Journal of Child Care, 2(6), 27-34.

Denholm, C.J. (1988). Hiring school-based Child and Youth Care workers: Strategies in the selection process. The Child and Youth Care Administrator, 1 (2), 17-20.

Denholm, C.J. (1989). Child and youth care in school settings: Maximizing support and minimizing friction. The Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, 5, 53-61.

This feature: Denholm, C. (1991) Challenges and questions facing the development of Child and Youth Care work in Canadian educational settings. Journal of Child and Youth Care, Vol.6 No.2, pp.1-10

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