Professional Youth Work

What do we mean by professional youth work?

Professional Youth WorkProfessional youth work

There has been a lot of talk over the past few decades about the need for professional youth work. We have talked about it al lot too (to see some of our thoughts click here). The issue is if you ask the average youth worker what the sector means by professionalisation they have vague answers at best. If you get someone on their game they may speak about things like qualifications, codes of ethics and pay and conditions of workers. The big issue here is we don’t really know what we mean when we say we need to professionalise!

If you do a cursory glance at the literature on professional youth work however it becomes clear very quickly what model academics and senior practitioners are talking about. It is a model that harkens back to the structural functionalists of the early 20th century. These writers such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons saw the need for groups of people to hold knowledge about certain issues for the good of the whole society. They saw a link between the legitimate “professions” and character traits such as self-sacrifice on the part of the individual, ethical practice framed by a code of ethics, autonomy of the profession, and monopoly over a body of knowledge. They saw the need for the strengthening of university education to confer attainment of these traits to professionals and legitimation of the professions.

Sociologist and University of California Berkley, Social Welfare Professor, Ernest Greenwood (1957), best described a profession in terms that we see in the social welfare literature today by identifying five common attributes that distinguish them from non-professional associations. His work contributed significantly to the professionalization movement in social work within the United States of America throughout the latter part of the twentieth century. Greenwood’s work has also been used throughout the social welfare sector to develop core frameworks to develop many professional associations.

[Tweet “Perhaps we need a new discussion in youth work that asks what type of professionals we want to be”]

Surveying the relevant literature in the mid twentieth century Greenwood identified five attributes that characterised professionals:

  1. systematic theory
  2. authority
  3. community sanction
  4. ethical codes
  5. a culture

By systematic theory Greenwood means, “a system of abstract propositions that describe in general terms the classes of phenomena comprising the profession’s focus of interest”. By authority, Greenwood believes that the knowledge of a discipline which frames its systematic theory sets a professional apart from the layman as holder of professional authority. Community sanctions are those which state who can and can’t be a member, particularly which education makes you a professional and which doesn’t. A Code of ethics sets the formal guidelines for a profession, hence, “the profession’s commitment to the social welfare becomes a matter of public record; thereby insuring for itself the continued confidence of the community”.  Finally, by culture, Greenwood means the unwritten code of conduct generated by groups within the profession, “the interaction of social roles required by these formal and informal groups generate a social configuration unique to the profession, viz., a professional culture”.

As the dominant model of professionalisation in the social welfare sector Greenwood’s Attributes Model cannot be ignored. However, it doesn’t need to be followed blindly either. Perhaps we need a new discussion in youth work. One that asks what type of professionals we want to be… Rather than how we can be like everyone else.

What do you think we should be like?

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

ABCD and the youth work profession debate?

ABCD for Youth Work

Much of 2016 was horrible for the profession of youth work. Our funding was cut… yet again, more of our colleagues lost their jobs and still more left because of burnout. Much of our discussion of the profession of youth work has focussed on what we don’t have and what we aren’t yet. Aside from a few fledgling state based professional associations our move towards developing the profession of youth work has stalled. So what next? What is the next step for us in developing the profession of youth work in Australia? What can we learn from Asset Based Community Development?

Youth WorkTo begin with I think we need to re-evaluate where we are at and where we want to be. For the last few years we have rested on the academic work of he last decade to frame our arguments around professionalism. There has been a glaring omission in this research, the voice of the youth worker. For the most part the work on the development of professional youth work in Australia has been the purview of academics, peak bodies and industry groups. We need to hear what those on the front line want from a professional association. We also need to ask what this association would look like?

One framework that could help us to begin reframing the discussion is Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Asset-based community development (ABCD) is a methodology for the sustainable development of communities based on their strengths and potentials. It involves assessing the resources, skills, and experience available in a community; organizing the community around issues that move its members into action; and then determining and taking appropriate action

ABCDLiberation is a key focus of youth work theory and is a focus we should consider in professionalising. Harvard University academic Rosabeth Moss Kanter says that when we do change to people, they experience it as violence, but when people do change to themselves, they experience it as liberation. There are currently three groups in the debate; those who are in favour of professionalising, those who are against professionalising and those who are apathetic to the whole debate. None of these groups are experiencing liberation.

We are a divided community. Partly this is due to the competitive nature of government funding, partly our qualification system and partly how our services are set up. We have become so entrenched in the deficits based funding models that we see our professional deficits. We have so brought into the minimum qualifications mentality and graduate so few postgrads that the notion of becoming  a highly educated profession is fascicle. We also have difficulty transitioning between statutory and non-government service provision. Honestly we focus more on our diversity than we do on the things that make youth work cohesive.

Its easy these days to focus on what is wrong in youth work. Like I said, its embedded in our way of thinking. We need to move as Cormac Russell states from, “whats wrong to whats strong” in our youth work community. What assets do we bring to the question of professionalising? What is our strength? How can we use our strengths to meet our agreed goals? We need to build our community. We need a clear goal for youth work as a profession. Perhaps ABCD can help us to develop these areas.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

Youth work journey

future youth sector

Is this the future youth sector?

There is a lot of talk in the youth sector which is splitting the camps into those wanting to go back to an age where we were well funded by government and able to do our own thing versus those wanting to collude with government and find a way to keep going while under austerity. At the risk of throwing the cat amongst the pigeons we think both groups have lost the plot. Infighting is neither helpful to our young people nor a way of developing the sector.

Over the years we have written extensively on the need for the youth sector to take it to the next level. The golden age is gone but we don’t have a clear framework for what is to come. So here are a few of our thoughts:

  1. We need to stop following the well beaten course towards professionalisation. There is a definite need for a more professional youth sector. But how we get there… that’s more open for debate. We need to have a distinctly youth work profession. One which involves young people as well as provides support for them.
  2. We need to  develop a path of education that students and the sector want to progress. Our framework for youth work education is 20 years old and desperately needs an update. Mental health, online work, family violence and reflective practice are areas we need more focus on as a start.
  3. We need more cooperation. We spend so much of our time in our own silos or scrambling over each other for the crumbs of government funding. We have some cooperation but it generally only comes until we might lose our funding or reputation. If we really want the sector to change we need to work together for industrial action, sector redevelopment and collegiate support.

We need to blaze a trail which fits our professional values. Because there is currently nothing that really fits. A good friend of ours used to say; any dead fish can float down stream, it takes a live one to swim against the current. At the moment it seems we are just floating. #towards2020

future youth sector

Leave a trail

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

keep great youth workers

9 ways to keep great youth workers

keep great youth workersHow do you keep great youth workers?

Youth work is one of the most difficult professions around. You tend to work with some very difficult clients who are generally not showing their best side. Managers know this, yet it still boggles my mind how often I have heard managers complaining about their lack of ability to keep great youth workers. The kicker is that they really do have something considerable to complain about.

There isn’t much more costly or disruptive as your best people walking out the door. The managers I have spoken with over the years tend to blame their turnover problems on everything under the sun, but with turnover in excess of 21% across the sector we need to face some hard truths.

Here are nine very simple things every team leader and manager can do to make sure they retain the very best youth workers in their organisation.

Don’t overwork people

The one thing that has become more obvious to me over the years is that the work of youth work has become a lot harder. We are dealing with more trauma, more responsibility and more paperwork than ever before. Governments have decreased funding while increasing our KPI’s. The stress factors have risen significantly. Our people are already working hard, so don’t add to the work load unnecessarily.

If we add to the workload significantly it can be counterproductive to the goal. You can only work them so long until they leave for better pastures. An increase in position or pay can help at least in the short term… however, in our experience this has a six month shelf life.

Recognise and reward

If managers could only do one thing to minimise retention issues and keep great youth workers this might be the one thing. A pat on the back goes a very long way. So do the words ‘well done’. Recognise great staff everywhere. in meetings, to donors, to the board, throughout the sector. Reward them where you can too. This may cost money… but its a lot less than having to hire new staff or deal with an employee who leaves because of psychological distress. Give a great worker an extra week of holidays. A night out for them and their special person. Buy them a book. Pay for course fees. Write them a card. The point is just do something.

Care about your employees

Every management role I have ever held hinged on the people who worked for me. I knew my successes were only able to come to fruition if they were fully committed to me and the mission. The best way for this to happen is to get to know your staff. Not just the professional but the personal too. I knew my staffs partners, children, birthdays, work anniversaries, work history, courses they had done, their illnesses and pains as well as their hopes and dreams. I would spend a minimum of half an hour one on one with my team and let them know I was there to bat for them. Knowing your staff is the key to care.

Hire and promote the right people

Hiring the right people is the most important part of a managers job. Getting the right person to fit the team, the organisational mission and then expecting them to have the right skill set means doing a good job at recruitment. Many of the interviews I have had lasted less than 30 minutes and many of the youth workers I speak with would say the same. It is not nearly enough. Hiring is the single most difficult task a manager has to learn to do if they want to keep great youth workers. Working with duds is a major demotivator for those stuck working alongside them. Ultimate Youth Workers want to work with equally awesome people. Oh, and promoting a dud is even more a slap in the face. Get the right people and they will stay.

Help people pursue their passionskeep great youth workers

The most talented youth workers are passionate people. Providing opportunities for them to pursue their passions improves their productivity and job satisfaction. Support them to develop their passion. Help with fundraisers, hook them up with networks, give them the opportunity to expand their horizon.  It will not only fill their passion but will reap exponential productivity time and brownie points for the tough times.

Further develop peoples skills

When we speak to youth workers and their managers we are appalled at the minimal amount of money and time spent developing staff. If you want to keep your best people you have to invest in them. At the very least you need to listen to your youth workers and provide them with feedback. It is the role of every manager to  educate their staff, find areas to develop in them. Read, do webinars, join peak bodies, further your education and become better.

Engage their creativity

You hired the best people, right? Then why do you want to hold them back and stick them in a box.  These amazing youth workers want to change the world and see everything they touch turn to gold. Why would you want to squash this? Let them off the leash a little. Expect reports but let them do things in their way. Guide and challenge your staff but let them use their talent and their skills to do the job you hired them for in the first place.

Challenge youth workers intellectually

This comes as a surprise to many people but youth workers are thought workers. We think a lot. Its a mentally draining job. When I used to push my students they would bemoan my making them think more… But in the field they are the ones who others look too. If you don’t make your great staff think and reflect they will most definitely get bored. If they get bored you won’t be able to keep great youth workers. If you haven’t done a degree yet, Check this one out.

Love them all!

If you don’t love your staff they will know it. If you love one or two, the others will know it. If you don’t love your team you won’t go the extra mile for them. Managers who go the extra mile will always keep the best staff. Love, Love Love!

 

This post was based off an article by Dr travis Bradberry on HuffingtonPost

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

We need to develop our youth work research base

Youth work research has come a long way over the past decade or so. We have gone from a profession that was grappling with how we used others knowledge in our practice to one that was seriously beginning to develop our own knowledge base. We have gone from having a few key researchers to a burgeoning professional and academic research cohort. We are developing more post graduate students and more PhD’s every year. Yet, we still have a long way to go to cement our research credentials as a profession.

One area that needs to be developed is our practice wisdom. We need to hear about the research of youth workers on the coalface. What is working? What didn’t work? Where are the gaps? What do we need to do to take the profession forward? These questions and many more will be best answered not by the academics who are removed from practice, but through the collective wisdom of those youth workers completing the hard yards day in and day out.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we have always tried to shine a light from those at the coalface to those in academia. We have been quoted in academic journal articles, spoken at conferences and worked with hundreds of youth workers to get the knowledge of the coalface worker to the rest of the sector. Our commitment to youth work research has never been stronger.

We are currently getting some research out about the state of youth mental health training for youth workers in Australia and New Zealand. Our research is shining a light on the gap between current youth worker training in mental health and the needs of our young people. This youth work research has come out of the hundreds of supervision and training sessions we have run over the past three years where youth workers have been ignorant of the basics of mental health.

Research is one of the things which give a profession credence. We need to have more research from the trenches to inform our sector. What will you bring to the table?

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

Youth work needs to rid itself of its inferiority complex.


Over the years no other issue in youth work has bugged me more than the discussions about how we need to become more like other professions. For the most part it is a discussion about what we are not as youth workers. It says what we do not do. It says we are inferior to other professions.

We hear it every day as youth workers. Our clients are referred to “professionals” because we aren’t trained enough, aren’t qualified enough or just plain don’t know enough. These professionals look upon us with the same condescension that people aim at well meaning children who are overly excited. They tell us how much we don’t know about young people from their perspective and why they are indispensable to our young people. And we look at them with wide doe eyes and a knowing glance that says they are right. We are inferior.

The academy has told us for years that youth work as it stands is inferior.

Our colleagues have told us how inferior our work is.

We have told ourselves how inferior we are.

For youth work as a profession to take the next step we first need to stop comparing ourselves to others. Comparison leads to inferiority. We are a stand alone profession with our own knowledge base and a rocking way of supporting young people that others can only dream about.

Inferiority only comes if we allow it… so lets stop it.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

Youth workers: write, do or do both.

The most well known youth workers world wide are often one of two types of people. They are either the academics who write something worth reading or they are the youth worker who does something spectacular that others write about. 

The academics are trying to write something that the youth worker on the ground can use to improve practice or develop the sector as a whole. They bring research and practice together within the pages of journals and textbooks and ask the reader to implement their ideas. Academics write to keep their jobs. They write to expand their influence. They write to frame the work of the youth worker on the ground.

The youth worker on the other hand is developing new programs, working with those delinquent young people the news is always talking about and living out action research. They are learning through doing. They are building relationships. They are developing a set of practice skills that are fluid and framed. They are the ones the rest of us look up to because they just seem to do the job so well.

These people either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. However I propose another group. Those who write something worth reading and do something worth writing about. There is a growing number of youth workers taking to writing about the ins and outs of this profession called youth work. They are doing some amazing work and writing about it. They blog, podcast and video their thoughts. They write for the common youth worker and the academic. They speak from the heart and from the data.

Where do you fit on the spectrum? 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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

Be transparent!!!

I was watching an Australian political review program this evening and as I was watching I realised something much more profoundly than I ever had before. When people actively try to hide their business from others we don’t trust them. When governments say they have policy initiative but then do not show them, we don’t trust them. When military say that they are doing things by the book then don’t  show their video of their work, we don’t trust them. When corporations use their considerable funds to silence critics, we don’t trust them.

In youth work I have heard a number of my colleagues over the years say that they could not speak about the type of work they do because of confidentiality issues. Let me just say BOLLOCKS!!! I have heard of organisations who actively seek to limit their public accountability. Currently there are a number of inquiries in Australia into lack of transparency of organisations and in a number of these organisations youth workers have key roles.

To save the reputation of our profession and it workers we need more transparency. In our individual work and in our organisations we must come to the understanding that if we want to have complete respect of our work people need to understand what we do.

Be transparent in all you do. It will get on peoples goat… But it will help you to have a successful career.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

The youth sector must promote self care

Promoting self care

One of my best mates in youth work said to me today that  he had been speaking to a bunch of people about the work of Ultimate Youth Worker recently. He stated that he was surprised when almost all of them stated that they didn’t think there was an issue with self care within the sector. When my friend spoke of burnout rates and levels of psychological stress in our sector they could begin to see the issue.

If managers and organisations really understood the negative effects and the cost to the organisation then self care would be the first thing on their agenda rather than the last. If organisations saw the revolving door that spat out their staff you think they would try to stop it. We can no longer ignore the fact that our sector is allowing staff to become psychologically damaged just to meet KPI’s.

Throughout our research we have been shocked at how many individuals, managers, organisations and peak bodies who at best pay lip service and at worst see self care as for the weak. Over the past few months I have been privileged to speak with and train a number of Tasmanians in self care. The most fantastic thing about this is that in the Youth Ethics Framework for Tasmania they state categorically that self care is a ethical requirement.

Self care being promoted in TasmaniaWe need more groups like the Youth Network of Tasmania to stand up and shout that self care is a requirement for exceptional youth work.

What are you doing to set the self care agenda???

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

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

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube

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.
 

Leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

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

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestYouTube