Here's a discomforting fact: children and youth are at high risk for mental illness. Research has shown that in Ontario alone, about one out of five four- to 16-year-olds suffer from some type of psychiatric disorder.
Centennial College Child and Youth Worker graduate Agnes Quittard is employed by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at North York General Hospital, counselling children coping with crises and mental health issues.
"Stress and mental health issues affect all of us, and anyone could potentially use some help," says Agnes Quittard, a child and youth worker in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at North York General Hospital.
"Mental illness is not biased; a young patient doesn't necessarily come from a broken home or low-income family," Quittard says.
The need for child and youth workers is growing and, fortunately, awareness of the value of this fledgling profession is growing too. With hospitals and other clinical settings opening up in Ontario, youth workers are no longer found just in group homes.
"People are really starting to recognize our skills and abilities," Quittard says. "We contribute to the interdisciplinary teams we belong to."
Quittard was hired four years ago by the hospital to help establish its psychiatric unit, after the Ontario government recognized the need for more psychiatric resources for children and funded additional facilities and programming.
"We provide short-term stabilization programs for children with mental health issues and persons in crisis," Quittard explains.
"We do a lot of one-on-one counselling, crisis intervention, group counselling (such as life skills), family support, role modeling, health teaching, illness and stress management."
Quittard, 28, chose the field after acquiring a lot of volunteer experience during her high school years -- including buddying up with a friend who was quadriplegic.
She turned to volunteering to help occupy her time after "retiring" from the Canadian National Rhythmic Gymnastics team at the tender age of 17. Quittard had joined a youth group run by a child and youth worker (CYW).
"I was so impressed, I started looking at different CYW programs at college, even though I had the grades to go to university," she says.
"I found Centennial College's Child and Youth Worker program really met my expectations. It was tough to get into -- a lot of interviews and other requirements -- but the professors I met during the admissions process really excited me."
Centennial College's three-year Child and Youth Worker program provides three valuable field placements arranged by the college.
Qualified graduates may receive two years of advanced standing towards a degree in Child and Youth Care at Ryerson University.
For more details, visit: www.centennialcollege.ca/applied/community/child_youth_work.
With an emphasis on field experiences to augment the classroom learning, Centennial's three-year program exposed Quittard to a lot of instructive situations. "You really learn in the field; the job placements the college sets up are crucial."
Her first-year placement was in a school setting -- Ontario's school boards have a surprisingly large case load -- the second was spent in a residential group home, and her third year was in a clinical setting at Sunnybrook's Adolescent Psychiatric Unit.
Quittard's third-year internship turned into a full-time job at Sunnybrook even before she graduated in 1999. "I really believe all of those job placements, and the networking, led me into my career," she says.
She spent two years at Sunnybrook Hospital before joining North York General. Quittard also continues to help out at the Toronto Children's Aid Society, and does some private consultation work with families with autistic children.
On top of all that, Quittard has begun teaching in Centennial's CYW program part time, and is working to further her own education by pursuing a psychology degree through the University of Waterloo, again part time.
Despite her grueling schedule, Quittard insists she's no superwoman. Instead, she believes she exemplifies the kind of people who are drawn to the profession.
"Everyone I have met in the field has these same amazing qualities. Mainly, an unlimited store of compassion," she says.
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