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The Profession

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True confessions leading to thoughtful questions

Carol Stuart

“Being a child and youth worker extends beyond our job ... it’s a world view. “
— Mala Sooran, Placement Coordinator, George Brown College and Student, Ryerson University

Karate-do: “The way of the empty hand” “Do” means the path of life, your worldview ...

I have in the past started several columns with an analogy to my participation in Karate as a lifestyle, and each time I have edited out that section and simply gone with a description of the issues as they related to child and youth care practice. This time I have decided to keep the analogy because I think it crystallizes most clearly some of the thoughts that I have in relation to the art and science of professionalizing in our field. Also because, as exemplified in the quotes above, both karate and child and youth care are a way of life for me, so it is natural that they would come together on a regular basis.

I had a conversation recently with two senior senseis in my karate world. This is the true confessions part, as you may have a bias about the personality and nature of anyone who participates in a sport that is perceived as violent. “Sensei” is the Japanese term for teacher, not necessarily associated with karate, but most commonly used there. Both of the sensei I was speaking to run their own karate schools [Dojo] but do not consider themselves “professionals”, rather they do this because they love karate, live that lifestyle, and want to pass on their knowledge to others. We were discussing the difficult position that a “professional” sensei is in. The love of karate and the desire to teach others how to live that lifestyle is the same in both cases, but what distinguishes a professional sensei is that he/she runs a dojo full-time and makes a salary or income there (and often does not have another ‘job’).

The conversation we were having about professional sensei was specific to the idea of “outside accreditation” by the Japanese parent body for karate. The outside body brings credibility to a karate school because students know they are meeting an outside standard that is international in nature. Students of course pay fees to attend class and they pay fees to be “graded” or assessed for quality in relation to their skills and knowledge of karate. A sensei who is not a “professional” (in the view of the sensei to whom I was talking) turns all those fees into the club, the finances of which belong to the members (who pay the fees). Therefore if the sensei and the club members choose to have an outside, reputable organization – like a Japanese karate federation – do the grading and therefore pay those fees to that Japanese organization, the sensei is not losing any salary. It is not coming out of his/her ‘pocket’ as such. The outside body brings credibility, and because students know they are meeting an outside standard of accreditation that is international in nature, they are therefore are willing to pay for it. It means that they can go anywhere in the world and be recognized for the certificate or accreditation that they have. On the other hand, a “professional” sensei who makes a living at karate does not have a “real” (meaning paying) salary from another job. Therefore having an outside organization assess students may increase the reputation of the school, but at the same time it takes money (the grading fees) from the sensei’s income because those fees go directly to Japan instead of into the business from which the sensei is paid.

A solution to this economic issue is that the students pay to be graded twice, once by the club sensei and once by the Japanese grading panel. Some students may choose this option because they want to travel and to be recognized internationally for the quality of their karate. The sensei posed the questions: Does this raise the possibility of dual standards in a club? Are those graded by both the club and the Japanese grading board better, because it carries an international reputation? Or, since the professional sensei gets paid and unsuccessful students may leave is there a temptation to grade the student even though the quality is not there?

So, enough of the karate conversation, how does this relate to the professionalization of child and youth care?
Accreditation is a big issue in our field. We believe that the outside assessment inherent in accreditation will make us credible to other professionals and service providers as well as demonstrate the level of quality in our service. Organizations around the world are working to provide quality care and are ‘accrediting’ themselves through CARF, COA, and a multitude of other national, North American, or international bodies that are independent of government and claim to provide a standard against which the organization can measure itself. This is at the organizational level, where agencies are judged regarding their quality of service to children and youth by their peers. While this assessment of quality is not occurring at the individual practitioner level, questions still arise. Which of these accrediting bodies is best and why? Which should an agency choose and why? When an agency is asked to provide services to a child from another province or country, is the accrediting body that they use well enough recognized to be credible and/or is it accepted by other accrediting bodies as equivalent? Some organizations have been able to submit equivalency assessments allowing them to be accredited by two different accreditation bodies. They still pay two fees, but based on the accreditation of one body, the other one recognizes the equivalency and they do not have to do the extra work to repeat the ‘grading’. They don’t have to go through the expensive accreditation process twice, but they do receive accreditation from two different bodies. They may do this for only selected programs or services within the organization. Does this make some services better?

Certification and professional recognition of practitioners is also a big issue. We believe that by being certified we will be recognized as credible, paid well and our opinions will be valued by other professionals. In discussing how best to do this certification of individual practitioners there is disagreement about whether simply getting the education in child and youth care, and passing the tests of the educational institution is ‘good enough’. The fundamental question here is about recognition of the quality and reputation of that educational institution. There are child and youth care educational programs at post-secondary institutions that are accredited by the government and provided with subsidized funding to enable students to pay lower tuition fees AND there are private educational institutions; universities and colleges. Interestingly, in Canada those private education institutions (and some do offer child and youth care) are considered of ‘lesser’ quality amongst the educational institutions that are accredited by government, whereas in the United States private universities such as Harvard and Yale are quite prestigious and expensive. Of course Harvard and Yale don’t offer child and youth care education.

How does one sort out the quality questions? Secondly, should a child and youth care practitioner have to ‘grade’ twice? Graduating implies that you have done multiple tests, assignments, demonstrations of practice that have been ‘marked’. In some disciplines and also in some jurisdictions for the child and youth care discipline, graduates of these educational programs must then write another test to determine that they are ‘certified’ to practice. Other jurisdictions simply certify the practitioner based on their educational specifics. Should the practitioner have to pay twice and test twice? Is there any pressure on educational institutions not to fail students, therefore compromising the quality of practitioners that graduate?

Now let’s consider the professional child and youth care practitioners who get paid for their work, just as the professional sensei does. They are committed to a way of life that involves helping children and youth, valuing them, developing relationships with them, engaging with them. What are the implications of getting paid for doing something that you love and think is important? What if you are faced with having to refer a youth to someone else and therefore not get paid? Do you continue as a mentor and guide within the confines of what you are able to do? Does the referral mean that you no longer get paid? Does it mean that you can no longer have anything to do with that client? Or that the client pays twice?

These are interesting questions and being as I’ve reached the usual limit allotted to me as a columnist, I take off my columnist hat and put on my editor hat and I say: Erhmph! (“Excuse me”, for those of you that aren’t familiar with Winnie the Pooh and A.A. Milne) but I think you’ll need to explore your thoughts on these interesting questions another time.

So, I will. Look for some exploration of these dilemmas over the next few issues.

Stuart, C. (2006). True Confessions Leading to Thoughtful Questions. Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, 19, 1. pp.50-52

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