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Making connections

Heather Modlin  

I have become somewhat of a clearinghouse, in Newfoundland and Labrador, for information related to child and youth care. Professionals from across the province — mostly social workers — regularly contact me for assistance in locating or developing services for specific individuals, and I have gained a reputation as “the one to call” if you are looking for a particular resource. You need a treatment center in Ontario? A Child and Youth Care education program in Alberta? Family support program in Ireland? Looking for information on best practices? Just ask.

I have not gained this reputation because I know everything, or have all the answers. In fact, on my own I hardly know a thing. What I do know, however, is who to call. I have connections. In my years of working in child and youth care, I have had the good fortune to meet many informed, knowledgeable and helpful individuals who, between them all, really do have all the answers (or at least they do a good job of making it seem that way).

The field of child and youth care is all about building relationships — with the young people, with the families, with each other. While most of us are well aware of the importance of maintaining positive relationships with our clients and our co-workers, we often don't realize the benefits of establishing relationships with other child and youth care workers, outside of our own agencies, provinces, or countries.

Child and youth care can be a very isolating occupation. It involves challenging work, with marginalized members of society, on a shift schedule that is usually opposite to that of most of the working world. If you are not connected to others who share similar experiences, it is easy to believe that no one else could possibly understand what you must deal with or go through on a daily basis. This can breed discontent, insular thinking, and resentment, which ultimately can lead to burn out. I know, I've been there.

Teams of youth care workers that operate as “closed” systems are in danger of becoming even more dysfunctional than their clients. It is essential that we maintain permeable boundaries to allow for a continuous exchange of information between the team and the outside world. We must be open to new ideas, and willing to share our ideas with others. Daring to reach outside the comfort zone of our agency, into the greater world of child and youth care, can be a very liberating experience. There is so much to learn, and so many people to learn from!

How do you get connected? Start by joining your regional, provincial or state child and youth care association. Sit on the executive. Write for the newsletter. Participate in fundraisers. Volunteer for events. This is where you'll meet other cyc's and begin your networking journey. The time you put in will be well worth it in the end, and you'll meet some great people and have fun along the way.

Your province or state doesn't have an active child and youth care association? Start one. That's what I did. If you can only get three people together to be a part of your association, don't worry about it - host a national child and youth care conference. That will boost your membership. You can also ask your national association for assistance. (In Canada, this is the Council of Canadian Child and Youth Care Associations.)

Attend national and international child and youth care conferences; this is a great way to meet people from all over the world. Get involved in committee work (there are always opportunities at the provincial and national levels to sit on committees). Present at workshops. Join the cyc-net discussion group, and actively participate. Ask your agency to bring in some guest speakers (call me, I can recommend some good ones). Subscribe to a journal. Read a book (I can recommend some good books, too). Write a journal article. It doesn't matter what you do, just get yourself out there! You will find that Child and Youth Care people are some of the most interesting, caring, and supportive people you will meet. But don't just limit your networking to Child and Youth Care - there are good people out there in other professions, too. Get to know them - the more we interact with each other, the richer all of our experiences will be. We don't want the field of child and youth care to become a closed system, either.

I have called on so many amazing individuals, for so many different things, that I don't think I will ever be able to adequately repay them all. In turn, I am regularly called on by others and I do what I can to continue the chain of generosity. That's the way it works in this field - we all give freely of ourselves — our time, knowledge, and expertise — to help each other. You can be a part of this community, too. Just get involved.

Heather Modlin has worked in the field of child and youth care for fifteen years. She has BA (Hons.) in Psychology and a MSc. in Child and Youth Care Administration. She is currently Executive Director of the St. Francis Foundation in St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador. This is a multi-program agency that provides residential and support services to young people and families. The Foundation was the 2004 recipient of the Employer of Distinction Award which is presented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers Council, to the employer in the province who demonstrates excellence in all areas of human resources management. Heather is also past president of the Child and Youth Care Association of Newfoundland and Labrador and current president of the Council of Candadian Child and Youth Care Associations. As part of her work with the Council, Heather is co-chair, along with Dr. Carol Stuart, of the Standards Committee which is working on developing a national model of standards for child and youth care.
Heather was recently involved in developing the first child and youth care diploma program in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is now a part-time instructor in that program. She is also a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Relational Child and Youth Care, and is soon to have her first book chapter published in A Child and Youth Care Approach to Working with Families. Although Heather has written a few journal articles, this is her first regular column.