Youth ministry and youth work not quite the same

I am writing this while sitting in a session at the National Youth Ministry Convention in Tweed Heads on the usually sunny Gold Coast. It is always a real blessing to get together with some really committed youth ministers who want to see their young people become the best they can be. Last night over 300 of us joined together to hear Brad Griffin from the Fuller Youth Institute speak about the need for churches to embrace young people as part of their community rather than banish them to the kids table. An issue that the  wider community struggles with as much as anyone.

Youth Ministry in Australia

Youth Ministry in Australia

This morning I heard the amazing Jo Saxton speak about the need for us as leaders to lead from the inside out. We need to know ourselves, what makes us tick and what gets under our skin. Youth workers are leaders we need to know these things. We need to be challenged to think about who we are and why we do what we do. Jo asked us to think about what is holding our leadership back… our appetites, our need for approval or our ambitions. Great questions for us all.

The thing that has struck me most is the focus. Youth workers know much of this! if you have completed a degree in youth work you have been hammered with these ideas for three years. If you have completed a theology degree… not so much. Where youth work focuses on the young person as primary client, Youth ministry see young people as the mission field. Where youth workers see young people as significant contributors in the community, youth ministers see young people as needing guidance in right living. Youth workers see the person first. Youth Ministers see the person through a lens of scripture.

I have said before that all youth ministers could be youth workers, but not all youth workers are youth ministers. I have heard many youth ministers state that they are youth workers over the last two days. This is dangerous. it is trying to hook onto the coat tails of another profession. If youth ministers want to be youth workers this requires qualification and vocational shift. Sometimes it is ok to just be who you are. I do believe youth ministers would be better equipped if they had some youth work training under their belt.

 

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Youth work: The professional relationship

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“.

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Professional relationship at its best

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!

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Peer support is key to youth work longevity.

Today, I had the pleasure of a lunch with a good friend and supporter of the work of Ultimate Youth Worker. A manager of a local government youth service and a canny outlaw I was enthralled in our conversation. We spoke about children, sociology, government policy, raising families and much much more. We spoke for nearly two hours and could have spent another two quite easy. We spoke about life in the good and bad and in the end we parted more strengthened and enthused in our walk.
 

Peer support is essential

 

It is these type of encounters that keep us going as youth workers. When colleagues share life together it takes our relationship from mutual employee to friend and confidant. It is the ability to share our joys and our fears that make these relationships so important. We must go beyond just peer reflection. Unfortunately, most organisations do not foster this relationship development. Managers and HR stress that as people we are only there doing the work to hit KPI’s. It is this lack of relationship building which confirms in many of us the need to leave our employer.
 
In my work throughout the sector I have been stoked to find such support and friendship from many people. We may only catch up once or twice a year or we may meet weekly but always we encourage an build one another up. We look out for each other, support each others projects and dream of the next big thing. Over the past two years I have also began to build an international group of peers who also do this. We Skype. We email. One day we will even meet face-to-face.
 
Get some peer support. It may require you to reach out. To be uncomfortable. To trust another. For your longevity you need good support networks. 
 
Who are the people in the sector who support you?
Let us know so we can celebrate them.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Why should a youth worker have supervision?

In the AYAC National Youth Work Snapshot 2013 a survey of youth workers showed that 8.4% of surveyed youth workers had never had a supervision session and around 51.7% receive it less than once every three months. As an industry that claims professional status this is appalling. It is no wonder that the sector in Australia turns over staff at 23% every year. Supervision is important to staff retention.
 
The best supervisors I have had came from both ends of the qualification spectrum. One was a qualified Social Worker with over a decade of experience who regularly attended courses on supervision. The other was a Youth Worker who had no qualifications but was an avid reader of supervision texts and attended every professional development opportunity focused on supervision. The skill set that both of these supervisors had in common was an eager appetite to better their own practice as supervisors and a great ability to listen and reflect. The styles they used were different, the theoretical focus wide and varied and the outcomes specific to the needs of myself and my clients. Supervision is important to staff development.
 
But why should we have supervision sessions in the first place?
 
Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice”.
 
The short answer is supervision gives us time to reflect and develop our skills to become the best we can be!
 
The longer answer is that there are at least three distinct spheres to supervision that need to be addressed in each session for effectiveness: understanding the field of practice and how it applies to your tasks, personal support and affect regulation, and the administrative elements to your work within your organisation. As an external supervisor we add the element of professional skills development to this as well.
 
The largest cause of burnout within our sector is that of psychological distress. Using supervision sessions in the formats above creates an opportunity for minimising the distress and maximising longevity in the field. Supervision provides a conduit for communication on specific issues relating to the causes of youth worker burnout. It asks us to be open and responsive to the issues while learning and developing our skills.
 
Supervision is key to success and longevity in youth work.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Chaplains in schools: A youth workers thoughts

Chaplains in schools

One of the most contentious issues in youth work today is funding. We don’t have enough money and we don’t have enough positions. So when the Australian federal government released their budget last month an a number of youth work programs were defunded the sector cried out. One area that was at the forefront of the attack was the Government’s decision to remove funding for some school welfare staff who were funded under the National School Chaplaincy & Student Welfare Program. The Government decided to revert to an earlier version of the program which solely funded chaplains and not welfare workers. 

Many of the comments that have been floating around the ether have painted a picture of religious right winged fanatics taking over student welfare. Most of all they paint a picture of untrained, unqualified proselytisers who will damn us all to hell. To put it quite bluntly the public is being grossly misinformed. If your argument is about the ideology of having religious people in student welfare positions that is a very different discussion than the one about their ability and qualifications. Here are a few thoughts our Executive Director shared this morning.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Relational youth work.

I have been in contact with a youth worker lately who is currently writing a book about relational youth work. In our correspondence and discussions I have realised again the immense privilege and responsibility of youth work. Ours is a profession of relationship. Without the trust and respect that comes with the sharing of life youth work is nothing but case management. Relational youth work is at the core of great youth work. It is who we are as practitioners.
 
Today in a supervision session I encouraged a youth worker that her building relationships with severely disengaged young people was more important than trying to link them to employment options. This youth worker had heard the opposite. From managers and other service professional this woman had been told that relationships came second to KPI’s. Our work is being eroded by a neoliberalist agenda which focuses on outcomes and finances over relationship. If we allow our core work to be tainted by this agenda then we will continue to see our young people struggle.
Relational youth work
At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe so wholly in relationship that we added ‘deep engagement‘ to our pillars of practice. The short term solutions-focussed interventions that the government has been insisting on haven’t worked. The only way youth work ticks its KPI’s properly is if deep relationships underpin interventions. We need more engagement in youth work, not less. We need youth workers who reach out to young people with a focus on developing relationship before ticking boxes. We need more relational youth work. We all know this fundamental practice needs to become front and centre in our practice again.
 
What is one thing you can do to develop a stronger, deeper relationship with your young people this week? How can we become more relational in our work?
 

Sign up to our newsletter for more thoughts on deep engagement.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Funding cuts to youth related programs

Funding cuts

In a funding coup which has not hit the youth sector like this before three national governments have combined to cut youth work funding programs across the board. In what has been seen by some in the sector as governments colluding in a neoliberal sting projects including education, homelessness and mental health are being hit In Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom by significant funding cuts.
 
In Australia the Abbott government today announced that all federal government funding for youth projects would end by June 2014. The hardest hit by this is the Australian Youth Affairs Council which has yet to receive any funding to continue as the national peak youth work body. Other programs which may be effected by this issue include Education, Employment and Training; Drug and Alcohol services, Mental Health service provision and camp programs.
 
In Canada the Harper Government is currently looking to scrap funding across the Child and Youth Work sector. First cuts are to university programs Including all major CYW programs and many Social work programs. They have also hinted to further cuts to social service education programs. Funding cuts to remote and rural youth services, fly-in fly-out services and out of school hours programs have all been reported to be on the cards.
 
In the United Kingdom extreme funding cuts to child protection by the Cameron government come on the back of decreased funding to youth centres and youth justice programs. Further cuts to outreach programs and youth homelessness projects have been tabled in parliament and are expected to take force by end of May.
 
Funding cuts
 
The saving grace to youth work in the developed world funnily enough comes from the United states where a massive increase to funding of Out of School Hours care just passed congress. Also a new program of youth social entrepreneurial ventures is being rolled out across 17 states including New York and Ohio.
If any of these program areas or funding issues affect you contact your local youth funding agency and tell them that you read this article on April 1st. If you have read this far we would like to say with a full and happy heart ARPIL FOOLS!

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Is the professionalisation of our sector destroying the very foundation of youth work?

Thoughts on professionalisation

Over the last couple of days I have been re-listening to some of my favourite podcasts from c2ypodcast.  Two in particular grabbed my attention as the guests spoke about the failure of the professionalisation movement in light of youth work core principles. We have stated a number of times on this blog that the professionalisation debate is lacking and unhelpful at best. We believe that qualifications and metrics don’t make a professional… it takes passion, calling and a whole lot of work.
ProfessionalisationFirst up was Professor Dana Fusco who in discussing her amazing work “Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions” spoke of the threat that certification of youth workers holds for youth work. The research for other professions appears to show that certification and professionalisation of other professions has not led to the recognition which we as youth workers are seeking. Dana’s discussion led me to think that the striving to become more professional in the human services sector has led to a watering down of youth work principles and practice wisdom.

The second conversation was with an elder statesman in the field of youth work, Dr. Gerry Fewster. Gerry spoke of how insidious and easy it is for us to fall into the trap of practicing just like other human services professions such as psychology or social work in a world which waters down our practice as youth workers. That our uniqueness and ability to work with young people in a fluid way is compromised by blindly following into the mire of professionalisation.

Neither of these professionals believe that youth workers should be less than highly professional. What they do argue is that by limiting the scope and practice of youth workers through managerialism and metrics whilst seeking to gain a better reputation is ludicrous.

Lets be more professional every day, but let us never give up that which makes us unique.

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UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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