Our Profession


Ken Stewart, social worker, succeeded Lon Lawson as Chief of Child Care Work at Thistletown in 1960 to be followed by Vince Wall, another social worker, in 1965. In the next seven to eight years after Lawson left, the art of child care work was added to significantly but the basic core remained the same.

In developing, maintaining and consolidating the art of child care work, Ken Stewart was working against difficult odds. The first problem came from within the ranks of the child care workers themselves; most had had previous training in other fields, sometimes in related fields. Because of this previous identification and training, the new child care workers not only had to learn a new skill but they also had to take on a new identity. Child care work for a long time was entrapped by this situation. The child care workers tended to be hand servants of psychologists, medical people, and social workers, rather than peers. This did effect the future course of the growth of the discipline.

Under Ken Stewart's direction, child care work began to solidify the understanding of relationships which Lon had offered. A major change which affected child care work was that the hospital decided not to continue enlarging its program and occupational therapist staff. Instead these staffs would be cut down in number and the child care workers were expected to add therapeutic activities to their repertoire of skills in working with children. With the help of Les Definta, fellow child care worker, skilled in arts and crafts and ceramics, the workers began to develop these capacities and this learning was built into the child care work course. Les left his mark on Thistletown Hospital too. In the front hall of the main building there are one or two collages of ceramic tiles and if one looks closely the name Leslie written in a child's handwriting and one of them even says, 'I love you Leslie Defint', can be seen.

Another person who contributed greatly to the education of child care workers war Dr. Bora Milanovich. He had been trained as a psychologist in Europe and had come to take the training as a child care worker at Thistletown. Eventually, he developed major volumes on child development which he used to teach the child care workers.

Further development for child care work which happened under the direction of Ken Stewart and with the aid of Dr. Harvey Alderton, was the acquisition of skills in working with groups of children. It was thought that the children would be more manageable and more open to treatment if all of their activities were done within the same group and with the same consistent staff. Although the idea of groups is now taken for granted in child care work, it was quite a novel idea at the time and child care workers and others had to learn the potentials and the limitations of the group as a treatment modality.

In the early 1960s, 'doctors meetings' were introduced. Through these meetings with the psychiatrists came the beginnings of child care workers realizing the importance of their own feelings and of the phenomena of counter transference in dealing with the children.

As the environment became more and more under the control of the child care workers, they were beginning to realize that providing these children positive experiences in living plus a sensitive therapeutic relationship was, in and of itself, a treatment experience.

Finally, any account of the development of the child care work profession would be incomplete without an acknowledgement and recognition of the tremendous influence of Dr. Donald J. Atcheson. During the ten years in the 1960s, Dr. Atcheson was the Clinical Director at Thistletown Hospital. Hardly a child care worker went through Thistletown without becoming enormously fond of him. It seems that he demonstrated both understanding and respect of the difficult times they experienced and the skills they exhibited in dealing with emotionally disturbed children.