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A deep dive into provincial policy-making

Learning modules pair students with distinguished visiting scholar to explore child and youth serving policy-making in Ontario
By: Madeleine McGreevy
June 28, 2019

Photo: Mark Blinch

A policy series offered by the School of Child and Youth Care in fall 2018 and winter 2019 gave students from across the Faculty of Community Services (FCS) greater insight into the world of provincial policy-making. 

Aryeh Gitterman, a distinguished visiting scholar at FCS and former assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and the Ministry of Education, led the series, which took place over the course of six evening sessions each semester.

Using case studies related to autism, education, child welfare and children’s mental health, students explored how and why policies and programs are developed, and unpacked what they can do to affect the policy-making process in Ontario.

“Many students in the faculty are looking to work in the broader public sector, whether it be nursing, or child and youth care or social work,” Gitterman says. “Understanding a little bit about how government works ... can help them to understand how it impacts their day-to-day work.”

“Governments don’t talk a lot about how they make decisions,” he continues. “It’s pretty much a big black box to most people.”

Gitterman, who was supported by a number of invited guest speakers with expertise in the field, began the series by providing a top-down perspective on how policy development affects organizations and their employees. “Then we talked in reverse,” he explains. “We worked on some of their examples from the bottom up.”

Students brought forward examples from their own work experience in hospitals, child welfare agencies, and related settings, and the group worked through these cases to define problems and assess different options for affecting change. “Sometimes they would bring examples of individuals that they’ve worked with and how the system wasn’t serving them well,” Gitterman says. 

Alyssa Chermaz, a student in the child and youth care graduate program, enrolled in the series to better understand how policies that impact young people are developed, and whether the voices of young people are reflected in that policy. “Learning from Aryeh was a great experience because he knew the answers from the inside,” she says.

For Chermaz, the biggest takeaway from the series is the discrepancy between how quickly some policies are enacted versus how slowly others are rolled out. “I've learned how much analysis has been done on the cost-benefits of keeping young people in care until they are 25,” she says, in reference to her own research on the experiences of young people exiting the child welfare system. “However, current policy does not reflect this evidence.” 

“That was one of the factors we talked about a lot – what governments pay attention to,” says Gitterman. “It’s not always just research. It’s a variety of inputs, including public opinion.”

In her own professional experience as a child and youth care practitioner in residential treatment centres, Chermaz has repeatedly witnessed young people exit care at the age of 18 and struggle with a variety of challenges. Chermaz brought these experiences to the group discussion. 

Gitterman was deliberate in opening the series to students from across FCS, to reflect the breadth of input needed in policy development and government decision-making. “Even if it’s just for a few hours, in a constructive way, to show how other disciplines and professions look at problems, it’s very helpful.”