Sociology for youth workers As youth workers we draw on many different frameworks to help us make sense of the world our young people live in. One of the most used frameworks in our kit bag is sociology. Through the sociological lens we can analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete…
As one of the main sociologists in history C. Wright Mills has contributed much to the study of humanity. Perhaps though nothing as important as the ‘sociological imagination’. The ability for people to see an issues from another’s point of view. Literally to imagine yourself in their shoes. The sociological imagination asks us to think about the world through the experience of individuals other than yourself. A core process that most people in society have never engaged in.
Currently governments around the world are spruiking the individualised perspective of society. That we are all responsible for our own destiny and the free market will even things out for us all. The big society supposedly looking out for the good of all. However the focus of these ideas is often either individual or societal focused. Rarely do we someone with an understanding of the individual and of society. This leads to things falling apart as we are seeing in the UK, Europe union and many other nations.
Enter youth work. We are trained to understand individual young people and the society they live in. We seek understanding of the societal issues which cause concern for our young people and we understand their individual concerns and wants. Youth workers have a great sociological imagination! For us it is beyond stupidity to focus on a person without looking at the context of their life. We look at the structures of inequality and the individuals strengths. We provide advocacy at a macro level and develop relationship with our young people at the micro level. Youth workers are awesome.
If you find your work focusing on one area more than the other I implore you to refocus your sociological imagination. If you are focusing too much on the individual begin to look at the societal. If you look at the societal side begin to look at individuals.
It is the only way we can understand fully.
Is this the future youth sector?
There is a lot of talk in the youth sector which is splitting the camps into those wanting to go back to an age where we were well funded by government and able to do our own thing versus those wanting to collude with government and find a way to keep going while under austerity. At the risk of throwing the cat amongst the pigeons we think both groups have lost the plot. Infighting is neither helpful to our young people nor a way of developing the sector.
Over the years we have written extensively on the need for the youth sector to take it to the next level. The golden age is gone but we don’t have a clear framework for what is to come. So here are a few of our thoughts:
- We need to stop following the well beaten course towards professionalisation. There is a definite need for a more professional youth sector. But how we get there… that’s more open for debate. We need to have a distinctly youth work profession. One which involves young people as well as provides support for them.
- We need to develop a path of education that students and the sector want to progress. Our framework for youth work education is 20 years old and desperately needs an update. Mental health, online work, family violence and reflective practice are areas we need more focus on as a start.
- We need more cooperation. We spend so much of our time in our own silos or scrambling over each other for the crumbs of government funding. We have some cooperation but it generally only comes until we might lose our funding or reputation. If we really want the sector to change we need to work together for industrial action, sector redevelopment and collegiate support.
We need to blaze a trail which fits our professional values. Because there is currently nothing that really fits. A good friend of ours used to say; any dead fish can float down stream, it takes a live one to swim against the current. At the moment it seems we are just floating. #towards2020
Journey towards 2020
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu
As we journey toward 2020 there has been a lot of discussion about youth work as a dying vocation. Our numbers are dropping, we have less graduates and government funding is being slashed like never before. Lets be honest. We’ve had it pretty good over the last decade or so. But those glory days are over. We’ve been on a journey that has gotten really bumpy. Some have stumbled, others have fallen away, many are sweating it out hoping for green pastures again. The smart youth workers are taking a rest. We are checking the map. Looking at our supply situation. Reassessing our journey towards 2020.
[Tweet “The smart youth workers are taking a rest. We are checking the map. Looking at our supply situation. Reassessing our journey #towards2020.”]
Perhaps, the journey we were on has finished. Perhaps, our focus needs tweaking. We have focussed on education in the beginning, we moved to recreation in the 70’s, in the 90’s we moved towards local government hoping to find our home and now… it looks like our journey is coming to its end. When your journey looks like its coming to an end and your left out in the wilderness its time to make a brew and plan a new journey. This is what many are starting to do across the world.
What youth work will look like #towards2020 is still up for grabs. One thing is for sure we need to stop looking at the past is a vain hope that it will come back to us. We need a new pedagogy, a new praxis and a new… practice framework. As a profession we keep looking to other professions such as social work, psychology and nursing to guide our journey. But, they are all struggling too. We need to plan a new journey toward 2020.
What do you think the first step will look like?
What is the youth work question?
Over the last decade I have been asked to speak with hundreds of people who want to be youth workers. Sometimes in seminars or training courses, other times I get to do it one on one. The first question I always ask is “Why do you want to be a youth worker?” In my experience there is no other question which separates those with happy fluffy bunny and rainbow unicorn feelings from those who will truly become the next generation of youth workers. It is the youth work question. Here are a few of the answers I get that cause me concern:
- “I just really love kids”.
- “I have had a lot of trouble in my own life”
- “I have coached kids and I think I can do this easily”
- “Those kids just need someone to guide them”
- “I can keep them on the straight and narrow”
- “I’m a parent of teens, so I understand young people”
Whenever I hear one of these answers my skin literally crawls. Often broken and hurt people who look for closure to their inadequacies drift towards youth work. People who cannot answer the youth work question. It is something that youth work trainers see every intake. People who haven’t dealt with their own demons before wanting to work with young people. The other side to the coin is people who think anyone can do youth work. Its not that hard. I coach a team two hours a week. I have a teenager who I see for a few hours a day. Surely its not that hard to do youth work.
These people show a few main things that lead myself and others to point them away. First, a lack of personal insight. Second, a short sighted view of working with young people. Finally, a focus on themselves not on the young people they want to serve. If you truly want to be a youth worker it is a path of walking along side young people. It is not a time for your own issues to haunt you. It is about providing the support young people need to reach their goals.
If your answer to the youth work question is that you want to see young people supported by people who care and are well trained. If you want to see young people reach their potential. See a world where young people are seen and dealt with justly. Then you might have what it takes to be a youth worker.
Here are a few links to articles on becoming a youth worker.
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential: these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” – Confucius
The very best youth workers I have ever met share an extremely rare focus. These Ultimate Youth Workers want to be the best. The don’t want to just coast through they want to blaze a trail. They never accept the status quo. They never rest on their laurels. They believe there is more to be done… and they do it. These youth workers see life as needing to be lived to the fullest. It is what drives them to excellence!
Seeking to live and work by the mantra of excellence is not bad as many have tried to sell over the past decade. The view that close enough is good enough has hurt our sector. From training to employment and through to the work we do with young people we must do it with professional excellence. Beyond our professional excellence however we need to have personal excellence. We must want to win, succeed and reach our full potential. Because if we can’t do this, we have no right to ask it of our young people.
Do you want to win? In your career, personal life, for your client? Do you want to succeed? In your studies, your cases, your personal goals? Do you want to reach your full potential? The world is littered by people who gave up when things got tough. Who decided to coast instead of put in a little blood, sweat and tears. Who did a half assed job because that was easier. If you want to be an Ultimate Youth Worker you need to seek after your own personal excellence. An Ultimate Youth Workers goal is always to be better tomorrow than they are today.
What do you do to encourage personal excellence?
How do you keep great youth workers?
Youth work is one of the most difficult professions around. You tend to work with some very difficult clients who are generally not showing their best side. Managers know this, yet it still boggles my mind how often I have heard managers complaining about their lack of ability to keep great youth workers. The kicker is that they really do have something considerable to complain about.
There isn’t much more costly or disruptive as your best people walking out the door. The managers I have spoken with over the years tend to blame their turnover problems on everything under the sun, but with turnover in excess of 21% across the sector we need to face some hard truths.
Here are nine very simple things every team leader and manager can do to make sure they retain the very best youth workers in their organisation.
Don’t overwork people
The one thing that has become more obvious to me over the years is that the work of youth work has become a lot harder. We are dealing with more trauma, more responsibility and more paperwork than ever before. Governments have decreased funding while increasing our KPI’s. The stress factors have risen significantly. Our people are already working hard, so don’t add to the work load unnecessarily.
If we add to the workload significantly it can be counterproductive to the goal. You can only work them so long until they leave for better pastures. An increase in position or pay can help at least in the short term… however, in our experience this has a six month shelf life.
Recognise and reward
If managers could only do one thing to minimise retention issues and keep great youth workers this might be the one thing. A pat on the back goes a very long way. So do the words ‘well done’. Recognise great staff everywhere. in meetings, to donors, to the board, throughout the sector. Reward them where you can too. This may cost money… but its a lot less than having to hire new staff or deal with an employee who leaves because of psychological distress. Give a great worker an extra week of holidays. A night out for them and their special person. Buy them a book. Pay for course fees. Write them a card. The point is just do something.
Care about your employees
Every management role I have ever held hinged on the people who worked for me. I knew my successes were only able to come to fruition if they were fully committed to me and the mission. The best way for this to happen is to get to know your staff. Not just the professional but the personal too. I knew my staffs partners, children, birthdays, work anniversaries, work history, courses they had done, their illnesses and pains as well as their hopes and dreams. I would spend a minimum of half an hour one on one with my team and let them know I was there to bat for them. Knowing your staff is the key to care.
Hire and promote the right people
Hiring the right people is the most important part of a managers job. Getting the right person to fit the team, the organisational mission and then expecting them to have the right skill set means doing a good job at recruitment. Many of the interviews I have had lasted less than 30 minutes and many of the youth workers I speak with would say the same. It is not nearly enough. Hiring is the single most difficult task a manager has to learn to do if they want to keep great youth workers. Working with duds is a major demotivator for those stuck working alongside them. Ultimate Youth Workers want to work with equally awesome people. Oh, and promoting a dud is even more a slap in the face. Get the right people and they will stay.
The most talented youth workers are passionate people. Providing opportunities for them to pursue their passions improves their productivity and job satisfaction. Support them to develop their passion. Help with fundraisers, hook them up with networks, give them the opportunity to expand their horizon. It will not only fill their passion but will reap exponential productivity time and brownie points for the tough times.
Further develop peoples skills
When we speak to youth workers and their managers we are appalled at the minimal amount of money and time spent developing staff. If you want to keep your best people you have to invest in them. At the very least you need to listen to your youth workers and provide them with feedback. It is the role of every manager to educate their staff, find areas to develop in them. Read, do webinars, join peak bodies, further your education and become better.
Engage their creativity
You hired the best people, right? Then why do you want to hold them back and stick them in a box. These amazing youth workers want to change the world and see everything they touch turn to gold. Why would you want to squash this? Let them off the leash a little. Expect reports but let them do things in their way. Guide and challenge your staff but let them use their talent and their skills to do the job you hired them for in the first place.
Challenge youth workers intellectually
This comes as a surprise to many people but youth workers are thought workers. We think a lot. Its a mentally draining job. When I used to push my students they would bemoan my making them think more… But in the field they are the ones who others look too. If you don’t make your great staff think and reflect they will most definitely get bored. If they get bored you won’t be able to keep great youth workers. If you haven’t done a degree yet, Check this one out.
Love them all!
If you don’t love your staff they will know it. If you love one or two, the others will know it. If you don’t love your team you won’t go the extra mile for them. Managers who go the extra mile will always keep the best staff. Love, Love Love!
This post was based off an article by Dr travis Bradberry on HuffingtonPost.
Let me be blunt about youth work. You can not try out youth work. Its not like playing a game of basketball and then giving up. Its not like trying to paint and deciding you are not able to do better than stick figures. Its not like cooking where if you stuff up you can throw it in the bin. If you give youth work a go it is literally life and death. Your words, your actions, even your body language can support or shred the young people you work with in a heartbeat.
We get a lot of emails from people saying they want to try and be a youth worker. I cringe every time I read this statement. Its so non-committal. Many of our friends in the sector have stories of people they have met who during the course of their conversations state that they would love to try being a youth worker. Most of these people think its all coffees and camps, rainbows and unicorns. If you really want to be a youth worker you need to know that it is hard work. It is serious work. It takes people who genuinely care and want to work with young people through good times and bad.
I couldn’t resist a Star Wars quote. As the great Jedi master says, “Do or do not, there is no try”. In youth work we can’t try. Trying lends itself to giving up when it doesn’t work. Trying lends itself to being half-assed. Trying is… well just not enough. Be a youth worker. Give yourself to it fully. Don’t dip your toe in, do a belly whacker. The only way our young people will trust us and open up is if they see us fully engaged in youth work. it is the core to ethical practice. As Howard Sercombe says it provides space for young people to disclose. Do youth work with everything you are and everything you have and the rewards will be endless.
Working with involuntary clients is one of the most difficult tasks youth workers will have to do in their career. Youth work by its very nature is a voluntary relationship. So how can youth workers provide service to this client group? In this podcast we begin to share some thoughts on working with involuntary clients as youth workers. This is the first podcast in a series we will do on working with involuntary clients. From youth justice to working in the local church youth workers in every setting need to understand the basics of working with young people who have not voluntarily come to our service.
In todays cast Aaron Garth lays a foundation for us from his experience working with a number of clients who did not voluntarily come to his attention. From young people referred to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre as part of their parole conditions to young people who have a parent in prison Aaron has worked with many young people who were coerced into seeing him. It is through these many instances Aaron gained his experience. As a lecturer Aaron brings this experience to his classes and links them to current research on working with this client group.
We hope you begin to grapple with the work of youth workers in involuntary settings. More and more our funding is linked to our young people complying with services they don’t necessarily want. Services such as education, employment and training which is linked to their welfare payments. Drug and alcohol services linked to their parole conditions. All the while our funding requiring us to engage and support these young people who do not want to be there, with the threat of our service being defunded if we do not comply with the framework of the day.
Let us know what you think. Leave a comment below.
Group work is one of the most rewarding and exciting parts of our job as youth workers. It comes in many forms and it looks different in every context it is used in. Until the 1950’s however, it was a relatively unheard of area of study. Today there are thousands of articles, books and training courses with different ideas on the who, how, what and why of working with groups. With so many different theories and styles it can also make group work one of the scariest parts of our job.
Whether you are running a group in a school, church, drug rehab, practically anywhere the rules are the same. But if you don’t know the rules groups can be extremely daunting. Knowing the rules of group work will help us as youth workers provide the best facilitation possible. It also lets us help our young people to settle in to the roles that suit them and challenge them to step into new ones.
Group work is our bread and butter as youth workers. We don’t necessarily do one on one counselling. We don’t all run programs. But it is likely that we have all run a group.