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regular column by grant charles

Where did we come from?

I recently attended the International Child and Youth Care Conference in Victoria, British Columbia. It was good to see old friends and make new ones. People spent time catching up on what each other have been doing for since we last saw each other. There were great conversations about the direction of child and youth care and, as always, discussions about the future of the field. Indeed, among the older ones of us there were quite a few moments spent on talking about what will happen to child and youth care in the coming years. This is probably a reflection of advancing years rather than any imminent crisis our field is about to experience. Those of us who haven’t been “in the floor” do worry about how things could possibly be as good as when we were front line workers, but I digress from where I was going in this column so let me get back to it.

It struck me as I was listening to some of these conversations that while there was a lot of talk about what is happening today and about the worries regarding tomorrow, there was no talk about the past. I don’t mean the past when the ones around the table were just starting out in child and youth care. I mean the past as in the roots of the field. As I was thinking about this it struck me that I could remember few articles or discussions about the roots of the field. Mark Krueger has written about the near past of the field in the States back to the early beginnings there about thirty or so years ago. Others like Jim Anglin tell stories about the early “fathers and mothers” of the field who before child and youth care had a name were advancing the cause of children. These figures were quite heroic in their achievements. These people tend to be European and are really part of the North American psyche. The famous “fathers” in North America that we discuss in school tend to just go back forty or fifty years.

Fifty years is not a long time. I know this is a young field, but as we discuss our history, when we do which is seldom, it seems as if child and youth care popped out of nowhere just a while ago. It seems this way but it can’t be this way. Some fields like radiology or computer sciences pop out of nowhere with the invention of new machines but even they can trace their early beginnings to people who were searching for answers for particular questions often for centuries before the machines were invented. In the human services I can think of no examples of pop-up professions. Education and social work have their giants in both cases going back at least one hundred years. However, in each of these professions people can look back hundreds if not thousands of years and see examples of individuals who laid the developmental groundwork for where they are today.

I find it odd that we can’t — or more likely just don’t — do this in child and youth care. I wonder why this is the case. Why is it that if you asked someone in our field who the “fathers or mothers” were they could only go back a few years. If you asked a similar question of a teacher they would likely mention Socrates or Dewey or, in Canada, Ryerson. Does this truly mean that we are unique among the professions in that we did pop out of nowhere in the fifties and sixties as our literature would suggest? Of course, this isn’t the case. We do have roots that go back many years. We can trace our origins back as far as many of the other professions. We can and yet we don’t. I wonder why we don’t. As I said this strikes me as odd. So the question becomes why don’t we? I intend to explore this question in my next couple of columns.