We must change our thoughts in youth work.

Perception. It is what causes many of the issues I see every day. It is also something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Whether it is our perception of our clients, others perceptions of us or our perception of ourselves; how we think about the world informs our actions within it.

In the therapeutic world this is something that has taken hold through therapies such as CBT and REBT which ask us to change our way of thinking about issues and situations. The paradigm of positive psychology echoes this also. How we look at our situation denotes how we will stand up to the issues we are facing.

Our world is hurting. It seems like every time I turn on the news some new atrocity has happened. People are being killed, raped, cheated and broken by their fellow man. When working with our young people we hear the stories of brokenness that encompass their lives. It would be easy to se the world as beyond hope.

For us to show the hope that the world needs we must first change how we think about it. May of those who know me best believe that I am an eternal optimist. When it looks like its at its worst I see hope. When I hear of people turning against each other I look to peace. When I see people hurting I look to restoration. This does not mean that I am blind to the current situation, on the contrary I am acutely aware. It meant that I am looking to the future and to hope.

I was not always like this however. When I was a teen myself I was a glass is half empty kind of guy. The world was against me and no one could tell me differently. I always saw the worst in a situation and in others and I suffered for it. We ask our young people to change their way of thinking every day. Perhaps for us as a profession to go to the next level we must change our thoughts as well. If we do we can change the world. 

Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Change the future of youth work!!!

A number of years ago I was speaking to some colleagues about our concern that youth work as a profession was losing its ability to innovate and adapt to changing tides of funding and the needs of our clients. We spent a number of hours pulling apart the issues we saw and developing a thesis for change. We realised somewhere in the midst of our conversation that it was not good enough to simply point out the issues in the profession if we were not willing to do something about them.
 
Ghandi said that you must be the change you want to see in the world. We realised this quote so richly that evening. We realised that if we wanted a more professional sector we needed to be more professional. If we wanted a better trained workforce it had to begin with us. If we were to have a supportive and caring sector then we needed to care for ourselves and seek support. We realised that the first step in our journey was to be the change you want to see in the world.
 
We began Ultimate Youth Worker to be the change we wanted in the youth sector. What change do you want in the youth sector??? How will you be the change you wish to see???

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

 

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Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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A small group of thoughtful, concerned youth workers changing the world.

A little over twelve months ago I was part of a small group of youth workers at their wits end with how the youth sector was progressing. We were concerned about the current curriculum for youth workers. We were concerned about the lack of good ongoing professional development for the sector. We were really concerned that there was a lack of mentors and solid professional supervision in youth work organisations. In short we were worried that youth work was becoming a lazy profession.
 
We discussed these issues many times and eventually we challenged each other to do something about it. most of us on that fateful night decided to stop whinging and to do something about the issues we saw. Some of us became youth work teachers in university, TAFE and private registered training organisations. Some of us began internal change in our own organisations. Some of us embarked on the development of the Ultimate Youth Worker organisation. 
 
As I have embarked on the journey that has been the Ultimate Youth Worker I have found that there are a number of thoughtful, concerned youth workers changing the world. We are all coming at the issues in the youth sector from slightly different perspectives and using different ways of communicating but we all want to see youth work become more professional, more caring of our young people and more supportive of staff.
 
There are a number of canny outlaws in the youth work sector at the moment who we have been supported by and who we have great respect for. We have been phenomenally supported by Shae and Stephen Pepper of www.youthworkinit.com in the USA, they have promoted our blog and allowed us the honour of posting on theirs. But in their own right they promote best practice through knowledge sharing and support the sector through resource development. We have also been supported by an awesome youth minister from South Africa in Neels Redelinghuys. Neels runs a youth ministry in Bloemfontein, South Africa and a great blog and twitter account and has promoted pretty much everything we have said for the last six months (we wonder if he isn’t angling for a job).
 
These are just a small group of thoughtful, concerned youth workers changing the world, and as once was said:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. —Margaret Mead

Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Celebrate

Become more than you are right now: A youth work specialist

As a parent I want to see my children have more opportunities than I did as a child. I want to see them become more than I became. I want to see them reach their fullest potential. As a youth worker I want to see the young people I work with reach their fullest potential as well. Becoming more than the sum of their parts. As a youth worker though, there was a time I was happy just to have finished my degree and been in a job I enjoyed. I did not want to grow, be challenged or reach for anything. I just wanted to sit still and ponder on reaching the top.
 

 

What I realised rather quickly was that you can never reach the top. Government policies change the landscape of practice. Our own yearnings lead us in new and undiscovered directions. Jobs that were around 10 years ago for youth workers do not exist now. We can not stop to long to smell the roses because the world will pass us by.
 
I have heard over the last year or so a number of youth workers express their satisfaction with where they are in their career journey. I must confess it worries me. It worries me to see 40 year old veterans still on the front with no leadership or mentoring responsibilities. It worries me to see people content to be generalist youth workers in a world of complexities. It worries to see degree qualified youth workers thinking they have reached the Utopian heights of education. In short I am worried about our profession.
 
Recently, the Victorian state government has stated that it will require minimum qualifications for youth workers in child protection. I think the idea of qualifications is great. What I do not like is the idea of minimums. They set the bar so low. It is an epidemic in the youth sector. Government, organisations and youth workers seem to set the bar extremely low. As a profession we rarely use words like excellence, outstanding or superior to describe our outlook. Imagine if a job advertisement asked for outstanding behaviour or superior qualifications, wouldn’t you be interested in looking a bit further???
 
I was speaking to a really passionate youth worker recently who was explaining that her work with young people experiencing issues with mental health was so rewarding but that sometimes the issues they were facing seemed to go beyond her skills. I asked if she had considered doing some more study like a grad cert in young people’s mental health or a bachelor of social work to gain some new skills. She bluntly replied that she was a youth worker and those courses would not be of help. It was if I had asked her to stop being a youth worker and become a monster instead. I often hear of youth workers who are counselling young people say that it is beyond them. Many of the youth work course that I know of have but one subject around counselling if at all. Yet when I ask if they would be willing to do a course or attend a few training sessions they can’t find the time. I once even heard a youth worker say that they would not do supervision with a social worker because they would not understand his practice.

 

In a world that is blurring the boundaries more and more we need to be fresh and up to the job at hand. We need more than a generalist youth work degree to get through the issues we are faced with. If we work in a clinical environment learn about it. If you work in the community, develop your understanding of community development. Do you counsel young people? Read something on narrative therapy or do a short course. We must become specialists in this new world of youth work. It is all well and good to do basic training, but you need your specialist skill sets to make it through the battle. We should all be generalists. But we should never stay that way.
 
What is it that your situation needs right now??? Counselling skills, supervision skills or maybe even community building skills. What does your next career step need? Management skills, financial skills perhaps even people development skills. When you think about the next 3 years of your career do you see yourself moving forward or do you see yourself doing the same thing? If you answered the same thing perhaps you need to think about it harder. Because the job you are doing now will not be the same in 3 years.
 
We need to step up or step off. If we step up we will be future focused and developmentally minded. If not, we should do everyone a favour and move on. The time for generalist youth work being the glorified mountain top is over. We are at the dawning of the age of the specialist youth worker. What will you specialise in?   
 
 

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Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh 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.
 

Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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What will youth work look like in 2013?

Over the last couple of weeks we have had the pleasure of some amazing guests answering the question, “What will youth work look like in 2013?” This has been eye opening to say the least. Over the last two weeks we have had Shae and Stephen from youthworkinit.com and Professor Dana Fusco of CUNY and authour of “Advancing Youth Work: current trends, critical questions“. This week it is our honour to have fellow blogger and youth work professional Sam Ross. Sam is affectionately known as the teenage whisperer and much of her blog is devoted to how people can best work with young people, even the difficult ones. Sam is a resident of the United Kingdom and will provide us with a view from Rule Brittania.
 

So Sam what will youth work look like in 2013?

 
Think of the future and I know I always end up thinking about what gadgets we’ll be using, the new technology on the horizon. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this- teens with their unparalleled appetite for the new will be too. With the most accessible bit of tech for teens being their mobile phones (or cell phones) and with their love for them, we can be sure that they are keenly watching for what 2013 brings to phones. So if their eyes are on their phones and what new thing they will be able to do with them, should we be looking at what we can do with them, with their phones in our youth work in 2013?
 
 

Teens and their phones

 
Teen ownership rates are continually rising with a 2012 American study showing that 23% of 12 to 17 year olds own a smartphone and another 54% owning a regular cell phone. Every day 68% of teens text, 51% visit social networking sites and 11% send or receive tweets (Common Sense Media 2012).
 
It probably goes without saying that in 2013 even more teens will be in possession of a mobile and will be using them to text, tweet or do whatever the latest thing is. But why should we as youth workers care about this?  
 
More and more teachers and youth workers are adapting their work to embrace the teen love affair with their phones, rather than trying (and failing) to get them to switch them off. This is a trend that is bound to continue in 2013.
 
The social TV or ‘second screen’ concept is increasingly being used in sessions to change phones from being a source of distraction to a tool of engagement. So rather than young people using their phones to keep up with what is going on outside the session, they are being used to stimulate conversation on the session. So while watching something on a screen or watching a live in-person talk or presentation, young people are invited to submit opinions, questions and comments either by text or submitted on Twitter via hash tag to feed later discussion. This works really well to keep them on-topic, to get the verbally quieter ones contributing and to generally spark off debate.
 
‘Flash research’ is another application for phones in sessions. In the first ten minutes, groups go off and research the net, or text people they know to find information on a topic. So instead of youth workers bringing the ‘facts’ to the session (which always brings out the sceptic), young people show us what is relevant and important to them. This is hugely empowering for them as they feel they have a real voice and that a worker’s view or presentation of ‘facts’ doesn’t automatically trump theirs. The fact that they get to use their beloved phones also means that what might have been a relatively boring brainstorming exercise before becomes something of interest to them. 
 
These are just two of many examples of using mobiles in youth work. The embracing of cell/mobile phones in youth work sessions is bound to continue and expand in 2013, probably in ways which we don’t even realise yet. If we fail to keep up, we do run the risk of offering sessions which do not maximise teen engagementas they lack the cultural relevance which is so important to teens, and they could walk away, declaring us out-of-touch dinosaurs.
 

Timeless ‘tones

 
However, when looking to the future, when trying to predict and stay abreast of change we always need to be careful not to lose sight of what is really important, the stuff that is at the core of our work. We should never forget the timeless qualities that outlast trends and changes in popular culture and that keep our work relevant whatever medium we use to deliver our message.
 
So in 2013, even with the expansion of mobile interaction, quality youth work should look very much like it has done in the past.
 

Relationship, not just interaction, will be key.

 
Social networking and technical gadgetry have been accused of causing an increase in interaction but a decline in real communication. While there are elements of truth to this, technology when used well, can enhance rather than degrade our communication with youth. It can complement what any good youth worker knows lies at the heart of good youth work- human connection of the face-to-face kind. Research shows that despite all the technological advances and the increased ownership of mobile technology, teens preferred method of communication is face-to-face.
 
So while youth work will involve more technical wizardry in 2013 we should also allow time and space for unmediated humanconnection. Particularly for those youth who are struggling with lack of personal connection with family members and other professionals, direct human engagement rather than technologically-mediated interaction can be vital.
 
And if our focus is on relationship it will mean that no-one gets left behind due to lack of ownership of the latest device (23% of teens do not have a cell phone at all). We will be mindful of trying to connect with everyone, whatever their circumstance, in the way that they need.
 

Helping our teens to think and communicate well will be at the heart of helping them succeed.

 
With the continual rise of texting, social networking and social TV in teens’ lives in 2013 it will become ever easier to shoot off opinions and statements with relatively little thought or reflection – their fingers often operating faster than their minds – and this can work against good thinking, good decision-making and good communication.
 
So we need to ensure that even when using the latest tools in our work, that we don’t get slack in helping them think and communicate well. We need to show them that text messaging and social media can be great conversation starters and can be a great way to get us thinking, but if we are to really communicate we will need to take more time to formulate opinions, to express them well, to really listen to others respectfully and to reflect, and that most of the time this happens when we actually take the time to really talk to people. Our sessions should never get carried away on a technological wave that forgets the core skills we need to help them develop if they are to successfully navigate through life.
 
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. We need to keep mobile and current with our methods but always ensuring we have a strong signal from the good youth work base-station. No signal, no useful service. It was true in 2012 and will still be true in 2013 and beyond.
 

Bio:

Sam Ross, popularly known as the ‘Teenage Whisperer’ is an expert in connecting with and helping the most challenging, disengaged and troubled teens to turn their lives around. She has worked in both educational and youth justice settings, both with young people and their parents or carers. Really understanding teens is the beginning, middle and end of her work and she helps professionals and parents achieve this through her website, providing advice, insight and resources: www.teenagewhisperer.co.uk You can also connect with her on Twitter: @Teen_Whisperer or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/teenagewhisperer
 

Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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What will youth work look like in 2013?

Today I am stoked to continue our series with a guest post from one of the worlds most well known youth work professors. In this series we have heard from Shae and Stephen Pepper from youthworkinit.com and will continue to hear from some of the leading minds in youth work from throughout the world culminating in early 2013.
Today’s Guest Post is written by one of New York’s finest, Professor Dana Fusco. In over 20 years as a lecturer in youth work she has shaped the argument for youth services in the United States encompassing areas such as reflective practice, after school services and youth work in interdisciplinary teams. Dana has a BA in Psychology from SUNY at New Paltz and a Phd in Educational Psychology from CUNY Graduate Center. She also runs the facebook group Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions
So Dana, what will youth work look like in 2013???

Dana Fusco, Professor, City University of New York, York College, United 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 (Baizerman, 1996[1]). That family provides, in the most ideal circumstance, a plethora of diverse opportunities for young people. What we, as youthwork practitioners hope is that the set of diverse experiences known as ‘youth work’ will help young people to live rich, healthy, and fulfilling lives now and into the future. Our praxis is grounded or contextualized in the actual, not theoretical, lives of young people; is responsive to their lived experiences, their hopes, their aspirations and dreams; and proclaims a participatory and democratic approach that supports youth voice and agency as a part of community engagement.
 
In the places where youth work looks like this in 2012, I suspect it will continue to do so in 2013. That said, there are some trends on the horizon that potentially put the family of youth work practices in jeopardy. If we think of youth work as a stew, then each practice is an important ingredient towards a ‘tasty’ and healthful creation. In the U.S., our stew seems a bit ‘soupy’ these days, with ‘critical’ and emancipatory forms of youth work being those most often removed or replaced. This trend was precipitated by several sociopolitical and economic factors, with the most direct consequence being the pressure for out-of-school, nonformal environments to link up to, connect with, and supplement school. The goal for those who hope to formalize out-of-school environment is that there is a collective impact towards meeting NCLB (No Child Left Behind) targets (standardized test scores in reading and math).
The trend of youth work moving towards formalized education began with the development of a billion dollar federal reserve for afterschool programs under the Clinton administration, known as 21st Century Community Learning grants. These grants had two contradictory consequences. On the one hand, they put into the public eye, the importance of afterschool environments, many of which at that time were the youth-club-in-community-center variety, and legitimized these spaces as critical for young people. On the flip side, those dollars came with “strings” to improve academic outcomes. Some community agencies with a strong history of local work with young people have maneuvered within the structure to work in participatory and emergent ways. Many have closed their doors. Those newer to the scene might be doing good educational and ‘youth development’ stuff after school, i.e., enrichment and project-based learning, but not youth work in the way we have known it.
This situation leaves us with two potential possibilities for the future of the field. First, we can name these afterschool practices as part of the family of youth work practice and accept them as such. Second, we can decide that this form of afterschool, which is geared towards ‘a priori’ academic outcomes, might be too predetermined and ritualistic to be considered youth work at all. If this is the case, we must not only define youth work by what it is not but by what it is – an emergent and relational form of workingwith young people that is community-based, participatory and responsive, or what I am now calling, critical youth work (CYW).
If we choose the second option it will be critical that we more clearly define the purpose and values of CYW. As I see it, CYW aims to co-create spaces with young people where they can lead and learn. In this formulation, youth work begins with young people’s concerns, interests, goals, and/or needs, and positions practitioners to construct a ‘use of self’ that creates a relational web of possibility. Then, in this conception of the future, it is the education of the youth worker that becomes increasingly pivotal.
In 2013, it is not only changes in youthwork practice that we must attend to but also changes in youthworkeducation (YoEd) In the U.S. we have seen an explosion in YoEd within higher education, a 900% increase over the past four years with most of these framed as ‘youth development.’ Conversely, in the U.K. and Australia, longstanding youthwork courses and degree programs have closed their doors including those found at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and Manchester University. While the reasons for such closures have been couched in economic and enrollment terms, one wonders why Youth Work/Youth Studies then and not Latin or philosophy, which equally might enroll under five students each year. The lack of understanding among higher education administration about community-based youth work is partly to blame. The title itself, youth work, leans towards the vocational, not the liberal arts. 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. With such potential outcomes, an international community of youth workers and youth work educators is needed whether in the form of an association or something else in order to work towards saving/reclaiming and re-thinking the discipline of youth work. I believe today it is in our international community that we have collective power and bargaining to legitimize the work and the body of knowledge that we have co-created as a viable area of study and practice for working with young people.

In 2013, this would be something to aim for!

 
[1] Baizerman M. (1996). Youth work on the street. Community’s moral compact with its young people. Childhood, 3, 157-165.
 


For more than 20 years, Dana Fusco’s research has focused on youth work as a practice and a profession and has led to increased national and international recognition. Recently she was the keynote speaker at the History of Youth Work conference in Minnesota and presented at the International Conference on Youth Work and Youth Studies in Glasgow. She serves on a national panel of leaders in youth work, the Next Generation Coalition, has authored dozens of peer-reviewed articles and produced the documentary, “When School Is Not Enough.” Professor in Teacher Education at York College, CUNY, She received her Ph.D. in Education Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center.
 
Dana is The Editor of the path-breaking book Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions, which brings together an international list of contributors to collectively articulate a vision for the field of youth work. This book is a must have and is one we would recommend you all get. We did. You can buy it here.

 

Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Deep engagement in youth work

All too often in youth work we are forced to commit ourselves to shallow engagements with young people. Whether because of funding, policy or staffing constraints we are required to put aside relationship building to satisfy paperwork for bureaucrats. More and more young people are crying out for real support from youth workers, and more and more the squeeze of the bureaucrat tears our loyalty and professionalism in two. How can young people trust us when we can’t offer them the basis of trust…time?
 
In my mid twenties I was seconded to a small rural drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre as their Assistant Manager. I was excited. However that excitement barely lasted my first week. I was tasked with transforming the service into a dual diagnosis rehabilitation facility by our government benefactors within very stringent time lines and policy environments. One of my constraints was that a maximum stay with our service was eight weeks with many young people leaving before the sixth week. The government saw this as young people having an inability to stick at rehabilitation. I saw young people who did not trust the staff and could not develop lasting relationships in six weeks being oppressed by a system set up to help them.
 
 
I advocated for a change to our constrained time frames and was blocked. We showed client feedback and were countered by vagueties and innuendo. We even provided cost benefit analysis to the minister showing the need. Nothing. The idea of engaging with young people beyond a surface level was one which we just could not get the bureaucracy to understand. This led me to become as Schwartz and Sharpe (2011) a canny outlaw, Trading conventional wisdom for practical wisdom. I found every opportunity to keep a young person on for a second stay. I developed links to supported accommodation and provided staff to outreach to the young people. My rationale was that if we were to really effect change in our young peoples lives then we had to gain their trust and that required a deeper engagement than six weeks could provide. It was during this time that I began to develop my understanding of the need for deep engagement as a pillar of successful youth work practice.
 
Young people are seeking genuine care from youth workers. Care built on developed trust. To build this trust we must share life with our young people and this can only happen by spending time with them. I have worked in many corners of the youth sector, government departments, residential care, family services, homelessness and ministry; the same issue exists in every one of them. Policy constraints, lack of funding and a lack of trust from our young people. If we wish to turn the tide of societal disintegration we have to step into the gap. Our identity as youth workers places us in that gap. We believe that young people should have every opportunity to develop and the best way for that is to engage as deeply with them as possible. Sharing in their struggles, triumphs and developing a trust that can only come from a shared path.
 
 
 
We are accountable to many stakeholders as youth workers. In this role we must hold our accountability to our young people as our highest duty. To provide the best practice possible to our young people we must engage deeply and build trust. But how do we do it I hear you say? It is no easy feat. We will have to move counter culturally to the norm of current youth work practice. We must spend more time with our young people in meaningful activities rather than one hour appointments.
 
Deep engagement is difficult in our current service system however, it is the only way to build the foundation to work with young people to change their trajectory. Deep engagement is the benchmark for youth services provided by the team at Ultimate Youth Worker. It is also the central concept in all of our teaching, supervision and coaching around client engagement. We believe this so intensely that we routinely pass up work that is not geared towards enhancing engagement with young people. This is our number one imperative when working with young people. If you are not willing or able to engage deeply with young people do not engage at all! 
 
In coming months we will discuss how to engage deeply with young people, however it may require you to shirk the ‘rules’ imposed on you. Are you willing to become a ‘canny outlaw’ to support young people more effectively?
 

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Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Observe the I in DISC for youth worker’s

Last Thursday we began a looking at the individual quadrants within the DISC behavioural profiling system with “Observe the D in DISC for youth worker’s“. We are half way through our overview series and hope that you have been able torecognise some DOMINANCE behavioural styles in those around you. In this blog we continue the series with an overview of the INFLUENCE behavioural style.
One of the most exciting behavioural style to be around (and it is my secondary behavioural style) is that of INFLUENCE. The social butterfly or life of the party, people with thisbehavioural type often have large networks and seem to draw people to themselves. They are talkative, they over communicate, are born performers, are style setters, in teams they are the idea generators and they are very quick-witted. They are the most enthusiastic and active people you will ever meet and develop relationships quickly. They are fast starters and begin project with gusto. All of these positive adjectives are often linked to a person who is exhibiting a INFLUENCEbehavioural trait. On the other hand you have probably seen their negative behaviours as well. They work off intuition without reason. They can be highly emotional. They are sporadic and scattered. They start fast but rarely finish. They have too many projects on the go. If they were a slogan they would be Nokia: Connecting People.
 

 

A person with a high level of INFLUENCE in their behaviour speaks in a way that about 75% of us struggle to keep up with. They sell ideas with an inspiring style. They talk a lot at the 50,000 foot view but struggle to get down in the grass. They avoid bringing up difficult subjects but give good constructive feedback. They enjoy interaction and focus on the feelings of their subject intently. They get enthusiastically involved in discussions and often talk too much. They may not assess what is being said and can loseconcentration and get sidetracked easily. They speak in stories and anecdotes often from personal experience. They are prone to exaggeration and when excited they speak really fast and approachyou closely using lots of facial expression.
 
Most of us struggle to get a word in edgeways with a High I and we are confronted at the speed and tangential thinking present in their conversation… but we do enjoy their conversation. They do respect a smile, a pat on the back and seven conversations at once. So how do we work with these people when their excitement is off the charts and you are not really sure which conversation you are having with them?
 

 

Here are our top six tips for working with people with INFLUENCE behaviour traits:

  1. Approach them informally. These guys and girls hate feeling constrained. A meeting in an office with suits and ties and a policy document may just make them explode. A brief chat on the way to lunch or even a confab at their desk is the best way to get them on side. Do not start with facts and stats or a policy document it will make them throw a toddler tantrum.  
  2. Be relaxed and sociable. Even if you need to pull them into line be chilled out. These guys take their reputation seriously and if you are not sociable they will take it as a sign that you hate them.
  3. Let them tell you how they feel and how awesome they are. Yes the sun doth shine from their backside and you would do well to acknowledge this with a hearty nod of the head. They are the centre of attention and you are a tool for propping up their ego. Whilst they care about people it is hard to notice them through their haze of awesomeness.
  4. Keep the conversation light. Remember, they are up there in the clouds in the land of big dreams. It is a place where balloons pop very easily. You want to be a fluffy cloud and sharp grass. Details are the enemy. There is no pressure here. It should be like a trip to Tahiti.
  5. Provide written details to focus their attention. As those with INFLUENCE behaviours can be flighty and forgetful write things down and get them to take notes. It also helps when they begin to go on a tangent if their KPI’s are written down as you can steer them back on course.
  6. Use humour. Everything has a funny side… even paperwork!!! Try to lighten the mood by making a joke or finding a humourous take on the situation. If all else fails steal a Robin Williams skit. It will diffuse any tension and let them see you have a pulse.
Here are just a few people you might have seen on a TV that have INFLUENCE in their behavioural style.
 

Bill Clinton

 
Oprah Winfrey
 
Richard Branson
 
Dolly Parton
 
Robin Williams
 
Shane Warne (Cricketer)
 
Hamish Blake (Australian TV and Radio Personality)
 
Han Solo
 
Ellen DeGeneres

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Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Law

Self care 101: There is no work life balance

Work life balance

I have just finished reading an article in the latest Journal of the Australian Association of Social Work. The article addresses that enigma that we all struggle to solve eventually in life, ‘how do I find a work life balance’? The article shows the results of a survey of 439 qualified social workers who had been asked questions around balancing work and family and the stress associated with this.
The results of this survey basically show that the pressures of work impact negatively on family life and create psychological strain on the individual and the family. Conversely, when the pressures of family life impact on work they create more psychological stress on the individual and decrease work effectiveness. It is a cycle that so many of us have fallen into; work pressures lead to pressure at home which leads to pressure at work which leads to pressures at home. Things start spiraling out of control and then some well meaning friend or colleague or our boss says something along the lines of “dude you need to get some work life balance!”
Work life balance
Unless it is an illness, new birth, death or an issue of other family members spiraling out of control rarely have the team at Ultimate Youth Worker seen the impact of family pressures on work. In fact we would be so bold as to say it is never that we spend so much time at home that our work is suffering!!! It is almost always that work is taking up the family time.
As a full-time youth worker doing 40+ hours a week, a Masters student out two nights a week for classes and studying most of the weekend, a member of the student union doing one night time activity per week and starting a new company; my wife pulled me up on my lack of family time at the beginning of the year. I was seeing my kids for a couple of hours a week aside from the crossing of our paths as we got ready for the day ahead. My wife would be asleep on the couch most nights by the time I got home and we rarely had any “us time”. I prioritised WORK over FAMILY. No work life balance there.
When I was called to account by my wife (Yes, even those of us striving to become ultimate youth workers argue with our wives at decibel levels that would shame any self respecting metal band) I was shocked. I hadn’t realised. My kids had an absent father and my wife was living like a single mum. I was unsure of what to do. Everything I was doing was important, wasn’t it? Important to the future of our family. If I worked longer hours I would support more vulnerable young people earning me a positive reputation in the field. If I gained my Masters it would open up doors for promotion and show that I had amazing knowledge. By supporting the student union I was supporting educational standards and building networks for the future. Everything I was doing was for a time just out of reach but right in my line of sight. If I worked harder now my life would be glorious in the future. The problem is the future never becomes the present. There is always another obstacle in the way of ultimate success. I had invested in my identity as a youth worker and pinned my hopes and dreams on a professional future whilst neglecting the present.
Work life balance has obstacles
Work was going great but family was a mess. I spoke to some trusted friends and confidants and they all said I needed to drop some of my work priorities to balance my family priorities. I deferred my Masters for six months and sat back to see balance take hold. Unfortunately, I tipped further away from family. I got caught up in more committees through work, the student union and even went on a recruitment binge for more volunteers for my program at the behest of my boss. My work life balance was quite unbalanced.
You see, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, or so says Parkinson.
I had removed a work priority but I had not made family a priority, so work expanded to fill ‘the gap’.
What I began to realise was that I was looking at this all wrong. It’s not my fault!!! Someone gave me an equation that had incompatible data. They said:
Equal Time (with Family) + Equal Time (for work) = Balance in life
The problem is there is no balance!!! The data sets are totally incompatible. I might as well have said, buying a telescope + reading a book on hang gliding = qualified zoo keeper!!! Work and Family are two totally different concepts. They cannot be placed in a zero sum equation of balance. Balance assumes that they have equal weighting. As youth workers we strive to support our clients (placing weight on our work) and all to often it is at the detriment of our family (removing prioritised time). We all say family is important, but our actions show our families something different. In the article the authors recount that some social workers stated,

when confronted with demands from work and home, their work commitments was given priority over family commitments” (pg 367).

Why do we do this??? Is it because we believe our family will understand the plight of the young people and will forgive us for missing time with them. If I had a dollar for every youth workers kid (including my own) I met that stated their parent was never around I could retire today.

But if there is no balance, I hear you say, then what do I do???

When you realise that the two concepts of family and work can never balance you can then prioritise action. Choose to put your family first. If you are married I know your vows didn’t say that you take ‘work’ for better or worse. Got kids??? I’m sure they miss your love and affection (I believe it builds good attachment, I think I read somewhere that that’s important???). Want to see them next Christmas??? Then make them your number one priority.
Work will always expand then to fit the remaining time available for it.
But what about my boss??? I can’t just stop going into work?? I need my paycheck? But I’m in ministry and I was called to do this? All valid thoughts!!! Whats your priority though??? I’m not saying quit your job!!! But, your paid for 38 hours… so do 38 hours. You have some high risk kids… put plans in place so you can switch your phone off on the weekend. Have you ever gone away on holiday??? Did the world end while you were gone??? Of course not!!! You put measures in place so that things worked without you. Be more effective in your work time so that it doesn’t spill over into family time.
If your family is your first priority then schedule your time with them. If you are down to finish at 5pm, schedule your arrival at home (If you are really gutsy you could even promise to be home at that time). Honour your commitment to your family. Schedule holidays and weekends away and kids soccer games and date nights with your partner. Then when you have prioritised your family life let work fill work time. I used to do a weekly calendar that began by blocking out Monday to Friday 9-5. I would fill it with Uni and meetings and all manner of other rubbish and my wife would ask when I would be around for the family!!!
Backward!!!
If family is your number one priority they get first dibs at your calendar.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t been doing this long. I had always thought self care was all about me. If someone took your job away you would be sad, disappointed even angry. I Know, I have been fired from work that I loved without any notice. But, if someone took your family away you would become a wreck. A blubbering mess. How many divorces in our field could have been avoided by a good hard look at our prioritise? My wife and I are still together. More to do with her amazing heart than my skills and planning. She knew this stuff intrinsically. Family comes first!
I am still learning. I was out four nights last week and didn’t get to see my kids awake between Sunday and Friday. But I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday making up for it.
Do not aim for a work life balance. It is a false economy and one that will lead to a crash… and it won’t be at work. Invest in your family first and then work hard at your job during work hours. There will always be demands on your time and you will always spend more waking hours at work than at home. But if you prioritise your family first they will get the lions share of your attention and you will reap the rewards of a happy and fulfilled life.
P.S. to my friends in youth ministry. You can be more susceptible to putting work first than most others. I know as a church based youth worker in the early part of my career I was paid for 2 days a week and used to work in excess of 30 hours a week!!! That’s fine when you do not have a family. The excuse (and I believe it is and excuse. If you don’t then email me and we can chat) that, “I am in the ministry and that makes it OK to forsake my family for a time because I am just following God’s call on my life and they should support me in it” is preposterous. You married, had a family, they are your responsibility. They come before the ministry.

Reference

Parveen Kalliath, Mark Hughes & Peter Newcombe (2012): When Work and Family are in Conflict: Impact on Psychological Strain Experienced by Social Workers in Australia, Australian Social Work, 65:3, 355-371

What are your thoughts??? leave a comment or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

Aaron Garth

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, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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