Online tools you need We live in a time of myth and legend. Apparently Youth workers are mystical creatures who need little money or time to effect massive changes… At least that seems to be the neoliberal view of us. Another myth is that we are all hip and cool with mad computer skills. I…
Family comes first
Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the pressures youth workers face because of the job. We have high rates of psychological distress, we deal daily with vicarious trauma, our jobs are often at the mercy of government whim and to top it of we work long crazy hours. This takes a massive toll on us as youth workers, unfortunately it also has ripple effects around us.
I have seen a number of memes lately that have really got on my nerves. Mainly because they hit the bullseye. As youth workers and indeed human services workers in general we can become so focussed on the people we serve that we forget about the ones we love. Our partners, spouses and children forget what we look like as we spend every night out at meetings, running centres and programs. Our kids in particular feel the burden.
I have met many young people over my career who had parents who were youth workers. most turned out pretty ok. A number of them however had fallen off the rails. This detour through trouble often came because they felt abandoned by their parent for other young people. Often hearing about how the more troubled kids need their parents attention at the moment.
As a youth worker I have not been immune to this either. Studying, working weird and wonderful hours and being out at nights and weekends has been a part of my life for well over a decade. The final semester of my Masters degree I was working 80+ hours a week and was lucky if I saw my wife and children on a week night or more than a couple of hours on the weekend. As a family we knew this was only going to be for a season, yet the strain was clear.
A few weeks ago my family grew by two. Beautiful identical twin girls. This has made me slow down and reevaluate. Some things have taken a hiatus, some have been cut fully. One thing has been a clear reminder to me in this time, My family is the most important people in my life. When it comes to balance my family wins every time. If we put others young people before the needs of our own children what message does that convey to them. I know there will be times where for the short term we have to put our work first, but if our own children continue to lose out then they will become the clients of other youth workers down the track.
It is a cycle I intend to break. Being a professional means having thing work at home and at work. Will you join me? Put family time first n your calendar. Your family comes first.a
Sociology for youth workers As youth workers we draw on many different frameworks to help us make sense of the world our young people live in. One of the most used frameworks in our kit bag is sociology. Through the sociological lens we can analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete…
What is youth work?
What is youth work? It is a question that has haunted our profession for decades. In Australia we have attempted to frame our profession over the past few years however we keep coming up short. In todays podcast the team at Ultimate Youth Work frame this question using the current world wide definitions and our own framework of service. Controversial, probably! But it is a question we need to address if we are to cement ourselves as a profession.
We often frame our profession by what we are not rather than who we are. We do this as there is massive diversity. The range of qualifications from none at all to doctorates. The different practice situations. The issues our young people come to us with. Our different philosophical, sociological and ethical bents. We have a lot that can pull us apart. At Ultimate Youth Worker we are less concerned about our differences and more interested in what brings us together. We all care for young people. We want the best for them. Most of all we believe in their innate humanity.
Our profession is at a cross roads. Much of our previous held truths are gone. Government funding, gone. Universities protecting our courses, gone. Our very existence is threatened. Much of this because we can not answer the simple question, what is youth work? Until we can answer this question the future of our profession hangs in the balance.
If you have questions, thoughts, comments or queries we would love to hear from you, our amazing community of Ultimate Youth Worker’s.
Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast – 001 A Balanced Life
In this weeks Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast we explore the need for youth workers to have a self care plan. Youth work can be highly stressful. Because we care, we take on a lot. Vicarious trauma is a regular event on our calendar. Around 24% of youth workers leave the sector every year.
In today’s episode Aaron takes us on a journey towards developing our very own self care plan.
Leave us a comment about what you think!
I am writing this while sitting in a session at the National Youth Ministry Convention in Tweed Heads on the usually sunny Gold Coast. It is always a real blessing to get together with some really committed youth ministers who want to see their young people become the best they can be. Last night over 300 of us joined together to hear Brad Griffin from the Fuller Youth Institute speak about the need for churches to embrace young people as part of their community rather than banish them to the kids table. An issue that the wider community struggles with as much as anyone.
This morning I heard the amazing Jo Saxton speak about the need for us as leaders to lead from the inside out. We need to know ourselves, what makes us tick and what gets under our skin. Youth workers are leaders we need to know these things. We need to be challenged to think about who we are and why we do what we do. Jo asked us to think about what is holding our leadership back… our appetites, our need for approval or our ambitions. Great questions for us all.
The thing that has struck me most is the focus. Youth workers know much of this! if you have completed a degree in youth work you have been hammered with these ideas for three years. If you have completed a theology degree… not so much. Where youth work focuses on the young person as primary client, Youth ministry see young people as the mission field. Where youth workers see young people as significant contributors in the community, youth ministers see young people as needing guidance in right living. Youth workers see the person first. Youth Ministers see the person through a lens of scripture.
I have said before that all youth ministers could be youth workers, but not all youth workers are youth ministers. I have heard many youth ministers state that they are youth workers over the last two days. This is dangerous. it is trying to hook onto the coat tails of another profession. If youth ministers want to be youth workers this requires qualification and vocational shift. Sometimes it is ok to just be who you are. I do believe youth ministers would be better equipped if they had some youth work training under their belt.
Self care is hard
So my last two months have been absolutely crazy. I have spoken at the Tasmanian Youth Conference in Launceston. Presented at the 16th International Mental Health Conference on the Gold Coast. I have also completed four weeks of my final field placement for my Master of Social Work and taught three classes a week in the Bachelor and Grad Dip Youth Studies program at Eastern College Australia. To top it of two of my children have had birthdays and half a dozen other extended family members decided to have them as well. I confess, my self care has gone right out the window.
I have a self care plan. I review it every three months. Even still I have been overcome by events. My sleep patterns are shot. I am living off coffee and even that has started to wear off. I generally feel pretty wrecked. This all because I wasn’t ready for the tsunami of events that have come my way. I knew they were coming and I smiled and watched them come. I didn’t enact my self care plan. I was an idiot!
Self care is hard if you don’t plan for it! I knew I was going to have a few crazy months and I penciled in the idea of having my quarterly retreat and then never did anything about it. I knew I needed to recharge the batteries before heading into this period of my life… but I put it off. Now I am paying for it. No self care strategy works unless you put it in to action. My strategy calls for a period of rest and reflection before long stints of work which never happened. Did I mention I’m and idiot!!! Self care is my baby. I would speak about it until I am blue in the face. Yet even poor little old me is lost without my plan and its implementation.
Don’t forget to implement your plan! Self care is hard if you don’t plan for it! Its impossible if you don’t work your plan.
Today I took a bunch of youth work students on a tour of the Melbourne Children’s Court. The Children’s Court of Victoria is a specialist court with two divisions dealing with cases involving children and young people. The Family Division hears applications relating to the protection and care of children and young persons at risk, and applications for intervention orders. The Criminal Division hears matters relating to criminal offending by children and young persons between the ages of 10 and 18. These courts had been a large part of my youth work career from my days working in drug and alcohol outreach to my time in family services. It is also a place that as a youth worker you hope you never have to enter as it means one of your young people has been abused or has done something they probably shouldn’t have.
As we were on our tour our guide mentioned that the role of a good youth worker in the children’s court was extremely important. Whether that was a youth worker writing clear and concise case notes and then providing quality testimony to the court on the work done with a young person in an abuse case or as a character reference for a young person facing incarceration because of a criminal matter a youth worker provides professional care and support in a setting that could at times feel trying. Aside from this our guide stated that it is often a lone youth worker sitting aside a young person that helps a judge to see opportunities for rehabilitation.
There are many who would say that youth work is a generalist profession and any work that is not generalist is something else. We at Ultimate Youth Worker believe that it is in the ‘nitty gritty’ times such as appearances in a court that youth work really hits its stride. Our generalist skills set of relationship building and support provision is used extremely well in this important context. After all it is about our young people and their best interests.
All to often we are judged by our pasts. Most often by the decisions we have made which went awry. We look behind us at those decisions and we are gripped with regrets. We wonder what we were thinking! We look at our friends, our families, our education, our …. we wonder if they were the right choices. Our young people go through this and we go through this. Hindsight is always 20/20! In youth work as a sector we have this hindsight too. We have seen major issues in our sector and many of them we still cringe about.
When we get past guilty thoughts of our past we begin to wonder about our future. We hope for a better day than the days before. We wonder what the next step in our work, our education, our families, our lives will be. We begin to plan what the future will hold. We write lists, flowcharts, memos and we dream about a future that has not come to pass. Our young people go through this and we go through this and we go through this. In the youth sector many journal articles and books over the past decade have dreamt of a future for the youth sector. It is often a utopian view that we will professionalise and all will be wondrous. For the most part it looks good. The future often does.
The past and future are of little consequence however to that which lies within us. The spark that keeps us going in the here and now. The passion that drives us forward. The wonderment that spurs us on to love and good deeds. The wisdom that helps us out of bed each morning. This is one of the areas that our young people struggle with most. The reason for being. It is often the thing we question most too. What drives us.
What is it that lies within you?
My career as a youth worker has always pushed the boundaries. Whether it was pushing social workers in family services work to listen to the voice of the young people in the clientele or getting local government youth services to use more social media I have always pushed for the next evolution in working with young people. I have also pushed the boundaries with other youth workers. Asking them to be more and do more than they ever thought they were able to do. I have asked them to be more professional, more qualified and advocate more for their profession. In all of this I have never asked anyone to do more than I would ask of myself. I take immense joy from developing myself, others and the youth sector!
However, whenever change is sought people like to try to drag you back to the status quo. Walk away! They like to take your joy and squash it. Walk away! Whether it is people telling you that you can’t do something because it hasn’t been done before or perhaps they say that you wanting to be better is some sort of patriarchal step towards the abyss. I remember speaking at a conference and being told that no one could be an Ultimate Youth Worker in the current political climate so why even try? At a meeting of those who want to see a professional association of youth workers I was told that we could only become a functioning group by having a monopoly from one university with one focus on youth provision. It is times like these that really take away from my joy.
In youth work there are times when we have our joy attacked. Unfortunately it is usually by the people who should be our biggest supporters. When you get people pushing you to do the status quo, people who harsh your buzz, people who want to steal your joy… walk away. Life is too short!