Mandatory reporting of abuse for youth workers may be a thing of the past.

We have spoken a number of times about the duty of care that youth workers hold to report abuse. In Victoria, youth workers are currently not mandated by legislation to report abuse. However this looks like it will change very soon. In a move to enact recommendations of the Victorian enquiry into child sexual abuse two pieces of legislation are set to be tabled. These pieces of legislation will require all adults to report abuse under threat of jail time if they do not.

See the news article here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-25/failure-to-report-child-sexual-abuse-will-lead-to-jail-term/5343960

We at Ultimate Youth Worker applaud the Victorian government for this move and hope that it comes with the substantial resources required to follow up on the reports to come.

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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Hot potatoes for youth worker’s: I was sexually abused.

There have been many times in my career that I have been stopped in my tracks by something that has been said to me by a young person. None of them have had the effect on me that dealing with an allegation of sexual abuse has. Whether you are a youth minister, a chaplain, a street outreach worker or a case manager it is highly likely that you will deal with this at one stage in your career. According to the Centre’s Against Sexual Assault here in Victoria 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
I do not remember the first disclosure that was made to me but over the past decade or so I have had dozens. From young people in child protection custody to children from well to do families I have been on the recieving end of a number of quite horrific disclosures of abuse and neglect. The one thing I do remember is that if it wasnt for my training and the ammount of role plays that we did I would not have been ready to deal when the young person said they were sexually abused.
Recently I have been training chaplains in how to deal with a disclosure of sexual abuse and I thought it prudent to share this with you. Here are a few thoughts to help you in your response.

  1. Remember your duty of care. Any disclosure of abuse needs to be taken to the appropriate authorities. You are there for their safety first and foremost.

  2. Make sure that they are currently safe and that they will continue to be safe. If they disclose that they are being abused at home and that it happens every night then they need to be protected now… not in a couple of weeks.

  3. Listen to their allegation. If you have already spoken to them about your duty of care and they continue then they genuinely need to get it off their chest. Listen intently so that you can make notes later.

  4. Refer them to the police and child protection. In most developed states and countries the police and child protective services are the ones tasked with investigating abuse claims. You are not an investigator, you are a confidant.

  5. If it is possible, contact the young persons parents and involve them in the process of referral and healing.

  6. Finally make notes. you may be called on to give evedence in a court case so as soon as is practicable write down a detailed description of what was said and what you observed from the young person.

Above all of this you must comply with your states and countries legislation. If you are required to report issues of sexual abuse you MUST do it. We at Ultimate Youth Worker believe that we all have an ethical requirement to report even if we are not mandated. 

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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Are we to soft on young people exhibiting sexualised behaviours: Youth work dilemma.

Today I was speaking with a group of people from within the education and human services sector about working with young people who exhibit sexually abusive behaviours. What we mean here is young people aged over 10 and under 16 who sexually abuse others. When having this discussion it became apparent that there were two different opinions in the room. The Education view was to intervene early and deal decisively with the behaviours at the earliest point possible. The human services view was to deal with the behaviours only when they became problematic.
 
One view was early intervention and preventative. The other was critical intervention. As someone who has worked in the human services I struggled with the heavy handed approach of the education  sector. One case they spoke of had a child suspended after rubbing himself against a fellow classmate. The human services also struggled with this. They commented that this would not even be an issue that they would look at.
 
After listening to this discussion I started to think that perhaps we are allowing young people to exhibit sexual behaviours to  early. When children under 10 are regularly having sex and children even younger are experimenting with their bodies and each other have we as a society already lost the battle? Young people by nature will experiment with their sexuality, but are we as youth workers to soft on them when they exhibit inappropriate behaviours?

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 is youth work without innovation and risk?

As a youth worker in the current neo-liberal regime we are told to play it safe, cover your arse and don’t do anything that could get you in trouble. We are living in a world of risk aversion! We see our young people as always at risk. We are at risk of losing our job. Our organisation is at risk of losing funding. There are risks everywhere and it is our job to minimise these risks.
 
When I began as a youth worker camps and daytrips were a staple of almost every youth service. A bit of a wrestle at a Friday night youth group wasn’t unheard of. Leaving a male youth worker alone with a group of young people was seen as ok. I remember going on a snow camp where the campsite we were staying at unexpectedly ended up with a mud pit after a torrential downpour. That mud pit ended up as our very own wrestling ring and young people and leaders alike wrestled to their hearts content and washed it off with a dip in the local dam. 
 
 
In our current risk averse way of doing things we are at-risk of doing nothing to support our young people lest we end up getting in trouble. Its a vicious cycle. Youth work was innovative and ahead of the curve. Today it seems sterile and unimpressive. Aside from a few canny outlaws the whole service sector is becoming bland.
 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

Youth workers are innovators! We improvise, adapt and overcome. We have big ideas and some of them require risk. Calculated risks can bring great rewards. I don’t want any youth worker I work with to get twenty years into their career only to look back and believe they haven’t achieved. I want explorers. I want dreamers and I want discoveries. We are in one of the most exciting times known to the human race and if our work is bland we have no one but ourselves to blame. Make your work exciting!  

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 organisations shirk their responsibility

Organisations must care for their staff

This morning I got to have breakfast with one of my amazing mates. Over the healthiest option I could care to find (a double shot latte and a three stack of pancakes and maple syrup) we discussed the ins and outs of the youth sector. Particularly we spoke about the stress that comes with the job. We also spoke of the ability that some roles have to help youth workers burnout. anecdotally we believed that the average youth worker lasts two years and if you are in a role like resi-care you are lucky to last six months.
 
After we had chewed the fat for a while mainly bitching about how hardly done by we are as youth workers our attention turned to the organisations who employ us. There is a duty of care that organisations owe to their staff which we at Ultimate Youth Worker believe is being allowed to lapse. Many years ago unions fought for the eight hour work day. In my career I have never worked an eight hour day. Sleepover shifts circumvent OH&S legislation. Staff are exposed to vicarious trauma and poorly debriefed. Youth workers are forced to work within bureaucratic frameworks that require more work and less reflection
Self care is an organisational responsibility
The average youth worker drowns in bureaucracy and its worse if they don’t look after their self care

Many of the staff that we come across at Ultimate Youth Worker want to do their job to the best of their ability and they all say that they could use more support from their managers. Most managers we meet would love to support their staff but are drowning in paperwork and their own lack of support to be able to help anyone. Then when all hell breaks loose we crucify the staff and managers for not doing their job right. If there is not time to reflect and maintain self care what do we expect!!!

Organisations that value their staff develop them as much as they develop their young people. Managers carve out time for professional development, supervision and the overall welfare of their staff. Organisations actively develop policy and procedures to support their staff to do their job effectively and without to much vicarious trauma. Organisations REQUIRE professional development of their staff and demand that their managers support their staff as whole people not just staff.   
 
We don’t get paid enough to do the job and get treated like crap. Organisations need to take responsibility for their staff wellbeing, for sustainability of the sector and for their own reputation. Funding bodies are not immune from their responsibility either!

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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Do you have a code of ethics???

Working with young people has led me to be in some dicey situations throughout my career. I have worked with young people who use drugs like candy, who have been so abused they have no boundaries and those who have no fear of the future and live like it. I have been in flop houses, under bridges in the middle of the night, in the middle of resi brawls and in situations that would make sailors blush. It is in these times that I wonder what my lecturers would have told me about my situation and a code of ethics.
 
When the chips are down and we are in one of those situations your old lecturer told you not to get into the only thing you have to rely on is a code of ethics. Whether it is a personal code or a professional code it guides your behaviour in those sticky situations.
 
So what code do you live by??? Do you have a personal code that you live by??? Put another way, what gets you out of bed in the morning. What do you believe so intrinsically that keeps you on the right path?
 
What about your organisation? Do they subscribe to a particular code of ethics??? have a look at a few codes and see what they involve… YACVic, AASW and APS are just a few. Does your nation or state have a code of ethics your orginisation could or should follow???
 
A lot of questions this week. over the next few weeks we will unpack this a bit. In the meantime you can read some of Howard Sercombe’s work on codes of practice.
 
 

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.

 

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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 is a youth workers Duty of Care: Reporting abuse

Over the past few weeks I seem to have had a number of people ask about ethical practice and duty of care in youth work. Many of these discussions have come about from grey situations arising or where multi-disciplinary teams where at work. I have been asked this question by young and old, qualified and unqualified, veteran and newbie from youth worker’s all over the globe. What this question really boils down to is what is my ethical duty when something happens that I believe is morally questionable??? The short answer is it depends on a number of factors!

Know your legal responsibility.

Here in Australia we have a number of different legislations in different states which cover the discussion of a youth worker’s ethical duty of care and legal responsibilities to report abuses when supporting young people. Some are very stringent and others do not require youth workers to do anything. In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania the legislation’s are fairly robust and clear about the requirements required of people in a youth work position. In the Northern Territory they have a very broad definition of who is mandated to report by saying “any person with reasonable grounds”. In Western Australia a very clear list of professionals is listed however youth workers are not required to report. In my home state of Victoria only doctors, nurses, principals of schools and teachers, and police officer are mandated to report abuse. Youth workers are listed in the legislation but not enacted as mandatory reporters.
 
Throughout the globe different countries require different actions from youth workers the best bet is to contact your local youth peak body or government department for clarification. What this means for each individual youth worker is a matter of legal interpretation and your own moral compass.
 

Know your own values.

Even though youth workers are not mandated to report abuse in Victoria The team here at Ultimate Youth Worker would argue that we have a moral requirement to report abuse to the authorities. But where does this lead??? What do we report on??? Abuse!!! Physical, Sexual, Emotional and Neglect. But this can lead to some difficulties with youth work theory and practice. What is the central theoretical framework for youth work practice? We would argue RELATIONSHIP. We know this is contentious and we will get some negative feedback, but we develop our RELATIONSHIP with young people as a means to support them as a whole person. But is the RELATIONSHIP more important than a young persons safety and protection from abuse???
 
 
 
What is OK? If a parent smacks their 13 year old is it reportable? What if it was with a belt? or a baseball bat? When does a smack turn to a beating? When does a beating become abuse? What about sex??? Is it OK for a young person to have sex? What about age differences? Is two years OK? What about four? How about 20? What if the young person is 12 and they are drunk? What if a young person tells you that they have to cook their own meals at home? What is they do everything? For a youth worker there is no black and white, there is only differing shades of grey.
 
When young people are navigating the storms and stresses of adolescence it is messy. For one young person in a particular situation a youth worker will act one way. For another, they will act completely differently. Professional discretion and practical wisdom are key to the practice of a youth worker who is not mandated to report abuse. All this being said it comes down to a judgement call. What does your gut tell you??? Is it OK for a father to beat their teen till they bleed? Is it OK for a 12 year old to have sex with a 16 year old? Is it OK for a young person to be left to their own devices because a parent is neglecting them? Your answer will determine your course of action.
 

Ask your colleagues.

Have a conversation with your colleagues around the issue at hand. Use your peer consultation network. Ask what they would do! Take their advice. Peer consultation, unlike a chat about the weekend around the water cooler, describes a process in which critical and supportive feedback on style and worker identity is emphasized while evaluation of practice is not. Consultation, in contrast to supervision, is characterized by the youth worker’s, “right to accept or reject the suggestions [of others]” (Bernard& amp; Goodyear, 1992, p. 103).
Call your local child protection office and ask for a secondary consultation. Ask them what your responsibility is and what you could do from there. Use every network you have to discuss the issue and see what options are open to you.

 

What is my duty of care?

If you are not mandated it is really up to you! If your organisation doesn’t have a policy it is really up to you! If you have a reasonable belief that a young person is being abused it is really up to you! RELATIONSHIP is important, but never at the expense of the young persons safety.
 
 
 
We will continue to develop the idea of our duty of care as youth workers of the course of this blog. Reflect on your practice and that of others you have seen. If you have questions and you will (We still do) leave a comment below or get to us on the social networks.
 

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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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