Listed below are the six main settings a Child and Youth Care Practitioner can work in, and a description of what each of those settings can look like.
Residential (1): The first setting CYCPs could work in when the practice was established in the early 19th century, and required the practitioners to spend much time inside the physical milieu of their clients, within the space they were living in. This space would have been different from their family homes (namely, group homes) and they would share the space with other children and youth who were resettled there, usually after experiencing abuse or requiring additional assistance with physical or mental disabilities that their families or previous home carers were unable to deliver. This setting is much the same as it was when it first started in an environmental sense, but of course, a lot of policies would have changed over the many years before today, and they still are always evolving.
I think I would very much like residential work, because it would give me the opportunity to really exist in the physical space of my clients, and to do things like cooking and baking, as we would be sharing a lot of time and space, which includes mealtimes. Having the ability to build relationships with clients through little life moments every day is something that really draws me in, because for me, it would feel the most genuine out of any interactions I could do in any other setting.
Family: CYCPs also have the opportunity to work with the entire family of their clients, and not just one client in a different space with the family being involved under certain circumstances. The practitioners that work in this setting are required to work within the space of the family’s home, and as such, there is a lack of control on environmental factors from the CYCP’s end. The fact that the practitioner, a stranger, is entering the family’s home puts a certain stress on the unit, and there can be an emotional response expected from this, especially during the first meeting inside the home.
The reason for the practitioner entering the home will likely always be different, as it could be reintegrating a child or youth into the home who is returning from a hospital or residential setting after a period of time; it could be to help a foster family support a fostered child or youth who may exhibit troubling behaviour, or requires special assistance/needs; a practitioner could also enter a family’s home to assist them in raising a child with developmental delays or needs. This is obviously not everything that a practitioner in this setting will do, but it is possible that any will encounter at least one of these situations.
Community: CYCPs working in the community setting can expect to find themselves spending a great deal of time inside community or recreational centers and any public places that children and youth might be within that community, including drop-in centers, after school programs, neighbourhood homes and more. Community organizations often focus on development of youth in their communities and hire professionals from all around (this, of course, includes CYCPs), with their main goal to develop leadership skills and teach youth to fit with expectations and become confident leaders as they grow older.
CYCPs working in the community setting must learn and work to understand the full scope of their clients’ lives; the physical space in which the practitioner may work can be a single building, a recreation center where the community members frequently meet for activities or programs for instance, or at multiple locations depending on the activities and programs available and season/weather. Getting to these places for some youth who need or would like to take part in programs can challenging, so this could be something a community-working CYCP would deal with. Alongside the physical space is that of the emotional, social, cultural and ideological space. Children and youth, as well as their families, are individuals with needs and webs of people in their lives; practitioners working with communities can expect to become very involved with almost all members of that community they work in, as well as many other professionals in that same space, CYCPs, SSWs or otherwise. This is the social aspect, which ties well into the emotional one; the death of any community member within a close-knit town or small city, for example, can affect a great number of people, given their social ties and role in the community. It is important to get a feel for the emotional workings and dynamic of any community one works in, and that includes culture. Cultures are diverse all across the globe, and so the individual culture within one community that one works in should be reflected by the workers and the kind of work these people do (e.g. an Indigenous CAS worker dedicated to Indigenous communities/families, to instill a sense of comfort, safety and familiarity in the client(s)).
Street Work (Outreach): Practitioners working in outreach programs focus entirely on homeless youth, with the hope of getting them off the streets (ultimately only if they desire another location to live) and into an alternative. This can be a group home, an apartment or even a temporary shelter until other preparations can be made. In order for the youth to begin this process, though, there must be a trusting relationship built between the youth and practitioner, which proves to be quite difficult; in street work, the practitioners seek out the youth, not the reverse, as it usually is in the other settings. That being said, creating a bond and fostering trust with a client who likely does not expect or want you to work with them is not an easy task. Occasionally, a youth may decide that they wish to continue working or living on the street, and would not like to seek housing or other related supports. In this situation, the practitioner must still do all they can to ensure that, no matter what the youth ends up doing, they have a safe method of doing it. This is done by connecting them to other supports tailored to their needs aside from what they do not wish to be helped with.
A large percentage of homeless youth in any urban center are visible minorities (e.g. a young Muslim woman donning a hijab), or identify with other minority groups (e.g. LGBTQ+). Practitioners working with homeless youth belonging to minority groups must have a respect and understanding for their identities, and avoid judgements, especially as they are already in a difficult and potentially dangerous situation. Finding resources for these youth may prove difficult due to systemic oppression, which is why practitioners doing street work must also perform a lot of advocacy work for homeless youth; they are human beings with goals and aspirations and deserve to be treated and seen as such. This is the belief of street work practitioners, and the message that is attempted to be relayed by those people.
School (2): School settings offer CYCPs opportunities such as teaching, group facilitation, one-on-one sessions with clients and more. One of the reasons why CYCPs were implemented in schools was to offer support and guidance to children with special needs, mental health disorders, learning disabilities and what else have you, especially since children and youth with certain cognitive delays and disorders are being introduced into other classes with their peers who may not experience the same things, as an effort to include as opposed to exclusion. The mental wellbeing of all children and youth, not just those who experience disorders or delays, is vitally important in school settings, as the education of younger generations is vastly important as well; if a child or youth cannot function well in school and begins to fail to attend or their ability to participate well in class or social events due to extenuating circumstances, this is where a CYCP would come in. This also applies to bullying, as bullying and harassment can change a healthy environment into a completely negative one for anyone who experiences it, and this alone can cause difficulties in a child’s growth and learning at school. Intervention and relationships maintain some sense of positivity for a child or youth, and can be a source of hope.
I would adore to work in a school with children of any age either as a CYCP in my own office or participating in classrooms and discussions. A big perk to this type of work would be the schedule; weekends off? Yes please. Besides this, I would potentially have the chance to teach sometimes, and I would be seeing several young people and trying to make a change in their lives each day; school can be a scary place for some, so I would like to offer my support and care to make it less so. The main reason I would choose this setting, though, is because I would be working in an environment where I can advocate for the individual needs of any and all children attending my place of work and others as well, so perhaps I could make changes higher in the system and put students’ needs first. I would hope to make the experience at school more personalized and welcoming for all.
Hospital: The hospital setting is the newest one to have been established in the CYC field. With the introduction of specialized programs designed to support children and youth with mental illnesses, disorders and addictions, CYCPs have the opportunity of staffing these programs and occupying a space with these children and youth inside hospitals and institutions. While there are play rooms and decorated spaces that are intended to be welcoming in most hospitals where children and youth are being treated, there may still be a general unwelcoming feeling about the sterility of most facilities, with metal, plastic, tiles and bland colour schemes in a majority of rooms and halls. This is especially true for clients with previous medical trauma.
Along with these feelings of boredom and sterility, there is certain to be fear, confusion and worry, especially when it comes to surgeries, procedures and medications. A lot of children and youth are admitted involuntarily due to mental illness, substance abuses or disorders that get between the client and leading a normal life for their age and developmental level. The job of a CYCP in most, if not all situations in the hospital setting, is creating and maintaining a feeling of belonging, caring and calm amidst all the fear and confusion a client may be feeling. Another problem that CYCPs may face here is the pace at which things may occur; clients come and go very quickly in certain cases; staff fluctuate; the focus for practitioners and their clients in this setting is the short-term, and goals that can be set and accomplished usually within the time that the client is admitted and discharged. Essentially, without discounting the other settings in which to work, it is likely one of the most stressful and testing places to work as a CYCP.
All in all, there are many places a CYCP can find themselves working in, and even smaller spots within those settings exist, making an innumerable total of opportunities, all with different positives and negatives. The importance of these different settings, however, is that they must always be made to welcome a child or youth in need, and make them to feel comfortable while they are being cared for.
Stuart, C. (2013). Foundations of Child and Youth Care. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.
Image credit: restoretroubledteens.com.