Age: Older than my children, younger than my parents
Location: Muskoka, Ontario
I started working in this field in the 1980s, not too long after arriving in Canada from Germany. At the time I was a university student desperately searching for some cash. My first shifts in a group home were sleep shifts. I couldn’t believe that someone would pay me to go to sleep, but I certainly didn’t complain. I moved from one group home to another during the first five years of my career until I ended up working for a Child and Youth Care company that sends youth workers to all kinds of interesting places, including group homes, schools, hospitals and even to family homes. I ended up taking work from this company of and on for about ten years, during which I must have worked in more than fifty different residential programs in all sectors, many schools, several hospitals and countless family homes. I also worked with families in several family preservation programs in Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Exactly 10 years into my career, I joined the ranks of management. For the next ten years I managed residential treatment programs in the Children’s Mental Health Sector, shelters and drop in programs for street involved youth and group homes and various other kinds of programs for a Children’s Aid Society in Ontario. Over the course of the past five or seven years I have divided my time managing some programs, consulting to various agencies and providing training to child and youth workers and managers in the field. And over the past two years, I have been with the School of Child and Youth Care at Ryerson University as a full time faculty.
How I came to be in this field
I answered an ad in the local paper for a group home worker. I showed up, was asked what I would do if two kids were fighting over the TV and apparently answered correctly, so I got the job. This wasn’t supposed to be my career, but I think I was hooked after the first three weeks on the job.
My favourite saying
"If there is anything mightier than destiny, it is the courage that bears it unshakably"
– this is by a German philosopher named Geibel.
A few thoughts about child and youth care
Every youth finds his or her own truth, own path and own meaning;
CYCs who appreciate youth are appreciated by youth, regardless of what they do;
CYCs who don’t or no longer appreciate youth should contemplate a career change.
Last thing I read, watched, heard,
which I would recommend to others
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I recently read the Massey Lectures by Northrop Frye. Perhaps not something everybody would be interested in, but for me it spoke to the fundamental nature of being with others.
Favourite child and youth care
Some years ago I was the Director of an agency that provided shelter services to street involved youth (ages 18-24) in Toronto. On a whim, some of the CYCs and I decided to take a group of about 10 youth camping. Since we didn’t have much money, we had to find some crown land on the Bruce Peninsula where we could camp for free. The youth we took on the trip had never camped before, and all of them were heavy drug users, had frequently been on the wrong side of the law and really lived life on the edge. Not surprisingly, the youth brought some weed along, but by the first night, they had pretty much exhausted their stash. From then on, we spent every night around the camp fire sipping hot chocolate and inventing quite amazing hip hop songs. But what was most amazing of all was the glow on everyone’s face when the conversation turned to childhood memories and family. And for those three of four nights, CYCs and seriously urban, street-involved youth shared together their experiences, good, bad and gruesome, and by the time we left, no one was quite the same.
A few thoughts for those starting out
The only person you need to fear in this field is yourself;
You know far more than you think you do; never be afraid to challenge others, especially your colleagues;
A good question to ask yourself as many times as you can is ‘What the hell am I doing here’? As long as you can answer that question, you’ll be just fine;
Never, ever do something solely because that’s how you did it yesterday. This is and always has been the most idiotic rationale for doing anything (example: Child: “why can’t I listen to music while doing my homework?” CYC: “Because that’s the way it’s always been!”).
A recommended child and youth care
My favourite child and youth
care-relevant link and why
Especially when working in residential care, the world can become very small and narrow. Residential CYC work is often an isolating experience for all kinds of different reasons. That’s why I love cruising the UNICEF web site. It’s huge, regularly updated, and contains invaluable information, good and bad, about children and youth from around the world.
A writing of my own
Influences on my work
Literature, especially Russian and Latin American literature; philosophy, travel and exploration around the world, seeing kids in all kinds of different contexts, my own three kids, and all of the adventures and misadventures of my childhood, youth and early adulthood and of course, all the stuff I read on CYC Net.
I wish I owned a Tim Horton’s franchise.