Industry Spotlight: A Career in Child Youth Services

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Have you ever considered a career in Child Youth Services? If you’re looking for a career that is meaningful, that will keep you on your feet, and allow you to make a real impact and difference in someone’s life, you might want to consider Social Work. Social work encompasses many different areas and Child Youth Services is one of them.

Matthew Sobers

We spoke to Matthew Sobers, a Child And Youth Care Worker and Behavioural Consultant to learn about the industry, and what it takes to be a successful and empathetic Child Youth Care Worker. 

A bit about Matthew:

Matthew started his career journey in Child Youth Care Services at the Boys and Girls Club of Canada as a Camp Counsellor in 2013. He continued to work there throughout university and after graduation until 2018. He helped run many different creative arts camps.

After graduation he started working with Beyond Support Services, the York and Toronto Catholic School Boards with many schools. Matthew graduated from Kings University College at Western University, Double Major in Sociology and Childhood & Social Institutions, Bachelor of Arts in 2017.

What does a career in Child Youth Care Services entail?

A Child and Youth care worker’s (CYW) involves working with at risk youth and special needs kids to help them assimilate into society, give them assistance with development needs in areas like education, at home, socialization, and finding work and giving them the tools they need to live better day to day. 

The role of a CYW is contingent on the environment and capacity in which you work. For example, a CYW working in the school board will have a different role compared to a CYW working in a group home or a children’s hospital. 

I have worked predominantly in schools, and my responsibility is to observe and regulate the behaviour of the children that I am in charge of in the classroom while also taking note of their behaviours. I also assist with their academic needs.

The children I work with range from behavioural cases, to those with Autism, down syndrome, ADHD, and other related exceptionalities. 

What made you want to become a Child Youth Care worker?

It was my cousin who is was my role model since high school. He is a parole officer for young offenders and he and I had many conversations about social work, parole, probations, and child-youth work while I was in high school. Those conversations planted the seeds that I then cultivated through an education.

Our conversations also forced me to consider if I had the personality and tools for the childcare industry. My work with the Boys and Girls Club was the final affirmation I needed to realize that I was cut out for this type of work.

Would you say Child-Youth care services are important, and why?

I would say that our services as childcare workers are very important. I compare child-youth care work and teaching as similar to the roles of  an actor and a director; while a teacher works at the forefront, childcare workers support at risk children and youth from ‘behind the scenes’. We stay in the background and make sure that the children we are working with receive the support they need, emotionally and otherwise to succeed in the classroom, and learn.

Furthermore, we teach our children values that we believe will stick with them well into adulthood. Every child is different, and while education is a universal institution for kids, not every child learns the same way. Childcare workers make sure our children are equipped to learn in their own way, and at their own pace. 

We also emphasize inclusion: we want every child to feel included in lessons, social settings, and in play. We give the children a sense of equity.

What are the necessary skills required to pursue a career and be successful in this industry?

Empathy is the number one skill you need in this career for true success. You need to understand the child your are working with and work with them without making them feel like you are giving them charity. You need to meet the child where they are at, at their level to help them excel.

Patience is another necessary skill. From experience, I will tell you that these children will try your patience in ways that you didn’t even know was possible. To be successful in situations like these you need to respond in a calm way, and keep your emotions in check at all times. If a child sees the smallest crack in your calm exterior, they will take advantage of it, and then you’re not doing your best to help them. 

You also need to be willing to try everything. CYWs have one main responsibility, taking care of the child or youth they are assigned to, but with that responsibility comes with many hats. I am an experienced CYW but I have also subbed in as an Educational Assistant, a teacher, and a counsellor. We support our teams in ways that even go beyond our scope of ability. While it can seem like a challenge – it will help you gain multiple perspectives that will ultimately help you succeed in the industry.

Me with my campers from the Boys and Girls Club of London.
Me with my campers from the Boys and Girls Club of London.

What are the types of roles students and new grads can pursue in the industry to gain experience?

Volunteering, or working at organizations that provide help to at risk youth and children like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and Tropicana, Summer Camps and a great way to start.

I learned so many skills from my years working at the Boys and Girls Club that I still default to them even as an established CYW. I like to think of the Boys and Girls Club as the training wheels of the childcare industry. You will meet every type of child that exists if you work just one summer camp at the Boys and Girls Club. It will give you the tools needed to work with a diverse group of unique children.

Why would you recommend this career path to early talent?

I would recommend this career path to someone who is interested in working with children, learning patience, understanding, and parenting skills. Children are honest beings. They will see your insecurities and point them out, they know when something is wrong and talk about it, and they will tell you about their lives at home. 

Working with children will give you the building blocks to work in any environment because it will teach you to stay on your toes, be prepared for anything, and show empathy to anyone who needs it. It will also teach you how to take constructive criticism – essential skills every young professional needs.

What are some current industry practices that you would like to see change in the future?

I love this industry but I would love to see my fellow support workers receive more recognition for all the hard work they do. We do an important job, we’re helping children and youth become the best versions of themselves so they can contribute to society in the future. I would also love more consistency and job security. 

What challenges can students expect in this career path?

This career path will challenge your perspective of the world in general. You learn that not everything is as black and white as we are led to believe. Working with at risk youth and children on the autism spectrum will open your eyes to all the grey areas that exist in the institutions that are meant to support them. There are many technicalities that keep children from receiving the support that they are entitled to, and the discovery of these things will force you to question everything. 

However, these are changes that must be recognized and acknowledged so our community of Child-Youth care workers can come together to make a difference and challenge the status quo for the better. 

What are the rewards?

There is nothing more rewarding than the success story of a child whose life you have impacted. We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this industry. Finding out that a child’s life was changed for the better because of something you’ve said or done is a reward that keeps on giving. Then those children grow up and pay forward the tools that you gave them. It’s a real sight to behold. 

What resources would you recommend to early talent who want to learn more about careers in this industry?

The best resource for learning about this industry is conversation. I networked with people who have been working in this industry for years. Google and books didn’t teach me as much as networking did. Experience is the best teacher in the childcare industry, and the experienced workers are always willing to pass on their knowledge and wisdom. 

Also, there are many universities and colleges across the country that have great course material for child-youth work, and all things related such as Ryerson University, George Brown, and Fanshawe just to name a few in Ontario.

Campers and counsellors doing a trust and strength exercise.
Campers and counsellors doing a trust and strength exercise.

Any final advice for aspiring Child-youth care workers?

This is important: If you do not love and have a passion for children, this field may not be for you. It is my desire to see a better future for these children that has kept me going, even when times have been the toughest. I have seen my fair share of childcare workers who get into this field because they think it is easy and they were rudely awakened. You MUST love children and have a need to invest in their future if you want to be good at this job.

For those who are interested in this line of work, we need you. We always need young, passionate, driven, and empathetic individuals to help these kids live up to their best potential. This work is a privilege for me, and I hope that it will also be a privilege for you too. 

Connect with Matthew Sobers on Instagram @livin.sober to learn more about his work.

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