CYC-Online 69 OCTOBER 2004
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The light goes on: Reflecting on the values and principles of the Child and Youth Care Program

Leanne Rose Sladde

The Child and Youth Care Program at Malaspina University-College is grounded in a set of values that intimately influences the hiring, teaching, and curricula development. Most important, these values are foundational to good child and youth care practice. The purpose of this article is to present a general overview of the program and to highlight how the values from which the program is developed influence the experience of the student in the program as well as impacts the way in which students will practice with children, youth, and families.

After several months of brooding, the light goes on. The commitment I have made to writing about the philosophy and curriculum of Malaspina University-College’s Child and Youth Care Program has resulted in various failed attempts at putting pen to paper. I recognize now that my vacillation stems from the pressure I put on myself to write in an academically accepted style that loses me in the process. The understanding I derived from my academic experience is that good, professional writing presents ideas and statements that can be backed up with references to works completed previously by credible researchers and writers. The assumption seems to be that what you are writing is grounded in “truth" – as long as somebody else said it. Although I can’t reject this way of writing as valid, I do not hold it to be the only way, nor the most important way, and most obviously it is not me. Taking back my control, I ask myself how do I want this paper to develop, what do I want to say, and how do I communicate in the written word most comfortably?

The answers are somewhat simple from this place of self-reflection. I want to muse about the program, I want to express my opinion about why I believe this program to be a part of me, and I want to inspire excitement in others about this program, I want to be true to my colleagues in what I say, and I want to model a different and valid way of expressing those things to you, the reader. I have a sense that I am already dealing with the philosophy I’m attempting to describe. I’m involved in my own words – concerned with what I want to say. My intent in this article is to be true to myself by sharing with you my journey of writing the article and relating that journey to the philosophy of the program in which I work. The child and youth care curriculum at Malaspina University-College is driven, influenced, and delivered from a philosophy rooted in working with children, youth, and families from the following beliefs and values.

  1. Our subjective experience, including our sense of self, forms a unique point of reference.

  2. Each person, family, and community is on a developmental continuum, influenced by all of their experiences.

  3. Each person, family, and community has, within themselves, the resources necessary to create an environment to further their development.

  4. The awareness of self and other in relationship impacts the development of all relationships.

  5. The professional caring relationship is unique in that the professional strives to understand, validate, and be responsive to the subjective experience of each person, family, and community.

At first glance these statements look like the customary lifeless credos that academics generate as a result of some “think tank" philosophical discussion. However, their power of influence is profound when we examine what they mean and how we can breathe life into them. My experience of writing this article and my sharing of that will, I hope, demonstrate the complexity and simplicity of how holding these values and constantly trying to attend to them in all of our practice as professionals and educators begins to impact our “truths" and ultimately allows us to experience our passions.

As this project progresses, I recognize that I take some comfort in presenting my thoughts in this format. It feels familiar, and I understand that my experiences about writing in this way have become more and more accepted in both the academic and professional communities. In my teaching I find myself attracted to packages of readings for students that pull together experiences and stories written by practitioners, parents, and children rather than the traditional texts that synthesize and depersonalize information that students should “know." This attraction stems from my experiences in my schooling and most notably in my post-secondary education, where I was infinitely frustrated by the impersonal language and contexts of information considered necessary to work with children, youth, and families.

Our subjective experience, including our sense of self, forms a unique point of reference
We often hear that our actions are rooted in our own beliefs and values, and, in fact in the field of child and youth care (CYC) the notion of self-awareness is seen as a pivotal ingredient for both the practitioner and the client for that very reason. However, curriculum is commonly developed from a context of what the learner needs to learn rather than what he or she brings to the classroom and what beliefs provide the glue for the program. From a program development point of view, the above tenet suggests that we, as a faculty group, develop and deliver curriculum which is grounded in the subjective experience of the students. To this end we invite and value their opinions and personal experience of their learning, and their relationship to the curriculum. We create opportunity for students to share themselves with others, and we integrate this into our evaluation process. To be true to this belief we have to suspend the traditional notion of lecturing the content to the students so that they can be “filled up" with the useful information, and instead facilitate a process whereby students interact with material from a very personal place and begin to understand that material by understanding their subjective experience in relation to the content. From a faculty point of view it commits us to listening closely to the experiences and views of all and to sharing our own selves with each other and the students. It also provokes us to question our own ideas about what is valid academic material.

The process of validating and holding the student’s subjective experiences as important in the learning process creates a cycle in which the students then begin to understand that their quest as practitioners is to understand and respect the subjective experience of the children with whom they work, that is, what it is like to be me, living in this family, going to this school, in this community. Only from this point of reference can the practitioner understand a child's thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Ultimately, through the process of understanding the child and the child's world, the practitioner is able to develop sensitivity toward that child's world, recognizing that whatever they do as practitioners will be interpreted in this world and the child will respond accordingly. This orientation to practice allows us to offer new information and be with the child in a way that makes sense to them. Child and youth care is a profession that has the time, the mandate, and the skill to work in this way.

I now find myself pondering how my childhood experiences have influenced my writing style. I wonder if it is a big leap to explain my writing style by looking at my developmental history and experiences. Through the process of thinking about this article I have made the connection to my issues with creativity and my life’s desire to discover mine. I have previously deliberated ("Journal Entries") about my role in the family as the academic one amongst a family of artists. I have put together in my mind that Art equals creativity and therefore I am not. Developmentally, as a writer, I have had a number of experiences that have given me the opportunity to express myself in a format with which I feel comfortable and have had those writings accepted by the child and youth care community. From these experiences I have become confident about expressing my own beliefs and curious about the information and beliefs that others hold. This has inspired me to re-evaluate my definition of creativity and understand that I can be creative, and one of the ways I express that is through my writing and expression of my own beliefs and values. By sharing my stories and being true to myself in my style, I have been able to slowly accept this style of expression and move away from the traditional “right and wrong" way of assessing academic writing. Those experiences have also begun to motivate me to become accepting of my writing as valid and worthy.

Each person, family, and community is on developmental continuum, influenced by all of their experiences
From a program perspective this credo suggests that we encourage students to be aware of their own developmental continuum, and we provide opportunity for them to not only examine and reflect upon their own life experiences, but for those experiences to be heard and held as valid. Further, it suggests that we honour the individual pathways of students and build understanding of them from their perspective told through their stories about their life experiences. It requires us to work toward suspending our notions of what a student should “look like" and more importantly what a “CYC worker" should look like. This can be a difficult task in our evaluative world of rights and wrongs, and certainly a struggle in a program that is situated in an academic setting that traditionally does not value a developmental continuum in its evaluation process (i.e., one only gets an A if she or he knows the right answer!). The most notable places where this belief challenges us to think differently are in those areas where we are assessing direct practice and either discerning someone as competent or not, or evaluating their practice against our curriculum for credit. We have begun to respond by challenging some of the academic beliefs that are embedded in most post-secondary institutions about what constitutes knowledge and learning. This movement and shift in thinking has been reflected in the department’s involvement in Prior Learning Assessments, and various projects that invite us to think outside the “box."

In practice, students are able to recognize each child's individual path and resist the tendency to pathologize children who are “different" or who learn in unique ways. Although the practitioner may draw upon theories about developmental norms, the work that they do is more focused on supporting children in moving along their own developmental pathway by understanding what their particular pathway looks like. This requires practitioners to constantly challenge their own beliefs about what is right and wrong, good and bad, normal and deviant, and accept that where the child is at this moment in time is normal for them.

The most fascinating aspect of the journey of writing this article has been the emerging realization made during the process that I can be true to myself and present an article on the program at Malaspina University-College at the same time. I look outside myself to say what or who has made this possible and I begin a process to reflect upon the climate we have created in child and youth care, the personalities of my colleagues, the nature of the Journal of Child and Youth Care, and so on. I am aware that I am an active part of nurturing and supporting an environment that stimulates and challenges me. Not only in a professional sense, but more importantly in a personal sense.

Each person, family, and community has, within themselves, the resources necessary to create an environment to further their development.
From a teaching perspective the above belief statement means that we can encourage students to explore their own ways of being resourceful. That we invite them to look at self and at how their own thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and beliefs can create change and development for self, family and community. That we discuss practice and model our own commitment to being in an active process of collaboration in which the client will ultimately lead the way. That we fundamentally embrace the notion that people, families, communities, and therefore students are resourceful and are the keepers of their destiny.

From a practice perspective, to believe that children have the resources within themselves is to take the stance that change and growth come from the inside and not from external intervention. Given this, the practitioner’s task becomes one of helping the child discover the resources that lie on the inside, rather than focusing on changing them or trying to make their lives easier. This also involves the practitioner avoiding the “victim" trap. Their task is to hold kids responsible while teaching them how they can create the lives they want without handing their power over to others. This is the foundation of self-confidence, competence, and responsibility. This work can only be done by people who have experienced their own inner-directedness.

At this point in this project I am asking myself what it is that compels me to write in this narrative style. Am I fearful about not being able to write “academically"? And there it is again, the assessment that this style is not “academic"! What is it about this style of writing that feels comfortable to me and allows me to express freely? The answer comes intuitively and is no surprise. Relationship, Relationship, Relationship. I want to be in relationship with you, as the reader, in the one way I can through this venue, by sharing myself. My belief is that by sharing our stories and hearing others” stories we begin to come to a common shared understanding. Being free to express my passion about the field of child and youth care and my ideas as an educator and practitioner keeps me alive and connected to the work. Believing that I am engaging you and you are getting a glimpse of who I am is critical to the survival of my passion. By sharing myself with you I also come to a better understanding of myself. I need to be personal in my work, as this is the only way for me to get in touch with the passion that drives me.

The awareness of self and other in relationship impacts the development of all relationships.
In our development as a department, we have consciously chosen to prioritize our relationships with one another as paramount. This is a difficult task to accomplish and requires a commitment of all to remain vigilant on the path of self-awareness. This commitment of faculty extends most importantly to valuing our relationships with each other, and being in relationship with our students. It is often challenging to balance the importance of relationship with the “professional distance" that has been prevalent in academic and professional venues for centuries. In being truly committed to relationship we as faculty share of ourselves and invite students to share of themselves. We recognize that we are all on a journey of self-discovery and that there are, in essence, no experts. To this end we encourage and invite opinions that are oppositional to ours, we promote critical thinking, and we honour personal choice. On a much more pragmatic level, valuing relationship fundamentally changes the way in which we teach, the types of assignments we give, and most interestingly the evaluative processes we consider.

In practice with children, our relationships become key. Given that personal relationships are the primary context for growth and change, it makes sense that the practitioner’s relationship with the child is not a means to an end “it is an end in itself. This means that children who can become and express who they are in relationship with others are essentially healthy. This does not mean that the practitioner must abandon her/his role as an adult or a professional. It does mean, however, that she or he must be able to bring their self into the roles. Child and youth care is unique as a profession that stresses this kind of equivalency in the helping relationship.

And so, I come almost to the end of the project and more importantly to another place in my journey as a writer. It might seem amazing that someone can reflect on her writing style so much! I feel little fear that you will slap my hands now for not following the “rules" of writing, for I believe I have invited you to know me. I have shared my self with you. My fears, my joys, my expectations. And I trust that you will accept what I have to say as being my truth.

The professional caring relationship is unique in that the professional strives to understand, validate, and be responsive to the subjective experience of each person, family, and community.
The Child and Youth Care Program at Malaspina is unique in that the students, faculty, staff, and community all intimately influence the curriculum and learning environment. It is a forever evolving, always personal, and ultimately passionate program, which is solidly grounded in the beliefs of child and youth care that children are not only our future, they are our now, and they matter.

This feature: Leanne Rose Sladde. (2000) The Light Goes On: Reflecting on the Values and Principles of the Child and Youth Care Program. Journal of Child and Youth Care: Malaspina 2000. pp. 1-7

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