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child and youth care workers

‘Professional’ vs Qualified Professional

Ramin Mohamadi

First of all I would like to thank all the parties that organized the 8th International Child and Youth Worker Conference which took place in Montreal. Besides the event, Montreal was beautiful — a European style was noticeable throughout the city. Overall this event was a wonderful experience. Every workshop that I participated in gave me new information and a new perspective in my daily practice in the field of child and youth work. It was great meeting new people from all around the world, listening to new and different ideas, and realizing that we have such a great organization locally, nationally and internationally.

After I came back from the conference, I was thinking about the words professional and professionalism and discussed these two concepts with some of my friends and colleagues. I have been a member of the Ontario ACYC for past six years or so. I graduated from the Child and Youth Care program at George Brown College. I have been working in the field since 1998, and I am a professional. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a professional is someone “Doing certain work to make a living; a person working or performing for payment; someone who is highly skilled.”

I think there is huge confusion among us child and youth work practitioners about who is professional or who is not. Are we following the professionalism in our field? Are we professional just because we graduated from the program and are making money in the field? I think the answer is yes according to the Oxford definition. However, my next question is: Are we all qualified professionals? Are we maintaining our professionalism? The Oxford Dictionary defines professionalism as “The qualities or skills of a profession or professional.”

We are working in a field that changes rapidly. Every day we hear about new disorders, treatments, and diagnoses. We work with vulnerable children and youth, and we forget that we may need to refresh our knowledge; we need to get updated, and make ourselves familiar with the new information that is available for us in order to be able to work more effectively with this population.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even where it is, it is only in a certain area or setting. In my experience I noticed that some social service workers, especially those working with children and youth and their families, do not recognize the importance of professional development. It is very interesting that if your CPI or UMAB is expired, you cannot work on the floor until you get it updated or refresh it. But you can work on the floor if you have no idea about certain disorders or its treatments or any new information about it. No one will check when your last professional development was; and even if they check, there are the usual excuses of “not enough time,” or financial constraints.

But if I go to work with ripped jeans and a Budweiser T Shirt, all of a sudden I hear the word “professional.” “Hey man, this is not professional.” You hear it from co-workers, supervisors, and probably managers. Next thing you know, you are in the office for unprofessional appearance!

Or you are an experienced and knowledgeable individual who is working in a maximum security facility with young offenders, looking for a part-time job, and you see an ad in the paper looking for experienced child and youth workers to work with highly aggressive individuals with Autism. You get the job! You get to work on the first shift, and you are asked, “Have you worked with these individuals before?” and you say “No.” I do not think someone will tell you that you are not qualified to working in that setting. There won’t be any supervision. As long as you have your CPI or UMAB updated! But if you don’t know about Autism, the characteristics, treatments, and other issues related to it, you still be able to work. Are you a professional? I say Yes. Are you a qualified professional in that setting? I Say N0!

How we maintain our professionalism and update our knowledge is one of the most essential components in our field and sometyhing that we fail to do. Passion and love for working with children and youth is the greatest gift that we have, but is it enough to work with an 8-year-old girl who is diagnosed with Rett’s Syndrome? Answer this question as a professional.
Do we really need to be qualified to work in this field, or do we just need to be professional?