R U ok? a daily question for great youth workers.

Tomorrow is R U OK day here in Australia. R U OK day is an initiative to help the general public support their friends, families and colleagues speak about mental health. The basic idea is to ask people if they are ok and to let them know you are there to help if they need it. As a youth worker this is a daily task with our clients… but it is just as important to do this with our colleagues.
 
The latest statistics are showing us that an alarming number of youth workers are leaving the sector after little more than eighteen months in the field. We are seeing youth worker burnout coexisting with depression, anxiety and many other mental and physical health issues. So why aren’t we asking if our colleagues are ok? Wouldn’t it make sense for managers and colleagues to look out for each other? For organisations to require their staff to look out for each other? For staff to be allowed to deal with their stress?
 
On this R U OK day why not ask your colleagues if they are ok? The answer may surprise you.

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 2.0: A manifesto for the future.

We are on the brink of disaster! Our education of youth workers, lack of ongoing professional development opportunities, lack of self-care and professional support is leading to an under resourced service system at the breaking point. recently we heard that the revolving door at the end of youth work qualification is spitting people out of the sector 18 months after qualifying. This is a disaster!!!
When Ultimate Youth Worker began we saw these issues and asked ourselves what would youth work look like if it was properly resourced and supported post qualification, A second generation or 2.0 software update if you will. We wondered what it would take to bring us back from the edge. The list was long and extensive. Over the last year we have spruiked some of our ideas, but here are the two issues we see as critical to our coming year and advocacy in the sector.
  1. First and foremost we need a sector that is resilient. The revolving door needs to be slammed shut. Lets be honest… as a sector we really suck at self care. We don’t teach it in our courses, we don’t do it in our organisations and our supervisors don’t know how to guide us through the difficult times. There are a few exceptions but the weight of stats and anecdotal evidence is against us. Self care must become a core component of our education and our practice.
  2. We must get rid of our obsession with the idea of generalist youth work. That is a minimalist approach to a work which requires more of us. We need to be training specialist youth workers. Every degree should have an honours year where we specialise in an area of practice. AOD, Mental Health, Justice, Homelessness whatever the area young people are found there should be opportunities for specialisation. In particular we believe we should be training better youth mental health specialists at a bare minimum.
These are just two areas we will be advocating for and providing support in throughout the next 12 months and beyond. We have a long way to go but we must take the journey.
What do you think???

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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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Calendar management for the youth work professional.

Here is a little something that doesn’t get taught in school but will change your way of working forever. I was listening to a podcast a while ago and this changed my life. There were a number of casts which speak about calendar management which we will summarise here.
 
 

Family first

The most important things should be on our calendar first. As such we agree with the guys at manager-tools.com that this should be family. There is no such thing as work life balance, family just comes first. If your kids have a doctors appointment or its your wedding anniversary these things should be first in your calendar.

Schedule time for email

Most of us are bombarded by email (Just today I had over one hundred emails). Many of us have the pop up toast enabled to tell us when a new mail arrives…get rid of it. Schedule two times a day to check email. I have 10:30-11:00 and 15:30-16:00 set on my calendar every workday to check email. If we don’t schedule our email it will take us over and take our focus off the things that really matter.

Strategic objectives (first thing in the morning)

Whether you are a case manager or a program worker you have a number of strategic objectives which need to be addressed each week. If you spend the most productive part of your day focusing on your strategic objectives then you know you will be getting the best out of your time.

Network building lunch

Once a week you want to be purposefully building your network. We all have to eat so why not combine eating lunch with developing your network. Just invite a potential network to lunch and Bob’s your uncle.
 
 

Get rid of free time.

In pretty much every calendar I have ever seen there are huge swathes of unassigned time. Everyone I come across tells me how busy they are but if you look at their calendar you would be very confused. We put our tasks on the calendar eg. meetings and client time but we do not put time for things such as travel, strategic objectives or checking emails. If your calendar has a heap of free time you should fill it with strategic priorities.
 
If you subscribe to these few ideas about your calendar you will find that your days seem less chaotic and your work time more productive. For more on these ideas we recommend “Getting things done” by David Allen and the “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker.
 

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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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Get out of youth work: how to know when its time to move on.

Over the years I have had the privilege of working with a number of amazing youth worker’s who epitomise the values of Ultimate Youth Worker’s everywhere. Conversely, I have met a number of youth worker’s that should never have begun the process of working with young people. I have met a number that if it were up to me would have been fired immediately after I met them, and a number who are so damaged that they should be black banned from ever working with an adolescent. Whilst most people who become youth workers do it because they want to help, there are also a number who for all their knowledge or passion just cannot help anymore.

I have seen to many youth worker’s walk the line of burnout or self destruction and not being supported by their orginisations they fall and fail their young people. Orginisations have a responsibility to watch their staff health and wellbeing for their staffs wellbeing as well as the clients. However, good youth worker’s also have a responsibility to know when to call it quits.
 
When I worked in family services I came across a number of situations which slowly ate away at me. Families who fought about everything, young people who had to take care of their families as their parents were unable or unwilling and more abuse than I care to remember. About six months into my stint I began to see my clients as merely client numbers rather than people. There were a number of reasons that I began to disassociate however the worrying thing to me in hindsight is that neither my supervisor or my colleagues noticed.
 
About nine months into it my wife noticed something was up. I was working a particularly ugly sexual abuse case that was pushing me to breaking point. my wife confronted me and I had to make a choice… Stay or Go. I spoke to my supervisor and was removed from the case. Less than three months later I had left the orginisation. Partly due to my being on the edge of burnout, partly due to my orginisations lack of empathy.
 
What I learnt from that debacleI share with you:
 
  1. If you stop seeing your clients as human its time to go. Wether it is a particular case or the orginisation or the entire career path will be determined by how jaded you have become. You will only do damage to your clients and in turn to yourself. It is a self fullfilling prophecy and it only ends bad.
  2. If your orginisation will not support or is unable to support you, jump ship. Better to take your chances finding another job than being fried. Your health and wellbeing is more important than making quota or your CEO feel better. Needless to say, an  orginisation that does not support its staff is not really supporting its young clients either.
  3. Having significant people outside of your career is crucial to providing clear insight into you and your level of strain. I mentioned my wife, who was an amazing support during this time, however I had friends, family and mentors who also provided much needed respite and assurance.
  4. It can only end bad if you keep gutting it out. The more you invest the more likely you will fall. If you are not getting good supervision and support gutting it out is like playing russian roulette. The question is not if you will get shot , but when.
 
If you notice the symptoms, get out now. I took five months off and reflected on my calling. I found a great job and was well supported. I am still getting past the jadedness that comes with an unsupportive orginisation…but who’s perfect?
 
Do yourself and your young people a favour, If it is starting to go pear shaped get some support…and if necesary abandon ship.

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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Post conference slump

If you follow us on facebook or twitter you will know that some of the Ultimate Youth Worker team were at the Victorian Christian Youth Convention (VCYC) providing support and MC duties. The convention was amazing! over 300 young people and their youth leaders across the weekend all there to grow. There was amazing bands, great speakers and phenomenal fellowship. As the MC’s we had the privilage of leading the convention seeing and hearing all the highs that came throughout the weekend. But as with most highs eventually there comes a low.

Aaron Garth and Cat Argiriou at VCYC 2013

For me it was being tired and sore. I had a full on week at work before heading to the convention, and instead of having some time to relax into it I was stuck at work under the pump to put out a report on a very sticky situation. Having no lead in time I started to feel a little more tired than usual by Saturday night. By Sunday and home time I was wrecked. Heading to work on monday I was a zombie. I was sore all over, tired beyond belief and unable to focus. Needless to say the high I had experienced over the weekend was gone by Monday afternoon.
 
Recently we had the pleasure of reading a great post by Ben, from Average Youth Ministry. Ben contends that camp highs are a vital part of youth ministry and youth work. I have to say after the weekend away I am not so sure! Ben states a number of really great reasons why a mountaintop experience like going on a camp is good, not the least of which is that with all the crap in the world it is an opportunity to get up above it all and visit the mountaintop. For our young people having a camp high is great. For us as youth workers… I’m still not sure.
 
 
Is a camp high a good thing for our young people? Most definately. But is the high experience by our young people worth the pain, lack of sleep and post conference slump for the youth workers? Can’t we just get someone else to do it for us?
 
I am still sore and have a cracking headache. I spent a weekend away from my family. To top it all off the last two days I have been close to useless at work and home. Was it worth it? Definately. The relationship that I and many other youth workers built with their young people was deeper than before. The mountaintop experience for young people is also a high for us too. We remember that through the hard times there is also a great time ahead. I will get past the post conference slump. The payoff from a weekend away will last most of the year.
 
 
If you get a chance though, have some prep time and recovery time… Particularly once you pass the big 30. 
 

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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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I’m a Slut…No one will love me!!!

Hard conversations are bread and butter for the average youth worker. I always love walking into a new youth work environment and seeing what the young people will try to shock me with. I remeber taking a volunteer into a residential care facility for her first meeting with a young person. On the driveway we meet a twelve year old boy who with a blank stare and an unwaivering voice asked if my volunteer was a lesbian, a paedophile or just a whore? My normal very assertive and chirpy volunteer turned white as Casper the friendly ghost and struggled to have a conversation for the next hour. I have often said to my volunteers, other youth workers and especially the young people that if they could tell me a story that would shock me I would be surprised. I often follow it up by saying that there is nothing they could ask me or share with me that would shock me enough to walk away…If there was I wouldn’t be in youth work!
 

My seeming inability to be shocked has grown through years of working with some of the most abused young people in Victoria. Whether young people in residential care, sexual abuse victims or children of prisoners I have heard stories that make my stomach churn. On the outside though I am calm and cool. It takes a lot of composure sometimes to stay calm when the stories are so in your face or you are being vilified by a twelve year old.
 
I remember speaking to a young woman earlier this year who had been through the wringer. Family issues, school issues, legal issues and to top it all off she was being pimped out by her uncle. After a conversation that lasted about half an hour she stated matter of factly “I’m a Slut…No one will love me!!!” My hard exterior almost broke. It took me a full minute to regain my composure. She continued to tell me how she had been her uncle’s ‘girl’ for almost two years and then how he had sold her to his friends. What really shook me was that she had just had her birthday.
 
Even the seemingly heartless stone cold dominant folk have a pulse. It may just be a little deeper than the rest. I was propper shook. I was able to hold it together enough to get back to my office then I was overcome by anger I couldn’t think straight, I was narky with everyone and I was ready to do some damage to someone. I knew I was in a bad way. Some days it just gets bad. I told my boss What had happened and that it was getting to me. My boss got me to call my external supervisor to tee up a time to catch up that week and then sent me home. I still wasnt great and when I got home I blew up at my wife over something trivial. It was not a good night for me.

 

My wife is a wonderful woman who is very intuitive and she quitely told me to get into my plan. I called one of my mentors, spent some time out for a walk and spent some time contemplating the future of my work with the young lady. Her words kept ringing in my ears “I’m a Slut…No one will love me!!!” How can we show love (genuine care and affection) to such broken young people??? How can we do it when all we want to do is take vengence for them?
 

Two things come to mind:

 
First, centre yourself. Spend some time regaining balance. Look to your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual; and get some balance in life. The first rule in any form of rescue work or first aid is look after yourself and do not become a casualty yourself. Whilst dwelling on the situation breeds more interesting ways to cause pain to those who have hurt our young people, it also tears us apart.
 
Second, plan your next engagement. You have likely heard the most intense barrage you are going to hear. Now it is time to prepare yourself for your next encounter. Get ready to ask the questions you need to, spend time practicing with a supervisor or colleague and have a list of the other people or agencies you might want to refer the young person to.
 
I have been called a lot of things in my life and career, but it is when young people have lost hope in themselves and the world that gets under my skin. It does take a lot for me to get angry when people aim at me, but when they take on a young person my protective righteous anger boils to the top. To be the best I can be for my young people I can not let my feelings get in the way of good practice. Our emotions are important, but our control over them is critical. If we get antsy about a term like slut, or the story of abuse then our work is compromised. We must be aware of the effects of trauma on us and how to best deal with it in our own way. Looking after our young people means we need to have a thick skin…for their sake as much as ours.

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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So tired. I’m taking a day off!

Have you ever had one of those days when you are sitting at your desk and BAM, you realise you are staring at your computer screen and you don’t know how long for. This has happened most days over the last two weeks for me. Every time I take a moment to ponder a thought or muse on the future of youth work I come to my senses and wonder if I slept through Tuesday! Sometimes our jobs drain us of just about every spare volt in our batteries.

I decided on Monday to take a day off. Wednesday cannot come fast enough. Taking care of our own health and well being is the most important thing we can do for our young people. But its not easy. Amongst a major tender, strategic planning, building my team and running a second small business taking a day off is only going to add more to my plate on Thursday.

But on my day off I will right a blog post, play with social media, edit a podcast, write a newsletter, sort out the ever growing pile of books on my bedside table, play with my eldest daughter, write a marketing plan and write a speakers proposal. If I get a chance I will take my own medicine and try to plan for some balance in my life. If I hear one more time that youth workers just play pool and drink coffee with the little ones I may kill someone. We are often ridiculed because a few bad eggs have whittled youth work down to that. If you look at my schedule or anyone who works for me or that I supervise you would believe that they are over worked and busting a gut for their young people.

My day off is going to be full of thoughts on youth work, and I love it.

I could ride a motorbike, play my guitar, watch another episode of the west wing or work on my car and I would love it dearly. But the thing that drives me, the reason I get out of bed is that the generations to come will be better than those of today. And, that I may have a small part to play in that.

You may not think its a day off, but it will fill my cup to overflowing.

Stay frosty.

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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What will youth work look like in 2013? The finale.

Its been a month and a half in the making but we are finally there. The finale of our series looking at the next twelve months or more in youth work. We have had blogger’s and professor’s of youth work from one end of the globe to the other. We heard from Shae and Stephen from youthworkinit.com, Sam Ross from teenagewhisperer.com, Professor Dana Fusco from CUNY and Professor Howard Sercombe from the University of Strathclyde. Each had their own perspectives on the current and future trends in youth work. Each brought a different perspective on what forces were pushing and pulling youth work. Each one had a particular pearl of wisdom for us. Today’s post is a wrap up of these posts with a focus on the similarities between them all. We will also give our view of the year ahead.
 

Wrap up

Our amazing guests spoke about a number of areas in which youth work will develop over the coming year. They spoke about youth worker education, technology, the economic situation and the need to be holistic in our practice.
 

Youth Worker Education

Dana Fusco spoke of the changes developing in youth work education world wide. In the US there has been a 900% increase over the past four years in youth development courses offered by higher education facilities. In the UK and Australia These courses are in decline. Dana laments the decline in youth work education, “In 2013, it is hard to predict where those who want to study youth work and youth studies in these countries will go. If they go into existing, related disciplines, e.g., social work, then youth work will too likely become case management; if they go into education, then youth work will become para-teaching“.
 
Howard Sercombe also laments the current education setting for youth worker’s. From developing a cozy little home for ourselves throughout the sixties and seventies to becoming a mainstream course in the nineties we sold our soul to the devil of higher education. Like all good corporate conglomerates the universities shafted us. Taking a subject area steeped in the tradition of practice wisdom and narrative and turning it into a McDonaldised cookie-cutter model of research-based best-practice. However true to our history we steered away from research which ultimately is leading to our higher education downfall. Conversely, Howard states, “For the first time, I can run a course for youth workers using a selection of books on youth work written by youth workers“.
 

Technology

In her response to the question Sam Ross states that she always thinks of the new technology on the horizon. Sam speaks of the massive uptake of mobile and smart phones by young people. She shows the statistics of American young people’s use of their phone and how much of their attention it takes…Are you on social networking sites? They are! Sam speaks of the need for youth workers to use this love of mobile technology to keep the attention of young people focused on what we want them focused on.

However Sam also implores us, “So while 2013 may be technologically more advanced and our ways of connecting and engaging may expand we shouldn’t forget that good youth work was the same in the past as it is today and will be tomorrow“. Its all about the relationship.

The economic situation

There is not a person alive today that can’t attest to the effects of the global financial crisis on the hip pocket. Everything seems to cost more today than it did yesterday. Even in countries like Australia which have had some reprieve from the tidal forces of the economic collapse the financial situation is difficult.  As Howard put it “Austerity measures have required significant cutbacks in local funding and this has carried through, often disproportionately, to youth work services“. But we are not the only ones feeling the pinch. Our young people are finding employment harder to gain, University fees have shot through the roof and the general cost of business has increased significantly.
 
For youth workers this means difficulties at every turn. Shae and Stephen state, “Over the last 25 years, the cost of university education in the US has more than tripled, which has resulted in 1 in 11 people def aulting on their student loan repayments within two years of making payments“. Many of our guests stated that this cost was prohibitive and that if you are one of those who are entering a university to study youth work then you are likely to pay through the nose and then struggle to pay it back.
 
If you rely on government funding or philanthropic support to run your organisation you may be short on funds for a while. Many governments are finding their budgets significantly in the red. Many philanthropic organisations have seen their investments dip over the past few years as well and are giving out less to allow for their continuation. Its not happening everywhere yet but as Howard said, “2013 may well be the year when the expected decimation actually happens“.

The need to be holistic in our practice.

Gone are the days where youth work happens in a silo. On any given day we are expected to hold a number of roles. Sam points out that our ability to build relationships with young people is core to our work and that this foundation is what we build on in our context. Shae and Stephen point out that young people do not live in silos but have lives with intersecting and overlapping parts. Work on one without the other areas being addressed is ineffective.
 
Dana states, “In the United States, youth work is not a unified or singular practice; rather, it has been described, and still is, a family of practices“. Its not just the states, its world wide.  We work from the same base but in different contexts. Our young people need us to have an understanding of more than how to run a good game. As copious as the needs of our young people are, the knowledge of a youth worker must equal… at least enough to refer to other professionals.
 

What will 2013 look like???

At Ultimate Youth Worker we have loved the guest posts over the last month and a half and have been pouring over them and a bunch of other research and have come to many of the same conclusions.  Technology is going to be more important this year than ever before. 12 months on from the death of Steve jobs saw the smart phone war at its highest. Exponential growth in mobile, web and personal technology has meant that the ability to communicate or gain information has never been more accessible. Youth workers need to become more tech savvy just to survive. New web applications, social media and even the ubiquitous email are more important than ever to our relationship building. As youth workers we believe there will be a shift to online training, both formal and informal. Blogs, webinars, podcasts, university course and professional development groups are all starting to toy with developing a solid presence on the web. With the hardware never more than arms length from most young people and youth workers we need to be there.
 
Youth work education will need to adapt. Aside from becoming more tech enabled we need to gain more breadth and more depth in our education. Young people are changing so fast that we need to keep up with the trends. We hang our shingle on our ability to develop relationships with young people. Good. But we need to develop this skill set. We are a relatively emergent human services field and as such need to develop our purpose, values and critical approach. This is depth. We also need to gain an understanding of where we fit in the multidisciplinary field that young people now frequent.  We need an understanding of who and what our colleagues in other field bring to the table. We need to understand their language, their approach and their skill sets. It is the only way we will be able to speak into their work and intervene for our young peoples best.
 
Money has never been more important and less relevant. The affect of the financial crisis is all around us and will continue to mess with us for years to come in ways we can’t even imagine yet. IT DOESN’T MATTER. The most effective tools in our toolkit are FREE or really cheap. Building relationships takes time. A facebook page can be accessed by free wi-fi at McDonald’s. A mobile phone plan is cheaper than ever. The tools to build relationships are time, energy and interest. Most youth workers have that in trumps. But that means we need to have them around. Youth workers need to feed their families too. With lay-offs happening throughout the sector worldwide there is fear of being cut. Like Howard says, its happened before. The cycle will return. Be the best you can be with what you’ve got and you will be one of the last to get chopped. 
 
Be more!!! Be holistic. What do you do when you have that relationship? We believe youth workers need to see young people as whole people in their context. We need a biopsychoscialspiritual focus. We need to understand the person, their context and their pathways out of their situation. We need to support our young people in every way we can. We also need to look after ourselves. As the stress builds and we are asked to become more and do more we need to have the reserves to keep going.
 
We also agree with Dana and Howard, Now is the time for an international presence developing the practice of youth work. We are seeing great international youth work research, texts, blogs, conferences etc coming to the fore. We need to build on this.
 
2013 holds possibilities and risks. We have  tried to play it safe for the last decade or more and have seen the rug being pulled out from under us. No more politically light weight youth work. We must band together and do it differently or we will see the death knell of what we hold dear… relationally based critical 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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Survival plan for the stressed youth worker.

Over the years I have become a keen survivalist. Not the crazy people with guns coming out their wazoo that you see on American YouTube videos, More like a less fit Bear Grylls. I can start fire by rubbing sticks together, get water to drink and build a place to live out of the materials around me. This means I am fairly self sufficient in the bush, A great comfort to me and my family when we go away. I still have a bunch of great gear that makes a hike more pleasant but I know that if stuff goes pear shaped I am able to deal with the ensuing issues.
 
 
I didn’t learn these skills the first time I tried them. It took practice and patience and the consumption of a lot of knowledge. I practiced and I read. I tried and I watched videos. I trialed theory and spoke to experts. I developed the basics and built on them. And I learnt that the basics of wilderness survival apply to youth work just as well as in the bush.
 
 

Food, Fire, Shelter and Water 

In wilderness survival you need to be able to source or find Food, Fire, Shelter and Water from any source you can to sustain and protect you. If you do not have these skills then the only thing you can rely on is what you have in you pack and the hope that you will stumble across a McDonald’s. Not exactly the best way to go into the wilderness.
 
The same goes for the wilderness that is youth work. As a youth worker you can either endure it with knowledge to help you survive or you can go in blind and live in hope.
 

Food

In Survival Food is often the last thing you need. It is most often the easiest to find. You can survive upwards of thirty days without food however, having it gives you the energy to keep going when the situation is bleak. There are many types of edibles plant and animal which provide sustenance and each of them is found to have its own flavour and texture.

In the wilderness that is youth work our food is usually the “food for thought”. We need to fill our minds with knowledge…food for thought. Like real food we can go a substantial period of time without it, but it does provide us with sustenance for the journey. Read a book, a blog or even a journal. Do a course, attend a seminar or a webinar. If all else fails have a coffee and a chat with a bunch of colleagues about a topic that has some meat.

 

Fire

Fire provides a place to cook, scares off the beasts and keeps you warm. Fire is almost always in the first two things I do when surviving in the wilderness. You get a sense of extreme joy and peace when your fire finally comes together. It lights up the darkness and takes away your fears.

 

It is similar to having good mentors and supports. A good mentor is hard to find but when you do they make you work…stoking the fire. You can rest your fears on them. They provide light on dark paths. They marinate your food and warm your heart. They also provide a place to sit with your thoughts were you can reflect.
 

Shelter

Depending on the situation shelter is either a small net to keep the flies away or a solid structure which takes days to build to suppress the elements. Shelter provides safety from the nasties and a place to regain your energy. Shelter is the only thing between you and the elements which could take your life in seconds.

 

Good policies and procedures provide the same role. They cover your backside from the elements. They keep small niggling pests at bay and provide clear walls and boundaries for your practice. When storms arise…and they will, policies and procedures keep the crazies outside while you are safe inside.
 

Water

Is the life giving elixir that you can’t do without. It cools you when your hot. It washes away the grime from the day. It eliminates waste and helps you digest your food. It is not always easy to find but is often the most important. If it is not number one it is usually number two on my list.

 

Water is similar to your values. You can’t do without them. The make you live. They cool you off when things get hot. When you feel uneasy (read dirty) about a decision your values will wash away the dirt. When you are packing on the responsibilities your values will help you to eliminate wasted effort. Your values make the knowledge you gain palatable and sustaining. Like water they take a bit of work to find and purify, but that makes them all the sweeter when you drink them in. Without your values you can not live for very long.
 
So there you have it. to survive the wilderness of youth work feed yourself as much knowledge as you can. Warm yourself by the fire of a good mentor. Shelter yourself in policy and procedures. Seek the life giving water that is your value system. With a little knowledge on survival you will stay alive in the wilderness for a long time. Same goes for youth work.
 

Remember: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. 

 
Have your survival kit fully stocked and your journey will be that much more comfortable.
 

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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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What’s left in your top draw while your on Christmas holidays???

Every year in the lead up to Christmas I get so excited about the time off that I have coming up that everything takes its slow excruciating time to get completed. Projects need to be wrapped up, budgets reconciled and my desk tidied so that everything looks neat. In the final throes of my work week before Christmas I begin to be overwhelmed by the growing mountain of work which hasn’t been able to be completed. It is around this time that I sweep my desktop into my top draw and hope it all works out until next year. 
 
 
 
The danger of this way of ending things is that after all that work building relationships our young people end up as a burden to us getting to our holiday. We are in such a rush to get out of the office (and sometimes rightfully so) that any interruption or worry that come from our young people is seen as the end of the world. But what would happen to your young person if while you are on holiday they get thrown out of home, or they are caught up in a family violence, or they become pregnant, or, or, OR! What would happen if those worrying behaviours came to the fore? What if while you are living it up with family or at the beach or in the mountains their life begins to crumble? What did you do in the last few weeks before you went on holidays to provide for them in their time of need… the one Murphy said would happen when you weren’t there.
 
Throughout the world there are many different ways of handling this situation, from having someone in your team covering your cases to employing an independent agency to take over. Perhaps you work in a church setting and most families will be away as well who is there to help? Another pastor, a deacon or another family? The point is you need to have a plan in place for the young people who rely on you and your counsel. If your organisation has a plan great, follow it and hope all goes well while you are sipping a Mai Tai. If not you need a plan. Here is our plan!!! Its not fool proof, but it has worked well for us in the past.
 
  1. Assess risk
    • Write a list of your young people and use the basic traffic light system to rate how at risk you think they are (GREEN = No Risk, YELLOW = Some Risk, RED = High Risk). If your not sure about a case chat with your colleagues.
    •  If necesary you may even need to do a formal assessment. You may do a K10 or an  AISRAP assessment or if further assessment is required get them assessed by a qualified health professional. 
    •  
       
  2. Impliment a safety plan
    • For those who are assessed as YELLOW give them a couple of names, numbers or online supports they could contact eg. lifeline, kids help line or counselling online (You will need to develop a list of contacts in your area that meet this criteria)
    • If you assess a young person as RED you could do the same as with a YELLOW, however you also need to up the ante. You need to make sure that you have a conversation with the young person stating your concern. Ask them to make a list of five people they could speak with or go to if there was an issue that arose while you were away. Ask to refer them to a specialist organisation such as a mental health, drug and alcohol rehab or family violence service if you believe the risk to warrant ongoing supervision. Take them to their General Practitioner and discuss the options with them. If necesary you may even make a statutory report. Make sure you document all the steps you have made as to cover your backside if anything goes wrong… because even the best laid plans can go awry.
     
     
    The most important thing is to make sure that what ever is left in your top draw will survive the holiday break. Just as you would not leave a piece of fruit in the top draw you need to be sure the things you leave in the top draw will be ok while you are away. Once you have attended to all the cases needed and ensured that you have done the best you can to make sure nothing and no one is left un-aided you are able to have a good break. Knowing you have set plans in place for your clients helps you switch off and gives you the freedom to enjoy your break without worrying and thinking about what else you should have done. You cannot ensure anyone’s safety fully but you can put in place plans to protect it as best you can.
     
    Now that the draw is clean, left with just the keys you want kept safe, have a great break and we will see you after Christmas … We are having a break as well. No post next tuesday the 25th.
     

Merry Christmas and enjoy some family time.

 

If you haven’t yet, sign up for our newsletter to find out all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker. (Sign up here)

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You can also leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

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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