Applied development in CYC is, essentially, being able to apply knowledge of human growth and development to the field of work. This includes the knowledge of different developmental theories, patterns of development in children and youth, learning theories, risk and resiliency and, depending on where you wish to work, medications.

Developmental theories are a group of different theories- fashioned mostly by psychologists and students of the field alike- such as Erik Erikson’s eight-stage theory for children and adolescents. It helps to explain the “typical” developmental progression a child or youth should follow, and identifies how to intervene in a child or youth’s life and support optimal development. Each child or youth a CYCP will work with may have individual needs based on their development, and knowing how to address and work with these needs is very important to the relationship and, most importantly, the overall healthy growth of that client.

Developmental theories themselves can be grouped into five different categories: psychoanalytic theories, such as Erikson’s or Freud’s, focus on the model of ages and stages of a child’s life in order to predict milestones and tasks they should be able to perform at each age. Cognitive theories emphasize cognition and thinking skills as they are developed in the child or youth. Behavioural and social cognitive theories focus on learning and environmental factors as being the primary mechanisms of development, and experiences at all ages are seen as important to growth and development. Ethological developmental theories focus on the importance of certain stages in a child or youth’s life, especially at the earliest ages, as they are critical in skill development in children and youth. If those milestones are missed, skills that they offer may not be learned. The last area is that of ecological theories, which are built around the importance of interaction between children and youth and their environment, and that includes cultural and political settings.

The idea of healthy growth and development in social work as of late has been supported by what is known as strength-based approaches, where, instead of focusing on the bad that the child or youth has seen or has done, we focus instead on the good in their life, and build upon that good to support positive esteem and mental health.

Patterns of development in children and youth are very much straightforward compared to the above; as in the name, they are simply patterns that most people follow through life at younger ages, including milestones to be achieved and the skills that come along with them. In essence, it is expected that, by certain ages, children and youth should achieve certain things in life (e.g. graduation from high school by 18 or 19, married by 30, etc.). These patterns differ in various cultures of the world, and it is through their relationship with clients that CYCPs can grow to understand how different these things can look from person to person, even if they share the same land. If a CYCP has sufficient knowledge of where a child should be at in this sense and they aren’t quite there yet, they may intervene to help them get back on track. Additionally, CYCPs must help children and youth at where they are developmentally and cognitively because, as I have mentioned previously, each individual is different, so the pattern they follow in their life may not the same as anyone else’s. Being able to identify when a child or youth may or may not need help in their own development is required of a CYCP, because it is our job to intervene and assist them in this part of their life.

Learning theories are theories compiled by various psychologists. They all focus on separate issues and patterns in growth and development and how it affects the learning of an individual, or simply how someone can learn. For example, B. F. Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning or Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, which states that people learn mostly from observing, imitating and modelling other people, especially role models, such as parents. This can have a positive or negative outcome, as aggressive behaviour can be observed and mimicked by young children as well as positive behaviour.

The difference between developmental theories and learning theories is that developmental patterns that can track and copy the span and direction of a number of people’s lives exist, while learning patterns like this do not. Every one individual is known to have a different learning style from another, so it is impossible to map out how a majority of people learn, as we are all entirely different.

Risk and resilience, as well as most everything else in the field, rely on the strength-based approach, as building upon the good can help build resiliency in children and youth. Resiliency can be described as the ability to “bounce back”: to be struck by misfortune or even a bad day in a week and keep a positive attitude, and pick oneself up from the ground. It is about knowing oneself, and it is intangible. Risk is also intangible, but building on resilience is used to avoid it; a youth with a depressive disorder may be at risk of harming themselves, harming others or attempting or completing suicide, but reinforcing their good as a CYCP and intervening in ways that are catered to the youth because of their identified needs in life helps them build resilience, and the ability to create and uphold a positive attitude on their life and themselves, and avoiding the risk of relapse into severe depression or harmful thoughts or actions.

The last area in applied development that you may need knowledge of is psychotropic medications. Psychotropics, in a nutshell, are any drugs (legal or otherwise) that affect or cause a change in mood, behaviour or emotions. These medications can be an effective form of therapy for some children and youth, so it is important to remember that the facts and research that back up psychotropic medications are more important than one’s personal opinion as a CYCP. It is not in the scope of practice of CYCPs to diagnose clients, but it is important that CYCPs have a knowledge base on side effects of psychotropics available to potential clients, but only if the environment they work in requires it; these places would likely be mental health programs, hospitals, and the like. Places a CYCP wouldn’t necessarily need a lot of knowledge on psychotropics would be family base programs, community centers and possibly school settings.

The takeaway from all the theories and the patterns is that everyone develops differently, and there must be a respect for that in our field of work, and everywhere else.


Stuart, C. (2009). Foundations of Child and Youth Care. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

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