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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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Leaders / future leaders in our field

I was reading an article the other day which referred to ‘leaders in the field’ – and it got me to thinking. How do we define a ‘leader’ in our field? What criteria do we use? How do we decide that someone is ‘a leader’? And I am curious what criteria people would use? So, ‘how do we decide someone is a leader in our field?’


Hello friends,

In Scotland there are many experienced practitioners who have risen through the ranks eventually attaining chief executive or a similar status within their own organisation. These people may well class themselves as leaders within our field -however I beg to differ. My own personal view is the real leaders are the academics and leaders within organisations who bravely bite the hand that feeds them, where they actually tell the truth about our sector in Scotland. The truth of the matter is we lack real leadership in Scotland. Here's some food for thought! How many of the leaders of organisations do we hear shouting for a union specific to our service? How many leaders of organisations do we hear shouting for a specific residential workers' association? How many leaders do we hear saying that the current way services are inspected actually do nothing more than give organisations a false sense that things are going well? If you are out there please start speaking out. Its only the same old voices we hear in Scotland. Without a bigger section of our community singing from the same song sheet, things are never going to improve, firstly for the children we work with and secondly for the work force. If you are the head of one of our big residential schools, let's hear your views on this forum.

Joe Gibb

Very good question! Is a leader one who publishes in the academic literature? One who is renowned for presenting at conferences? One who speaks the loudest? One who gets the most funding? What are the criteria for "leaders in the field". Is it like "outstanding in their field", in which Holden Caulfield comes to mind ... or does it refer to the supervisors and program directors?

How about the favorites of the recipients of our services? Who do they think the "leaders in the field" are?

Do leaders come up with the best ideas for youthwork practice, and is that practice all about making the youth fit a mold that is "socially acceptable" or does that practice assist youth to be free thinking young adults who will "question authority"? Do leaders in our field carry out the historic work of marginalizing youth?

Are the leaders self-proclaimed or do we seek them out of the population of Youthworkers? Can we vote for them? Are they enigmatic or comprehensible? Do we know one when we see (or hear) one? Bringing to mind that "The message is a call to those whose hour has come to awake, and it is a lullaby to those who are still meant to sleep." So, when does the leader appear and how do we notice them amongst the rest of the proclaimers of what is best practice for our work?

I conclude... this is indeed a question worth considering.

Jack Nowicki

Usually, in the United States one is considered a leader if they have written a book, which is promoted well; are connected with a University which is well known; Have presented at many well known conferences; and has major degrees behind their name.

L.M. Nealy

What a great question!

I think a lot of things define what a leader is. Some people will define it through innovative in practice and some through educational development, studies and theory.

To me, leaders are people in the field who have taken an initiative to take their education and experiences to a new level. They have made a conscious choice to always ask themselves the question " How can I better my practice so that I can better help clients?" Having been in the field for over 10 years in a variety of capacities not only in Canada but overseas I have met a good number of people from various disciplines and have met a good number of people who I would consider leaders in the field. I feel very blessed to say that those leaders have inspired my work and helped me to become stronger in my practice.

If they inspire and ignite a flame of change in others to me, they are leaders.

Loretta Cella

Dear Anon,
The usual criteria seems to have to do with frequency of publication, either in print or on the net, and perhaps additionally with frequency of presentations at conferences and numbers of/levels of academic degrees. Speaking as the former director of a large Child and Youth Care professional association (the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Counsellors, OACYC), we tended to favour criteria such as:
- did the most actual work in promoting the professional associations (and were members of such organizations)
- did the most positive, inventive, work with kids
- opened up new avenues for employment/treatment/etc In addition, they had to have had a significant amount of work as an actual child and youth worker.

So, for instance, our newsletter had a regular feature called "Heroes Within" to raise the profile of such people, and our conferences generally had no keynote speakers, but relied on the workshops / presentations by those "heroes" as well as other members and others.

In the other part of your question, the "in-our-field" part, we found at least 3 different interpretations of "our field" which at one point we classified as Type 1, 2, and 3 Child and Youth Care workers, based on the type of training they had:

Type 1: trained in therapeutic milieu concepts, therapeutic activities, relationships, etc. (what might be called traditional child and youth work); having a CCW or CYW diploma or Child and Youth Care degree

Type 2: having a background in psychology (abnormal, humanistic, counselling, etc.) and sociology; via various human services diplomas/degrees (SSW, CW, BA (psych), etc.

Type 3: having developmental/ educational psych, recreation, etc. background from various child/youth-focussed diplomas/ degrees, or experience

The training backgrounds listed above weren't exclusive, that is the Type 1 also had some background in the Type 2 and 3 elements but the focus was Type 1

Some of the acronyms may not make sense outside Ontario but basically the levels are:
Type 1, specific training for working with troubled kids Type 2, a general mental health worker with children/youth Type 3, a general worker with children and youth.

So, the total answer to your question about defining a leader in our field for the OACYC would be the criteria listed + coming from a Type 1 background.

I hope this helps.

Dennis McDermott

This might sound like an off-the-wall way of defining a leader in our field, but after taking some time to think about it, I really believe that no matter what area of Child and Youth Care you are in the leaders are the ones who have empowered a child or a youth in their life. I don't believe that in this line of work leaders are necessarily recognized by anyone other than the clients themselves who have been "helped." Those who have written books/articles or have come up with and taught other CYC's innovative interventions and techniques are leaders too and respected by the other professionals, but the people who put those techniques into practice are the true leaders in CYC. (And heroes in the communities that they work in).

Nancy Mcmanus

Dear Everyone,

I think good leaders happen in different ways and good leadership achieved in different ways and not always hierarchically. They can be chest beatingly charismatic like Henry V or Jimmy Reid, the Scottish trade unionist, but it is not always so. I for instance have gained most from quiet contemplative leaders who probably didn't see themselves as leaders at all. I have so much I would like to say on this – perhaps it would be good to arrange one of Jack Nowicki's democratic conferences to progress the discourse. Jack, I'm serious about that. Until we can do that I would suggest that a very helpful and thought provoker on this matter is Adrian Ward's extended paper Leadership in Residential Child Care at

If that connection fails you can find it at England's National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care site at

Yours sincerely,
Charles Sharpe

Hello Anon

I think you have brought up a good question regarding leaders in our field. My name is Robin and I am currently enrolled in the CYCC program at Mount Royal University. I believe the term “leader” can be broad, and it takes certain qualities to be a leader. But I also think that anyone can be a leader if they make the effort. In our field, I think that a leader is; someone people can rely on, get advice from, team player, confident, able to give but also receive positive and negative feedback, a role model, able to make and learn from their mistakes and is passionate at what they do. There are other qualities that can fit under the term “leader”, but those were the ones that stood out for me. I do not think that we have specific criteria for people to become leaders, it just happens with the program I am currently working in. I can definitely pick out a few people who could be leaders and demonstrate leadership qualities. I am able to turn to them for help, they will support me if I need assistance, and they are approachable. I think that being approachable is a quality a leader must have in order to wear the leadership label. The reason I think that is because if you are unable to talk to your leader because you feel they might judge you or look down upon you, they are not a leader.

When deciding if someone is a leader or not, I do not think it is a sit down decision where people are just assigned the position. I think that people must work their way up to become a leader, and prove they have what it takes to be a leader. I would not consider someone who is always late for a shift, someone who is not passionate in what they do, is self-centered and/or is very narrow-minded, to be a leader. Also, I think that other employees help decide if someone is a leader. If you talk to your staff at any program, they will point out people who they believe are leaders and explain why.

But I have also met a few leaders in the field that once they got the leadership role, they took advantage of it and quickly became disliked. I believe this happened because they thought they were above others and could offer more, but this attitude came across in a negative way. When deciding who is a leader in this field, I think it is someone who is consistent, stable, knowledgeable, approachable, enthusiastic, determined, and, mentally and emotionally strong.

I enjoyed reading you question and responding to it. I made me think of what I believe a leader to be and the qualities they possess.

Good luck
Robin Bax

Leaders? I guess for me, a leader is someone who, for a moment or a lifetime, shows me the way, or at least helps me find it.

But I am reminded that the original question made reference to writings which referred to people as 'leaders in the field' – and I find that question interesting.

I, too, have read the expression many times when referring to specific people – as in "XXX, a leader in our field . . .". And I, too, have wondered sometimes about how people come to receive that designation. I want to be clear, I am not suggesting that the people who are described as 'leaders in the field' are not actually leaders. I just wonder about things like at what point, and why, do people come to be called leaders?

And I too know many 'unsung leaders', people doing amazing, even groundbreaking, work. But because others do not know of them, perhaps they are not considered leaders. Maybe a 'leader in our field' is someone who has somehow 'put themselves forward and been well received' in some area of the field – because it does seem to me that different people are defined as leaders, depending on who is doing the writing and what is important to them (the writer).


It was suggested to me this week that residential child care is a new profession and that previously it was a domestic job mainly carried out by women. This is false history and it leads me to contribute to this topic. I began my child care career in 1961 and my training in 1964. I was lucky enough to go to Ruskin College, Oxford where we were taught by some very remarkable teachers who were certainly leaders in their field. They included Sarah McCabe, Nigel Walker, Donald Winnicott, David Wills, John Bowlby and a number of others. It was and is the most academically demanding course that I have ever done, and I have done a few. This was recognised by the University when it counted the internal certificate that was awarded towards matriculation which some of us later did. The leaders of the profession were equally strong at that time and I knew most of them and worked with some of them. They included Lyward, Docker-Drysdale, Wills, and Lennhoff. At my first meeting with Lennhoff he looked me in the eye and said in his clipped tones 'You were severely punished by your mother and you experience all authority as destructive, including your own.' I still wonder how he knew. Throughout my career the supervision has been demanding and sometimes very painful but always based on trying to get the best out of me. Neither should I forget the fun. I can recall a supervision with David Wills when we laughed until the tears ran down our faces as we examined our recent pomposities. We were a profession and we knew what we professed. Many of our leaders were paradigmatic individuals and we did not follow with our eyes closed, we became critical and self-critical. That is leadership. Of course there were places that were cruel and punitive. I suspect there still are although the abuse is now more likely to be psychological than physical. But it is a profession to be proud of and it has an encouraging history.

David Pithers

Don't follow leaders and watch the parking meters ... Robert Zimmerman

If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a Patriarch, kill the Patriarch ... Lin Chi


Hi, Thom --

Great addition to the discussion! Hope all is well with you.

Restructuring an Indian high school to become a true Circle of Courage setting is a tremendous challenge. We're making progress, though, and by next spring expect to have some pretty good evidence for what we think we are achieving.

Adrienne Brant James

Hi Joe,

I read with interest your comments. Leaders in our field – you have some opinions here and I think you have been brave to voice them. However I also think you have to have some responsibilities to our field as well as having opinions about them. In essence leaders evolve, using courage to push forward agendas. I work here in Scotland, I remain in practice working with troubled young people, and I have belief in pushing forward practice. I therefore argue for a philosophy of care that is relational, using the unit for therapeutic pusposices to create connection and belonging, with understanding that our children here are in deep pervasive emotional pain.

If we want units to operate in this way you have to fight for them and stop waiting for other people to give us something. We have a responsibility to y/p and to the rcc workforce to write about and generate thinking here, to take ideas and philosophies forward. We have a responsibility to get off our knees and change our profession. Have faith in what you can do, other people, polititians, resouce managers, policy makers, sssc, or care com, cannot do that for us. We need to do it.

Max Smart

Well said, I believe it is better to be educated through another that is in the grassroots of Child and Youth Care, making it a far more enriching educational experience to the receiver of education. It keeps the curriculum real, it's too bad that Universities and Colleges do not make that a hiring requirement when seeking instructors to teach.

Susan Mosure

Have been enjoying this discussion, and struggling with it, (which is, for me, often an indicator of how much enjoyment). It sometimes, maybe even often,seems to me that the leader's are "from" our field as opposed to "in" our field. I'm not sure that this is a dilemma only in child & youth work.

Experience for me seems to say that those most involved in doing the work of their field are often not the ones writing/publishing and presenting. I believe that most of those who are writing and teaching have lots of great experience to do so from, and so have a lot to offer those coming new to the field. I think that unfortunately what happens in much of the helping field is that those who are committed carers are promoted away from the direct care aspect of our field, motivated by offers of better pay and better hours. I think this is reflective of our social values, i.e. good care provision is not recognized as valuable, or stimulating.

Mike Wattie

Dear Everyone,

I agree with Max. This is not just about Child and Youth Care in Scotland. It refers to Child and Youth Care throughout the world. There is a a part of us all, I think, (particularly men, I'm afraid) which wants to rule the world but even if, as I believe Max is saying, this were remotely a good idea we would need behind us a body of real genrally valued work which would show us to be a credible candidate in the field of what Max describes as having a healthy therapeutic relationship with each of the children in our care ; those which he so poignantly describes as 'in deep pervasive despair'. Banner waving and shouting do not help here. This is not to stifle the leadership debate since I believe there is an unconscious desire in all groups to put leadership on to someone. If that someone is not you or me then we become to some extent absolved from blame. While I sort this out in my own mind and the likelihood is that I will never do so, my leader may tend to be the most vulnerable person in my group and that could be an adult or a child. This of course may be rhetoric which represents my covert attempts to say I want to be, and I should be, the leader. If you think I'm up for it let me know.

I understand some contributors concern about those who write or teach about our work. I think it is important for good learning that those who do this have long and well reflected experience of our work and of course the best do. In fairness, my experience is that most do, but not all. I think insightful practitioners suss this out. On the other hand I have worked long and hard to persuade practitioners to debate and write about the issues important to our work. It can be an uphill task and that is why I was so excited to find myself a couple of years ago – I don't know how – a member of this CYC-Net discourse. In my view it is the best thing which has happened to our profession in my 40 years involvement with it. A working discipline which has long been disempowered, ignored and marginalised now has a worldwide stage on which all involved with it, in whatever role, can express themselves. No doubt it will throw up its own problems but then that is, it seems to me, what is so exciting about the human predicament.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe

To Charles Sharpe's reply:

Hear Hear

Jeremy Millar


Query 2

Hi. My name is Shannon. I am kind of new to the field and am also studying for a degree in CYC. We have been asked to identify and talk about 'leaders and future leaders' in our Child and Youth Care field. But I really do not know who they are. So, I thought that all of you might know. Because you are in so many different countries. So here is my question for you all: Wherever you are, in whatever country you are, who would you consider to be the 'leaders and future leaders in the Child and Youth Care field? And if you could tell me why you think they are, I would like that, too. This is not a 'study' ot anything, just a question to help me think about it.


Hi Shannon,

I would be surprised if you don’t get a barrage of names so I thought I would try to address your query into why they are leaders.

Leaders I like to follow tend to:
*Give their best effort
*don’t make assumptions
*don’t take things personally
*are impeccable with their words
*they don’t blame or resent
*find gratitude
*accept responsibility for their feelings and actions
*regularly thank others
*have certainty
*love what they do
*have a purpose greater than themselves
*See no victims or don’t underestimate others
*know how to listen versus only blab
*look at how to change self in order to change others
*accept the moment as it is, not needing it to change
*talk very little about themselves and their lives and rather tend to focus on others.

(*from Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements)

Ernie Hilton

A great question I’d say, Shannon, but in some ways challenging to answer. I’m writing from Ontario Canada. I’d say it is easier to identify leaders in the academic area of our field than it is to identify practice leaders. I believe the academics in our field all come from or with a strong background of direct care, and also some management. But I’m unsure of how many of them are currently child and youth work practitioners. I still see them as leaders though and for me they are people who are often contributors to this cyc-net discussion. They are Thom Garfat, Carol Stewart, Gerry Fewster, Jack Phelan, Karen VanderVen, Kiaras Gharabaghi. These folks I believe all to be working as educators/writers in our field in Canada, and I may have spelled some of their names incorrectly. Similar folks outside of Canada for me would be Mark Krueger, Lorraine Fox , Leon Fulcher. At the international conferences you will likely hear from one or more of them, and their writings are specific to our work and come from years of experience. Many of these folks will refer to a fellow named Henry Maier, who I believe has passed from this life.

A practice leader for me would be fellow by the name of Bill Carty who is the founder and former director of a private practice agency named “Bartimeaus”, he is/has been for me a practice leader because he knows what CYC’s do and his agency has created a space for them to do it in an effective way, in a variety of settings. Another practice leader for me would be a lad named Bob Heeney, who was/is still I hope the professional practice leader for CYC’s at Ontario Shores, a large mental health facility in Whitby. Brian Law has also been for me a practice leader, he has for years run an agency that offers specialized foster care where families who have one or more parent who is in the helping field, most of them CYC’s, it is called Option Youth. These practice leaders are often less prolific in their writings, and for me harder to come by. For me they are leaders because I know them all, and have interacted with them on several occasions in regards to our professional discipline, and they embody what I hold as core values of Child and Youth Care. I know for sure that at least 2 of these fellows have also taught in the community college programs to other child and youth workers.

Looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

Michael Wattie

Hi Shannon,

The leaders in the field include some very well known people, and some not so well known, and I am sure there will be many responses that will provide you with some names.

As for the future leaders, it is a matter how much you believe in yourself!

Good luck.

Werner van der Westhuizen

I think you are in the middle of the leaders right now. I think everyone on this site and everyone who is working to standardize and professionalize youth care is working in the field right now.

Look around you Shannon, because these are the people who ARE the leaders in the field. The wonderful people on this site are the ones trying very hard to be heard.

Youth Care will one day be standardized and the people I read about right now are going to be the leaders. The “culture” in which we work for the future.

Welcome aboard!

Donna Wilson

Hi Shannon,

Possibly Zoe Ashmore and Prof. Carol Ireland in the UK,

Outstanding work in forensic psychology and work with young people. Just google their names for details.

Hope it helps.

Ian Gargan

I am from Toronto, Canada. I'm in the Child and Youth Care degree program at Ryerson University. When you say future leader of the field, I am not exactly sure what that looks like. But one person in the field that I believe has contributed largely to the practice is Kiaras Gharabaghi. I have never actually met him but I have read a number of his articles. Much of his work can be found on CYC-net. I find much of his writing to be essential to our field and therefore I view him as a future leader in the field.

Alicia DaSilva

Hi Shannon, you should have a look at some of Laura Steckley's published work, she is from Canada, and her work has been very influential for me. I'm lucky in that she is a lecturer at my university, so I am taught by her. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience in CYC

Jodie McGuinness

Lorraine Fox

Diane Malbin


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