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eJOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 49 FEBRUARY 2003 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

assignment

Assignment 1
January 15 to 31 2003 

Our first attempt at an "assignment" drew a small number of responses, but some interesting viewpoints were expressed on an important aspect of the public image of child and youth care. Read the assignment and the replies which follow, and see what you think.

The media seem almost to lie in wait to pounce on “the bad things” that happen in the world of child and youth care, youth detention, residential treatment and such services. Is that because we are silent ... we don't tell the world about “the good things” that happen in our programs, we feel we shouldn't say anything, or we don't know how to?

What do you think? And if you had the opportunity, what would you like to say? How?
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Replies ...

I do not think the media pounces on the "bad things" of Child and Youth Care because the field is silent and not telling the world the "good things" that are happening. The media is doing their job, and if the story will catch people's attention, then the media will print it. The other thing to remember is that the media is not printing the whole story of a particular case. Readers are only getting a piece of what really happened, and it is left to the reader to create their own judgements.

As a 4th year Child and Youth Care student in BC, I am looking at the profession from the outside in, and what I see is a profession that is still growing. It is still a young profession (through the eyes of a union, etc), and there will of course be growing pains. The media is part of this growing pain, and instead of "blaming" the media for only seeing the bad in our profession, it is up to Child and Youth Care professionals to start letting the media see the good that is done.

I am learning in school that a person needs to have a good sense of self to build strong, healthy relationships in order to empower the people we are working with. RELATIONSHIP, RELATIONSHIP, RELATIONSHIP is what I have been hearing for four years. 'If you do not have a relationship with the person you are working with, no work will get done.' I truly believe this, as well as the need to include other people we are working with - media, doctors, social workers, probation offices, speech pathologist, etc. I also know that relationships do not form overnight and they take time, hard work, and dedication. That is where I see the profession. It is starting to form relationships with people who do not understand our work and the profession is in the process of getting a sense of self. In order for the media to see the good things the profession does, I believe we need to go through the growing pains of a new relationship and persevere through the "negative behaviour" to reach the "positive behaviour" of people's understanding of what we do as a profession. Once through that, then I see the profession becoming stronger, having a healthy relationship with people who are not in this field, and the media will talk about the good things that happen and not focus on the bad.

Susan Graves
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The news reports on the bad things in Child and Youth Care, I believe, because tragedy seems to sell. We as a people seem to be more interested in the bad things that happen in the world than any reports on good.

I would probably speak on the benefits of what we do and some successful programs out there. In my experience most people do not know that the programs exist, never mind their success rates. Most often we compile them on lists stuck in different places and institutions with no explanation of what they do.

One such way would be to inform people about these helpful and preventive services through institution tours and on radio stations. If more people were aware of these services perhaps they would be used before tragedy struck and became news! That is my opinion.

Lori Multon
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Fourteen year old Angela arrives at the Center. Her parents had enough and literally dropped her of at the door of the local CAS. Teachers no longer wanted her in their classrooms. Local merchants didn't want her in their stores. Her friends were "wall people", a group of teens who came out at night and sat around the Town Hall wall. She enters the Center extremely angry and unwilling to abide by House rules. Angela's social workers and probation officers firmly believed that Angela was destined for the criminal justice system. The only expectation was that the "system" provide her with a safe place to live believing that she would run and prove to the "authorities" that she was unwilling to cooperate.

Something happened at this 'Center'. Angela connected with the CYC workers at this center and after three years Angela left the center. During this time she graduated from High School, got re-united with her mom and dad, did volunteer work at the Food Bank and obtained part-time work with one of the local merchants. She left our small community and entered a post secondary institution in one of our provincial cities. Angela is now preparing for graduation and has dreams of being accepted into a graduate program next year.

Angela is the one that was able to turn her own life around. Her resilience was simply hidden by her behaviour in our community. However, the many CYC workers at our Center were committed to hang in with Angela, they persevered by always highlighting her strengths and being willing to take each daily situation and turn them into learning opportunities. We gave her the space so she could freely express her anger, her sadness and her rebellion without punishment. Sure there were consequences, but every action in life have consequences. We were prepared to advocate and never give up with connecting with all those other people in her life — the school, the probation office, the social workers, therapists, the doctors, the local merchants, her family. We were able to provide ample doses of attention, discipline, security, and routine. Angela quickly learned that all of us at the Center valued her as a young lady. She eventually saw our genuineness in our acceptance and eventually was able to accept some of her own great qualities. This acceptance eventually grew into an awareness that she was indeed a very meaningful person to us, her parents, school and our community. Angela blossomed as she contributed her skills and qualities to others in our community.

I hear a lot from others in our community that it is really too late for the kids who are growing up in our Residential Treatment Centers. Some of these people believe that we need to invest in children under the age of six. I agree wholeheartly that more effort needs to be extended in 'preventative ' work. However, stories like those of Angela will not allow me to ever give up on the potential of our youth. Youth do have the resilience and strength to become self sufficient independent contributing members of our society. Sometimes that resilience is simply hidden by their behaviour and CYC workers are committed to assist the youth to discover their own resiliency!

Hugh MacIntyre
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“ ... we feel we shouldn't say anything ...” — maybe that comes closest. Our profession expects from us a level of discretion and confidentiality unknown to the media. We would not identify or talk about a client outside of our program, yet if there is a problem the media will often report every detail — he said, she said, names, even pictures.

On the other side, “readers or viewers have a right to know” is the moral high ground claimed by the media. We might say that the public and the donors also have a right to know the types of problems we work on — and which the community presents us with — and the rates of success we achieve.

Margie
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Hi! I am not a Youth Care Worker yet but I am one in the making :-) I have a feeling that the role and definition of the Youth Care Worker is very much misunderstood and taken for granted. I am NOT a baby sitter and I know I have a lot to bring into the field.

Here, in New Brunswick, it is extremely hard to get accepted into a Youth Care Worker college program, and the very lucky ones who do are not recognized for their potential. Intervention Worker programs are being cut left and right because of lack of funds and the ADHD statistics are sky-rocketing.

I will not rest my case but that is all I have to bring for now. This "Assignment" is the beginning of something very positive. Thank you very much for the opportunity. It's very cool!

Louise
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All too often we as a profession sit back and allow the media to slam the very same profession we are passionate about. I am a third-year Centennial College student in Toronto, Canada, and find that the CYC/CYW field is often overlooked and underappreciated. When I tell someone I am a Child and Youth Worker, their almost immediate response is, "Oh, you work in a day care." I'm sure that we could blame the media for overlooking us, or other professions for being misinformed. However, don't we tell the children we work with to own up to their actions and take some responsibility? Even though this is not necessarily our fault, we may be contributing to it.

Recently the Toronto media has discussed "youth workers" in regards to a young autistic female that died as a result of the restraint she was put in. It outlined how physically aggressive this girl was and that the "youth worker" only did what they had to do — restrain her. The media made it actually seem as though sitting on a person in a bean bag chair is the proper way to restrain a physically aggressive child. I was outraged. The mere mention of this "normal" restraint method scared me to think: How do parents feel who have children in group homes, knowing their child is or has been restrained? So I decided to take a stand.

I wrote a letter to the editor stating I am a Child and Youth Worker student and proceeded to explain how inhumane the "youth worker" was in sitting on a child in a bean bag chair. I also outlined the CPI model of restraints, stating that children are perfectly safe if this method is executed by a trained professional. I also encourage concerned and unsure parents to contact the agency that is looking after their child to make sure each employed professional is properly trained.

Let's speak up, and advocate for the voices that are all too forgotten — the children's. Numerous issues arise from all over and there are most certainly always something to write about. If everyone sent in one letter to their local or national newspaper, think of how much more informed the media and it's readers would be. Or something as simple as placing CYC or CYW on your business card or professional document.

So the next time someone tells you that you are a day care worker, simply state to the person that you are a Child and Youth Worker who is specialized in working with behaviourally, emotionally, and mentally ill children. Stand proud, the work we do deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated — after all, we are working with our nation's youth.

David Brennan
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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The media, like many other institutions, have a tendency to focus on the pathology of youth and their place in society because they, the media and other institutions, fail to see youth in a multi-layered way; rather, they see youth in a linear and cumulative way, seeing youth only as youth and not as people intertwined in the full multi-layered truths and realities of society (simple answers to difficult questions, really). Thus, when there is a moral panic, related to youth, or youth care, youth detention, residential treatment and such services, etc., the blame is easily left on the backs of youth, rather than society as a whole (Example: Children's poor education is the children's fault rather than the children's schools being a part of the problem).

Youth and our agencies that serve youth need to be looked at beyond simple cultural norms. We need to begin to "rethink" youth through a new understanding of time and space and most definitely focus on the thousands of variables which make youth, youth. Conservative ideas on what it means to "do" effective youth work no longer work. The media and our institutions, particularly government, must begin to look at youth work past "quick fixes." This stuff takes time. Interpersonal relationships with young people, and the empowerment of youth, are important so that youth can become full partners in the construction or reconstruction of our institutions and society.

The media knocks on us youth workers because our work is qualitative, when most institutions, including the media (who do have an agenda), want quantitative results.

That's my 2 cents!

Nate Whittaker
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Hello,

I’m intrigued by the notion of “assignment.” Are we naturally curious as human beings to the items that cause us to react strongly and get adrenalin going? Maybe the media is predisposed to reporting negatively about most topics forgetting about or ignoring the positive stories. Part of this is that, due to the nature of our work and the challenges we face, both systemic and with the clients themselves, the positives are sometimes so small! In my experience it is the small success, sometimes just a moment, that gives hope and provides the reason for continuing in the field when budgets and programs are reduced or cut completely and there seems to be little regard to what work is (and needs to continue) being done. Reporting that Sally was at school Thursday is not a big press item, but if Sally continues hanging out on the street at 12 years of age, flashing for cigarettes, then that is what readers will react to. Celebrating the small, seemingly insignificant moments is left up to us. We all know how much effort it took for Sally to just show up at class and that it is the first positive choice she has made in weeks. That’s my opinion.

Sheryl Wilson
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