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from newfoundland and labrador

Child and Youth Care — A Fragmented Field

Heather Modlin

Until recently, there were no education programs for child and youth care in Newfoundland and Labrador. Those who became employed as child and youth care workers, therefore, came from other disciplines, with psychology, sociology, and education being the most prevalent. Some agencies required a degree in the social sciences, others required two years of post-secondary education in a “related field.” Individuals who currently work in the field became child and youth care workers only after gaining employment as such.

This all started to change with the implementation of a two-year diploma program in child and youth care almost two years ago. In addition to training potential child and youth care workers, the presence of a child and youth care program in the community has helped to raise the profile of the “profession” in the community. Agencies that never before had a connection to child and youth care are taking students and recognizing the value of child and youth care workers and what they have to offer. Schools are clamoring for student placements, and are actively submitting proposals for funding to create child and youth care positions in the school system. The students themselves are bringing energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the field like never seen before. They are active in the Child and Youth Care Association, and have developed a strong identity as child and youth care workers even before they obtain employment. These are all positive steps forward.

Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done. One thing I have noticed as we’ve travelled on this journey is that there are organizations that are doing child and youth care, and employing child and youth care workers (by a different name), and they don’t know it (or refuse to acknowledge it). There are also organizations that knowingly employ child and youth care workers, but they do not identify with the field — they do their own thing, in their own way. Then, there are the individual staff who may work in “enlightened’ agencies, but choose to remain uninvolved with and unaware of the bigger Child and Youth Care world out there.

Let me give you an example. A few months ago, the students in one of my classes were required to visit a community-based agency and gather information on the program. This was a small group assignment, and one of the groups chose to visit a group home for young offenders. They met with the Program Director to obtain the required information. During the course of the interview, the Director mentioned more than once they only hired individuals with degrees in psychology or social work. He then went on to tell them that he hoped they were all planning to pursue a degree after they finished the program, because they would not get a job in the field with a Child and Youth Care Work diploma.

The students were very disheartened by his statements, and found the whole experience frustrating and belittling. While this was an isolated incident — all other students reported very positive experiences on their agency visits — I was struck by the complete lack of recognition of the importance and value of specific training and education in child and youth care. A bachelor’s degree in psychology just doesn’t cut it — I know, I have one. And because of that, I’ve had to spend years educating myself in child and youth care in order to become even minimally effective in this very complex and challenging field.

There are other examples, and they are not limited to Newfoundland and Labrador. I have occasionally hired people who have worked in residential programs in other provinces. Because they come with experience, I always assume they know about child and youth care. Excitedly, I refer to the writing of Mark Krueger, Lorraine Fox, Thom Garfat, Henry Maier, and other “big names,” assuming they will be familiar with their work. They are not. I talk about Life Space Intervention — they look at me with blank stares. I mention the Child and Youth Care Conferences, and they have never heard of them. Where is the common language? The shared knowledge and understanding?

Last month, a job ad appeared in our local newspaper for a Child and Youth Care Worker. The ad was placed by a high profile organization in another province (which has several well established child and youth care education programs). The qualifications required for the position were high school graduation, with two years post-secondary education ( in anything) preferred.

All of this speaks to the need for enforceable standards in child and youth care. While we diligently work on reviewing models of competencies and creating frameworks for professional regulation, we must remember that our biggest challenge in moving forward still lies within the field itself. If we think that everyone involved in child and youth care is eager to embrace these initiatives, we’re kidding ourselves. Most practitioners are, at best, ambivalent. If we are to be successful, this fact must be acknowledged and addressed as part of any strategy designed to promote the enforcement of minimal standards in the field of child and youth care.