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

ISSUE 8 SEPTEMBER 1999   CONTENTS   HOME PAGE

THE PROFESSION

Challenges facing the child and youth care profession

Wilma Hoffman

Professor Wilma Hoffman, Deputy Head of the School of Social Work at the University of the Witwatersrand, spoke at the Graduation Ceremony at which the Registration of Child and Youth Care Professionals was officially introduced in South Africa

A graduation ceremony such as this one is a most appropriate occasion at which to celebrate achievements milestones along the long, and at times exacting, journey of child and youth care towards becoming a profession.

I am privileged to have been asked to participate in this ceremony, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW) on its consistent and persistent hard work over the past 18 years which now enables you as child and youth care workers to begin to be recognised as professionals, both by society at large and by those with whom you come into contact in the course of your work.

Other speakers today have described the development of the child and youth care movement and the growing number of knowledgeable and skilled persons who give service to children and their families people who abide by a code which assures that their practice is of a high standard in accordance with the ethics of their profession.

Becoming a professional is not without sacrifice. All of you who have graduated from NACCW courses, as well as each one of you graduating today, can confirm my statement. You have had to attend and study for the courses whilst working full-time and not only this, but also doing work which can be very stressful caring for troubled children. Yet you persevered in your studies, and today many are receiving the acknowledgement that your effort has paid off you are joining the fold of professional child and youth care workers. My warmest congratulations.
It is a status gained but it is also a status which can be lost unless every one of you continues to maintain it and not only to maintain it, but also to build it further.

So, your hard work has not ended today. Today is but a milestone in you professional life. Your journey as a professional still stretches ahead. The journey for each one of you will be different depending on your degree of commitment to child and youth care, your working environment and your personal circumstances.

But irrespective of such differences, each one of you has certain challenges facing you as a professional child and youth care worker challenges which can also be viewed as obligations on your part. I have selected a few of these to emphasise today.

Open to change
Your first obligation is to be open to change. You can only continue to grow and develop as professionals if you are not frightened to change within yourselves, as you allow your new knowledge and skills to help you work more effectively with the children and their families. As a professional you also have an obligation to work towards social change change in the wider circumstances which affect the lives of the children with whom you work, and their families.

Willing to grow
Your second obligation is to continue to become more and more expert at you job. How do you do this? By continuing to seek more knowledge, by learning new skills and by continuing to polish the skills you already have.

The cornerstone on which a profession rests is the unique and specialised body of theory and skills which makes it different from other occupations. Our knowledge also teaches us to think in new ways and to decide on specific courses of action.

Child care workers' special knowledge, skills and attitudes help them to add their professional opinions on the circumstances and treatment of a particular child and family to those of other professionals on the team. When you can share your opinions opinions informed by theory and experience colleagues will readily accept you as a valuable member of a treatment team.

Loyal to the profession
Your third obligation is commitment to this profession which exists to meet the needs of children and their families. Being a child and youth care professional is more than just working in a paid job. It is often regarded as a vocation, a 'calling'. It is a privilege to be of such service to children. In your day-to-day work you will have a vision of better lives for children and their families, and for society as a whole.

It is also important to make some commitment to child care as your career, with long term responsibilities to your field of service, hopefully staying in your profession as a child and youth care worker, today launched in its new status.

It is also your obligation to entrench, safeguard and dignify the term by which your profession is known child and youth care and not to allow others to assign other names such as 'nanny' or 'housemother/father'.

Your service as a child care worker (mostly in children's homes and other institutions structured as bureaucracies) will at times be fraught with frustration and demoralisation. Being admitted to a profession implies that you can make independent judgements about services to children, but this will be tempered by the philosophy and milieu of the agency in which you are working.

Despite this, your obligation remains (quoting from your own Declaration in your Code of Ethics) "to work towards the creation and maintenance of conditions within organisations which enable you and your child and youth care colleagues to maintain yourselves in keeping with the Code of Ethics".

There is much work to be done to further develop and consolidate child and youth care work as a profession. This now becomes your professional duty, because recognition of a profession is won only when its members assert their rightful place among other professionals, and when they can sustain that place. Being one of the oldest service occupations in the history of mankind does not make this easier, because entrenched stereotypes of what child care workers do and can do have to be broken down.

Models of care
In conclusion I mention one further obligation you have as child and youth care workers in South Africa. You have the obligation to devise workable models of child and youth care for this country models of care for children in difficulty whose own families are not able to care for them.

Child care faces many challenges in the changing South Africa. I believe that you will meet these challenges in the main because the courses you have studied have provided you with knowledge, have helped you to acquire and polish skills, and have tested your attitudes and thinking about child and youth care in general   and specifically in this country.
I remind you that the future of child and youth care is in your hands. Only the members of a profession are in a position to sustain and build that profession.