Stephanie Griffin has been a child and youth worker for eight years, working in the field of community health.
Every so often, you just get stuck. What you know and what you believe are no longer what you do. You are just stuck. It can take decades to get to this point or a matter of months. The good thing is, it is not hard to get unstuck. One single moment can renew you. A different way of looking at what you already see can be the glimmer that gets you back on track.
What I am talking about can happen to anyone. It has happened to me in my career, and I see it happening in many areas of our profession. Where we become entrenched in our routine and stop pushing ourselves to achieve the things we believe in. Luckily, as I mentioned, this state of being stuck can be temporary.
We work in a profession that has been described as challenging, intense, frustrating, and stressful. We are the ones who work with the children and youth that nobody else wants to work with. Yet, it is also a profession that is greatly rewarding. I recently attended a professional conference and heard a Child and Youth Worker comment “I am in a field that I wish did not have to exist”. From this, I believe she is seeing the field from the perspective of needs and problems; child welfare, foster care, abused children, behavioural units in schools, neglect, and violence. My perception is that I am in a field that exists to create it’s own reality and future. If we want fewer children in need of residential care and behavioural support, then we need to strengthen and develop the macro system that families are existing in. Child and Youth Care Workers can work with the positive aspects of our clients, build their assets, and work from an attitude of strength rather than deficit. We may still be working with the clients that no one else wants, but we can be doing it from a prevention and health promotion approach rather than just treatment.
Within our profession as a whole we have groups of specialists: school behavioural counsellors, residential experts, street outreach workers, family educators. I feel there is a huge need for a community health or community development specialization to come from within the Child and Youth work profession. Children and youth are not raised in institutions, they are raised in communities. Community development has traditionally been within the role of social workers.
Child and Youth Care has been expanding more and more into the community, but has yet to take a strong role in the development of communities. To empower children and youth to use their skills to improve the health of their communities, and in turn, create a better environment for their own development is an achievable goal. Slowly, this is changing. I see this as the next chapter in our professions story.
Many of us begin our career with the desire to help; to improve the lives of children. With the belief that “I can intervene and do something that will really affect their lives. And then over and over, you learn that it is really not up to you to intervene directly. Really it is our job to give them opportunities to intervene for themselves, to change themselves.”
In Canada, there are 250 Community Health Centres. In Ontario, there are 65, with the majority of them offering children, youth, and family programming. They work to increase the health and social well-being of community residents. Currently, there are only three CHC’s in Ontario that employ a Child and Youth Worker. Community health Centres have not been aware of what Child and Youth Workers are, and in turn, there is little emphasis on community health promotion and CHCs being taught to CYWs. This too is changing. The connections are being made, and in the next few years, I believe there will be a substantial role for child and youth workers in community health.
There is a growing trend in Canada and throughout the world, to take a look at how we are treating and responding to children. The UN World fit for Children, a document that outlines key principles and issues that must be addressed to increase the health of the world's children, was ratified by 191 countries, including Canada. Of the ten principles of this movement, the field of Child and Youth Care is capable of directly working towards six of them through the work that we do.
Put children first “always consider the best interest of the child
Leave no child behind “each girl and boy is free and equal - discrimination must end
Care for every child “children must get the best possible start in life. Their survival, protection, growth, and development are the essential foundation of human development
Educate every child “access to good quality basic education. No gender barriers
Protect children from harm and exploitation “protected against acts of violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination
Listen to children and ensure their participation “Children and adolescents are resourceful citizens capable of helping build a better future for all.
Our profession is in a key position to help create the World Fit for Children. In fact, we have been working on these principles since our field began. The future of our profession is moving in the same direction as the child health and youth engagement movement that Canada has adopted nationally. The sixth principle I mentioned, ensuring full participation of children and adolescents, is at the heart of child and youth care in a community health setting. Our movement forward into this area is legitimized by the desire of the UN to improve the state of the world for the children who live it in. A saying we commonly hear is “children are our leaders of tomorrow.” I prefer to think of children and youth as individual’s leading today. We do not need to wait for the future to see the impact their leadership can have on communities.
One thing that sets our profession aside is that we are child-focussed. The experience of the young person is our primary focal point. Child and youth work is oriented towards focussing on the child, and the child's participation in their environment. We are concerned with the systems of the child's life.
There are many types of images that permeate professional and popular thinking about children and youth today. Many of these views assume young people are victims of their environment, or they are “bundles of pathology” threatening society. This attitude is what is keeping adults from forming partnerships with youth, from engaging them in activities that would benefit the “whole”. Child and Youth Workers are one group that is able to see past this attitude, and has the desire to work with all youth, not just those who are eager to participate.
So, if the future does hold more opportunities for Child and Youth Workers in Community health, what will the benefits be to the profession as a whole?
Workers will be able to cross ecological systems. From the community health setting, we are able to follow our clients through their life space, be it in their school, family home, playground, medical provider, or community. We partner with all the agencies and institutions in our community, and can link workers from various settings.
It brings our profession to a new interdisciplinary table. Child and Youth Workers will be able to sit among primary health care providers, social workers, and policy makers. It expands the awareness of what we do, and who we are.
It expands the horizons for our profession. Community Health holds the broadest definition of health. It looks at the determinants of health as being necessary for every individual. Child and Youth Workers will develop the skills to incorporate health promotion into their practice, and to see "health" through a new lens.
It allows us to shift a greater emphasis to prevention and intervention. As a profession, many of our workers are treating children, youth, and families. We are working on making things better, after the fact. We have a continuum of workers, and I see us being unbalanced. There is a greater number of us working at the treatment end, and fewer focussing their practices on prevention. Community Health is about prevention, and increasing capacity so clients can intervene on their own behalf.
It brings a new perspective to our professional literature, conferences, and collective knowledge. We learn through stories and sharing with one another. Any time you add a new environment, or new opportunities for workers within the profession, the profession as a whole benefits.
I have been fortunate to be a child and youth worker in a community health centre for almost eight years now. I have seen the beginning of this partnership, and I look forward to seeing it evolve and expand. When we are passionate about our work, we attract others to consider what is driving that passion. In my first year of college I heard a professor say “you don’t know where you are going, until you have arrived”. For me, that has been very true. I know where I belong in this field, and I am excited to see other child and youth workers stumble along the same path. Our profession, and individual workers are continually seeking new opportunities.