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121 MARCH 2009
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THE PROFESSION

Framing a new and expanded vision for the future of Child and Youth Care work: an international, intercultural and trans-disciplinary perspective

Ted Dunlop

Abstract: In this article, presented at the 7th International Child and Youth Care Conference in Victoria, British Columbia in August, 2003, the author puts forward his case for a much more inclusive and expanded definition of the nature of Child and Youth Care work. The significance of the quest for recognition as a profession is downplayed. Instead, the author argues for a more fluid paradigm that accommodates the diversity of approaches to the field across jurisdictions and recognizes clear trends toward seamless service, client empowerment, trans-disciplinary practice, and respect for indigenous ways of being. The glaring example of work with indigenous communities is used to drive home this last point. For all this to happen, it is proposed that a global code of ethics and framework of practice be articulated in order to bind the field together and unite those legions of workers around the world who recognize the primacy of children, youth, and families at the very core of their practice.

He kai poutaka me kinikini atu, he kai poutaka me hore hore atu, ma te tamaiti te iho.
(The welfare of the children ensures the future strength of the people.)

Over the course of the past thirty plus years, I have had the privilege of observing developments in the field of Child and Youth Care at varying degrees of proximity, from close range to a distance. I have also had the unique opportunity to witness the considerable variations that exist across four jurisdictions in Canada and, most recently, New Zealand, where I have lived and worked for the past five years. Over time, these experiences have helped shape a very different vision for me of what the field entails. This vision might not curry favour in some circles. However, after much soul-searching, I have reached the conclusion that Child and Youth Care does not qualify as a profession in its own right or in the traditional sense of the word and efforts to shape it into one may not be all that productive or necessary. Nonetheless, I readily concede that Child and Youth Care is a field of practice that calls on its members to conduct themselves in a professional manner, which is a distinction that Eisikovits and Beker (2001) have also made. For me, the line is drawn at making the claim that Child and Youth Care should carry the trappings of a stand-alone profession. However, I have no problem with the suggestion that it is a unique field of practice that can be treated as a discrete entity or be embedded in traditionally recognized professions such as social work, nursing, and teaching where the focus is also placed on children, youth, and families. Very often, Child and Youth Care training serves as a springboard into these recognized professions. In any case, why would Child and Youth Care workers wish to see themselves as a profession in the traditional sense with all the baggage that that carries with it and at a time when the lines between fields of practice are showing all the signs of becoming increasingly blurred? Challenging the quest to be accepted as a profession may raise hackles in some quarters, but one of the lessons of history is that it is the heretics in our midst who stimulate a different way of looking at the world around us.

As a field of practice standing on its own, we need to face up to the fact that, at present, Child and Youth Care work, in some minds, is still construed as a vocational choice best suited to the young who possess the idealism, energy, and developmental perspective that allows them to empathize with the plight of children and youth “in their care” “a term that is somewhat outdated except in the context of residential or day care services. In this respect, it makes sense to provide educational and training opportunities for building on core competencies required of workers at the front line while, at the same time, allowing them to encounter in a very personal way their own developmental issues so that harm is not done to the well-being of children and youth under their stewardship. As an aside, one of the strengths of the Psychoeducateur Model that I witnessed during my two years in Quebec in the mid-1970s was the emphasis in curricula on personal growth, development, and understanding of self vis-a-vis working with challenging children, youth, and families. By espousing a different model of practice that some might find off-putting, given the investment that has been made in developing Child and Youth Care as a “profession”, I would not in any way suggest that we dismantle the great number of educational programmes that have emerged across Canada and other “Western” jurisdictions (mostly in colleges and only a very few at the university level) since the late 1960s. Students will continue to be attracted to these programmes because they wish to focus on the core of Child and Youth Care practice, which has been well articulated over the past 30 years in particular. However, others will be drawn to the more mainstream professions expecting to make children, youth, and families the core of their practice as well, and that needs to be recognized, respected, and valued. We can no longer afford, in these times of constraint, to permit competition and exclusiveness to get in the way of providing seamless service to people in need. My call here is for a fluid, dynamic, inclusive, and ecumenical view of what this specific field of practice is all about without diluting its core or compromising its potential to transcend traditional professional boundaries. In this way, we are able to embrace more meaningfully the tremendous range of diversity that exists across Canada and other jurisdictions as well. Contrary to what some have implied (Denholm, Ferguson and Pence, 1991), I do not believe that there is, for example, only one Canadian perspective. In fact, there are probably a dozen or more Canadian perspectives, and one strikingly unique perspective with its home in Quebec that is clearly under-represented at this national and international conference (another illustration of the two solitudes anomaly that has plagued the Canadian Confederation for some time now). I also suspect that if we track the alumni of our many educational programmes over the years, we are likely to find them dispersed across a range of career options that aren’t necessarily directly related to Child and Youth Care. However, I would also venture to say that the legions of alumni who have graduated from our many programmes would mostly attest, in a very positive way, to the strong foundation that they gained from their initial education in Child and Youth Care and to the doors it has opened for them at other stages in their lives and careers. If one examines the variety of people attracted to teaching Child and Youth Care, it becomes evident, as well, that they themselves are drawn from eclectic backgrounds outside the pale of Child and Youth Care practice per se. However, I would also argue that, in order to remain committed to the field, they have taken to heart what the core of Child and Youth Care practice is all about. This experience might suggest a particular state of mind or disposition to providing service in intensive and personal ways that is a hallmark of the field and an enriching one at that “a theme we will return to late

On reflection, I have identified nine reasons why, in my view, Child and Youth Care work does not qualify as a profession in the traditional sense.

My reflections may appear to be rather harsh in some respects, but they are not intended to be. My real purpose here is to assist in laying the groundwork for consideration of a new and dynamic open-ended paradigm that will inspire and drive our efforts for the future “one that is essentially trans-disciplinary, internationalist in its scope, more inclusive in nature in the broadest sense of the word, and building on the good work that has taken place to date in constructing a unique identity for Child and Youth Care workers. In my view, this new paradigm must hinge on a core field or framework of practice that can stand on its own but also be embedded in recognized professions of social work, counselling, education, applied psychology, and nursing, as mentioned earlier. In no way do I wish to denigrate the struggles and hard work of so many of my colleagues, over the past 30 years in particular, to build a strong identity and sense of solidarity among workers doing like roles who chose to centre their practice on children and/or youth. However, we must accept that, in an ever-changing world, we need to stretch our imaginations to articulate a new understanding of the defining characteristics of Child and Youth Care. Without belabouring the point, but for our own peace of mind, it might still help to define more rigorously or redefine what we mean by profession, occupation, field of practice, discipline, etc., if only to exorcise the ghosts of the past. These are terms that are casually bandied about but not necessarily well understood or agreed upon.

I need to reiterate once again that the inability of Child and Youth Care work to put its stake in the ground as a profession should in no way be construed as a handicap or a cause for discouragement. In fact, I am arguing that it presents a real and exciting opportunity for Child and Youth Care workers, unencumbered by the traditional, dogmatic, and historic trappings of professionalism, to become effective agents of change for breaching occupational boundaries and forging a shared vision of that core framework of practice and its primary ingredients. As Tucker, Strange, Cordeaux, Moules and Torrance (1999) have noted, the changing world of work with children and young people compels us to move beyond our precious views of professional turf, privileges, and ownership of priestly “competencies”. With changing methods of intervention that are more family-friendly and empowering, with the needs of service users or consumers becoming more diverse and complex, and with the harsh economics of service delivery forcing the pooling of resources, the climate is ripe to think differently about formulating a common model for practice. This was the intent envisaged by the Childhood Studies Discipline Network in the United Kingdom when it gathered together representatives of education, health, and social care interests at a workshop held in 1997. Such models are already emerging, as illustrated by Tucker et al. (1999), who cite the development of the pedagogue in countries such as Denmark, which allow flexible entry routes for practitioners to move along a continuum from work with young children through to work with adults with special needs. Such a pattern allows workers a certain degree of career mobility that serves as an effective antidote to the comment made earlier that Child and Youth Care work is largely the domain of the young. In New Zealand, for example, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the National Qualifications Framework (2003) clearly map out stair-casing qualifications from certificate, diploma, degree, and postgraduate levels that expedite the movement of adult learners through open pathways to lateral, as well as higher, qualifications. The distinct qualifications of graduate certificate and graduate diploma programmes allow individuals with one qualification to access another at a specialized level that is directly or indirectly related to the first qualification. For example, as the following descriptions of a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma programme suggest, an individual with a teaching qualification could advance to complete, in a relatively short period of time, a graduate certificate and diploma in Youth Work.

Characteristics of the Graduate Certificate Programme
A graduate certificate is designed primarily as a vehicle for graduates to pursue further study at an undergraduate level. The graduate certificate can be designed as a bridging programme for candidates developing educational, professional or vocational knowledge in a new discipline, professional or subject area and/or as a broadening or deepening of skills or knowledge already gained in an undergraduate programme. (NZQA, 2003, p.9)

Characteristics of the Graduate Diploma Programme
A graduate diploma is designed as a vehicle for graduates to pursue further study at an undergraduate level. The programme can be designed to broaden knowledge and skills in a familiar subject or discipline or develop knowledge in a new area. (NZQA, 2003, p.10)

In the Canadian context, as pointed out earlier, we need only look in our own back yard to see a more flexible model in action in Quebec, where the long tradition of work in psycho-education goes back to the mid-1950s. From this example, among others, we ought to envisage a more flexible and creative range of qualifications underpinned by a greater exploitation of current and emerging technologies to reach the maximum number of workers at different levels of practice. I foresee this as a major task for educators for the remainder of this decade.

In order to shape a new paradigm of what Child and Youth Care work entails, it is necessary to move beyond a North American-centric view of the field of practice (you will note that I studiously avoid referring to Child and Youth Care work as a profession). Meanwhile, in the North American context, the claim has been made that there have been the two primary historical streams, residential care and day-care (Denholm, et al., 1991) (though many in the latter would take exception to being lumped in with residential care). The experiences and traditions in other parts of the world compel us to move toward a more multi-dimensional and a more porous view of the field. To add to the confusion, the key influences of normalization, of mainstreaming, of changing intervention methodologies, of economic constraints on service delivery, and of heightened calls for accountability instigate against claims that Child and Youth Care “owns” a distinctive professional mandate that differs significantly from other service occupations.

At this juncture, perhaps it would help to pause and take stock of what others mean by the term profession. In some cases, definitions are quite self-serving with a focus on status, recognition, compensation, and the power to be self-directing. Or, we could define a profession by way of the following attributes as outlined by Feeney, (1995), Katz, (1995), and Stonehouse, (1994) (as cited in Feeney and Freeman, 2002).

In legal parlance, the word profession has been defined as:

A calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive preparation, including instruction in skills and methods as well as in the scientific, historical, or scholarly principles underlying such skills and methods, maintaining by force of organization or concerted opinion high standards of achievement and conduct, and committing its members to continued study and to a kind of work which has as its prime purpose the rendering of public service.
(on line, Professional Surveyors Association of Nebraska)

Most recently, Conway (2003) argues that groups defining themselves as professions must exhibit the following key characteristics.

To reiterate the point made earlier, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, I am not convinced that the efforts made to define a profession, with all those attributes just described, and then expended in applying the definition to the Child and Youth Care scene, really makes that much of a difference or warrants the investment of so much time and energy, as already noted. Over a generation ago, Beker (as cited in Eisikovits and Beker, 2001) made the scathing observation that “professionalism has done little to enhance the quality of service provided to clients” (p. 416). This may help explain the growing phenomenon, in many jurisdictions, of emphasizing measurable outcomes and clearer standards of accountability for service. But Eisikovits and Beker also make it clear in the same article that it is possible to demonstrate “requisite expertise and judgment ... at a professional level even if some of the other traditional attributes of a profession have not yet developed” (p. 417). In other words, one can act in a professional manner without expending a great deal of time and energy obsessing about status as a profession, however we wish to define the word. To take a rigid stance and insist on recognition as a profession does, at the same time, expose us to the risk and temptation of adopting an
exclusionary stance vis-a-vis other allied disciplines. At the end of the 1960s, as a B.A. graduate with a history major desperately in need of a job and, therefore, willing to “apprentice” myself for the grand salary of $50 per week, I certainly felt the sting of exclusion in my early days in Child and Youth Care. I found myself, in my unprepared state, working alongside the first graduates of Ontario community college programmes in Child and Youth Care work who brought with them a strongly militant interest in being recognized and valued for the importance of their role as front line workers. In retrospect, however, I can be more charitable in conceding that these early foot soldiers helped influence the revolution that brought down the walls of professional mysticism and the snobbery that went with it. They certainly showed the advantage of systematic and in-depth educational preparation over the old ad hoc apprenticeship system that I experienced in those early days, and which I came to view as highly unsatisfactory. Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, this is what helped lure me into a teaching role in Child and Youth Care. Times have changed, and such thinking, which was fresh and much welcomed at the time when we were tethered and hamstrung by hierarchical professional structures (which, in some Child and Youth Care circles, we were ironically all too ready to emulate), now strikes me as somewhat archaic when contemporary trends place an emphasis on seamless service, empowerment of clients, family- and community-based intervention, and interdisciplinary collaboration joined by a heightened call for accountability and efficacy of outcomes in service delivery. The turbulent times that many of us experienced back in the 1970s propelled us on an exciting journey that has culminated in a more democratic and less pathology-focused approach to supporting children, youth, and families facing difficult life challenges and made us all the stronger for it. I give educationally prepared Child and Youth Care Workers top marks for their contribution in making this happen, but it does beg the question, where to from here?

For some time now, it has been proclaimed that Child and Youth Care work is at a crossroads. Perhaps that helps explain the dynamic that governs the field and also explains its fluidity and ability to so readily adapt to change. In this sense, the lack of rigid professional structures and definition should prove to be our very strength. From such recognition, it is then possible to articulate a professional framework for practice that is universally subscribed to (despite the plethora of titles), is highly portable and cuts across disciplines. Such a framework for practice helps dispel any notions of distance, patronization, and condescension. For those of us who work closely with indigenous communities, it may also allow us to overcome negative connotations and associations with different forms of past and still recent experiences of colonization and insidious attempts at assimilation and denial of self-determination. As a brief aside, it is worth digressing here to point out that one of the most important challenges facing educators in the next while is to work in partnership to indigenize educational curricula in truly meaningful, effective, and equitable ways. At this juncture, it is all too obvious that we must overcome what
Scheurich and Young (1997) describe as epistemological racism that many of us, albeit unwittingly, have been party to over the years. As Bishop (1999) points out, it behoves us to explore “what might constitute an alternative model of relationships within which the patterns of oppression are broken and where previously marginalized people can successfully participate” (p.13). Furthermore, according to Bishop and Glynn (1998), in reference to the Aotearoa/New Zealand context:

If one lesson is clear from the history of our country, it is that imposition of a model [of change] from outside of the experiences, understandings and aspirations of the community group is doomed to failure. Failure, that is, if the objective is other than assimilation or the perpetuation of a situation of dominance and subjection. (p. 45)

As far back as 1979, Beker (as cited in Eisikovits and Beker, 2001) recognized that there is a shared, generic core of practice that is common to those workers whose focus is support for children and youth. It is that core of practice that continues to sanction our efforts to act in a professional manner as attested to by the following statement.

An implicit recognition that the location of an occupation on the professional continuum need not correspond to the quality of daily work with clients is conveyed in our everyday manner of speaking. We tend to use the word profession with some caution, reserving it for the highest status occupations. The idea of professional, however, is credibly used to represent a much broader notion. We can easily conceive of a secretary and a carpenter, for example, as truly professional in the way they do their work, although we might feel less comfortable about labelling either as a member of a profession. In this sense, the word is used to convey something about how well the worker performs his or her job, not about the position of the occupational group as a whole on a continuum of professionalism. (p. 417)

Following from this statement, I am very much in favour of Eisikovits and Beker’s notion (2001) that “the relation between the worker and the content and methods of the work be conceptualized as the critical variable and labelled as craftsmanship” (p. 418). This notion of craftsmanship is reinforced by the similarities in the way that Child and Youth Care workers approach their work, both cross-nationally and cross-culturally. These are referred to as habits of mind. What emerges here is a “recognizable core of perspectives and concerns about what they do and why” The prescience that Beker showed over 20 years ago (as cited in Eisikovits and Beker, 2001) still holds relevance in 2003 as illustrated by the following quote.

Despite the modest proliferation of training programs and other work related to the professionalization thrust in the field of Child and Youth Care, much confusion remains outside Child and Youth Care circles, in particular, as to the essence of the task, the appropriate body of knowledge, the method and content of training for the work, role relationships, and related issues, as well as regarding the appropriateness of professionalization itself. The craft perspective seems to provide a more compatible conceptual schema within which to consider and, hopefully, to resolve these issues. Significantly, it supports an individualizing orientation to clients without negating the relevance and importance of a shared methodological core, and it supports the autonomy of the individual practitioner in a framework of technique, social arrangements and ideology of habits of mind. It also illuminates the habits of mind that tend to characterize workers in the field and how they may both foster and retard effective service. (p. 431-432)

If Child and Youth Care fits more comfortably into a craft paradigm, as first envisaged by Beker, then what has been construed as our greatest weakness, i. e., the lack of recognition as an established profession, perhaps gives credence to the observation made earlier that lack of recognition as an established or even emerging profession may, in fact, prove to be our greatest strength. The ambiguity that has co-opted so much of the debate on where the field is heading and which continues to frustrate many among us has, in fact, saved us from a constricted interpretation of roles, functions, and scope for practice “one that charges us to adopt a more inclusive rather than exclusive perspective for providing support and intervention for children, youth, and families. Current trends clearly show that workplace specialisms are rapidly being eroded in favour of the development of a core framework of practice that can straddle traditional professional boundaries and provide seamless models of care and support. This gives cause for much optimism and is the unifying bond that joins together our disparate numbers which continue to place children and youth at the centre of their field of practice, whatever occupational badge they might wear. It allows us to turn what we have held to be our greatest weakness into our greatest strength for the future. As an educator, such a development offers endless opportunities for shaping new curricula and approaches to education and training that span different levels as well as offering stair-casing opportunities to move in varying directions as the career aspirations of workers are reshaped time and time again. The corpus of practice that has universal application has already been largely well defined. This is the lasting legacy of the pioneers in the field who have struggled since the early 1950s, at least, to construct an identity for those workers engaged with children and youth, whatever the context, and garner respect and value for the work they do. Perhaps it is fitting at this juncture to identify some of those key ingredients that constitute the framework of practice. To do so, one only has to look to the website for this conference to glean some of those features. The glue for holding together such a framework of practice is a universal code of ethics “a code of ethics which could be the outcome of our deliberations here in Victoria “a code of ethics that builds on the work that has been done to date within and across different jurisdictions. With a focus on inclusiveness, a clearly defined framework of practice guided by this code of ethics calls for vigorous debate in an international context such as this conference provides. This framework could stand on its own or be subsumed as a specialization across the disciplines of health, education, and human services. I have taken the liberty of being somewhat selective in picking out the key points and bunching others together where there are commonalities. Here goes.

At the very core of Child and Youth Care work is an emphasis on direct, intensive, face-to-face interaction with clients from which these key competencies emanate. This interaction is expected to be purposeful and aimed at improving the life chances of children and youth in the ecological context of the family and the community. It is this dynamic quality that gives the field its unique character and positions it very favourably for a future yet to be traversed but showing all the signs of radically different approaches to service intervention. This unfolding and uncertain future will present many challenges as well as opportunities to form new partnerships with families (not a strong suit of Child and Youth Care workers for long periods in the past “a relic of our roots in residential care) and hopefully lead to a better understanding of policy and political influences; a heightened appreciation of the importance of embedding indigenous perspectives in educational programs; a firmer grasp of the economics of service provision; and stronger engagement in research to test the efficacy and validity of traditional intervention strategies, including more intensive scrutiny of old concepts such as milieu and therapeutic relationships. Unshackled by the trappings of professionalism, as distinct from behaving in a professional manner “a distinction noted earlier by Eisikovits and Beker (2001), Child and Youth Care work, in all its various manifestations, is poised for a golden future “one that will help us build stronger families and communities, and a better future for our children and youth.

The future that I envisage for Child and Youth Care work is one that, I have tried to argue here, is more expansive in its reach and shows a better understanding and appreciation of different global perspectives on the essence and nature of the field. Chenault (as quoted by Mariano,1989) has contended that “human service training should not continue to follow exclusively the historical models of single specializations. Human service education should attempt to develop an integrated whole rather than a combination of separate professional and content areas or fields” (p.285). To make this happen, it is my hope that this conference will serve as a catalyst for continuing and expanding dialogue across political, cultural, and ideological borders “something the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria has endeavoured to make happen over the 30 years of the history of the School. The forging of a universal code of ethics and the definition of a core framework of practice, enshrined in what I would call a passport of practice that workers could carry with them, could make this happen but would also need to be supported by ongoing discourse well beyond the duration of this conference. These two developments by themselves will help bind us together in an increasingly shrinking and complex world. Rather than breed uniformity and standardization, such efforts would be predicated on respect and better understanding of the rich and diversified nature of the field of Child and Youth Care work. The immediate challenge to educators, in particular, is to let our imaginations run wild, strengthen our alliance to the field, and remove the blinders that impede our vision of what a very different future will look like “one that allows for a rich mosaic of curriculum models to emerge that help meet these lofty goals. For all this to happen, we must remain tolerant of a certain level of ambiguity and remember to make room for always changing habits of mind.

Ma te pupuri anahe ki nga wawata o enei rd.
Only by taking possession of a vision for the future can we hope to take possession of the present.

References

Beker, J. (2001). The emergence of clinical youth work as a profession: Implications for the youth work field. Child and Youth Care Forum, 30, 6. pp. 363-376.

Bishop, R. and Glynn, T. (1998). Achieving cultural activity within education in New Zealand. In K. Cushner (Ed.). Intercultural perspectives on intercultural education. New York: Lawrence Earlbaum.

Bishop, R. and Glynn, T. (1999). Culture counts: Changing power relations in education. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.

Conway, M. (2003). To be or not to be a profession. New Zealand Education Review, 8, 22. p. 16.

Cooper, B. and Rixon, A. (2001). Integrating post-qualification study into the workplace: The candidates” experience. Social Work Education, 2, 6. pp. 701-716.

Denholm, C., Ferguson, R. and Pence, A. (Eds.). (1991). Professional Child and Youth Care: the Canadian perspective. Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press.

Eisikovits, Z. and Beker, J. (2001). Beyond professionalism: The Child and Youth Care worker as craftsman. Child and Youth Care Forum, 30, 6. pp. 415-433.

Feeney, S. and Freeman, N. K. (2002). Early childhood education as an emerging profession: Ongoing conversations. Child Care Information Quarterly, 1, 2. pp. 38-41.

Forkan, C. and McElwee, N. (2002). Practice placements: A cornerstone for Child and Youth Care training. Child and Youth Care Forum, 31, 6. pp. 381-396.

International Child and Youth Care Network. Today (2001). Retrieved 2003, from https://www.cyc-net.org/today/today0101.html.

Mariano, C. (1989). The case for interdisciplinary collaboration. Nursing Outlook, 37, 6. pp.285-288.

Ministry of Social Development. (2003). Making it happen: Implementing New Zealand's agenda for children. Wellington: Author.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority (2003). The New Zealand Register of Quality Assured Qualifications. Wellington: Author.

Professional Surveyors Association of Nebraska. (n.d.). (2003) Retrieved from http://www.nebraskasurveyor.com/def-prf.html.

Promise into Practice. 7th International Child and Youth Care Conference. (2003). Retrieved from http://www.promiseintopractice.ca/conference streams.html.

Scheurich, J. and Young, M. (1997). Colouring epistemologies: Are our research epistemologies racially biased? Educational Researcher, 26, 4. pp. 4-16.

Tucker, S., Strange, C., Cordeaux, C., Moules, T. and Torrance, N. (1999). Developing an Interdisciplinary framework for the education and training of those working with children and young people. Journal of Inter-professional Care, 13, 3. pp. 261-2+70.

This feature: Dunlop, T. (2004). Framing a new and expanded vision for the future of Child and Youth Care work: An international, intercultural and trans-disciplinary perspective. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, 19. pp.254-267.

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