“Doing Better Work”: Meet Kevin Yarde, a social worker who advocates for diversity, youth and intentional action

Kevin Yarde

In honour of World Social Work Day, we interviewed Kevin Yarde, a social worker and Supervisor of the TO Investigation Multi-Service Team at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST). We had a far-reaching discussion covering everything from the role of social workers, anti-Black racism and his previous work as Anti-Black Racism Practice Integration Lead, and diversity. June marks 23 years since Kevin joined the team at CAST and feels a responsibility to do the work in a way that honors and acknowledges the strengths of the children, youth, and families they serve.

This year’s World Social Work Day theme is respecting diversity through joint social action. What does this mean to you?  

Well first, I think about the importance of diversity. I work at the Toronto branch of CAST where we have an extremely diverse team in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, years of experience and religion.

I think about the richness of our conversations and what diversity means for illuminating ideas and perspectives that would have otherwise been absent. I have benefited from this intersection of identities, how much I learn and how much I have to add. 

When I think about joint social action, I also think about collaboration, community and advocacy to address social issues, to promote social justice, which includes advocating for policies and practices that promote inclusion and address systemic inequalities. When I think about the journey that the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto is on, specifically with anti-Black racism, we can’t create policies, procedures without hearing from the community. Joint social action means hearing from the communities and families about how we have caused harm. What would good work look like hearing from community agencies who have intersected with us and how maybe, we have created harm to members in those agencies?  

But what is the action we take? What is intentional action? What does that look like? What informs it? How do we come to know what we know? How do we know what good practice is? When I read that statement, it’s all of those things and it involves collaboration between individual groups and organizations to address social issues and create change. That is so much of the work. We can’t do it in isolation. In my mind it’s partnering and working together to improve outcomes for families, children and youth involved in the child welfare system.  

What role should a social worker play in the child welfare space when working with youth?  

I believe they should be an advocate, a champion, a motivator, an interrupter. But most importantly, in the context of child welfare, they should be what the young person needs them to be. After working with so many children, I know the role looks different depending on the young person you are working with, it really depends on what is happening in their life.  

But what doesn’t change is my commitment to them, and that idea that there is someone who cares about them. They may not agree with what I’ve said or what I’ve done, but deep down they know that you care, and you’re going to challenge them, motivate them and tell them when they need to be better, because sometimes that is what a champion is.

But being a champion is not just about giving accolades. We’re also there to say no, you need to do better. I’m going to do the things needed to push you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

I think that’s what I’m most proud of having this privilege to show up and be a champion for young people. 

How have you seen the child welfare sector change since you began your career two decades ago?  

I believe at CAST we are confronting the ways that we have caused and continue to cause harm, in an authentic way. We are acknowledging it, having those difficult conversations and being open to feedback from community partners, children, youth, and families who have had some negative experiences with us. For the first time, we are open to conversations and sitting in the shame and guilt of creating and causing harm to families, children, and youth. 

The openness that is happening now at the agency and across the sector is different than at any time previously. It is our responsibility to listen. I think about families who must intersect with a system like ours who have the wherewithal, strength, and courage to say this is how you have caused harm to me and my family. It doesn’t mean that we are always getting it right, but I believe we are closer to getting it right. We are doing better work.  

Excerpts of the discussion have been edited for length and clarity.