Attendees at the Child and Youth Care world conference try to share an “authentic moment” Wednesday morning. Child and youth care professionals are gathering in St. John’s this week for the first Child and Youth Care world conference.
— Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
About half an hour into his keynote speech Wednesday morning, Gerry Fewster started asking people to stand up, pick up their chairs, and turn around with their backs to him.
Fewster wanted people at the Child and Youth Care conference in St. John’s to sit facing each other, and quietly share a moment with a total stranger.
“What I call the self-to-self relationship, this is the crucible. This is where all the work takes place. This is the crucible for growth,” he explained. “You don’t need to do treatment. You don’t need to do fancy footwork. When one self touches another self, both selves grow together.”
It may sound intangible, but Fewster explained to The Telegram that it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping children who need professional care.
“What we haven’t done is open up the complexity of this thing. It’s very simple on the surface, and very complex to do,” he said. “In other professions, they have all these schemes and prescriptive ways of doing things. Child and youth care has got to discover its own. So you start with the very simple, but then you start digging into it and it becomes more and more complex.”
This week, St. John’s is playing host to the first global child and youth care conference. It’s a relatively young and growing field.
“The need for us in this province has increased, but I don’t know if that’s because the need has increased or recognition of what we have to offer has increased. And I think it’s probably the latter,” said Heather Modlin, one of the conference co-chairs and provincial director at Key Assets in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Modlin said the conference organizing hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, and one of the big issues is the federal government’s refusal to grant visas to more than a hundred participants trying to attend from Africa.
The Telegram first reported on this issue last week — 87 people were denied visas for the conference and another 100 were waiting to have theirs processed.
Modlin said after The Telegram story ran, a handful of visas were granted.
“A few people did get visas approved but it was too late for them to attend — in some cases it was the Monday of this week and so obviously they didn’t have the time to get their travel arrangements set up and fly to Newfoundland from Africa in less than a day,” she said. “It’s a huge disappointment, and it’s a disappointment mostly from a human rights, social justice perspective.”
Modlin said the Canadian government really stymied an opportunity for professionals from Africa to participate.
“There has to be a better way,” she said. “As Canadians and as a Canadian government, if we really are serious about wanting to improve the lives of children in the world, then we need to look at all these kinds of decisions that are seemingly minor, and the broader ramifications.”
Child, Youth and Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson also addressed the conference Wednesday morning. She focused on the process the government has gone through in setting up the department since 2009.
“Over the past couple of years we have accomplished many significant milestones that certainly enhance the services and care we provide to children, youth and their families,” she said. “We’ve transitioned all child, youth and family services, staff and programs from four regional health authorities — this took approximately one year to complete, as there were over 700 staff.”
The conference continues in St. John’s until Friday.