Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with a number of young people who have had run ins with the justice system. Many of these young people have had people look down on them because of their infringements. A number of them have since become youth workers.
Over the last couple of years we have had a number of inquires and inquests into the abuse of young people in care in Victoria. It never fails that there was a lapse in organisational protocols that let someone with a record into a place of trust who then abused their role. However, for every one person who causes trouble hundreds more go about their job with honour. The issue however is that the public view and society more broadly is that if you have a police record you are not worthy of being placed in a position of trust. We are a species which seeks retribution rather than restoration.
This of course leads to issues in youth services as we believe strongly in the restoration of people, the focus on strengths and the ability for people to choose their own destiny. It is also an issue as many youth workers come from having been troubled youth themselves! I think we would be surprised to see how many youth workers had some sort of record.
To attempt to negate the negative we have instituted a number of safeguards including a Working With Children Check and Police Check to screen potential youth workers for their appropriateness. However, if you went by the general recommendation a person with a record would still not be able to get a position, whether your offence was superficial or serious. As an employer I have employed youth workers with and without police records. The seriousness of their offence is always one of my first questions but if it is a minor offence I am know to have a discussion.
I remember sitting in a court room when a Judge told a young man who was about to start a youth work course that he was an idiot for his infringements. The Judge told the young man that with his background and his knowledge of the justice system he would make a great youth worker. That was over a decade ago and I have had to deal with the fallout of a stupid decision ever since. Many youth workers are in the game to help young people stay on the straight and narrow and hopefully not head down the path that they trod.
Youth workers need passion and conviction. A conviction against their name is not necessarily a reason to exclude someone from becoming a youth worker. As with most things that develop an Ultimate Youth Worker its all about character. Whether you have a record or not I will not employ a youth worker if they can’t show character. If you have a police record let people know, show them your character. If you are hiring and a person states that they have a record have a discussion, see if their character is a fit for your organisation. Above all be transparent.