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125 JULY 2009
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Road trip: How getting “out there” can change things “in here”

Lauren Akbar, Caitlin Jones, Ryan McLeod, Jessica Morris, Theresa Phillips, Melissa Reid, Talika Vazirali and Caitlin McMillan

The overall experience
In December 2008, Professor Kiaras Gharabaghi walked in to our Professional Issues class at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada and announced that he would be selecting seven students to take with him to the International Child and Youth Care conference to be held in Florida in May 2009. As students entering the exciting field of Child and Youth Care, you can probably imagine how thrilled we were to find out that we had a shot at being chosen to attend this conference. We all were excited at the prospect of meeting new people, beginning to network, and talking with those in the field that we have been citing in our essays for years.

At the beginning of this year we were given the chance to submit an approximately 200-300-word essay on how the International Child and Youth Care Conference in Florida would enhance our experience as students at Ryerson University. Seven essays would be chosen as most impressive and those students would be in invited to take part in the conference.

It was January 16th, 2009 when we, seven students from the Ryerson University School of Child and Youth Care, received the good news. We would be spending a week in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at the International Child and Youth Care Conference. The five days were to include touring child and youth service sites, attending workshops, interviewing workers from all around the world and also enjoying Florida.

With great excitement, our group of students came together and began planning the adventure. Ryerson University generously funded the majority of the trip, but the rest was up to us. Over a period of four months, we planned pub nights, held raffles, hosted movie nights and sold custom-made Child and Youth Care key chains. We raised enough money to cover the trip. The planning process was long, and at times difficult, but as of May 25th, we were ready to go.

Wide-eyed and excited, we boarded the plane en route to Ft Lauderdale, Florida. When we re-boarded the plane five days later, we were exhausted from the whirlwind of activities, but we were also richer for the experience. Being a part of this conference was truly amazing; we were a small group of students surrounded by a large sea of professionals, all of whom we could learn so much from, and we took advantage of our situation. We had drinks and conversation with Thom Garfat and Leon Fulcher for nearly two hours; we had dinner at a Cuban restaurant with over sixty scholars and practitioners from Canada, the US, South Africa, Denmark, Ireland and the UK; we went on a boat tour with Pat Gaughan (General Manager of Bartimaeus, an innovative Child and Youth Care company in Ontario and Quebec), and we even got to see one of us, Caitlin McMillan, present research outcomes (based on the research of Dr. Carol Stuart) at the conference.

Touring service providers
Our first full day in Florida started off with doing site tours in Fort Lauderdale and Miami and was a great way to start off the conference. We packed up what we needed for the day and were off. After about an hour-long detour “okay, we got lost but in our defense, the streets of Miami are confusing “we made it to His House Children's Home. His House is a faith based non-profit organization that provides residential care for children, who are abused, neglected or drug exposed. Jean Cacerez-Gonzales established it in 1989, and we were lucky enough to have her as our guide for the morning. She brought us into the boardroom and told us all about the program and how it was unlike many other residential programs. At His House, there are six to eight children per house and each house has one or two house parents who live with these children on a day-to-day basis and provide all the comforts and support of a structured family.

The campus is quite large and is continuously expanding. They have several different houses for all the children as well as a school on campus. We had the opportunity to tour around the campus and visit some of the children's homes. This place is amazing “the vast amount of space that they have, the expansions they are planning, and the way they maintain each and every house is quite impressive. Each room in every house is decorated with the children in mind and they have out-done themselves. The rooms are outfitted so that anyone coming in would immediately feel welcome and comfortable.

After a quick lunch break we headed back up to North Lauderdale to visit a family resource centre called Family Central. After another short detour “okay, okay, we got lost again “we made it to the center. It was a large facility where parents, children and teachers can come for support and resources. At this centre, anyone in need of educational or lifespace resources could get assistance from library staff and get, amongst other things, the appropriate tools and toys and even a lesson plan on the subject. The resources seemed to be very therapeutic and engaging.

The centre also runs parenting programs as well as programs for children and their parents to help resolve problematic behaviours. Family Central appeared a very useful and resourceful place for many people and incorporating all these services into one centre is beneficial to parents, children and teachers alike.

Both tours were remarkable in their own way and it was wonderful to be able to experience the different ways people deliver their resources and services. In our opinion, it would be beneficial for more people to look into the services of other cities, provinces and even countries to see what they have to offer and to see what “best demonstrated practices” others use so that we can make our services better. We must share what knowledge we have with others as well as accept that others may have tools and ideas that we do not. We need to keep exploring different resources and avenues to present our services to our clients. As the Chinese proverb goes “Hewho asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever”.

The impact
As new Child and Youth Care workers, we often get told our field comes to a dead end. We are told that we will burn out and eventually start looking for a new profession. After combining our skills and personalities, and speaking to many Child and Youth Care workers young and old, we beg to differ.

The journey in Child and Youth Care can have a dead end “but it doesn’t have to. Each of our journeys will be different depending on the degree of commitment to Child and Youth Care. Spending time at the conference with other professionals reminded us as students that our field is a vocation, a calling and an honor to work at the service of children and youth. The conference represented an energy to stand by the profession, take on one’s professional duty, listen to children and youth, the team, and respect all others who stand for what we are doing. Before attending this conference we had no idea what was out there in our enormous field. We had no idea about networking, we had no idea how much fun conferences could be, and we had no idea how many friends, future employers, and future colleagues we would meet.

Following our experience at the International Conference, and allowing some time to digest the experience, we started to examine the impact and magnitude of being a part of something so special.

First, we have realized that we are in a unique and privileged position to be agents of change. We have the liberty to create, implement and modify many things around us. We have learned that anything is possible. The support and guidance reassures us that in our journey, we will not walk alone. It is a pleasure and an honor to know that we are so close to the individuals whose contributions enrich the work that we provide.

Also, what we have noticed is that we are not alone in our profession. There is a breadth of knowledge, experience, and professionalism for the young generation to tap into. To all of you, the leaders of our profession, please make it your responsibility to touch the next generation with your words of wisdom and provide guidance to help us pursue our passion. Most importantly, encourage attendance in staff development such as seminars, workshops, conferences, coupled with membership to groups, organizations, and networks. Strongly advocating for membership and professional development should be considered a requirement for progression and collaboration within our field. These indirect services improve the overall direct services that we offer to children and families every day. It also sets a gold standard that pushes for individual and collective learning.

Sometimes, no matter how young or old, we lose sight of our present and forget why we are doing what we are doing. Listening to present and past warriors of the field gave us all a sense of security, hope, inspiration and most importantly confidence as a professional. Being a part of the conference gave us a wider understanding of our field, as if a picture had just come into focus.

As future leaders in the field we encourage you to attend conferences and take the time to be a part of the future. As students, we cannot think of a better way to get our feet through the door in this vast field. This opportunity, given to us by Kiaras Gharabaghi and Ryerson University, has opened up countless doors for us and our futures. For that one week, we were no longer Child and Youth Care students in a classroom “we were Child and Youth Care professionals, discussing our field with the best of the best, and learning every step of the way. This experience is one that we will be forever grateful for, as this is where our professional lives truly began to grow.

Our Declaration to the field
As young professionals and students in the field we find ourselves running into professional issues and dilemmas very often. Although we may feel skilled, knowledgeable and capable in our jobs and placements, there is still an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy to make a difference in the overall functioning of the field. Watching our present leaders as they mingled and spent time with one another allowed us to experience the field at its best. It was clear to us that this was a key component in our leaders” ability to continue moving the field forward, together.

We would like to thank everyone who has made a difference in the field of Child and Youth Care for your perseverance and for maintaining your passion. Here is our declaration to you:

We will continue to push the field forward, we are right behind you all the way. We will struggle, but look to you for guidance. We will be innovative and think outside of the box. We will conduct research. We will have fun. And most of all, we will support one another.

The eight students who attended the conference in Florida and who wrote this article also attended a major conference in Ontario, sponsored by the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Counsellors, in June 2009. At this conference, they presented their experience and its impact to well over one hundred professionals in the field. In this way, they have already affirmed that their declaration above is for real. There is much to be gained by ensuring that students and young professionals in our field feel connected; connections are what this field is all about, and when students and young professionals feel connected to a field of practice and to like-minded professionals from all over the world, there is a good chance that they will transfer the spirit of those connections to their own connections with children, youth and families – KG

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