CYC-Online 70 NOVEMBER 2004
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from the soapbox

Things are looking up: Positive signs for child and youth work

Karen VanderVen

Periodically, I despair a bit, wondering whether we are making progress in moving child and youth forward as a recognized and effective profession. This fall there seem to be some very optimistic signs of growth and renewal, and from my Soapbox and from where I sit, I'd like to describe what I'm seeing.

Organized Higher Education System
I've always claimed that if this work is to advance, there must be higher education programs that offer professional preparation and perform the scholarship and research that records and disseminates emergent knowledge and practice. At the recent International Child and Youth Conference in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I busied myself collecting brochures from a wide array of well-established child and youth work preparation programs at various academic levels from across the entire country. Study is offered both on site and by distance education. My impression was that the Canadian higher education system can serve as an example for other countries and regions as they try to ensure that potential and practicing child and youth workers have opportunity for ongoing professional development.

New Faces and New Leadership
Bringing up an old worry that a new cadre of leadership needs to be developed in the field, I was also warmed at the Canadian conference when I attended a session for educators in which current and recently graduated students described how they entered the field, what their education had prepared them for, and the work they were doing now.

What a powerful presentation! These people were articulate, energetic, committed, insightful and already making a difference with the work they were doing. As I reflected on this, I realized that the future is in very good hands.

Expanding Professional Roles
One of the indicators of professional presence and strength is the array of roles available to those who do the work. Again, in Canada, it was gratifying to learn that there with an entrepreneurial spirit and an eye for innovation who are in private practice or who are running agencies that contract with other agencies to provide child and youth worker services.

Reaching the Administrators
Serving as administrators of child and youth service provider agencies of course is an ideal role experienced child and youth workers. When administrators do “not come from the field", however, it is important that they be recognized for the crucial influence they can hold for us and make sure to include them in our communications and activities. Another good piece of news is that the North American Competency and Certification Project is making a specific effort to get the word out to the wider world of agency administrators. When the certification process is ready to be unveiled, then the administrators will be on board and ready to recognize that a qualified cadre of professionals is available to serve in crucial child and youth worker roles.

Conceptual Underpinnings
Any established field of endeavor has a well articulated philosophical and conceptual base. It has been acknowledged previously that the base for child and youth work is in developmental theory and knowledge covering both normative and exceptional aspect; and that other disciplines also contribute.

I recently had extensive discussions with Lisbeth Eriksson, a professor in the Social Pedagogue department of Linkoping University in Sweden who was visiting in the United States. There are many similarities between the two and I think that if they could become “conceptually linked", connecting their common base, that great benefits would accrue to us. A particularly noteworthy aspect of the social Pedagogue model that emerged in my interchange with Professor Eriksson is the degree to which contemporary philosophy, sociology and other disciplines have been studied to show where the concept of Social Pedagogue comes from, how the multidisciplinary thought streams are integrated into a coherent perspective, and how this shapes practice. What is noteworthy is how compelling the rationale for the work is when it is thought out so deeply. This has great implications and I will be writing more on this in the future.

Common Understandings
Recently on CYC-Net there have been two stimulating discussion threads – one on token economies and one on issues surrounding sleeping and waking. Given that these two areas are traditional Soapbox topics for me, naturally I had to step in. But my views are not the point (at least this month!) Rather my observation in reading the replies is how much common understanding there is among the practitioners who respond to these issues – even where there is disagreement. While each respondent from around the world commented in his or her own words, and there were multiple opinions, it was amazing how one could sense a common frame of reference underlying the various perspectives. This gave me a great sense of the presence of the field and the growing connectedness among its members.

By next month, I'll probably be back on my usual Soapbox ranting about upsetting practices. But right now, I'm just enjoying acknowledging our ongoing progress and appreciating our international connections.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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