10/28/2013 12:42 EDT | Updated 12/29/2013 05:12 EST

Why Aren't Youth Workers Regulated in Ontario?

From the time I was nine years old until I turned 18, I lived in 16 different group homes and foster homes. I know what you're thinking -- I moved more during my childhood than what most people do in a lifetime. While these multiple moves are hard to explain, what isn't hard to explain is the multiple relationships I developed with my caregivers. I recently gave a speech to Fleming College Child and Youth Worker & Social Service Worker students and told them the key to succeeding in their field is by building long-lasting relationships with their clients.

Living in the system, moving from home to home, and being surrounded by complete strangers can make you feel very alone and isolated. I quickly got over this challenge by befriending my peers but by also becoming close with staff and working with them in the hopes of achieving or succeeding my treatment goals.

In the midst of building these relationships I also encountered some so-called professionals whom I allege mistreated me emotionally and at times physically and had a less than kind attitude towards youth with mental illness. While my allegations were reported, it often made the situation worse -- the staff in question was even more hostile towards me.

You would think that those who work with society's most vulnerable children and youth with complex emotional and mental health needs would have an oversight body -- you would expect these professionals to be regulated. That is not the case, for now.

The Ontario Association of Child and Youth Counsellors (OACYC) are pushing the provincial government to become a regulated body. This can only happen through legislation. What does professional regulation mean?

Speaking in vague and general terms it could mean that:

  • CYWs and CYCs would be issued certification only after meeting certain criteria
  • Setting, monitoring and maintaining the standard or professionalism and the quality of care we expect these professionals to provide
  • Investigating complaints
  • Conducting disciplinary hearing when there are allegations of misconduct and/or incompetence

Ultimately the provincial government would decide the scope of OACYCs level of authority and powers.

Currently, agencies and organizations decide who is qualified to work with these very vulnerable children and youth. I've heard and experienced managers hiring their neighbors to work in group homes because they think they'll be good with children. I know for a fact the quality of care from these non-professionals was not meaningful and not helpful to my treatment. In fact, these are the same people who mistreated me.

A couple examples of the importance of professional regulation means that one's track record follows them around. It is common for agencies to do background and 'vulnerable persons' checks on potential employees. However, if you get fired from a job within the field due to misconduct that would follow you around.

When making the case for professional regulation of this sector people ask me: "Isn't professional regulation restrictive? That's a little much, don't you think?"

Approximately 40 professions in the province are professionally regulated such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and accountants. Why not regulate those who work with vulnerable children and youth? Accountability sets the standard of care our young people need and deserve.

We owe it to our youth to have those who work with them professionally regulated.

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