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Volume 34, Issue 2 / April-June 2013
85 / Guest-Editorial / Dana Fusco and Michael Baizerman
Professionalization Deconstructed: Implications for the Field of Youth Work
In the recent book, Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions, several trends in the field of youth work were presented that were at times consistent, at times complementary, and at other times, diametrically opposed. That book aimed to bring into one fold an inclusive set of voices and opinions across varied domains of youth work, including child and youth care, after-school programs, recreation, civic engagement, and youth development. It is in the same spirit that we offer this special issue: "Professionalization Deconstructed: Implications for the Field Of Youth Work." Here, we hope to deconstruct the underlying beliefs and narratives on professionalization in youth work and in related human service fields by examining the arguments for and against professionalization, by looking at the historically situated evidence within and outside of the field of youth work, and by exploring alternate conceptions of professionalization. It is always our goal to have young people and youth workers in the forefront of our mind; thus, our framing of the issues always rests on the questions: Is this good for young people and youth workers? Who decides and why?
In the opening article, "Professionalization in Youth Work? Opening and Deepening Circles of Inquiry," Fusco and Baizerman come to the topic of professionalization as if it were a classic Russian folk doll. After reviewing and critically questioning the current claims of professionalization (e.g., for improving wages, work conditions, program quality, and public recognition), they offer three nested and overlapping circles of inquiry for deepening the way the field approaches the topic of professionalization. They provide a reframe for professionalization inquiries that includes the historical and sociocultural situatedness of professional movements, the contemporary sociopolitical and sociolegal contexts, and the self-referential questions pertaining to the varied families of youth work practice(s). Focal questions:
What inquiries (and corresponding "answers") have led or are leading current efforts to professionalize?
What inquiries might we still pursue to deepen our collective understandings and foster better/best solutions for the field, for youth workers, for young people?
Next are three articles that unpack the potential advantages of professionalization and the thinking of its proponents. First, James Freeman, the Director of Training at Casa Pacifica Centers for Children & Families, presents a brief history of organized child and youth care (CYC) in North America. Through interviews with four leading experts, he pursues contemporary themes regarding the current status of the field, benefits and potential disadvantages of professionalization, and next steps for advancing the field of child and youth care. Second, Trudi Cooper, Professor at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup, Australia contends that opposition to professionalization has emerged in contexts, mostly in the United Kingdom where there existed particular institutional arrangements to support youth work. She argues that the absence of such arrangements in the contemporary Australian context has different consequences for the role of professional associations. Trudi concludes that social policy ideology has a greater capacity to undermine youth work quality than either professionalization or the fact of state sponsorship of youth work. In a similar spirit, Michael Emslie, Lecturer in Youth Work at RMIT in Melbourne, offers a set of strategies for professionalizing youth work. Coming at the topic through the discipline of the sociology of professions, he uses lessons from other professionalization projects to garner support in the youth sector. He argues that youth workers should "design and lead professionalization projects." Focal questions: What is the thinking of those who propose professionalization as the "right" thing to do for the field? What view or definition of professionalization do they take? What is the geographical, sociopolitical, and practice contexts that are shaping such aims to professionalize and how might those differ from other contexts?
Changing course are three articles that present a more critical read of professionalization. In the first, Katie Johnston-Goodstar and Ross VeLure Roholr, both Faculty in Youth Studies at the University of Minnesota, use a comparative historical approach to examine the unintended consequences of professionalization within teaching and social work, as well as to search for evidence that expected gains in program quality, salaries, working conditions, and social standing were realized. In the next, Wolfgang Vachon, Faculty at Humber College who teaches child and youth care/work in Toronto, Canada, discusses how CYC practice is being defined as part of the professionalization process, the implications of this definition, and who might become excluded as a result. He questions the lack of participation and voice of youth workers and young people in the movement to professionalize and interviews artists (practitioners with no formal CYC education) to disclose their views. He succinctly expresses the concern that "by gate keeping we risk young people never meeting the amazing, caring, compassionate practitioners who work with children and youth that don't have an interest in acceding to the pressures of professionalization." Deborah Moore, Associate Director of the Youth Work Institute at the University of Minnesota Extension, explores a similar line of questioning examining the prevailing narrative in afterschool in the United States. She uses critical theory to explore the imbalance of power in current discussions that is reflected in the kind of questions being asked and the solutions being proposed, and argues that there are both benefits and drawbacks to current strategies, but unless practitioners and youth lead the design and decision-making, the efforts to professionalize will not fully advance. Focal questions: What do critics of professionalization argue? What unintended consequences of professionalization might be of concern to youth work? Whose voice is included/excluded and how might the content and character of professionalization change if there was a more inclusive conversation? What alternatives to professionalization might be considered?
In one of two closing articles of the volume, Michael Baizerman discusses the sociopolitical movement to enhance youth workers' occupational status, the one based on competency-based assessment. He visits the medieval guilds as a historical source of worker and market control, examines the competencies movement, and provides a quick overview of Aristotle's phronesis in order to arrive at the question: Are we really (in Wittgenstein's terms) a family of resemblances? Seen as such, Baizerman would advocate that we each in our different ways of working with young people and communities "keep going" and that some of us may seek the guild, while others may not. Fusco next illustrates that "some of us" are finding it very difficult to "keep going" in part because of a privileging of science and epistemic culture as the way of knowing one's practice. Fusco argues that youth work is being courted by such epistemology and as such the professional narratives of care, wisdom and ethics are de-legitimized as valid ways of knowing, doing and being a youth worker. She advocates for a model of youth work education that addresses the reality that practice worlds are diverse, complex, and dynamic. Focal questions: What considerations can be made for an understanding of the pros/cons of professionalization that are grounded to the practice context, to the ways of working with young people, and to the sensibilities of those who work across the families of youth work practice? Which views of professional (as carer, as competent, as ethical, as wise) are receiving the greatest attention today and which are not? What is lost for youth workers and young people in the claim that positivist science is the only valid grounding for practice? What characteristics then of youth work education are also being legitimatized (e.g., competencies)? What might be a better suitor for a practice of working with young people that values meaning over truth, dialogue over evidence, and reflexivity over certainty?
It is clear from this collection of articles that the call for professionalization (and the criticisms against) is inextricably woven to time and place; to surrounding ideologies, policies and supports; and to the specific youth work practice(s) in question. Arguments for and/or against professionalization must be read with those historical, sociocultural, and practice contexts in mind. In short, professionalization might be right for some, now. Others may need to "keep going."
89 / Professionalization in Youth Work? Opening and Deepening Circles of Inquiry / Dana Fusco and Michael Baizerman
100 / The Field of Child and Youth Care: Are We There Yet? / James Freeman
112 / Institutional Context and Youth Work Professionalization in Post-Welfare Societies / Trudi Cooper
125 / Toward a Youth Work Profession / Michael Emslie
139 / Unintended Consequences of Professionalizing Youth Work: Lessons From Teaching and Social Work / Katie Johnston-Goodstar and Ross VeLure Robott
156 / Do Not Enter: What Are the Risks of Gatekeeping Child and Youth Care? / Wolfgang Vachon
172 / Exploring the Dynamics of Power in Professionalizing Afterschool / Deborah Moore
186 / The Quest for (Higher) Professional Status: Second Thoughts / Michael Baizerman
196 / Is Youth Work Being Courted by the Appropriate Suitor? / Dana Fusco