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125 JULY 2009
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Reflections on a successful practicum experience in Child and Youth Care

Nancy McManus

This writing is a reflection of my journey through my Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care and specifically my experience in my final practicum.

I started out in the third year of my program with the personal expectation that I would specialize in child protection and do my practicum hours with the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development in the role of child protection worker. As I started my final year, I still believed that this practicum would soon be a reality, but I found out in November that this was not to be the case. I have difficulty with self-esteem and confidence and when I went for interviews with the ministry I was not able to overcome my nervousness or my lack of confidence.

Fortunately I had a faculty supervisor who helped me pick up the pieces and find out what kind of work I really wanted to do in the field. At the time I knew that I eventually wanted to be in a position where I could use my counselling skills with clients who have mental illness. When I told my supervisor this, she told me about a possible placement that worked not only with clients with mental illness, but worked to support the families as well. Armed with the practicum book from the agency I went home to see if it fit what I was looking for. I realized very quickly that it was. I e-mailed my resume and a cover letter to Littlefield and Associates and waited for a reply. The reply came the next day via phone and I knew that I was one interview away from a practicum placement. The interview turned out to be a discussion about all the preliminary work that the practicum supervisor wanted me to do before we met again. What a relief”.I had a placement.

My practicum placement was unique as I was to be working in a private practice supporting families with parental mental illness. Another thing that I found to be unique in this placement was that I was considered an equal by Mark (my supervisor) and I did not have a title for my position. He would introduce me to other professionals that we worked with in collaborative practice settings as a Practicum Student but never referred to it at any other time. My work was done in a variety of settings including Child and Youth Mental Health offices, Adult Mental Health offices, schools for team meetings, family’s homes and my own home for paper work, to name a few. My major role was to develop a psycho-educational program called Know It, for families with parental mental illness, as well as to introduce it to a family who was referred to the program. My other responsibilities included learning about Ulysses Agreements by attending workshops facilitated by Mark and participating in a committee in Chilliwack which was organizing a Ulysses Agreement training workshop for people in the community. A Ulysses Agreement is a living document that is owned by a person with a mental illness and allows them to plan ahead for times when the mental illness requires additional support. In the case of a parent, this agreement offers them a chance to maintain their role of parent in the family by arranging ahead of time for someone to look after their children when they are not able to.

I was fortunate to experience a practicum placement that was tailor-made for me. I had a supervisor who treated me as an equal and at the same time took his role as mentor and supervisor very seriously. He was respectful of my needs to learn and experience a variety of roles in the field such as workshop facilitation, client contact, research, and program development. He took into consideration my goals for my practicum and helped me in balancing them with his expectations of me during our time together. He also recognized the importance of being available by phone or in person at least once a week to debrief with me and to make sure that I was achieving my weekly goals as well as keeping up with my own self-care, a huge concern for him as I was working with a very depressed mother and have my own mental health issues as well.

As for learning from Mark it is hard to know where to start. I was constantly challenged by him to not only plan interventions, but justify my plans and connect them to various theoretical perspectives and how my self, theory and practice fit together as praxis in the field of mental illness and Child and Youth Care. All of these are a part of the Self-Awareness Model that I learned about in the third year of the Child and Youth Care program.

Another part of my practicum involved writing weekly goals that were based on the five competencies that are a part of the certification process for North American Child and Youth Care Professionals. Mark’s goal in having me do these was that I would be prepared to take the exam and become certified at the end of my practicum. With some luck and a lot of hard work I am also hoping to make that a reality. I found that by writing these weekly goals it also prepared me for writing the journal that was required by the course outline and the format that was involved made finding evidence of learning very easy. As I completed each goal I would write a new one for the following week and include notes of my progress towards the previous goal.

As I ventured into this very unexpected practicum experience I found that I had brought a perspective that mirrored Mark’s in my belief of the importance of micro systems in a client’s intervention, as well as the importance of supporting the whole family and not just the identified “problem.” I also brought with me knowledge from education, wisdom from life experience and skills that have been acquired from both education and experience. I brought an understanding of society from my background in sociology which enabled me to look at the world from my clients” perspective not just from my own. This was important as I was working with clients from different cultural backgrounds.

During my practicum I learned the importance of listening to clients and allowing them to direct the session whenever possible, while also paying attention to the non-verbal cues that they are giving and taking the lead when it is necessary. An example of this is when I offered to help a client pack up some personal belongings in preparation for moving. When I got to the house the client was overwhelmed with other issues that had arisen and it became obvious to me that I would be waiting a long time if I expected her to start the packing process first. I jumped up and started putting some glass dolphins into a box and it wasn’t long after that she also started to pack some boxes. By observing and using personal experience I was able to give her a place to start so that the packing wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

Flexibility is another skill that I honed during this experience. I found that flexibility with co-workers and other professionals as well as with clients can take stress away from a situation by allowing people to be more genuine in the relationship that they are a part of. By being flexible, I was able to allow myself the freedom to change plans with clients to better meet their needs without being stressed out or upset by the sudden change. This was also a skill that made it easy for Mark and I to work together because we often had to change supervision times and formats because something else would come up that he had to attend. Often we would do supervision meetings by phone.

Another skill that I had learned and practiced during this time was giving constructive criticism. Each time that I went to a workshop that Mark was facilitating I had the opportunity to tell him afterwards what I thought worked and what didn’t work. This not only gave me a chance to learn about facilitating workshops and how to read the participants, but it also gave Mark a chance to see my expectations for constructive criticism and how it is delivered to me.

By the time I finished my hours I had accomplished the huge task of creating a workbook to use with children whose parent or parents have mental illness. I also had the opportunity to close out with a client a relationship that I went into as an informal/formal support person. I also had many opportunities to create a network of professional people that I can stay in touch with as I continue to work in this field.

It is difficult to include everything that I have learned during my practicum in this paper, but I can sum it up by saying that I believe that I have done more growing, professionally and personally, in these last few months than ever before because of a tailor-made placement. I know now that I have found the area of Child and Youth Care that I was meant to be in and have been looking to find for many years.

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