Where do you go when you are grasping at life and need a huge jolt of self care? What is the place that brings joy to your soul? When we teach self care at Ultimate Youth Worker we ask people to think about a place where they feel safe and that rejuvenates them. A place that refreshes. For some students it comes to them easily. A beach, a coffee shop, the forrest, their grandma’s house. For others they struggle with the concept.
When I am having a struggle or I am trying to get my thoughts together I dream of the bush. Not just any old piece of bushland though. I dream of Mount Disappointment State Forrest about an hour North of Melbourne, Victoria.
When I was a teenager I spent many of my school breaks in and around Mount Disappointment, hiking and camping. I spent long hours walking through the bracken ferns. I stopped to listen to wombats foraging and echidnas looking for a tasty ant to snack on. I slept under the stars and smelt the rains. As I write this I can remember it all as if I was right there. Its beauty, its danger, its comfort and its awe.
Go to your happy place
Mount Disappointment is a place that refreshes me. I do not get to go there as often as I would like these days (I have five kids under 10!!!). However, it lives in my heart. It is my happy place. It brings joy to my heart.
Do you have a place that refills your tank? A place that builds you up? A place that refreshes you? Some of you might disregard this post as a bit airy fairy, I know I used too. In 2010 while going through a really rough point in my career a mentor of mine asked me this question. I laughed at him and called him a tree hugger. He forced me to think it through and then spend a few days in the bush. I felt renewed. My soul was at ease.
Share with us where your soul is at ease! Pictures please.
In todays episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast Aaron and Jessy look at the Mental State Exam and how it can help youth workers in recognising mental health issues in their young people and how it can aid in making referrals. The Mental State Exam is a comprehensive tool that brings together the subjective views of your young person and your objective views to help recognise the symptoms of mental health issues.
One of the best tools for recognising mental health issues and referring young people to clinical mental health services we have come across over the years is a Mental State Exam. It is simple to use, it covers all the bases and it gives your gut feeling a set of clear indicators to work through. It makes referring easier as it gives you language to use that clinical services understand. It also gives you some objective information to have a good conversation with your young person.
In this Podcast Aaron will show you how to complete a Mental State Exam, what to look out for and when to refer on to the proper treatment. The Mental State Exam is a tool, and like any tool it takes practice to master. When we have a good understanding then we can put it in the toolbox and use it when the need arises.
Ultimate Youth Worker, eh. What makes you an Ultimate Youth Worker then?
After seventeen years in the youth sector I have had the opportunity to see the good, the bad and the ugly that can be our cohort. I have seen youth workers who should never have been allowed to start work as they were downright dangerous. I have seen youth workers who have caused more damage to their young people. I have heard of youth workers abusing young people and I have seen them jailed.
However, I have also had the privilege to see some amazing youth workers. Youth worker’s who epitomise the best of the best. Ultimate Youth Worker’s! We get asked all the time what makes a great youth worker… here are our thoughts.
Ultimate Youth Workers…
Ultimate Youth Worker’s are always looking to grow their knowledge and skills. Professional development is good and these youth workers do it, they just need more. While many position descriptions require only minimal qualifications, Ultimate Youth Workers know that the more qualified the youth worker the better outcomes for the young people. Imagine a world where youth workers were minimally qualified if they had masters degrees (it would look kind of like the world psychologists live in).
There is nothing more impressive than a youth worker who really loves what they do. They beam when their young people thrive. They talk about their work positively. They see only the best in their young people. They love the profession. They are just so passionate. Great youth work organisations hire passionate people, then train them up. You can always train people. You can’t make them passionate.
Get good SUPERVISION
The largest cause of burnout within our sector is that of psychological distress. Supervision provides a conduit for communication on specific issues relating to the causes of youth worker burnout. It asks us to be open and responsive to the issues while learning and developing our skills. Ultimate Youth Worker’s seek out supervision. If they don’t get it at work they find an external supervisor to support them.
Know their VALUES
Ultimate Youth Worker’s understand that the mountaintop experiences are rare. Youth work is hard work. You need to know what will tip you over the edge. You also need to know what will keep you going in those tough times. Your vales are what anchor you to your mission. If that mission is to support young people you need to be fully aware of your values and how they will bring you down and build you up. This is key to being an Ultimate Youth Worker.
Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t just take your word for it. They never believe what they see in the media. They are curious, wonder filled people. They look at all the research out there. Journal articles, books, video, audio etc. and then they look to how to put this research into action. But, they do their research first.
GO THE EXTRA MILE
These youth worker’s are the top of the crop. The best of the bunch. By their very nature they do more. They read more. They network more. They do more to help their colleagues and clients. They just do more. This doesn’t necessarily mean they do more hours, They do more in the hours they have. For their clients, they bend over backwards. They help as much as is humanly possible.
CELEBRATE the successes
Mountain top experiences are few and far between in youth work. It is a hard slog! Every now and then a success does come our way. Ultimate Youth Worker’s celebrate these success like mad. We celebrate with the young people. We celebrate with our colleagues. We celebrate with pretty much anyone who would listen to us.
Plan their CAREER PATH
Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, it is important to realise that no one other than you is looking out for your career progression. Most youth work organisations do not do succession planning or if they do it is mainly focussed on the top job. Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t leave their career to chance. It is a well planned process. They are in the jobs they are in because it is a clear choice… not because it was the only one they could find.
Ultimate Youth Worker’s know what to do and when to do it. They know why they have chosen to provide a certain response over the many others they could have. They know theory and how to implement it in practice. They read and critically reflect on how to best support young people through academic research and they ask lost of questions.
Use evidence-based PRACTICE
Ultimate Youth Worker’s fully grasp the nuance of working with young people in a complex environment through best practice research. Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t just wing it. They use facts and figures and programs that have been tested. Evidence is the key here… show me it works.
Look after their SELF CARE
Ultimate Youth Worker’s know that the most important thing they can do for their client has nothing to do with their client at all. They plan to look after themselves. Self care is a requirement for great youth work. It builds longevity. It helps us to slow down and take care of the carer. As a good friend of ours says its putting the oxygen mask on before we help anyone else.
They act with EMPATHY
Ultimate Youth Worker’s walk a hundred miles in the shoes of every one of their young people. They put themselves into the situations their young people are facing and they FEEL what their young people feel. In feeling this they show genuine compassion and a sense of esprit de corps with with the young people we serve.
Recognise youth work as a PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP
Youth work is a professional relationship in a contested environment. As Howard 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“. Ultimate Youth Worker’s recognise the relational aspect of the work as well as the professional boundaries that entails.
Seek to have personal EXCELLENCE
Ultimate Youth Worker’s want to be the best. Second best isn’t in their mindset. Personal excellence is the standard to which they they hold themselves. When there is something they can do better, you can bet they will be working on it. there motto: “Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best“.
The have an answer to THE YOUTH WORK QUESTION
Ultimate Youth Worker’s answer the youth work question by saying they want to see young people supported by people who care and are well trained. they want to see young people reach their potential. They see a future world where young people are seen and dealt with justly. These youth worker put young people first in all their thinking.
They are LEADERS
When you are in a pinch it is an Ultimate Youth Worker who gives you the advice to help you get over the line. They may be a manager, team leader of senior youth worker… they might even be a fresh faced newbie. Ultimate Youth Worker’s are the ones others turn to for advice because they are the best. Other youth worker’s look to Ultimate Youth Worker’s and that is what makes them leaders.
They BUILD THE NEXT GENERATION of youth workers
Every organisation that employs youth workers should mentor them. Every professional association should develop the potential in every new youth worker that joins them. Most of all it should become part of our core responsibilities as youth workers to the stability of the sector. Ultimate Youth Workers seek out new youth workers to mentor. They give them opportunities to learn and grow and fail safely. They build the next generation of youth workers to be the best.
Their work is framed in SOCIAL JUSTICE
Ultimate Youth Workers realise that the world just is not fair… They see it every day. In their work they seek to bring justice to every situation. They look to restore people to dignity and provide honour due to them as people. They believe that justice is for everyone even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. Social justice means that everyone must be treated justly, and Ultimate Youth Worker’s strive to do this every day.
They are POLITICAL activists
Youth work is political. We spend much of our time helping young people navigate the systems imposed on them by politicians. We advocate to politicians to change the systems which oppress the young people we work with. Ultimate Youth Worker’s take it to the next level. They know how to advocate and to who. They lead protests. They train young people to advocate for themselves. They have the numbers of their local politicians in their speed-dial and they are known by those who would pick up the phone.
They are AUDACIOUS
Ultimate Youth Worker’s take surprisingly bold moves. They are canny outlaws and world changers. They do not take the world at status quo, they seek to change it for the better. They take calculated risks to see grand outcomes for their young people. They never accept things the way they are. They dream of a better future.
These are just a few of the things we see from the best of the best, the Ultimate Youth Worker’s. How do you stack up?
In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Reflecting in the Moment’ Aaron speaks with Jessy about the importance of critical reflection in the moment. We hear about critical reflection all the time in our degree programs, we read about it in journal articles, yet we rarely find the time in practice.
This episode explains how reflective practice is key to our work as youth workers and how reflecting in the moment is core to best practice.
Great youth workers look for models we can tailor to our work
The rate of youth workers who are leaving the sector is one of the highest in all professions. Vicarious trauma and burnout are listed as some of the highest causes of youth workers leaving. In fact this is part of what led to us starting Ultimate Youth Worker. We had seen many of our friends and colleagues leave the sector, when something as simple as a little critical reflection on a regular basis would have helped to keep most of them excited and empowered to do the job for longer.
Three levels of reflecting
In this podcast Aaron looks at the three levels of reflecting used by the Ultimate Youth Worker staff team:
Reflection on the issues. Venting is the most common way we see this happen. It is bitching at its best. We release the pressure cooker and let loose on everyone around us. This is ok in small doses but when it is continuously happening it is quite damaging.
Critical reflection. It brings a level of depth. Looking at our values, understanding of the world, our own history and how all of these things influence how we reacted in situations.
Reflexivity. Taking our understanding of all the stuff we have been critically reflective about and then turning our new found knowledge into action.
This post started as a bit of tongue in cheek discussion with a good friend about what youth workers can’t live without that led to a facebook question (which became very real, very quickly) and ended with me writing this down. What do you think about this list? What are we missing?
Coffee (or Tea)
Many years ago I stated unequivocally that Ultimate Youth Workers drink coffee like it is our life blood. The avalanche of vitriol that came my way from our friends in the United Kingdom was phenomenal. So from then on I have begrudgingly allowed tea in the mix. To be sure I have often wondered how youth workers would get anything done before we have our first cup of love.
A good compendium
Youth workers are often seen as less professional than others when we arrive at meetings. We dress like young people, we usually have a cup of coffee in our hand and when we sit down at these meetings we have a crappy note pad and a ten cent biro in our hand. Well if that doesn’t scream professional, nothing will. Buy a good compendium, it holds a legal pad, there are good ones for $30 on amazon (and don’t forget a decent pen… spend at least $2).
I was reminded of a post by our good friend James Ballantyne at Learning from the Streets and some of the stuff that clutters up a youth workers car. In my own car I have two frisbees, a basketball, a tennis ball or three, a cricket bat, multiple decks of cards (including a 500 deck, Uno and Skip-Bo), a few empty water bottles, a ream of different coloured paper and every colour Sharpie you can imagine. With these tools I can create the most imaginative games under the most extreme circumstances.
A go bag
In military terms a go bag is a bag of goodies that will sustain you in a crisis. When I worked as a casual residential worker I would get a phone call an hour before they needed me. I still have a go bag in my car for just such an emergency. My bag is a basic duffle bag (similar to this) and has in it:
A full change of clothes
a few snacks, a couple of meals, a few sachets of coffee
A towel and a toiletry bag with all I need
A small first aid kit (With any medication I might need)
I also keep a sleeping bag and a pillow in my car so if I need to do a sleep over shift I am always ready to go.
Someone to download with
You need to be able to debrief in this job. If you don’t you are on a slippery slope to burnout. You need to have a mentor who you can go to and just ask any questions. You need a supervisor who can support you as a person, a practitioner and a professional. You need to have someone who understands the job, you and the pressures you are under.
When I started as a youth worker I had no qualifications. I didn’t know anything , I didn’t know any better and my bosses didn’t really give me any training to bring me up to speed. I had to work it out myself. That is the worst possible position for a new youth worker to be in. I made dozens of stupid mistakes that could have been avoided.
In 2005 I began a degree in youth work almost four years after I started as a youth worker. What I learnt over the next three years set me up to provide the best service possible to young people. Since that time I have gone on to do many more qualifications, I taught in TAFE and in Higher Ed and I have come to the conclusion that the best way for youth workers to learn how to do the job.
One of my mantras for my students is build your network. I say it so often some of my students will joke that I have a network for everything. The simple fact is that youth workers get things done because of the people we know. Join LinkedIn (you can add me first). Every time you meet someone get their card and add them to your contacts. Join some groups on facebook.
A Self Care Plan
You must, YOU must, YOU MUST have a self care plan if you want to survive in youth work. It isn’t something that you can just wing. You must have a plan that covers the main areas of life and it must be written down. You need to review it ever three to six months to see how you are going.
We believe in this one so much we have dedicated a vast number of blogposts and our first podcast episode to having a self care plan.
A hobby outside Youth Work
Youth work can become our life. We love it. It’s rewarding. But it can also suck the life right out of you. In my career I have seen a bunch of youth workers run themselves so hot that they burnt out. If your life is only about one thing you are in trouble. Youth workers need to have a hobby outside of youth work. Something that has nothing to do with youth work in any way.
A good book
Youth workers are readers, at least we all should be. In our bags we should have with us a good book every day. When I was in direct practice on a daily basis I lost count of how many hours I lost sitting in waiting rooms with young people. After a good 30 to 45 minutes we would end up sitting staring at a wall or if we were really lucky a tv. Have a book with you. Read, Read, Read.
A good suit (or equivalent)
We do love a snug pair of jeans and a sweet hoodie as youth workers. It’s our uniform. However, there are times that our uniform doesn’t work for us or our young people. When I worked with the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner i spent much of my time with young people in residential care, resi workers and volunteers who would have thought a three piece suit was out of character. I would then end up in Meetings with senior public servants and managers from not for profit organisations where a suit was the uniform.
You will go to court for your young people, you will attend funerals and if you are really lucky you might get invited to a wedding. You need a suit.
Well that is the list. What do you think? What else should be added?
In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Practising Critical Reflection’ Aaron speaks with us about the importance of critical reflection and the model put forward by Jan Fook and Fiona Gardner.
This episode explains the three part process for practising critical reflection. This multi-disciplinary model is used across the human services sector world wide and is one that youth workers should be familiar with.
We hear every day that youth workers are feeling a sense of powerlessness, that they fear risk and the consequences of risk, and that they are faced by increased complexity. We want to be the best, but we feel overwhelmed by the job.
Critical reflection is spoken about extensively in youth work education courses however when youth workers enter the workforce we hear that there is no time for it, there are no structures in place to do it and there is minimal if any support from management to start running it. For a profession that quite literally deals with life and death critical reflection is a must for all youth workers.
You want to provide the best service to your young people, you want to have a long and successful career in youth work, you do not want to be burnt out by the job, then begin to implement this model into your practice. If you do, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of the average youth worker.
The most exciting part about looking to the future is you can make it anything you want. You dream a dream in time gone by… and then you look towards the amazing future you have created. The hard part is going out and creating it. You actually have to spend time and resources in the pursuit of your dream. At Ultimate Youth Worker we have a dream to see youth workers be the best they can possibly be, and 2019 is the year that our dreams and yours collide!
You keep telling us that the support you receive in the sector is limited at best, most of you have not had a proper supervision session in the last year. You have told us that the training you attend has little to do with youth work and if it does its stuff you already know. You tell us that when poop hits the fan and you need critical incident debriefing you end up talking to psychologists that don’t understand the youth sector or the work you do. In short you have told us that you don’t feel supported to do the job.
You have told us that you love the work you do. If you were better supported, trained and cared for youth work would be the perfect job.
We have heard you and we are the organisation who is looking to meet all your needs. In 2019 we are focusing in on the support you need to be the best youth worker you can be.
Around 90% of youth workers do not get adequate support and debriefing for the work we do. At minimum that is a one hour supervision session once a month. A space where you get to talk about how you are going, the work you are struggling with and the steps you need to take to become a better professional.
In 2019 you will be able to get external supervision from youth workers with over a decade of experience and holding masters degrees. You asked for individual supervisors who are qualified and experienced and you got it. You can gain individual or group supervision to meet the needs you have as a youth worker.
We have been to more than our fair share of “professional development” over the years and quite honestly we want our money back from most of it. Dull, uninteresting, topics based at those with no knowledge of the sector, outdated, and most of all… boring!!! We have spoken to many of the youth workers in our community and the first few years of your career appear to be the most challenging.
To that end we have created our ‘Tier One‘ training for youth workers in their first few years of youth work. Much of this training is aimed at areas youth workers tell us they need more support in, and is built on the idea that you could do it to compliment a degree program.
There is a disappointing trend in the wider human services sector to leave critical incident debriefing to psychologists who have very little experience in the sector. While well meaning and highly qualified they don’t know youth work or the context youth workers work in. We have provided Critical Incident Debriefing for the last few years as a side to the main work of Ultimate Youth Worker. In 2018, we have been approached by a number of youth work organisations to provide debriefing for their youth workers. In 2019, we will provide this service as part of our core business of supporting youth workers.
Research is more important now in the youth and community services sector than ever before. Evidence based practice is here to stay and if you want to meet the challenges of this century and all its funding issues you need good research. Ultimate Youth Worker researchers come from a diversity of disciplinary backgrounds including social work, psychology, youth work and education. Our research approaches like our staff are diverse and complementary to the sector. The types of research and practice development we undertake have included:
Development of models of best-practice
Face-to-face and online training modules
Qualitative and quantitative studies
Our staff can help you with everything from literature reviews to major projects. Whatever your need contact us for a confidential discussion as to your requirements.
The Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast is the leading youth work podcast on the internet. Expert interviews, mini trainings, and intimate behind-the-scenes secrets from our team of expert youth workers… all tied together by our mission to make EVERYTHING you listen to as actionable as possible. We guarantee that you will find this podcast the most helpful tool in your youth work toolkit.
In 2019 we will be reaching out around the world we bring together the most experienced practitioners, the most published academics and the most renowned policy makers to help us to gain a depth of wisdom that will make us all Ultimate Youth Workers. Bringing evidence based practices, journal articles, books and the best practical wisdom together to inform our interviews you get the most up to date thinking in the sector… all at the touch of your favourite podcast player.
In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast Aaron speaks with Jessy Hall, Community Engagement Coordinator about his work with Ultimate Youth Worker focussing on building our community and a few awesome adventures coming his way.
Let me introduce you to Jessy Hall. Jessy is a young man born on Wurundjeri country in Melbourne, Victoria. Jessy holds a Diploma in Youth Work and a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.
Jessy has been working as a youth worker since 2014 in a variety of different roles. His passion for youth work began whilst volunteering on a YMCA program for young indigenous leaders
Jessy is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Ultimate Youth Worker. Writing articles, joining the podcast, engaging with members of the Ultimate Youth Worker community and generally being an all round nice guy, Jessy is our go to staff member for turning our frowns upside down. If you want to know about the goings on in our community then our community engagement coordinator is the go to guy.
Jessy has just embarked on the journey of a lifetime, to drive around Australia in a four wheel drive with his partner. He plans to work along the way and explore the different opportunities available for youth workers in Australia. During his trip Jessy will add videos, pictures and podcast of the amazing youth workers he comes across. If you have a great project that you are involved with let us know and Jessy might be able to pop in for a visit.
The height of professional youth work in Australia is the humble degree program. Three years of your life where you get to learn all the ins and outs of the profession of youth work in Australia. There are currently six youth work degrees in Australia, each with their own distinctive points.
If you are considering studying a youth work degree in Australia then you need to weigh up the pros and cons. A helpful first step is our podcast “How do I become a youth worker“. Another point to make is that all youth work degrees in Australia a regulated by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) which assures the quality of Australia’s higher education sector. All the courses have had to meet rigorous and exacting standards to be able to be endorsed including a review by industry experts and academics. So whichever course you choose, know that you are getting a comprehensive course which has been developed to meet the highest standards of education.
So here is a breakdown of the courses (in alphabetical order) which are available to you if you are after youth work degrees Australia:
Australian Catholic University
Australian Catholic University runs a Bachelor of Youth Work from their campus in Melbourne. This is what they say about the course:
Youth Work is an exciting and challenging career involving working for and with young people in a variety of fun and rewarding ways. The key thing that differentiates youth workers from other community service workers is that young people are their primary concern. Youth work acknowledges the social and cultural environments within which young people live and helps foster young people’s emotional and social development.
In addition to the core youth work units, students can choose between minors in counselling or sociology. You will receive valuable practical experience in working with young people, in addition to the theoretical insights and practical competencies needed for dealing with the needs, problems and aspirations of young people.
Eastern College Australia runs a Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Youth Work) from their campus in Wantirna in Melbourne's Eastern Suburbs. This is what they say about the course:
Youth workers improve the life outcomes for young people. We encourage their personal and social development while helping them to become active citizens.
In our Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Youth Work), you will gain a strong foundation for working with young people. You will gain specialist knowledge to support young people experiencing difficulties from a trauma informed care perspective. To get you ready for a challenging and rewarding career you will spend 70 days on professional work placements.
Our degree is taught from a Christian worldview perspective, and is delivered by experts in the field of youth work. You will receive guidance from specialist youth workers and experienced sociologists, community development workers, social workers and other relevant areas. You will graduate with the knowledge, skills and experience to support young people as a reflective practitioner.
Edith Cowan University runs a Bachelor of Youth Work from their campus in Joondalup, Western Australia. This is what they say about the course:
Provides a comprehensive program of study in the essentials of youth work as an embedded practice within community work. The course includes specialist units in youth work, plus complementary studies in community work.
Students can choose complementary areas of study such as Aboriginal and Intercultural Studies, Addiction Studies, Community Work, Criminology, Psychology, Counselling, Visual Arts, Media and Communication, Events Management, and Outdoor Adventure.
Tabor runs a Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Youth Work) from their campuses in Adelaide and Perth. This what is they say about the course:
Young people are actively involved in shaping our world. So, what will this world look like for all of us in the future? How will life be better for citizens of the next century? The Tabor Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Youth Work) is developed around a central, optimistic ideology – that young people enrich society. Such enrichment requires unity and collaboration. Human experience is fundamentally relational and Tabor believes that any society is made better by the presence of multiple voices.
The Tabor program is designed to promote the critical need for a collective voice in shaping our future world. This belief, grounded in the social sciences and our own spiritual values, drives us to play a role in the ongoing struggle for justice and to help young people excel in an interconnected society.
RMIT University runs a Bachelor of Youth Work and Youth Studies from their campus in Melbourne's CBD. This is what they say about the course:
The Bachelor of Youth Work and Youth Studies explores complex issues affecting at-risk youth, such as homelessness, radicalisation, poverty and mental health. It encourages critical debate and investigation of youth in relation to space, digital landscapes, culture, religion, family and the law.
The role of a youth worker is diverse, with many challenging and rewarding career opportunities. This program aims to examine and foster the environments in which all young people can thrive and feel confident, connected and safe.
Can we suggest that if you are in youth work or are looking to be a youth worker and you want to be in the sector for more than a couple of years then you need to have a youth work degree in Australia. The knowledge, practice wisdom and experience you gain will hold you in great stead for many years. Whichever degree you choose know that you are going to be learning from the best in the sector.
Remember that each of these degrees have their own take on how to do youth work, but the core business of working with young people to encourage, empower and engage young people is the same.
I was in a youth advisory committee meeting for a local council last week and we asked each young person what issues they are passionate about. One of the answers really stood out to me, a young person said “I am passionate about recognising and understanding my privilege and using it to give a voice to those less fortunate than me”. How many 14 year olds do you know that can reflect so deeply on a topic such as privilege? I was astounded and inspired.
This got me thinking.. when have I been required to be critically reflective about myself and my work? Whilst there is some reflective practice involved in team meetings, supervision (that’s a whole other story in itself) and trainings, I don’t recall a time where the main focus was on critical reflective practice. With this in mind I decided to get in touch with you, our Ultimate Youth Worker community, and find out what your thoughts are on reflective practice.
Here are some of the responses:
“Youth Workers should use this process to talk about the things that are affecting you personally. What has been a situation with a client that are made you uneasy, or made you frustrated or angry, or made you nervous, or that you have ‘hit the wall’ with a client. You should unpack that and get in touch with what is going on, it will help you.”
– Paul McDonald, Anglicare Victoria.
“Reflective practice is extremely important in youth and social work to avoid experiencing vicarious trauma. A few years into my career, I worked with a particular family that caused me to suffer vicarious trauma. I was young myself and their story was particularly harrowing and frustrating. I wasn’t in the headspace, both professionally and personally, to truly acknowledge how this situation was affecting me. I had one-on-one supervision but at that time it wasn’t adequate, and I would stay late every day, long after everyone else had gone home. After many months of this, the trauma seeped into my personal life and eventually I realised what was happening. As my career has progressed and I have now managed a team, I see the vast importance of reflective practice, both individually and as a group/team.
Within our team and site, we have one-on-one supervision, group supervision with a child psychiatrist, group supervision with an occupational therapist who is a child trauma specialist, as well as practice reflection as a site. These are absolute non-negotiables now and are compulsory for all required staff to attend. The work we do is tough, and without these safe spaces to be able to reflect on what we do and how we do it, as well realise how our work affects us, we cannot do the best work for the people we support.”
– Sammy Hoppe, Launch Housing.
It’s great to see positive comments on reflective practice, it goes to show that there are some structures and processes out there that work really well to support staff in their personal and professional development. However I have come across a large number of youth workers who express the opposite concerns about the support they are getting with regards to reflective practice. In our experience at Ultimate Youth Worker, we find that this is partly due to a lack of a clear model for critical reflective practice for youth workers. One particular model that we find effective in our practice is Jan Fook and Fiona Gardiners framework for critically reflective practice, outlined in their book ‘Practicing Critical Reflection’.
In short, the framework is broken down into three phases and is usually facilitated in small groups, but it can also be used in a one-on-one setting. Firstly, the participants are asked to go through the process of ‘unsettling assumptions’. In this stage, the participant is asked to reflect on their practice and how it is affecting them, but they are also asked to unpack their assumptions based on their social and cultural context. The reason the term ‘unsettling assumptions’ is used is to ‘shake up’ the thinking of the participant in a way that they start to experience a degree of discomfort and explore hidden assumptions that they normally wouldn’t. Which in a supportive and clinical environment can foster greater and deeper learning. The second phase focuses on linking the learnings from the previous stage with theory and practice relevant to the individual and their work. In the third phase, which we argue is potentially the most neglected part of reflective practice, the participant goes through the process of linking their changed awareness with changed actions. This third phase is the most important part of reflective practice.
In their book, Fook and Gardiner state that “The climate and culture of the critical reflection process are probably as important as the tools and techniques used.” They continue by describing how important it is for the facilitator to create an environment where participants acknowledge the potential pain, risk and vulnerability involved with reflecting. I would love to say that I’ve had such a detailed and structured reflective practice session in my years as a youth worker, but unfortunately this is not the case. A story that I’m sure is all too familiar. What are your thoughts on this model? Would you want it to be implemented in your workplace? Share your comments in the section below.