We have met with a number of our supporters lately and one question keeps coming up…What are we up to at the moment? We have been at the forefront of discussions in the youth sector for the last three years and to be honest the cuts to the sector have taken their toll on us. This year did not start with the bang we had hoped for.
But like the phoenix we are rising from the ashes! over the last couple of months we have focussed in on what you have been telling us over the last few years. We keep hearing that youth workers all over Australia are feeling out of their depth when supporting their clients with mental health issues. This is often due to a lack of training. The historical focus has has also been against us with psychologists and social workers being the key players in this space.
Over the next few months we will be taking the knowledge we have gained and we will give it back to you! We will be focusing on what we need to know to face the young peoples challenge of the 21st century… youth mental health.
Let us know what we can do to help you and your organisations meet the challenge of youth mental health. We will be running some training by the years end specifically for youth workers… and more than just mental health first aid.
I have been rereading “Youth Work Ethics” by Professor Howard Sercombe lately. I forgot how good a read it is. Clear, concise and straight to the point. What got me was a really interesting discussion of professions being a relationship. Particularly, that by building this professional relationship we build trust in our clients allowing them to be vulnerable in our presence. Sercombe states, “Youth work creates spaces within which that can happen well, and walks with young people through the process of it happening“.
As a youth worker I have been involved in the discussion of professionalising our sector for over a decade. All too often the focus of professionalising is setting us apart from our clients. It is putting in rules and policies which hold them at arms length from us. Other ‘professions’ such as psychology and nursing are often held up as benchmarks because of this ‘professional distance’ from their clients. We look to them and attempt to emulate their style because we live in a notion of professionalism which is rooted in the sociological view of professions from the 1950’s. However, many youth workers around the world struggle with this as it further separates us from our clients. It empowers us and further oppresses them.
If we as a fledgling profession decide to follow in the tired old footsteps of professions gone before us we will continue to further push our clients away. This goes completely against the grain of our core values. Youth work is a relational profession! Building professional relationship is at the core of all our work. As Sercombe says, “It is a partnership within that space – a covenant… in which youth worker and young person work together to heal hurts, to repair damage, to grow into responsibility, and to promote new ways of being“.
This is the joy I have when I think about our profession. We are partners in the journey with our young people. We walk alongside them in joy and sadness, lows and highs. Looking towards a bright new day. That is a professional relationship!
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?
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.
A thought on youth homelessness
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.