Howard Sercombe is a leading youth work academic and practitioner. He has been a pioneer internationally in thinking about professional ethics for youth workers, and was involved in drafting codes of ethics for youth workers across Australia and in Scotland, England, South Africa, Zambia and New Zealand. His book, Youth Work Ethics has been widely influential. He has also published widely on the sociology of youth, including the construction of youth in the media and the emerging influence of neuroscience. He and his partner, broadcaster Helen Wolfenden, have just relocated to Sydney after ten years in Glasgow. He currently holds an honorary Professorship in Education with the University of Glasgow, and is doing primary parenting for Oscar, 4 and Timothy, nearly 2.
In todays episode Aaron and Howard speak about the development of the
Fairbridge code of ethics used by many youth work associations worldwide. How did the code come in to being? Why do youth workers need to think about ethics? How can youth workers think ethically in their day to day practice?
Professional youth workers must think about the concept of ethical practice every day. Codes of Ethics are a significant way for the young people we serve to know what we can and cannot do. They also give youth workers a great framework for professional supervision and reflective practice.
You can find more information about Howard on LinkedIn.
Here are links to some of Ben’s latest articles that have bearing on todays podcast.
In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast Aaron speaks with Ben Lohmeyer from Tabor College of Higher Education about his research into youth work and power.
Ben Lohmeyer is a critical youth sociologist and youth worker. He is a PhD candidate at Flinders University and the Program Coordinator of the Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences (Youth Work) at Tabor. Ben’s research interests include: youth, governance, violence (personal, structural and neoliberal) and youth work practice.
Ben has worked across a range of youth work settings including alternative education, alternative accommodation and peace building. He has experience facilitating restorative justice processes, designing and facilitating peace building programs as well as grant and policy writing. Ben has is currently completing his PhD in Sociology at Flinders University focussing on youth and neoliberal violence.
In todays episode Aaron and Ben speak about youth work and power. How do youth workers recognise power issues? What can youth workers do when power is imposed by neoliberal structures? How can youth workers show genuine concern in the face of power imbalances? Youth workers must wrestle with the concept of power as it is a significant issue for the young people we serve and in doing youth work with integrity.
Back in 2013 we wrote a post that dealt with how to approach youth work when you have a criminal record. You can read the original article here: Police records and public perception: Youth work with conviction. We had just had a number of students who had struggled to find placements due to their criminal record. These students were questioning if they had made a huge mistake. Basically they asked something like, “Aaron, will I ever be able to get a job in the sector or should I just quit now?” The unfortunate answer to this is it depends.
This week the Australian Community Workers Association wrote a post titled “Pursuing community work when you have a criminal record“. In the post, which we think is fantastic, the crew at ACWA have reiterated all the points we made almost five years ago. First, they cover what a security check reveals about you. Second, how employers will determine your suitability. Finally, how to handle your history during a job search. This article brings together some really great thoughts, particularly the final section. Being open and honest about your criminal record and what you have done to restore your community standing is a really important step. It helps employers to understand you and to make informed decisions as to your suitability for employment.
Unfortunately, there will always be people and organisations who see a criminal record and take that to mean you are unsuitable. These people and organisations will judge you without the opportunity for explanation or recourse. Don’t let this stop you. As a judge once told me, “we need youth workers who have experienced the other side and have come back from the edge”. These youth workers show that it is possible to restore community perception and make a great life for yourself.
ACWA end this very important piece by stating, “At the end of the day, we all make mistakes and deserve a chance to put our past behind us. The community services sector supports people to reach their potential and this is as true for aspiring workers as it is for clients“. We couldn’t agree more!!!
In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast Aaron speaks with Dr. Kat Daley from RMIT University about her research into youth drug and alcohol abuse.
Dr Kat Daley is a Lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies. She researches issues of marginalised youth including, substance abuse, self-injury, homelessness, gender and sexual abuse. Her book, ‘Youth and Substance Abuse’, was published in 2017. Kathryn teaches courses in social research and policy. Prior to academia, she worked in youth alcohol and other drug services.
In todays episode Aaron and Kat speak about why young people tend towards use that is problematic and long term. They look at the particular patterns in young women with problematic drug use that arose from Kat’s research, the key issues surrounding problematic use in young men and how these two groups approach dealing with their substance use problems.
A special thanks to Kat for taking time out of her very busy schedule to be our first academic on the cast. A core part of our mission with the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast is to make academic work more accessible to the masses. If you enjoy this cast don’t forget to leave a comment in the section below and share the link with your colleagues.
In summary throughout 2015–16, approximately 796 alcohol and other drug treatment services provided just over 206,600 treatment episodes to an estimated 134,000 clients. The top four drugs that clients sought treatment for in this period were alcohol (32% of treatment episodes), cannabis (23%), amphetamines (23%), and heroin (6%). The median age of clients in Alcohol and Other Drug treatment services is rising, from 31 in 2006–07 to 33 in 2015–16.
While the media have hyped up certain drugs as being at epidemic proportions throughout Australia this report shows that the same four drugs; Alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines, and heroin have remained the most common principal drugs of concern for clients since 2006–07. Nationally, alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern in 2015–16, accounting for 32% of treatment episodes. Whilst ICE is considered by the police and the media to be the drug of concern currently it is notable that it is third in the list when it comes to clients seeking treatment with Alcohol and Cannabis use as the top two drugs.
The proportion of episodes where clients were receiving treatment for amphetamines has continued to rise over the last five years to 2015–16, from 12% of treatment episodes in 2011–12 to 23% in 2015–16 or an increase of 175%. This data can be construed many ways: as more people seeking treatment, more treatment options or just more use of amphetamines by the community. The data on the reason behind this increase in treatment seeking is limited. For example, during this same period cannabis treatment episodes also increased by 40% without the same media furore. It should also be noted that heroin treatment episodes fell by 15%, and alcohol treatment episodes fell by 6%.
What does this mean for drug treatment and young people
Cannabis is the leading drug of concern for young people seeking drug treatment in Australia. Particularly, for young people aged 10–29, cannabis was the most common principal drug of concern. Those aged 10–29 were most likely to be receiving drug treatment for cannabis, which was the principal drug of concern for 3 in 5 (60%) clients aged 10–19. In comparison 31% of those aged 20–29 sought drug treatment for Cannabis.
Alcohol is still the leading cause of concern to young people in Australian drug treatment services. The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that a significant proportion of the Australian population drank at risky levels— 1 in 5 (17%) aged 14 and over drank at a level that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime, while 1 in 4 (26%) drank at levels that put them at risk of harm from a single drinking occasion at least once in the previous 12 months. Young people find themselves seeking treatment for alcohol use less than their adult counterparts 20-39 years of age.
Amphetamines such as ICE are a concern responsible for approx. 23% of treatment episodes…But not as much as the media report. In 2015–16, more than two-thirds of clients receiving treatment for amphetamines as a principal drug of concern were male (69%), and about 1 in 7 clients were Indigenous (14%). Clients with a principal drug of concern of amphetamines were most likely to be aged 20–39 (74%), followed by those aged 40–49 (16%) Less than 10% by proportion of clients were aged 10–19 years of age.
Education is the most important tool you have available in helping young people make a decision (get our Decisional Balance Worksheet) to seek treatment. Helping young people to understand their use patterns. What their drug of choice does? How they personally react to their drug of choice? What treatment options are available to them? More knowledge is better. Not just facts and stats but stories as well. Meet with Alcohol and Other Drug counsellors and find out what they do. Help them to do a decisional balance worksheet (get one here). Being armed with knowledge makes the step to treatment easier. In my experience nothing ruins a treatment episode faster than when a person doesn’t know what they are in for.
If you are working with a young person it is worth noting that when it comes to treatment options, Counselling is the most used treatment option by those seeking support for their Alcohol, and Other Drug treatment. Detox and rehabilitation are useful tools however these must be used in conjunction with counselling for best practice intervention.
It is also useful to remember that the median treatment age is now 33 years old. This means that half of people seeking treatment are under the age of 33! If you work with young people who are using substances know that your work with them is definitely planting a seed. They may not seek treatment while working with you but it is likely that they will before they turn 33.
What can you do: drug treatment and young people?
First and foremost it is important to have a solid understanding of where your young person is at. The transtheoretical model proposed by Prochoska and DiClemente is the best way to address this (You can watch a video about this model here). Better known as the stages of change this framework helps you to determine what stage your client is in:
If your young person is pre-contemplative then more conversations need to be had. These can be difficult conversations if you don’t have a framework. A useful framework for understanding the nature and extent of drug-related difficulties is Roizen’s Four L’s model, which considers the impact of drug use on four major spheres of a young person’s life. These are:
Lover: Problems associated with a person’s relationships, family, friends, children, lovers etc.
Liver: Anything to do with a person’s health including physical, psychological or emotional health problems
Lifestyle/livelihood: Problems which relate accommodation, work, finances, education, recreation etc.
Legal: Any problems associated with the law including criminal or civil proceedings.
The preparation phase is the most important in our view. This is the stage when you start making steps towards dealing with your use. It is in this stage that you want to discuss the options available when it comes to drug treatment and young people. In Australia we have a reasonable system for services to young people (We could always have more services, better trained staff and more funding…But what we have is ok). As shown in the data above linking a young person with an Alcohol and Other Drug counsellor to discuss treatment options is essential. It also frees you up to be their support person when the challenges arise.
In our experience it takes many steps for young people to get on top of addiction, honour the process as much as the destination. Rehabilitation means significant change and that is difficult. Take your time, don’t rush. Use the well-worn harm minimisation approach and you will be most effective in supporting your young person.
Youth work is a strange beast. We aren’t great at tooting our own horn. Even worse at sharing what we do. So when people step into the gap and share their thoughts, dreams, aspirations, research and their passion it is a fantastic sight to see. There have been many youth work blogs that have come and gone over the years (a testament to our sectors difficulties). With this in mind here are a few of the blogs for youth workers we read regularly that keep us up to date and get our creative juices flowing.
We have been keen followers of the crew at In Defence for the last six years. The mix of news and thoughts on where the sector is at in the UK always keep us interested and informed. Tony Taylor does a great job bringing it all together with the occasional guest post from others throughout the sector. In Defence have a great open letter to the sector which states their view on youth work and how it should run. This is a must read for anyone who wants to stay in the youth sector for the long haul.
Over the past year we have got to know the writing of James Ballantyne really well. James writes at the intersection of Youth Work and Youth Ministry and brings a detached youth work perspective to his writings. James has a depth of knowledge and wisdom that shows through in pretty much every post he does. Another UK Native James brings a strong dose of detached youth work to his readers, a concept we should all get our head around. This blog is a fantastic resource for youth ministers who are looking to develop their skills and knowledge, and is a fantastic read for the rest of the sector to see what youth ministry could be like with a bit of youth work injected into it.
Alan Mackie is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh who’s areas of interest include education and youth work. His blog brings articles o politics, young people, youth work and education together to give us a smorgasbord of thoughts. Alan’s blog is one of those We go to if we want to challenge our thinking and the way the world sees young people.
A New blog on the block is Radical Youth Practice from Rys Farthing. Rys was a lecturer of Aaron’s at RMIT over a decade ago and is now based in the UK. We expect a lot from this blog and it delivers in spades. Challenging the way youth services see political action as they worry about biting the hand that feeds them is an early taste of whats to come from this powerhouse author. Its early days but we expect to see Rys around for a long time yet.
We can’t recommend these blogs for youth workers enough.
Go and check them out.
Part of being an ultimate youth worker is ongoing learning. One of the best ways is to follow a few blogs. It keeps you current and helps you see some of the debates from different perspectives.
What are some of your favourite blogs? Let us know in the comments below.
In todays podcast Aaron brings you into some of his research from his Honours thesis. The question of what we mean when we say youth work should be a profession is one that rarely gets asked in the youth work literature. The underlying assumption is that we all know what is meant by the term. However, if you ask five youth workers what they think it means you will get five different answers. The rank and file youth workers at the coal face have a very different idea of what a profession is than the academics who are writing about professionalising.
In todays podcast we are asked to think about what we mean by the term profession. We are initiated into the most common definition used by social welfare academics, that of the structural functionalists. This model is best framed in the work of Ernest Greenwood who claims that all professions have five attributes in common. We are asked to consider how these five attributes link to youth work identity and practice especially in the changing environment of the 21st century. Does this model still fit? Is it enough? Does youth work identity sit well with this model?
There has been a lot of talk over the past few decades about the need for professional youth work. We have talked about it al lot too (to see some of our thoughts click here). The issue is if you ask the average youth worker what the sector means by professionalisation they have vague answers at best. If you get someone on their game they may speak about things like qualifications, codes of ethics and pay and conditions of workers. The big issue here is we don’t really know what we mean when we say we need to professionalise!
If you do a cursory glance at the literature on professional youth work however it becomes clear very quickly what model academics and senior practitioners are talking about. It is a model that harkens back to the structural functionalists of the early 20th century. These writers such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons saw the need for groups of people to hold knowledge about certain issues for the good of the whole society. They saw a link between the legitimate “professions” and character traits such as self-sacrifice on the part of the individual, ethical practice framed by a code of ethics, autonomy of the profession, and monopoly over a body of knowledge. They saw the need for the strengthening of university education to confer attainment of these traits to professionals and legitimation of the professions.
Sociologist and University of California Berkley, Social Welfare Professor, Ernest Greenwood (1957), best described a profession in terms that we see in the social welfare literature today by identifying five common attributes that distinguish them from non-professional associations. His work contributed significantly to the professionalization movement in social work within the United States of America throughout the latter part of the twentieth century. Greenwood’s work has also been used throughout the social welfare sector to develop core frameworks to develop many professional associations.
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Surveying the relevant literature in the mid twentieth century Greenwood identified five attributes that characterised professionals:
By systematic theory Greenwood means, “a system of abstract propositions that describe in general terms the classes of phenomena comprising the profession’s focus of interest”. By authority, Greenwood believes that the knowledge of a discipline which frames its systematic theory sets a professional apart from the layman as holder of professional authority. Community sanctions are those which state who can and can’t be a member, particularly which education makes you a professional and which doesn’t. A Code of ethics sets the formal guidelines for a profession, hence, “the profession’s commitment to the social welfare becomes a matter of public record; thereby insuring for itself the continued confidence of the community”. Finally, by culture, Greenwood means the unwritten code of conduct generated by groups within the profession, “the interaction of social roles required by these formal and informal groups generate a social configuration unique to the profession, viz., a professional culture”.
As the dominant model of professionalisation in the social welfare sector Greenwood’s Attributes Model cannot be ignored. However, it doesn’t need to be followed blindly either. Perhaps we need a new discussion in youth work. One that asks what type of professionals we want to be… Rather than how we can be like everyone else.
Sociologists analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. Sociologists study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to organisational and group structures (meso) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns). All developing into key perspectives.
Over the past 150 years or so sociologists have developed the ideas of the original European thinkers who gave us the conceptualisation of Sociology. But those original thinkers did give us the basis from which to see the world. Sociologists today still employ the three key perspectives: the functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective and the symbolic interactionist perspective,.
These key perspectives offer sociologists theoretical paradigms for explaining how society influences people, and vice versa. Each perspective uniquely conceptualizes society, social forces, and human behaviour.
First emerging in Europe throughout the 19th century the key perspective of Functionalism cemented itself at the pinnacle of sociological theory. French Sociologist Emile Durkheim led the charge and is considered the most influential of the functionalists. Into the 20th century American sociologist expanded the work most notably Talcott Parsons leading it to dominate through the post second world war era.
According to the functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society’s functioning as a whole. The government, or state, provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. That is, the family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process, the children become law‐abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity.
There are many conflict perspectives which get lumped under this same banner all looking differently at the nature, cause and extent of conflict (Haralambos and Holborn, 2013). However, the basis of the key perspective, which originated primarily out of Karl Marx’s writings on Class Struggles and Max Weber’s on Social Stratification, presents society in a different light than do the functionalist and symbolic interactionist perspectives. While these other perspectives focus on the positive aspects of society that contribute to its stability, the conflict perspective focuses on the negative, conflicted, and ever‐changing nature of society. Unlike functionalists who defend the status quo, avoid social change, and believe people cooperate to effect social order, conflict theorists challenge the status quo, encourage social change (even when this means social revolution), and believe rich and/or powerful people force social order on the poor and the weak.
Marxism and Feminism are the most widely recognisable conflict theories in the 21st century. These perspectives see conflict as a common and persistent feature of society, and not a temporary aberration. Marxism sees conflict in an economic real where the means of production are owned by the powerful, the Bourgeois and the Proletariate are oppressed because they lack access to their own means of production. Feminists argue that the world is Patriarchal and the power in the world, whether financial, legal, physically or other is in the hands of men. This leads to the oppression of women as a subgroup in society with limited access to their own means.
Postmodernism has given rise to many key perspectives in sociological thought. One of the biggest concepts is that of symbolic interactionism. The symbolic interactionist perspective, also known as symbolic interactionism, directs sociologists to consider the symbols and details of everyday life, what these symbols mean, and how people interact with each other. Although symbolic interactionism traces its origins to Max Weber’s assertion that individuals act according to their interpretation of the meaning of their world, the American philosopher George H. Mead (1863–1931) introduced this key perspective to American sociology in the 1920s.
This meta-theory birthed within a post modernist framework has changed the way we view reality since the mid twentieth century. In a nutshell, “Post modernists reject the idea of universal truths about the world, instead suggesting that reality is a social construction. Therefore, all knowledge is merely a claim to truth, reflecting the subjectivity of those involved. Postmodernists focus on how truth-claims about the world are socially constructed. Thus there is no single reality or ultimate truth, only versions or interpretations of what is ‘real’, ‘true’, ‘normal’, ‘right’, or ‘wrong’” (Germov & Poole, 2015, 50-51).
Social Constructionism became a core theoretical framework with Austrian-American Sociologists Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s 1966 book, The Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann purport that all knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge of everyday reality, is derived from and maintained by our social interactions. When people interact with each other, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are related, and as they act upon this understanding their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced.
According to Australian Sociology academics Germov and Poole (2015) social constructionism, “refers to the socially created characteristics of human life, based on the idea that people actively construct reality, meaning it is neither ‘natural’ nor inevitable. therefore, notions of normality/abnormality, right/wrong, and health/illness are subjective human creations that should not be taken for granted” (Germov & Poole, 2015, 549),
In todays Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast “the sociological imagination”, Aaron gets us thinking about the need for youth workers to see more than just the individual young person. We look at the work of Sociologist C. Wright Mills and how it relates to youth work. Here are the shownotes.
Welcome back to the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast for 2017. We are stoked to have you with us and we hope that your youth work journey is inspiring you to great things. We know its not easy to be a youth worker in the current climate and to all of you who are struggling to keep your jobs and defend the practices of youth work we salute you.
The struggles that we are facing currently in youth work are ideologically driven. We are seeing the tightening grip of neoliberalism on the social sector as a whole. We are hearing the ongoing rhetoric that youth work is not professional. We are also seeing the challenges of public perception of our practice. Amongst all of this we need to remember that we have a strong foundation from which to stand and leverage our work.
Youth work as we know it across the globe sprung forth from diverse fields which has led to contentious issues of our knowledge frameworks ever since. One of the underpinning theoretical frameworks which guides the practices of youth work is that of Sociology. It helps us to look more deeply at the world our young people live, work and play within. One of the key thoughts within Sociology is the sociological imagination. The ability to look at an issue from an individual and social perspective. So let’s find out more about this key framework and how it fits within youth work.
C. Wright MILLS
American Philosopher and Sociologist, Charles Wright Mills was a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University from 1946 until his death in 1962, aged 45. Mills, a native Texan, was published widely throughout his career in popular and intellectual journals, and is a proponent of the conflict perspective within sociological thought. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War Two society, and advocated public and political engagement over disinterested observation.
Mills sociological work was heavily influenced by eminent German conflict theorists and fathers of sociology Karl Marx and Max Weber.
Mills is remembered for several books, among them ‘The Power Elite’, which introduced that term and describes the relationships and class alliances among the U.S. political, military, and economic elites; ‘White Collar’, on the American middle class; and ‘The Sociological Imagination’, where Mills presents a model of analysis for the interdependence of subjective experiences within a person’s biography, the general social structure and historical development.
Overview of the sociological imagination
In 1959 one of the most important texts in sociological work was published by Oxford University Press. The book by American Sociologist C. Wright Mills “The Sociological Imagination” changed the landscape of sociological thought and research forever.
Mills conveyed that the core undertaking for sociology as a discipline and sociologists particularly was to discover and express the connections between the particular social environments of individuals (also known as “milieu”) and the wider social and historical forces in which they are embroiled. This approach challenges the structural functionalist approach to Sociology, as it opens new positions for the individual to occupy with regard to the larger social structure. Individual function that reproduces larger social structure is only one of many possible roles, and is not necessarily the most important. In Mills own words, “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That’s its task and its promise”.
In ‘The Sociological Imagination’, Mills endeavoured to reconcile two abstract conceptions of social reality—the “individual” and “society”—and thereby confronted the dominant sociological discourse of functionalism. In essence he asked where the convergence point is between an individual’s ‘personal troubles’ and societies ‘public issues’.
Mill work on the sociological imagination looked at the dominant discourse of individuality which had grown since the second world war and sought to understand the framework of an individual’s ‘personal troubles’. These private issues which are said to have nothing to do with the rest of society such as what you eat, who you vote for, which religion you follow or what type of job you have. For Mills these private issues were not just the sole purview of the individual, but a complex system of interweaving thought and ideas from everywhere.
This interweaving system is what Mills coined as public issues. Why is it that individuals in poor communities seem to have children who follow in the same footsteps as their parents? Mills argues that it has little to do with the individual’s choices and much more to do with the systems and the power of the elites which guide the forces around the individual. There is an intricate relationship between the individual and society.
An individual person becoming unemployed is a personal trouble, one million people becoming unemployed is a public issue. But what makes them personal or public? If the issue affects an individual or a small group that is a personal trouble. If it affects a significant proportion of society it is a public issue.
Family violence had historically been seen as a private issue. It was seen as only affecting that family. However we know that family violence is visited on a significant proportion of the population so it is really a public issue.
What does this mean for youth workers?
Well first and foremost it gives us a lens to look at what our clients need. Do they require individual support of wider advocacy? In the case of family violence probably both. In the case of unemployment an individual may need retraining and support around interviewing. If it is a larger issues such as the slow death of manufacturing then advocacy and innovative redistribution may be needed. The sociological imagination asks us to recognise where the problem lies.
The second thing is that we need to be skilled in personal support and as change makers. We need to know how to support our individual clients in the space where they are at. We also must become fluent in community development and activism. Currently, the youth sector in the Uk is being squeezed. The issues are personal for the young people losing support, and the youth workers losing jobs. They are also public issues as millions of dollars are pulled from a sector designed to help the most vulnerable and generalist youth work is under siege.
Finally, it gives us a useful language to speak into these situations which is clearly defined. It is a language which is hard to ignore and it is a language which is shared in the sector.
C. Wright Mills coined the term sociological imagination in 1959. It seeks to understand the personal troubles and public issues which define humanity. It asks us to think about issues through the lens of both the individual and the system. It asks us to understand the effects on the person. It asks for action.
We hope that todays cast on the sociological imagination has given you something to think about. We believe that if youth workers remember some of our sociological roots it will help us to be the best supports for our young people that we can. If you found this cast helpful or you have any questions touch base with us on our facebook page facebook.com/ultimateyouthworker
Stay frosty, and we will see you in the next episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast.