Our Profession


Most people who remember September 8, 1966, remember it very pain-fully. For the child care work discipline it also proved to be a most significant developmental event.

John Brown, a social worker had been working for an organization called St. Faith's Lodge since early in the 1950s. He had developed some dynamic and effective ways of working with disturbed children just as had Thistletown Hospital. Young people came to him from all walks of life to be trained in working with these children and to receive this experience as part of their development as people and as professionals in the helping field. Unfortunately, John Brown and his Board were having difficulties agreeing on how the centre should be run. The Board of Warrendale (as the treatment centre had come to be called) decided that they were in a position too difficult for them to handle and they asked the Ontario Government for help. The Ontario Government in turn went to one of the facilities, Thistletown Hospital, in an effort to come to the aid of what now a neigh-boring centre. Warrendale had actually been built only one mile from Thistletown Hospital.

On the night of September 7th, the Board sold Warrendale to the Ontario Government for $1.00 and in return asked to be relieved of their responsibility. No one can really explain what happened after this took place. The staff at Warrendale decided that the most important thing was to ensure that the children in their care be able to continue receiving the treatment they had been receiving and be able to continue in the same therapeutic relationships they had established. They felt that the breaking of relation-ships would do significant damage to these disturbed children. With this in mind, they devised a plan whereby they would turn over the physical aspects of the operation but would, in effect, refuse to turn over their relationships with the children. The Warrendale child care workers thought that if they were to leave, set up a treatment centre elsewhere, approach the children's guardians and offer to take them, then, they would have fulfilled their commitment to the children. The break in their relationships would be short, not forever, and treatment could continue. Thus at 3:00 o'clock on September 8, the staff of Warrendale, practically to a person, left the treatment centre. The exodus of staff at Warrendale precipitated a major riot on the part of the children who remained behind. For disturbed children to see all of their major attachments walking out the door was absolutely terrifying. In no way could they possibly understand the motivation of their caretakers whom they had come to trust so much. In fact, it looked as if these people were simply walking out on the children to whom they were supposed to be so much attached. In the face of this, the child care workers from Thistletown moved in to try and look after the children at Warrendale.

The child care workers from Thistletown were not prepared for the children's extreme reactions. Indeed, the ranks of graduate child care workers at Thistletown had been depleted by the opening of other residential treatment centres which had employed many of the Thistletown Hospital child care workers. People had to be recruited or borrowed from all over Canada and even in the United States. Nearly every child care worker who had graduated from Thistletown in the previous seven years was contacted and asked if he/she would come back and help out.

However, major benefits for child care workers came, because, they were able to do what few other people could do in this situation. They were able to calm some of the children, some of the time. They were able to use their skills to set up decent routine living situations for the children. True, it did not happen overnight. The first three or four days, the first two or three weeks, were a nightmare; but in the space of one or two months, gradually some serenity came to Warrendale.

Child care workers had demonstrated their professional skills in front of, as Vince Wall, the Chief of Child Care Work remembers, 'fifty of the top civil servants in Ontario'. At one point all of them were standing on the porch of the Administration Building looking over towards the houses, watching the child care workers attempting to bring order out of chaos. The child care workers were able to repeatedly demonstrate that they were able to do something that few other helpers, be they social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists, could do in this situation.

The whole situation was extremely difficult for everyone. Child care workers from both Thistletown and Warrendale questioned themselves as to whether or not they had done the right thing. Meanwhile, each was suffering from their own torture because, as time went on, several of the children who were there on September 8, did rejoin their staff at the new centre that John Brown opened which he called Browndale. In fact, one year after the 'take over of Warrendale', as it was called, fifty-two of the fifty-seven children had been united with the new organization run by John Brown.

The course in child care work was greatly expanded in order to accommodate staffing needs for this greater number of children as the children who left Warrendale were replaced by others. Overnight the number of children being treated by Thistletown had doubled and of course staff had to double too.

Out of Warrendale crisis came the recognition on the part of the government that treating disturbed children was indeed an art; it was a very specialized kind of treatment; it required very careful skills, and a very special kind of personality. For the first time, child care workers received a substantial raise in pay.

Another aspect of the impact of Warrendale on child care work was that it served to introduce an entirely new client group to the diplomaed child care workers. Previously, they had, for the most part, worked with six to twelve year olds. Now, they were working with adolescents. And, because of the very exposed physical location of Warrendale, a suburban street, the child care workers began to have more and more to do with the families of the youths in their care and with the surrounding community.

Thus, the Warrendale crisis provided recognition for child care work. And, partly through it, their services became sought after by more and different client groups.