Age: Old enough to know better but too young to resist!
Location: Dunfermline, Scotland and Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand
I am an American by birth so ‘come out’ each time I pass through Homeland Security. The rest of the time I am a UK Settlement Spouse through marriage and a proud New Zealander – Tawhitinui o te Totaranui – by declaration. With my accent it is said that I don’t speak properly anywhere! Jane and I have two children – Dr Mark, a Sports Medicine Consultant in New Zealand and Dr Kate, an environmental scientist and new mother living in Colorado. Jacob Andrew is our new Grandson! I grew up in Southwest Idaho around horses and flash cars. It was there in Idaho that I developed a passion for fishing, where I became a card carrying 4F-registered conscientious objector, and where I rode as a rodeo bronc rider during my youth. In 1971 I took my first international flight, travelling from Seattle to London, travelling the Atlantic on Icelandic Airlines, with stops at New York and ReykjavĂk. Then travelling by train to Edinburgh and my first international job interview with Dr Barnardo’s Scotland.
After travelling for 6 weeks on my OE (overseas experience) around Europe, I arrived at the Port of Dover and spent 3 hours in immigration detention until my Work Permit was faxed through from Edinburgh. In 1975 I was appointed to the first specialist Lectureship in Residential Social Work created in Scotland at the University of Stirling. That was the job of a lifetime, travelling all around Scotland visiting residential child and youth care facilities, as well as facilities for adults and older people, arranging and completing student placement visits. For three years before leaving Stirling, I served as Director of Social Work Education and then moved to New Zealand to take up the Chair of Social Work at Victoria University of Wellington.
After 18 years, I was appointed Assistant Dean in the College of Family Sciences at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, and then Assistant Provost and Dean of Students at the United Arab Emirates University. In that latter role, I was responsible for more than 9000 Arab young people living in residences who were bussed home every weekend of their university careers. Child and Youth Care research and contract activities have taken me many places. The highlights must include the two consecutive Januarys spent in Goose Bay, Labrador! And also visiting appointments in Malaysia, especially Sarawak on the Island of Borneo, and China which further stimulated my thinking about child and youth care work across cultures.
How I came to be in this field
I’ve been working in this field since the early 1960s following something of an atypical career path. Some have introduced me as the ubiquitous (look it up) Professor! My career in child and youth care started out helping to run Scout camps, weekend retreats with young people, and in student government as a 1968 Student Body President at a small liberal arts college during the Vietnam War and coming to grips with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr Martin Luther King.
Entering graduate school at the University of Washington on a National Institute of Mental Health scholarship in 1969, I soon gained (US) experience working as a psychiatric social worker at a secure reception-assessment centre for delinquent youths, a residential school for delinquent girls, a secure unit for girls, and a therapeutic community for maladjusted adolescents (UK). For 18 years I shared the role of Joint Warden at a university hall of residence for 250 first year university students (NZ). While many don’t associate student residence life with child and youth care, there is a whole world of professional opportunities out there for those who do! While my professional qualifications are in psychiatric social work, my heart has always been with child and youth care.
My favourite saying (this week)
Yes we can! This campaign slogan continues to resonate through the early days of President Obama’s term of office. Great slogan for youth work with challenging kids! Interestingly, before exercising my civic duty to vote for Barak Obama, I hadn’t voted in an American election since 1975! I have voted regularly in Scotland and New Zealand.
A few thoughts about CYC
Child and Youth Care is not known by this name in most parts of the world. Social pedagogues are recognized throughout Northern Europe as free-standing professionals while another profession, edu’cator specialise’ are employed throughout Southern Europe.
Child and Youth Care workers frequently work hard but they don’t always work smart.
Child and Youth Care will not ever be recognized as a profession just because child and youth care workers and educators assert that it should be.
Professional standards take on a different significance when there are regular inspections and audits of all child and youth care services.
Massive opportunities exist for Western Child and Youth Care workers wishing to obtain international experience as volunteers, stepping outside their comfort zones to see what the care of children and support for young people is really like elsewhere in the world.
It is more politically correct in the UK to talk about looked after children or young people, or looked after and accommodated children or young people for those in residential care.
In Australia it is not politically correct to talk about looked after children and young people when referring to children and young people in out-of-home care.
My old friend Henry Maier was right: good education and training involves spending more time thinking about what learning will enable new ways of practising with young people, and less time thinking about what knowledge the teacher decides to teach!
Learn to listen more and talk less. That is what my Maori elders taught me.
The best care outcomes are those that come following an email search when young people – now in their middle age – make contact and thank you for being there for them at critical times in their lives.
When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original aim was to drain the swamp!
It was a real shock the first time somebody with whom I worked in child and youth care told me of how she disliked the word care and all of the negative connotations associated with care.
Working as a child and youth care worker in group care – residential child care, residential schools, group homes, secure units – requires learning that one cannot control what is going on in a group. One can only stay with the group and let the group deal with the issues.
A UAEU Dean of Students up close and personal with camels!
Last thing I read, watched, heard,
which I would recommend to others
Doris Pilkington and Nugi Garimara (1996) Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Brisbane: Queensland University Press. A great read, written by one of the three sisters, and much better than the film! The sort of thing you learn quietly and then practice listening in the presence of indigenous Australians.
Paolo Hewitt (2002) The Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children’s Home. London: Mainstream Publishing.
Favourite CYC experience
A couple of years back I was invited to dinner with three adults, 2 Scots and an Englishman who had tracked me down through the internet. A fourth person, Scone, couldn’t be there at the last moment because he pulled a shift as the driver of a goods train that travelled back and forth along the track at the bottom of Blackford Brae gardens. Eddie, Thom and Linda were all there and we toasted memories of our shared times as residents of Blackford Brae: theirs as looked after young people placed in a special unit for maladjusted adolescents and mine as the youth worker who shared two important years of their lives. There was Eddie, an engineer with Master Craftsman qualifications still employed in the trade where we helped him get his apprenticeship. There was Linda, the international judge at Alsatian Dog Shows in Europe, the UK and Australia. And there was Thom, the Master Chef who returned to university to develop his talents for writing and becoming a published author.
A few months later Scone, Eddie and I met up again at Waverley Train Station in Edinburgh where for the next 3 hours, child and youth care mysteries more than 35 years old were revealed. The next morning, I received the following email which made it all very special again!
Hi Leon. What can I say? It was just really good to see ya again. â€¦ I said to Margaret tonight before I went out "I`m gonna thank Leon for giving me 2 of the happiest years........nothing will top the memories and the happy times.........too many really, â€¦ I could write a book!" Didn`t want to say in front of Eddie. Might have sounded a bit sloppy, but we had so many good times at Blackford Brae. Thanks for the memories. Scone (age 57)
A few thoughts for those starting out
Be willing to move beyond your comfort zone. That means working out where the boundaries are between comfort zone and beyond comfort zone.
Listen carefully to the voices that speak loudest and what it is they have to say! And remember, the loudest voices are not likely to be from children and young people or their family members!
How well do you hear what children and young people are saying to you, whether they use words or not?
Native Idahoan, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people chronicled in the book We Shall Fight No More Forever, holds a distinctive place in the annals of military history for helping his people avoid defeat at the hands of the US military. Chief Joseph was known for his use of strategic retreat – thereby avoiding direct confrontations – applicable for the Nez Perce people as well as being a daily feature of the practice skills tool box for quality child and youth care.
Networks are about relationships, and the extent to which these relationships are nurtured over time.
Remember to think outside the box, whatever your box looks like!
Recommended CYC reading link
My favourite CYC-relevant link (after
CYC-Net) and why
http://www.learningzonenetwork.org. OK, so I know that the LZN is closely linked to CYC-Net but a lot of people don’t seem to know that. Anyone involved in child and youth care education and training will find some very useful resources there, and public access means they can go to the Learning Zone and have fun learning anytime they want to – for FREE! Not all learning is about getting another credit or qualification. Continuing professional development is about taking charge of your own learning, and making sure that your practice skills don’t get rusty!
A writing of my own
Influences on my work
It was through my mother, the orphaned youngest child of Norwegian immigrants that I learned about travel.
My Uncle Glen Fulcher was a mentor, first as a postgraduate student studying in Spanish at University in Mexico City, then as founder of an agricultural college in Asuncion, Paraguay, as under-Secretary with responsibilities for the Bureau of Land Management at the Department of the Interior under the Johnson administration, as a University of Colorado Professor and then Project Leader in The Gambia, West Africa, working with local village people to diversify crop production from ground nuts (peanuts) to maize and other products local women would incorporate into the food prepared for their families.
Then of course there is my wife and best friend, Jane; and our children Mark and Kate. Te Iwi Ngai Tuhoe and my adopted brother Tamati have also had a profound influence on my life. But the major lessons have come from people: he tangata (hay tong a ta); he tangata; he tangata!
I don’t advertise in the Yellow Pages!
The books mentioned in this feature are available in our Amazon book store. Please click on flag:
Follow the rabbit-proof fence by Doris Pilkington
The Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's Home by Paolo Hewitt