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People in the field

Thom Garfat


Rosemere, Quebec


I have been working in this field since 1971. For the first years I worked the front line as a CYC in residential programs for both adolescents and pre-adolescents but I found the pre-ads too difficult so I stuck with the teenagers. Then one day I decided I needed to go to school and get an MA so I did but, in a way, that make me unemployable in the field because the degree was in clinical psychology and it was not seen as useful in Child and Youth Care at the time. After a while I ended up running a place called the Pacific Centre for Human Development on Vancouver Island and then eventually went to teach CYC and family work in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria. Then I fell in love and moved to Montreal where I was the Director of a Residential Treatment Centre and eventually Director of Treatment for Youth Horizons, at the time perhaps Canada's largest Youth Care agency. In 1994 I left Youth Horizons to take a PhD in Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria and when I returned to Montreal I started my own consultation and training practice called TransformAction which I still have today – and it keeps me busy. If you want to know more you can go look here:

How I came to be in this field

It was an accident, really. I was working as a janitor and asked Betty how you got a job working with people. She sent me over to see her friend and then next week I was working part-time in a residential emergency shelter for adolescents. No real experience, no training, no relevant education – but that's the way it was in those days (1971).

A favorite saying (this week)

'If I am aware of only limited alternatives, I can make only limited choices.' This saying was created by a staff team trying to develop a new focus for their program. In many ways it was a reminder about youth and staff. 

A few thoughts about child and youth care

Last thing I read, watched, heard, which I would recommend to others

Ian Bank's The Steep Approach to Garbadale – loved it. But you really have to be a fan of sophisticated intrigue to enjoy it, I think.

A favorite CYC experience

One day I am watching two adolescents playing basketball. One flips the ball casually through the hoop. The other one says 'how did you learn to do that?' The first one replies: "When I first joined the program (after school sports program), I didn't even know how to dribble. Then I met Karen and one day she said that if I could ever shoot 5 straight hoops in a row, she would wear a mask and snorkel to my next family meeting. Well, I did and so she showed up with her mask and snorkel – after that my mom didn't think I was so weird after all."

A few thoughts for those starting out

A recommended child and youth care reading link

Here you can find the latest Youth Voices Newsletter – I like it because if gives me the opportunity to hear a different voice perspective. And because it seems to be a very creative project.

A writing of my own

Influences on my work

My relationship with Sylviane; my own experiences growing up; CYC 'teachers' ; my mother; living in a very seasonal climate; working in different cultures; my grandmother teaching me to chop wood; being delinquent; reading; Tai Chi; music; drugs, alcohol and rock & roll, the 70s and a chance encounter with a policeman who taught me to be to focused.

Anything else

Yes, I think I will keep doing this for a few more years – I am enjoying it too much to stop now.

Registered Non-Profit and Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (031-323-NPO, PBO 930015296)

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa
207 L'ile de Belair, Rosemere, Quebec, J7A 1A8, Canada

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