I was asked by a mate recently if I would start calling myself a social worker when I graduate from the masters. Without a second thought I said NO. Whilst I will be qualified as a social worker my heart is in youth. Truth be told I only did the qualification because I was sick of the politics and hierarchy of the welfare field in Australia and wanted “a piece of paper” that said I was as good as the rest. In my heart of hearts I am a youth worker and I am proud of it.
A couple of months ago I attended a conference where Professor Rob White from the University of Tasmania stated that the key attribute of a youth worker is their identity first and foremost as a youth worker. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I am coming to the end of my masters degree and wonder what it will mean for my future professional Identity.
As a young man I began my studies in youth ministry. I was working for a local Baptist Church and was looking at gaining a qualification for my future work in the Church. A couple of years later I went on to study at RMITas I wanted to expand my understanding of youth work and the youth services sector. During this time I also had the opportunity to gain a Certificate in Alcohol and Other Drug work. After a few years and some interesting conversations I decided to go back and study for a master of social work. All of these courses have informed my practice as a youth worker over the years and have shaped who I am as a person.
Over the years I have had a number of jobs in the youth services field from drug and alcohol outreach to school based youth worker. I have also had a number of other social work roles such as in adult homelessness services and family services. Depending on whom I was talking too and what specialities my role required I would determine what I would tell a person when they asked what it was I did. For the most part I would tell people that I was a youth worker and deal with questions of my knowledge base if they arose later.
There is a discussion in the field about professionalism and a concurrent discussion on the idea of specialisation Vs generalisation in the field. When the chips are down it doesn’t matter if you have a specialisation or not. A specialisation does not make the professional. Our identity is not in our specialisation it is in our initial focus… working with young people. When we are the best at the core stuff that is when the sector sees us as professionals. Our professional identity hinges on our ability to do our job better than anyone else and that is something that we can be proud of. We resonate with Professor White’s statement that the key distinguishing attribute of a youth worker is indeed their identity first and foremost as a youth worker.