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care workers

Our identity — from 50 years of education

Dennis E. McDermott

Imagine what it would be like without a memory, not knowing anything about your past, your parents, where you went to school, what you did, what you liked ... nothing. Without memory you don’t have an identity, you literally don’t know who you are.

The history of a profession or organization is similar to the memory of an individual. It gives the members an identity; it is a way of saying who they are. With the 50th anniversary this year of Child and Youth training in Ontario, it’s worth looking at that history. It’s outlined on pages 6 and 7 and it helps to explain why Child and Youth Care Workers in Ontario have the identity they have.

To begin with, it’s a long history — 50 years. Compare that with other provinces that may only have a 2-year history of formal Child and Youth education, or even a place like BC whose training began 34 years ago; Ontario’s history/ identity goes back another 50% further.

In fact, probably the best way to understand the identity of Ontario Child and Youth Counsellors is by comparison with other states and provinces. In our case, the training began in a “hospital” specifically created for severely “emotionally disturbed” kids. There’s a good chance that grads from such a program are going to be different than those trained in a university who may or may not get a few 100 hours of field placement with severely disturbed kids. Discussing “cases” that you and the professor just worked with the day before is a lot different than discussing cases you’ve both read about. And the test of your conclusions about the case is a lot different when it has to be applied to the real person the next day than when it may or may not come up on a written test or assignment a few weeks or months later.

That was the origins of Child and Youth training in Ontario, hands-on, practical, and accountable — the theory had to work. This kind of “birthing” experience is sure to affect a group’s development and identity. And then there’s our “childhood.” Two to three years, then uniformly three years, in a college of applied arts and technology with a major emphasis on field placement, 1400 hours at a minimum. Compare this with one or two-year programs in private business colleges as on the east coast, or a four-year university program on the west coast, each with about half the field placement hours of Ontario colleges. They’re bound to grow up differently. And then when we make it to our educational adolescence, we start off in a polytechnical university, part-time, before we get to a full-time honours BA in a university (that was a former polytechnic). With this kind and length of history, it’s not so hard to see why Child and Youth counsellors in Ontario are as grounded in the profession as they are. With this 50 years of grounding, it’s probably no surprise that the only text books based directly in Child and Youth Care practice (see p. 7), except for a couple from large US agencies 45 years ago, come from Ontario.

It will be interesting to see what happens as we move into universities, our educational early adulthood. We’ll probably experiment with “drugs” (attractive but unfulfilling theories from other disciplines), and fool around with “flavour-of the-month” techniques, but with luck, and a good “memory” — a sense of our history — we’ll probably keep our identity in tact and make it to higher education that is grounded in our work. We’ll see.

But for now, lets wish all the Child and Youth educators, past and present, a happy 50th anniversary!

This feature: McDermott, D.E. (2007). OACYC CYC Chronicle 18(3) Editorial.