regular columnist Ė grant charles

The new leaders

There are days when I worry about the future of child and youth care. I wonder if we are on the downside of our glory days. When I first got into child and youth care close to thirty years ago there was a sense of optimism in children's services in North America. New thoughts were abounding. We were closing the orphanages and the old psychiatric facilities. Resources were being poured into new programs. There was a sea change happening in not just our field but in society as a whole. There was change in the air and as the newest profession we saw ourselves at the forefront of a new age. Many of us truly believed that we were only steps away from eradicating child abuse and other sins against children. We had the answers and the means. We just needed a bit of time and everything would be better. It was an exciting time.

There were giants in the field in those days. The people we read about today in our textbooks. Bettleheim, Redl and the others. They were deep thinkers. Leaders. They were putting into words a new vision of how the world could be. Right behind the deep thinkers were a group of deep doers. These people who were well known in their own communities. They were constantly pushing the edge. They were moving youth care outside the walls of the institutions. It felt like a privilege to work with them.

Those days are long gone as are the deep thinkers. The deep doers of those days are either retired or close to it. The magic of those days is also long gone. However, looking back we were incredibly naive. We werenít anywhere as good as we thought we were at the time. We didnít really have the answers. Indeed, for the most part we didnít even know the right questions to ask. Our work was primal and often raw. Our ignorance was at times destructive. And yet I mourn the passing of these people. I mourn the loss of those people not for who they were but because we donít seem to have the equivalent today. At a time when we are faced with so many obstacles we donít have same larger than life leaders.

When I think this way I get worried about the future of our field. Sometimes, some of us who have been around for awhile talk about our fear that the leaders are gone and that there donít seem to be any people to replace them. We worry about what will happen to the field. It gets quite depressing but it doesnít stay that way for very long ...

The conversation inevitably turns to somebody we've recently meet at some conference or program or school. At the moment we are most worried about the field we come across someone in the trenches who is absolutely wonderful. We realize that we shouldnít be surprised at this because when we think of it there are just so many good people in out field.

There are lots of good leaders. We really donít have to be concerned about there not being any leaders. Theyíre not the giants of the past but this is a good thing. We donít need giants any more. We moved past that point. We need the kind of people who are out there. People who are dedicated and passionate. People who want a better world for our children and who are willing to work hard to achieve that goal. These people are more grounded and realistic than we ever were. Theyíre better trained than we were and much more effective. Each one of them a giant in their own right. We donít have to worry about where the new leaders are going to come from because theyíre everywhere.

Dr. Grant Charles received his doctorate in Child and Youth Care from the University of Victoria. He has extensive experience working with high needs youth in a variety of community and residential mental health settings. He has also held a number of academic appointments at the post-secondary level. He has served as a technical advisory to Health Canada on the establishment of adolescent solvent abuse programs in a series of First Nation communities. He is currently a member of the National Advisory Committee to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect for the Bureau of Reproduction and Child Health at Health Canada. He is also the chair of the board of directors of the Canadian Adolescent Violence Educational and Research Network.

He has been the director of an adolescent sex offender program, solvent and substance abuse programmes for aboriginal youth, a community crisis program for children and families and a range of day treatment\educational programs for young people who are perpetrators of violence. He has extensive front-line experience with high needs youth.

Dr. Charles has presented papers at numerous national and international conferences. He has a number of publications on a diverse range of topics dealing with such issues as adolescent suicide, issues of abuse, addictions, supervision, consultation and international education. He has served as a consultant and advisor to a number of local, provincial and national projects relating to children and families.

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