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Child and Youth Care education: Perspectives in transformation

Michael Demers

In order to move beyond what Beker and Maier (1981) describe as the old tension between fact and skill development, Child and Youth Care education philosophy must incorporate both the competency and interactional perspectives. Perspective transformation, rather than a third level on a linear continuum, is the process by which the professional can learn to adopt an effective interactional perspective in the application of knowledge and skills (Mezirow, 1981). Mezirow’s model draws from the writings of Jurgen Haberman, a contemporary German philosopher associated with the critical theorists who studied the relationship between the teachings of Marx and Freud. Haberman specified three areas of human interest in which people generate knowledge – the technical, the practical, and the emancipatory. Mezirow, using the language of adult education, translates these into learning domains of work, interaction, and power (Mezirow, 1981).Work involves instrumental action based upon empirical knowledge and is governed by technical rules (Mezirow, 1981). The competency perspective, previously discussed, is fixated in this domain. This learning domain is useful when limited to task–oriented learning in areas such as case management, research and program evaluation. Clinical effectiveness is difficult to evaluate from the competence perspective because of the need for the consideration of the context of the therapeutic relationship. As a result, this is not an area that is highlighted in studies of graduates from child care training programs (Denholm and Montgomery, 1983).

Interaction is described as different from work in that the goal is to aim for “clarification of conditions for communications and intersubjectivity” (Mezirow, 1981). Maier highlights this difference in his response to the model of Baydus and Toscano when he writes:

The difference in perspective revolves around the basic question of whether human actions are the product of `internally’ motivated processes or whether internally motivated processes emerge out of individuals’ interactions with their environment (Maier, 1979).

This distinction is the first step away from a generalized view of child care students and trainees as being solely in need of “useful” knowledge and skills. Rather than simply developing a “tool kit” of knowledge and skills, the student must also uncover limiting biases and assumptions. Only in the learning mode of interaction can the student manifest those internal blocks which reduce clinical and professional effectiveness. Of course, this mode of learning also occurs in the delivery of a “competence” program. The general effectiveness of the educational program, however, will be determined by the ability of the instructors to understand and facilitate the powerful learning mode of interaction.

Regardless of the level of training, the education of a career Child and Youth Care professional must involve facilitation of critical self–awareness, enabling students to become aware of and overcome those attitudes preventing them from actively affecting personal, professional, and societal change through their work. Thus the third learning domain, power, focuses on self knowledge.

Insights gained through critical self–awareness are emancipatory in the sense that at least one recognizes the correct reasons for his or her problems (Mezirow, 1981).

It is this need for emancipatory self–learning that Maier (1979) discusses when he describes the “power alignment” of a child care setting affecting the child care worker’s actual “degree of influence”. How child care professionals see themselves in the scope of their work and society dictates their willingness to challenge conditions within their own agency in order to ensure quality care (Beker and Maier, 1981). The ability to effect change at the clinical, administrative, and socio–political levels requires that professionals have subjective confidence in their ability to adapt to new conditions.

Perspective transformation is a process of the third learning domain, power. It is a process by which Child and Youth Care professionals can shift strategic intervention to best suit the demands of the situation, whether it be confronting an angry youth or an unsympathetic, government administration. In Mezirow’s words, “... it is the learning process by which adults come to recognize their culturally induced dependency roles and relationships and the reasons for them to take action to overcome them” (1981).

Child and youth care students, like other post–secondary students, struggle with the apparent conflict between socially prescribed success indicators (wealth, status, etc.) and the choice to dedicate themselves to a profession that, on the surface, appears to promise little and expect much. There is only one way that these young people, socially conditioned to seek material and status rewards, can bring to the field the “fresh blood” desperately needed. They must be confident that a life of service is not tantamount to destitution or futility. Such a shift in perspective can only occur when these students experience their personal power through relationships. A recent magazine article presents this same issue as existing among middle–aged professionals. The title of the article is self–explanatory, “Career trade–offs: Doing well versus doing good” (Blair, 1986).


Beker, J. and Maier, H. (1981). Emerging issues in Child and Youth Care education: A platform for planning. Child Care Quarterly, 10, 200 – 209.

Blair, G. (1986, December). Cashing in. New Age Journal, p.p.18 – 23.

Denholm, C. and Montgomery, D. (1983). From gown to town: Follow–up studies on graduates from the School of Child Care. In Denholm, C., Pence, A., Ferguson, R. (Eds.), The Scope of Professional Child Care in British Columbia, Part I, 2nd edition, University of Victoria.

Demers, M., (1987) Child and Youth Care Education: Perspectives in Transformation. In Alwon, F.J., & Small, R.W. (Eds.) . Challenging the Limits of Care. Needham, M.A.: Albert E. Trieschman Center.

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