The Office: A Once Prehistoric Place where People Once Worked. My Ode to the Youth Assessment Team.

Last night I worked another extra shift at our Afterhours Unit. It’s the epicenter that is anything Child Intervention for all Southern Alberta. It’s a busy place that houses upwards to 10- 12 social workers at a time with rotating 12 hour shifts. I’m going to avoid getting into what it is that goes on there and go into what used to go on there, more specifically in the little hub that sat below it for many years. Covid- 19 would require our leadership to make the decision that in order to keep this essential epicenter healthy and operational, they would need that little hub downstairs to. That little Hub housed one of the most important Units (in my mind) that has ever graced the city of Calgary- The Youth Assessment Team, also commonly known as YAT. The pandemic would send us home packing, never to return back there as a unit again.

Now I started at YAT about 5 years ago, and I am still with YAT as an Assessor in the child Intervention capacity. I do both investigations under the Child, Youth, and Families Enhancement Act as well as Protection of Sexually Exploited Children’s Act. We are small yet mighty unit consisting of 3 PSECA workers and then my partner in crime, AKA. Work Husband AKA. Thrilla from Manila, AKA someone I call friend. Supervisors come and go as its not an easy unit to manage, and perhaps considered a stepping stone in the leadership world. But thankfully we have had our fearless Youth Practice Specialist hold it down and weather the storm with us no matter what. Which leads me to how extremely special and rare it is to have group of people that genuinely love working with teens in a social work capacity. In a pool of thousands, finding willing social workers to become a part of this unit can be challenging, as it takes a whole other skill set and patience that not many are brave enough to take on. Social Work can already be a thankless and undervalued career choice, so it is no wonder why many opt to not take on the added strain. But this is why YAT is so special, because while we are all so very different, we carry the same passion, love and commitment to our regions youth which serves as the connection necessary to keep us and city’s most vulnerable youth afloat as best we can. And while we are mandated and guided by the Acts in which we serve, it does not deter us or stifle our creativity in finding new authentic ways to make progress to form trusting relationships within the community we serve.

Being back in that unit is strange however as the carefully decorated boards that once held our profile pictures, achievements and birthday calendars are still there, yet the history of our presence has long been disposed of. Outsiders fill our seats, many who are new and unaware of who once occupied this space. They look at me as if I was the new face to these walls. In my mind I’m thinking, “No Honey, these Streets Belong to YAT, and that’s a Fact you Jive Ass Turkey.”

And as my shift carried on I’d reflect on my years here as my vision would walk me through the seemingly hardened memory lane streets.

There sat the big circle meeting table at the back that held 100’s of family meetings whereby tears were cried in joy and sadness. Many potlucks were eaten here too where we would share our appreciation and gratitude for the community partners we worked so closely with. This table would also serve as the starting point for files we would tirelessly work with, sometimes for months on end to either preserve or protect. Many times they would return to this very table; many didn’t make it back for sadder reasons. This would also be the table where the author would experience her first date with death after being exposed to a drug chemical bolus. Only after to find out she over reacted in an altered state and would be okay after a a few hours. This would serve as an example cross regionally why we don’t handle drug paraphernalia.

Your Welcome.

Sometimes our doors would be decorated for us or a new paper craft delighted our small humble offices. It was in this little hub that we’d set up an entire Christmas tree intrusively close to the desk of one of our co-workers who hated Christmas. Sometimes there would be tokens of gratitude left on our desks, giving us that pick me up that we so badly needed. Office doors sometimes needed to be closed so we could have our moment to fall apart and put ourselves back together. Other times they worked to keep the music played from becoming contagious and provoking a whole out dance party. . Other times they would close behind us because we had made a mistake, only to open again so we could give things another shot at doing better. The hallway that our doors opened up to, joined us together, also became a catwalk for us to WERRRRK our new Barrier Kits we had labelled with designer tags when the Opiate Crisis hit.

Summer months we’d all be told to get up from our chairs and take a walk to the community market across the street. We’d all come back with goodies to share and manage for brief moments to not talk about “our kids,” and talk about our lives. Birthdays were always a cause for celebration, and cake would be had most definitely! This is where I’d master the art of taking breaks in my day to catch some air and take in the serenity of the home gardens in the area brought me. This is where we’d stroll into Kensington and enjoy my first Free Stampede Pancake Breakfast.

Friday lunches were also a favorite, yet another time we could all sit around and of course “talk about our kids.” You see, these “kids” became a labor of love to us, and the more fierce, defiant and unruly they were, the more we wanted them to succeed. As a team, we understood this madness- we admired their resilience within the changes they encountered. As the years would march on we too endured change, but also a sense of pride.

So its no surprise the office I used to once complain about where on any given day the elevator broke down with someone in it, or a mouse trap had caught a new victim, that I would take our space back in a heart beat. The “Love Fern” that sits on the desk at the end of the hall; which just so happens to be the only window accessing sunlight- its still there. Last night I cleaned up its dead leaves, gave it a little water, and sent a picture to our team. I was so pleased to sit in that office for the 12 hours I worked, even though I was alone and the familiar smiles and laughs were no longer there. I felt at home for the first time since the pandemic started and hopeful that maybe in another year we’d make a home somewhere else. Its the one thing that “our kids” taught us- That change can nurture resilience, and no matter what environment we are in-there is always the opportunity for important work to be done.

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