We need to develop our youth work research base

Youth work research has come a long way over the past decade or so. We have gone from a profession that was grappling with how we used others knowledge in our practice to one that was seriously beginning to develop our own knowledge base. We have gone from having a few key researchers to a burgeoning professional and academic research cohort. We are developing more post graduate students and more PhD’s every year. Yet, we still have a long way to go to cement our research credentials as a profession.

One area that needs to be developed is our practice wisdom. We need to hear about the research of youth workers on the coalface. What is working? What didn’t work? Where are the gaps? What do we need to do to take the profession forward? These questions and many more will be best answered not by the academics who are removed from practice, but through the collective wisdom of those youth workers completing the hard yards day in and day out.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we have always tried to shine a light from those at the coalface to those in academia. We have been quoted in academic journal articles, spoken at conferences and worked with hundreds of youth workers to get the knowledge of the coalface worker to the rest of the sector. Our commitment to youth work research has never been stronger.

We are currently getting some research out about the state of youth mental health training for youth workers in Australia and New Zealand. Our research is shining a light on the gap between current youth worker training in mental health and the needs of our young people. This youth work research has come out of the hundreds of supervision and training sessions we have run over the past three years where youth workers have been ignorant of the basics of mental health.

Research is one of the things which give a profession credence. We need to have more research from the trenches to inform our sector. What will you bring to the table?

Its our third birthday!!!

Happy 3rd birthday Ultimate Youth Worker

Happy 3rd birthday Ultimate Youth Worker

Another year down and we can’t thank you all enough. In one of the toughest years to hit our sector in over a decade Ultimate Youth Worker has felt the pain. By December 31 2014  our clientele was cut by 60% due to the ferocious cuts to youth service provision by the federal government in Australia. The first half of the year we were on track to move from three part-time staff to all being full-time staff. However when the cuts came into effect we also felt the pinch and for the last six months Ultimate youth worker has been one part t-time staff member, Aaron Garth.

We launched our Employee Assistance Program and provided support to dozens of staff members across three agencies. We spoke at conferences and events across Australia including YACWA’s Fairground conference and as a local speaker at NYMC Encore. We have provided supervision to dozens of individual and group supervision clients. We have kept up the good fight to see youth workers stay supported in their roles to have longevity in the field. But it has been the hardest year we have had.

We want to thank all our supporters, clients and colleagues who have made Ultimate Youth Worker such a big part of the youth sector here in Australia and internationally. If you want to continue to support us we are looking to grow again this year through our supervision, training and support services… so get in contact.

Youth Homelessness is a big issue

Youth Homelessness Matters: Because we don’t realise its happening

A thought on youth homelessness

Youth Homelessness is a big issue

Youth Homelessness Matters

A former Victorian Premier when asked why he was closing down youth refuges for homeless young people replied with some stupidity that there is no need for young people to be homeless, they can always go home. Unfortunately, young people can’t always go home. There is family violence, mental health and the justice system to contend with. There is drugs and disengagement and an education system that doesn’t understand. There are literally thousands of very real reasons a young person cannot go home. At the top of the list is that it is unsafe. Youth homelessness matters! So why don’t we know more about youth homelessness as a society? Why is the media and our government silent?

If you ask the average person on the street why a young person is homeless they will probably not be able to give you an answer. The sad fact is most people ignore the homeless and if they do give them any notice it is usually to let them know how it is their own fault they are in the situation. It is the rare person who seeks to find out about the person in front of them. To notice them.

As youth workers we are just as guilty as the rest of the population. Even those of us who work in homeless services can struggle to notice them and not just their problem. They yell #NoticeUs, and we fill out forms. They plead notice us, and we tell them we have no place for them to lay their head. They slink away into the darkness and we wonder why they missed their appointments. As youth workers we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. I have been guilty of this type of behaviour dozens of times. Seeing a young person down an alley, without a lunch at school, sleeping on a friends couch… and I did nothing. However, I have also stood in the gap for hundreds of others.

We need to shine a light on this issue. It will open Pandora’s Box!!! We will have to deal with all the reasons for homelessness. We will have to hold ourselves accountable for turning away from those in need. We will have to advocate to those in power to change the circumstances of some of our most vulnerable young people. We as youth workers must show that youth homelessness matters. Then our clients will say that we notice them.

 

Family violence and youth work

Family Violence is rampant in Australia

There is not a youth worker amongst us that has not had to deal with the scourge of family violence. Whether directly through work with or referrals to child protection or indirectly from the aftermath of the abuse we often deal with young people in the midst of their most troubling times. When family violence is part of the picture it adds a very troubling level of complexity to our case work. One that has increased significantly thought my career.

When I started as a youth worker it seemed like every other case had a level of family violence associated with it. Every Genogram I created showed the discord within families. Flash forward thirteen years and it is almost unheard of to have a case that is family violence free. From verbal abuse to physical violence the spectrum of family violence is wide and varied. We as youth workers need to have a solid understanding of family violence and the trauma it causes our young people.

Family Violence is a blight on society

Youth workers need to understand family violence

On Sunday, 22 February 2015, the Governor of Victoria appointed a Chair and two Deputy Commissioners to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The Commission will inquire into and provide practical recommendations on how Victoria’s response to family violence can be improved. One area that sorely needs to be addressed is support post violence.

Programs such as youth refuges, mental health services and long term youth housing are but a few areas which young people experiencing family violence come up short in Victoria. We also need to look at the education of front line staff such as youth workers. Currently certificate and diploma youth work courses do not require a family violence component to be undertaken.

What should we do?

If we are to provide excellent service to our young people we have to understand family violence in the same way we understand drug use, mental health or trauma and attachment. The Royal Commission into Family Violence is a great first step. However, unless it turns into preventative measures, better services, more training and early intervention it is a waste of time and money.

Aside from the Royal Commission into Family Violence we as youth workers must do more. Get some more training, continue to stand in the gap for your young people getting appropriate service and keep advocating.

Corruption in education is hurting young people

There is currently an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) investigating corrupt spending within the Victorian department of education. It appears that there has been significant funds misappropriated from head office to the principals in schools. many of these people on $100, 000+ salaries already but they take from funds which could be used for support services.

Recently, the department has changed the classification of roles of support staff such as psychologists and social workers to pay them less. They also gave schools the opportunity to use the funds for these services in any way they wanted. Young people miss out again. The education system is not designed for supporting young people and then you have people who rort the system and hurt them even further. The commission has heard many stories of schools hiding invoices and being invoiced for work never supplied. More money being siphoned from where it needs to go.

Courtesy of www.theage.com.au

Courtesy of www.theage.com.au

It has been our observation that the more power people have the more likely they are to abuse it. With the education department spreading their power to the principals we are seeing many more issues with this power abuse. With this power came no accountability, and with no accountability we see abuse and corruption. These schools cry poor for funds to help their students but then…

This isn’t a new story by any stretch of the imagination. It is one that comes up time and time again. Every time it does we hear nothing of the services that are lost or the young people that have been hurt by these corrupt individuals. The education department needs to focus more on their internal accountability and good service provision and much less on penny pinching. Governments need to step in and have the guts to make a clean sweep and start again. These individuals are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption and poor service delivery.

In the words of the human headline; Shame, Shame, Shame.

For more on this see: this article.

Is it time to take a holiday?

I am wrecked! It has been a long semester so far. Dozens of youth work students pushing hard to finish their qualifications and dozens more just beginning. Mixed in with this a number of our clients have been defunded by the federal government and many are considering closure and mergers. Our individual supervision clients are struggling with the insecurity of the youth sector and wondering what the future will hold. Amongst all of this our staff are looking at having an extended holiday.

When the world is falling apart around you sometimes the best thing to do is get away. Vicarious trauma affects us all differently. For me I slowly get less excited about waking up in the morning until I can’t think of anything but the negatives. For others it is the sense that their job and clients are just crap. Whatever your go to downfall when push comes to shove we all come crashing down. Thats why our employers give us holidays!

One of the biggest issues we find when working with youth workers is that they don’t use their holidays. Many of our clients have at least a years holidays accrued if not more and when asked have no intention of using them in the next three months. The main excuse I hear is that our clients need us. The fact that 100% of them were doing life fine before we got involved in their lives never enters the picture. It is like, if we weren’t there all our young people would die or end up in prison. So we run ourselves into the ground and give them sub standard service along the way.

Your given the holidays so that you can rest and rejuvenate. If you do not use them in the year you are given them you are asking for trouble. rest and reflection are keys to longevity in a career that so easily could sap you of your care.

Children's Court

Youth work in the court system: its extremely important

Today I took a bunch of youth work students on a tour of the Melbourne Children’s Court. The Children’s Court of Victoria is a specialist court with two divisions dealing with cases involving children and young people. The Family Division hears applications relating to the protection and care of children and young persons at risk, and applications for intervention orders. The Criminal Division hears matters relating to criminal offending by children and young persons between the ages of 10 and 18. These courts had been a large part of my youth work career from my days working in drug and alcohol outreach to my time in family services. It is also a place that as a youth worker you hope you never have to enter as it means one of your young people has been abused or has done something they probably shouldn’t have.

Children's Court

As we were on our tour our guide mentioned that the role of a good youth worker in the children’s court was extremely important. Whether that was a youth worker writing clear and concise case notes and then providing quality testimony to the court on the work done with a young person in an abuse case or as a character reference for a young person facing incarceration because of a criminal matter a youth worker provides professional care and support in a setting that could at times feel trying. Aside from this our guide stated that it is often a lone youth worker sitting aside a young person that helps a judge to see opportunities for rehabilitation.

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There are many who would say that youth work is a generalist profession and any work that is not generalist is something else. We at Ultimate Youth Worker believe that it is in the ‘nitty gritty’ times such as appearances in a court that youth work really hits its stride. Our generalist skills set of relationship building and support provision is used extremely well in this important context. After all it is about our young people and their best interests.

Who are young people?

Who are young people?

This might seem like a simple question at face value. It is after all our core business. Young people! However, this is one of the big questions currently pulling our sector apart at the seam. Across the world there are discussions trying to work out this simple question. From academia to those of us on the coalface it seems that opinions are abundant. In most cases the guide is that young people are between the ages of 12 and 25. However many in local government and academia have stated that we should lower that age to 10. Even the World Health Organisation weighed in to the conversation and said 10 to 30.

Young people in a group

Who are young people?

Some believe that ‘youth’ is the group of young people who are in high school. This definition clearly draws a line that post high schoolers aren’t allowed to cross. But then what do we do with the ‘young adults’? There are historical ideas of adolescence which state that the construct of ‘youth’ starts at the beginning of puberty and ends with adulthood. To say we are confused as a sector is an understatement. Still we push on. We are coerced to work with more children as we partner in the children, youth and families sector and further into young adult territory as we work in the education, employment and training sector.

If the youth work sector allows others to dictate who we work with, we will continue to have this little thorn in our side. In Australia we are fairly clear about this as a sector, however outside forces are trying to push us in the direction of child and youth work. This neoliberal push will in the end overtake us if we do not stand firm. Lets be clear about who it is we work for. Young people. Adolescents. Youth. Twelve to twenty-five. With all the struggles and excitement that the storms and stresses provide.

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

Theory and practice: skills and knowledge of youth work

I had a discussion with a couple of students the other day which is a regular occurrence in my experience. The students ask some variation of “what is more important for gaining employment, experience or qualifications?” It is always a question on new graduate minds as they lack experience. But it is one of the most damaging questions our field faces at the moment. This question supposes that either knowledge or skills are better than one another. They are not.

Over the past decade I have interviewed dozens of youth workers and they inevitably fall into one of three categories. First, those who rely on their years of experience. Second, Those who rely on their qualification. Third, those with theory and practice. The third group wins hands down every time. Those with experience often tell stories of what they did in any given situation. Those with qualifications tell you why they would do something. Those with theory and practice tell you what they did and why they did it.

The best practitioners are those with both the theory and practice for the job, but this takes time. A highly qualified and experienced practitioner takes years to develop. With the average youth worker lasting between two and five years in the sector it is a struggle to get qualified and experienced staff. This is where the question is dangerous for our field. Those with the experience state that they know how to best work with young people because they have been ‘doing’ it for years. Those with qualifications counter that if you do not know why you are doing something or the theory behind it you will cause more damage than help for those young people. While this goes on the other professions laugh and pat us on the head.

For the record we believe qualifications are more important than experience, at least in the short term. After a couple of years in the sector you will have the experience. Qualification builds a foundation which you build experience on. Experience first is a very shaky foundation as it is through your experience that you will see theory. A very limited view. But there is something we seek more, attitude. We would take less qualification and experience for a more passionate teachable attitude any day. We can give you experience and we can send you to get qualified but attitude that is all on you.

Theory and practice

Theory and practice

Ultimate Youth Workers build their understanding of theory at every chance possible. They develop practice skills with every young person they meet. Most of all they have an unshakeable attitude which puts the needs of their young people first. Having an understanding of how theory relates to practice and vice-versa is integral to best practice youth work.

Why does government struggle with young people?

The Federal Australian government is currently on the warpath. In their sights: cost cutting. The latest casualty: welfare payments. One of the biggest losers in the proposed changes put forward are young people. This isn’t the first time a government in Australia has targeted young people and welfare payments however it is the first time the current government has tried. This particular government had a report into welfare reform written which explicitly links policy directives on young people being in education, training or employment with access to welfare payments.

The McClure report sets out that young people under the age of 22 would not be eligible for stand alone welfare payments and only those young people involved in education or training would be eligible at all. This links education with welfare in a way that says our education system is appropriate for all young people. It requires study when for some young people this is neither available nor appropriate. It asserts power over young people in a way which has not been done before in Australia.

This proposed suite of changes was met with unprecedented backlash from the youth sector with every state and the national peak bodies condemning its lack of consultation and care fore young people. While the report recognised that some young people will be living independently, it is unclear on how they will be assessed to be “genuinely independent” and eligible to receive an income payment in their own right. Joanna Siejka, CEO of YNOT stated, “The report presumes that young people are not willing to engage in education, training and employment, but research shows that young people are increasingly wanting to engage in these activities and do not want to be on welfare”.

Why does government struggle with young people?

Government and the youth vote

This backlash from the youth peaks shone a light on a significant issue which is often not addressed by government. Why do governments struggle to support young people? There are a number of reasons however the biggest one is that for the most part young people cannot vote and are therefore not considered part of the constituency. If young people don’t have a vote then they do not count in the policy making process. Some governments will go beyond this focus, however more often than not young people face the brunt of cost cuts and policy changes.

Government needs to understand that just because their term in office is 3-4 years that young people have a long memory. Young people are the future and if we hurt them now they will remember when they are able to vote. This happened in the 2007 federal election in Australia and it will happen again. Young people must be treated with respect by government for longevity in politics. More than that it is just plain decency.