Youth work: The professional relationship

I have been rereading “Youth Work Ethics” by Professor Howard Sercombe lately. I forgot how good a read it is. Clear, concise and straight to the point. What got me was a really interesting discussion of professions being a relationship. Particularly, that by building this professional relationship we build trust in our clients allowing them to be vulnerable in our presence. Sercombe states, “Youth work creates spaces within which that can happen well, and walks with young people through the process of it happening“.

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Professional relationship at its best

As a youth worker I have been involved in the discussion of professionalising our sector for over a decade. All too often the focus of professionalising is setting us apart from our clients. It is putting in rules and policies which hold them at arms length from us. Other ‘professions’ such as psychology and nursing are often held up as benchmarks because of this ‘professional distance’ from their clients. We look to them and attempt to emulate their style because we live in a notion of professionalism which is rooted in the sociological view of professions from the 1950’s. However, many youth workers around the world struggle with this as it further separates us from our clients. It empowers us and further oppresses them.

If we as a fledgling profession decide to follow in the tired old footsteps of professions gone before us we will continue to further push our clients away. This goes completely against the grain of our core values. Youth work is a relational profession! Building professional relationship is at the core of all our work. As Sercombe says, “It is a partnership within that space – a covenant… in which youth worker and young person work together to heal hurts, to repair damage, to grow into responsibility, and to promote new ways of being“.

This is the joy I have when I think about our profession. We are partners in the journey with our young people. We walk alongside them in joy and sadness, lows and highs. Looking towards a bright new day. That is a professional relationship!

UltimateYouthWorker

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

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Relational youth work.

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

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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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Why young people need youth work more than ever.

Young people need youth work

The past decade has been a time of immense struggle throughout the world. Mass killings, war, famine, natural disasters, political upheaval and ideological struggles have been the norm for the world. In the midst of the chaos young people have stood together to find a different way. Whether it was the arab spring, the fighting in Crimea or the riots in London young people have seen the way the world is turning out and are questioning some long held truths about economy, education and existence. 
 
Youth work
 
Many see this questioning as rebellion and a lack of respect for long held traditions and laws or worse radicalisation. During the London riots Young people were called delinquents and trouble makers by  educators, policy makers and bureaucrats for asking why education costs so much. Around the world young people are being killed for challenging governments who oppress. Young people are no longer believing the long held truths at face value. Lets be honest, why should they. Those long held truths are causing them to question their future options and lament the generations before.
 
It is in to this fray that youth work is at its most effective. Young people are seeking answers but they are still formulating questions. They know that things aren’t right but they are unsure of how to address the causes. They want to be heard and understood. Youth work as a profession has sought to guide, support and listen to the young people we serve for over one hundred years. Now more than ever young people need to be heard. 
 
Youth workers hold a skill set that supports, listens and guides young people. It is this skill set that young people need and for our society to move forward it is this skill set which needs to be embraced. 
 
What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

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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Passion needs to be tempered for effective youth work.

I was recently speaking to an organisation who were going to fire a youth worker. They had a list of grievances a mile long  from inappropriate behaviour towards colleagues to inability to take constructive criticism. When I spoke to them about the behaviours it became clear that the behaviours were coming from an overly zealous youth work employee.
 
The employee had seen a number of issues in their place of employment and wanted them all fixed at once. He saw traumatic events being forgotten by other staff in their day to day work with highly traumatised young people. He pushed to forcefully for management to change procedures. He flaunted his knowledge in the faces of more experienced practitioners.
 
 
 
Sometimes when we see injustices, particularly if we are new to the sector, we forget that our passion can come across as arrogance. We get colleagues and service providers off side by our actions our effectiveness takes a massive hit. Most changes to entire sectors do not happen from the little guy in the field but by managers and policy makers at the top of the pile.
 
Passion is good, for the most part. It reminds us why we got into the work we do. Passion needs to be tempered by common sense. Otherwise we burn our bridges before they even get built.
 

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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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