Law

Self care 101: There is no work life balance

Work life balance

I have just finished reading an article in the latest Journal of the Australian Association of Social Work. The article addresses that enigma that we all struggle to solve eventually in life, ‘how do I find a work life balance’? The article shows the results of a survey of 439 qualified social workers who had been asked questions around balancing work and family and the stress associated with this.
The results of this survey basically show that the pressures of work impact negatively on family life and create psychological strain on the individual and the family. Conversely, when the pressures of family life impact on work they create more psychological stress on the individual and decrease work effectiveness. It is a cycle that so many of us have fallen into; work pressures lead to pressure at home which leads to pressure at work which leads to pressures at home. Things start spiraling out of control and then some well meaning friend or colleague or our boss says something along the lines of “dude you need to get some work life balance!”
Work life balance
Unless it is an illness, new birth, death or an issue of other family members spiraling out of control rarely have the team at Ultimate Youth Worker seen the impact of family pressures on work. In fact we would be so bold as to say it is never that we spend so much time at home that our work is suffering!!! It is almost always that work is taking up the family time.
As a full-time youth worker doing 40+ hours a week, a Masters student out two nights a week for classes and studying most of the weekend, a member of the student union doing one night time activity per week and starting a new company; my wife pulled me up on my lack of family time at the beginning of the year. I was seeing my kids for a couple of hours a week aside from the crossing of our paths as we got ready for the day ahead. My wife would be asleep on the couch most nights by the time I got home and we rarely had any “us time”. I prioritised WORK over FAMILY. No work life balance there.
When I was called to account by my wife (Yes, even those of us striving to become ultimate youth workers argue with our wives at decibel levels that would shame any self respecting metal band) I was shocked. I hadn’t realised. My kids had an absent father and my wife was living like a single mum. I was unsure of what to do. Everything I was doing was important, wasn’t it? Important to the future of our family. If I worked longer hours I would support more vulnerable young people earning me a positive reputation in the field. If I gained my Masters it would open up doors for promotion and show that I had amazing knowledge. By supporting the student union I was supporting educational standards and building networks for the future. Everything I was doing was for a time just out of reach but right in my line of sight. If I worked harder now my life would be glorious in the future. The problem is the future never becomes the present. There is always another obstacle in the way of ultimate success. I had invested in my identity as a youth worker and pinned my hopes and dreams on a professional future whilst neglecting the present.
Work life balance has obstacles
Work was going great but family was a mess. I spoke to some trusted friends and confidants and they all said I needed to drop some of my work priorities to balance my family priorities. I deferred my Masters for six months and sat back to see balance take hold. Unfortunately, I tipped further away from family. I got caught up in more committees through work, the student union and even went on a recruitment binge for more volunteers for my program at the behest of my boss. My work life balance was quite unbalanced.
You see, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, or so says Parkinson.
I had removed a work priority but I had not made family a priority, so work expanded to fill ‘the gap’.
What I began to realise was that I was looking at this all wrong. It’s not my fault!!! Someone gave me an equation that had incompatible data. They said:
Equal Time (with Family) + Equal Time (for work) = Balance in life
The problem is there is no balance!!! The data sets are totally incompatible. I might as well have said, buying a telescope + reading a book on hang gliding = qualified zoo keeper!!! Work and Family are two totally different concepts. They cannot be placed in a zero sum equation of balance. Balance assumes that they have equal weighting. As youth workers we strive to support our clients (placing weight on our work) and all to often it is at the detriment of our family (removing prioritised time). We all say family is important, but our actions show our families something different. In the article the authors recount that some social workers stated,

when confronted with demands from work and home, their work commitments was given priority over family commitments” (pg 367).

Why do we do this??? Is it because we believe our family will understand the plight of the young people and will forgive us for missing time with them. If I had a dollar for every youth workers kid (including my own) I met that stated their parent was never around I could retire today.

But if there is no balance, I hear you say, then what do I do???

When you realise that the two concepts of family and work can never balance you can then prioritise action. Choose to put your family first. If you are married I know your vows didn’t say that you take ‘work’ for better or worse. Got kids??? I’m sure they miss your love and affection (I believe it builds good attachment, I think I read somewhere that that’s important???). Want to see them next Christmas??? Then make them your number one priority.
Work will always expand then to fit the remaining time available for it.
But what about my boss??? I can’t just stop going into work?? I need my paycheck? But I’m in ministry and I was called to do this? All valid thoughts!!! Whats your priority though??? I’m not saying quit your job!!! But, your paid for 38 hours… so do 38 hours. You have some high risk kids… put plans in place so you can switch your phone off on the weekend. Have you ever gone away on holiday??? Did the world end while you were gone??? Of course not!!! You put measures in place so that things worked without you. Be more effective in your work time so that it doesn’t spill over into family time.
If your family is your first priority then schedule your time with them. If you are down to finish at 5pm, schedule your arrival at home (If you are really gutsy you could even promise to be home at that time). Honour your commitment to your family. Schedule holidays and weekends away and kids soccer games and date nights with your partner. Then when you have prioritised your family life let work fill work time. I used to do a weekly calendar that began by blocking out Monday to Friday 9-5. I would fill it with Uni and meetings and all manner of other rubbish and my wife would ask when I would be around for the family!!!
Backward!!!
If family is your number one priority they get first dibs at your calendar.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t been doing this long. I had always thought self care was all about me. If someone took your job away you would be sad, disappointed even angry. I Know, I have been fired from work that I loved without any notice. But, if someone took your family away you would become a wreck. A blubbering mess. How many divorces in our field could have been avoided by a good hard look at our prioritise? My wife and I are still together. More to do with her amazing heart than my skills and planning. She knew this stuff intrinsically. Family comes first!
I am still learning. I was out four nights last week and didn’t get to see my kids awake between Sunday and Friday. But I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday making up for it.
Do not aim for a work life balance. It is a false economy and one that will lead to a crash… and it won’t be at work. Invest in your family first and then work hard at your job during work hours. There will always be demands on your time and you will always spend more waking hours at work than at home. But if you prioritise your family first they will get the lions share of your attention and you will reap the rewards of a happy and fulfilled life.
P.S. to my friends in youth ministry. You can be more susceptible to putting work first than most others. I know as a church based youth worker in the early part of my career I was paid for 2 days a week and used to work in excess of 30 hours a week!!! That’s fine when you do not have a family. The excuse (and I believe it is and excuse. If you don’t then email me and we can chat) that, “I am in the ministry and that makes it OK to forsake my family for a time because I am just following God’s call on my life and they should support me in it” is preposterous. You married, had a family, they are your responsibility. They come before the ministry.

Reference

Parveen Kalliath, Mark Hughes & Peter Newcombe (2012): When Work and Family are in Conflict: Impact on Psychological Strain Experienced by Social Workers in Australia, Australian Social Work, 65:3, 355-371

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Build your youth work network

One of the main differences between a good youth worker and a great youth worker is their ability to get things done in a timely manner for the young people they support. Whether it is helping them find work, get a medical check up, enter a rehab facility or any other thing we do being able to refer them on to other agencies and have the agency get to them is an art… or is it???

 

On the 21st of February 2012 I posted on Facebook, “How big is your network? a good youth worker has a wide and varied group that they can call upon in need.“. What I didn’t say was how a youth worker could do it. So many people I speak to think that building a network is something for the extraverts and party people. They say things like, “I wish I had a bigger network, but I don’t know who to ask” or “If only I knew someone at (insert service) it would make my life so much easier…but I don’t“. Most think that to build a network you have to have been born with an innate ability to attract people. The good news is that is a crock. Anyone can do it!
 
Build your network

 

The most difficult part is having the guts to do it. I know it is hard. PEOPLE ARE SCARY. Its why we like email more than a phone call and love it compared to going face to face. But if we can get past our fear of other people our network can grow daily!!! Think of all the people you meet every day. The people on your train to work. The Barrista who makes your coffee. The other service providers in your building. The school staff at your kids school. The doctors at your local clinic. HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU SEE EVERY DAY???
 
Once you realise that you meet people everywhere everyday the next part is easy. With the courage you have been plucking up you stick out your hand and say “Hi i’m …..”! I was in a cafe about a month ago waiting to meet a volunteer. The cafe is a regular haunt and I have gotten to know some of the staff but I was in during lunch which is a time I don’t usually go in. There was a waiter I had seen a couple of times in the evening who seemed to be running things during lunch. After I met with my volunteer the waiter mentioned that he had seen me in the cafe a bit over the last few months and asked what I did. After a brief chat I stuck out my hand and said “By the way i’m Aaron”. We chatted for a bit longer and it turned out the guy had just brought the cafe and was spending a couple of months learning the ropes. Since that time I have never paid for a coffee for a volunteer and we have found a new place to hold our volunteer get togethers.
 
 
Once you do this a dozen times you will have a pretty good idea of how to do it and what to say. From here the next part is a cake walk. If you are at a conference, stick out your hand. If you are at a multidisciplinary meeting, stick out your hand. If you are in a cafe, stick out your hand. Everywhere you go stick out your hand and introduce yourself. Remember the person’s name!!! Write it down if you have to. Get a business card if they have one. The main point is to do it everywhere. Yeah you will meet some people you will never meet again (I once met a professional telemarketer, I annoyed her during her dinner:)) but you will have a card book full of contacts that you will be able to develop into your network.
 
When I was working in a youth drug and alcohol rehab we expected that the young people coming into our centre had completed a detox for at least a week. A former colleague gave me a call to book her young person in but couldn’t get him a detox stay for at least 2 months. Knowing my colleague and her practice style I knew the young person was at a crucial stage and would bail on her before 2 months so I asked her to leave it with me. I rang a guy I had met a few weeks earlier at a conference who managed a youth detox service. We didn’t really know each other but I asked if we could catch up for a coffee. Two days later over coffee I mentioned how difficult my former colleague was finding a place for her young people to detox and before I finished my sentence he said that I should get her to call him. Three weeks later the young person came to my rehab after a week stay at my new friends detox.
 
 
Build your network!!! It can help you or someone you know as in the case above, but most of all it can help your young people. My network has mechanics, financial planners, allied health staff, a pilot and many others who I stay in contact with and get to know whenever I can. It doesn’t matter who you meet but in the words of Nike, JUST DO IT. To learn more about building your network you can listen to our friends Mike and Mark talk about it in more details on their podcast

If you have any questions drop us an email or chat to us on facebook and twitter.

Accountability

As I said a few weeks back the team at Ultimate Youth Worker are currently developing our “Model of Effective Youth Work Practice“, which will guide how we work as youth workers and how we teach youth work to those in the industry. We are creating this guide for the development of practice excellence for youth workers as a step towards framing good ethical practice that every youth worker can do…not just those with a qualification. Our first pillar of successful youth work that we hold to is that of reflective practice. Our Second pillar of successful youth work is Accountability.
 
Accountability has gained a bad name in the human services sector particularly over the years that the neo-managerialist approach has entered the fray. Many of us have felt the prying eyes of government agencies and funding bodies who seek to impose their ideologies and boundaries on us and our services whilst asking us to do more. We have seen our supervisors change from reflective supervisors to hamstrung managers. We have seen our multitude of practices being whittled down to be pigeon holed in best practice manuals and funding agreements.
 
Accountability in our eyes is not the boss hanging over your shoulder making sure you follow the company line. Accountability is a set of checks and balances designed to support you as a person, your practice, your clients and your longevity in the field. Accountability means being open to many people. Your boss, your organisation, your clients, your husband/wife/partner, your supervisor, your mentors etc. Accountability is the glue which holds your goals together and brings focus for the future.
 
One of the best pieces of accountability I have ever had was initially imposed on me and is now one I can’t do without. In the early days of my career a really switched on youth minister mate of mine said I should get a mentor. Someone outside of the work I do but who understands the sector. Someone that i can vent to, ask for advice and who will make sure I keep some balance in my life. The guy who mentors me knows more about me than almost anyone else and isn’t afraid to tell me how it is. Do you have a mentor??? If not get one!
 
Over this past weekend myself and two other seasoned youth workers began a think tank support group for a young youth minister in Melbourne. We spent an afternoon together getting to know each other and hearing her vision for the local community she is working in. We asked her to become accountable to a process of ongoing support and development where we will push her to become the best she can be. Accountability in this situation means trusting a group of people from different areas of practice to guide her through strength and weakness to develop her skills to support her community.
 
Not all of us have great bosses and even more importantly good supervisors. This does make it hard to trust them with accountability. However to have balance at work we must be transparent and accountable. There may be time when we need to be ‘Canny Outlaws’ however we must also work within the systems we find ourselves in. If your boss or supervisor isn’t open to accountability that is more than managerialism ask them to help you. If they still aren’t there DO IT YOURSELF!!! Start a small reflective practice group. Develop your own practical wisdom. Find a mentor. Get external supervision. try, try, try. Be open to managerialism but do not let that be the benchmark, SEEK EXCELLENCE.
 
Being accountable means being open to people probing your practice as well as your person. Just this week my supervisor asked me to think about how my personality (which can be a dominant one) comes across in meetings and service delivery. I didn’t like having my person stripped bare but I accepted the criticism and actively sought out discussion with colleagues and mentors on how I can work on this. Being accountable means being active. You cant say you are willing to work on your practice and person and then kick up a stink when people call you on it.
 
Being accountable has many facets and more discussion is necessary. Be aware of your limitations and the boundaries which are imposed on you. Be the best you can be and don’t be afraid to open your practice and your person up to ongoing development. Accountability is what sets apart great youth workers and those we all roll our eyes over.
 

If you have any questions drop us an email or chat to us on facebook and twitter.



Youth Worker Identity

A couple of months ago I attended a conference where Professor Rob White from the University of Tasmania stated that the key attribute of a youth worker is their identity first and foremost as a youth worker. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I am coming to the end of my masters degree and wonder what it will mean for my future professional Identity.

As a young man I began my studies in youth ministry. I was working for a local Baptist Church and was looking at gaining a qualification for my future work in the Church. A couple of years later I went on to study at RMITas I wanted to expand my understanding of youth work and the youth services sector. During this time I also had the opportunity to gain a Certificate in Alcohol and Other Drug work. After a few years and some interesting conversations I decided to go back and study for a master of social work. All of these courses have informed my practice as a youth worker over the years and have shaped who I am as a person.

Over the years I have had a number of jobs in the youth services field from drug and alcohol outreach to school based youth worker. I have also had a number of other social work roles such as in adult homelessness services and family services. Depending on whom I was talking too and what specialities my role required I would determine what I would tell a person when they asked what it was I did. For the most part I would tell people that I was a youth worker and deal with questions of my knowledge base if they arose later.

I was asked by a mate recently if I would start calling myself a social worker when I graduate from the masters. Without a second thought I said NO. Whilst I will be qualified as a social worker my heart is in youth. Truth be told I only did the qualification because I was sick of the politics and hierarchy of the welfare field in Australia and wanted “a piece of paper” that said I was as good as the rest. In my heart of hearts I am a youth worker and I am proud of it.

There is a discussion in the field about professionalism and a concurrent discussion on the idea of specialisation Vs generalisation in the field. When the chips are down it doesn’t matter if you have a specialisation or not. A specialisation does not make the professional. Our identity is not in our specialisation it is in our initial focus… working with young people. When we are the best at the core stuff that is when the sector sees us as professionals. Our professional identity hinges on our ability to do our job better than anyone else and that is something that we can be proud of. We resonate with Professor White’s statement that the key distinguishing attribute of a youth worker is indeed their identity first and foremost as a youth worker.

Stay Frosty.

Self Care 101: Have a plan

Why is self care so important???

In a couple of words ‘Vicarious Trauma’. Within the work we do as youth workers we hear astonishing stories of things going wrong in our young peoples lives. We hear the stories of physical abuse at the hands of parent, sexual abuse at the hands of supposedly caring adults, of emotional abuse by families and school kids and we hear of the ongoing traumas that come with the adolescent storm and stress. These traumas affect everyone of our young people differently… and they also affect us. This is vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma affects our self care.Self care
Vicarious trauma affects most people slowly. It is the indifference at one of those stories of abuse. It is when a young person becomes just another client rather than a person in need. It is when you get home and yell at your wife because it is a Thursday. It can creep up on you and tear you to shreds. I worked as a family worker a few years back. My eldest daughter was about two and I was working with a young family who also had a two year old. That little girl and my own daughter had similar features and mannerisms and when her story of sexual abuse came to the fore I started to fold. My Wife (a Psychologist) saw me starting to fold and told me in her gentle and loving manner to get myself in order.
As a smart and well educated youth worker I did what I thought best and spoke to my supervisor about my struggles. My Supervisor was a caring social worker who in her best social work speak told me to not worry about it. I attempted to explain the gravity the situation was having on me to no avail. Her supervision was about as useful as a pair of board shorts in the arctic. I went to one of my mentors and he sympathised with my situation. He asked me one question that has always stuck in my mind. “do you have a self car plan”?
I had no idea what a self care plan looked like. I had never even hear of such a thing. First we looked at what a balanced life should entail. We then looked at how balanced my life was at the time. NOT VERY. We then looked at what activities I liked doing in these categories:
  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Emotional
  4. And, Spiritual
We wrote a list of five things in each category that I would enjoy doing and that would help me to gain some balance. In the Physical category I had things like Hiking, going to the gym and having an awesome meal. In the Mental category I had ideas like reading a good book, doing sudoku and doing some studies. Emotional had spending time with my family, enjoying some time with my mates and seeing an external supervisor. Spiritual had go to church, pray and find my centre. Once that had been done the rest was pretty easy. Whenever I felt the pressure of the job getting to me I would choose an activity to do and i would touch base with my mentor to let him know what I had done.
Self care is pretty simple when you plan for it. What three activities could you do to take your mind off the stress of the world? Who are three people you can check in with on a regular basis to vent? If your boss sucks at supporting you through the stress your not alone. Touch base with us if you need someone. But don’t let another day go by without starting to plan for your care. If you are not on top of it how can you care for anyone else.

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Reflective practice: Why we should journal.

The team at Ultimate Youth Worker are currently developing our “Model of Effective Youth Work Practice” which will guide how we work as youth workers and how we teach youth work to those in the industry. We believe that excellence mean being effective and innovative and as such we are creating a guide for the development of practice excellence. One of the pillars of successful youth work we hold to is that of reflective practice.

 

Reflective practice is by no means a new idea in the field but it is one that is not widely implemented. Reasons for this are wide and varied but are mostly end up being because people do not know how to do it or what it would look like. In university courses there is often discussion about being critically reflective and aware of your work however when a student becomes a staff member the critical thinking is left behind an ever growing wall of bureaucracy and paperwork. This often leads to frustration on the part of the staff member and in more extreme cases a complete break down in effective service delivery.

Now I hear some of you saying ‘yeah, but isn’t that what supervision is for?’, and quite a valid point you make. in a perfect world supervision would provide an opportunity for staff to reflect on their practice. However, the world is rarely ever perfect. Many of the youth workers we speak to rarely have a supervision session if any. Those that do have them often speak of them as robotic and machinistic, or as one youth worker told us ‘just a way for the organisation to tick another box to cover their butts‘. For the rare few there are times provided for them to think critically about their practice and its effect on them and their client and learn from their experience. We believe that critical reflection should not be a little bit tacked on to the end of a supervision session for the lucky few, but a whole of practice approach to every aspect of what we do!!!
Boud (2001) states, “Reflection involves taking the unprocessed, raw material of experience and engaging with it to make sense of what has occurred. It involves exploring often messy and confused events and focusing on the thoughts and emotions that accompany them. It can be undertaken as an informal personal activity for its own sake, or as part of a structured course“. Reflective practice comes in many shapes and formats and depending on your organisation, the resources available to you and your level of expertise this can look very different in one setting over another. Over the coming months we will discuss some of the ways individuals, organisations and the youth work sector as a whole can implement reflective practices into their daily structures. However, for today we will begin by looking at something every individual youth worker can do to develop their own reflective practice… Journaling.

When I was a young youth worker I completed an internship with a small organisation that trained youth workers to work in schools. One of the most interesting aspects of the internship (and the one I most struggled with) was a forced weekly journalling session. Some of my best reflections on where I was at as a youth worker, what I needed to work on and how I practiced came during this time. However, I struggled with the exercise because I was not given a reason to do it. I struggled because I was not given a format or template to do it. But most of all I struggled because critical reflection was not something that had been instilled in me as a youth worker either in practice or study.

Moon, in her 1999 article, states the following reasons why journaling helps in the process of learning from experience:
  • To deepen the quality of learning, in the form of critical thinking or developing a questioning attitude 
  • To enable learners to understand their own learning process
  • To increase active involvement in learning and personal ownership of learning
  • To enhance professional practice or the professional self in practice
  • To enhance the personal valuing of the self towards self-empowerment
  • To enhance creativity by making better use of intuitive understanding
  • To free-up writing and the representation of learning
  • To provide an alternative ‘voice’ for those not good at expressing themselves
  • To foster reflective and creative interaction in a group

Journaling provides a great base for the individual worker to begin to develop their reflective practice. Here is one template i have come accross that has worked over the years to help me reflect on my practice.

  1. Identify and describe the experience/issue/ decision/incident
  2. Identify your strengths as a practitioner
  3. Identify your feelings thoughts; values, feelings and thoughts of others involved
  4. Identify external and internal factors; including structural/oppressive factors etc
  5. Identify factors you have influence or control over and those you don’t ( do others?)
  6. Identify knowledge used:
    1. factual
    2. theoretical
    3. practice
  7.  Develop an action plan: what do I need to do first, second and third and so on
 Impliment your action plan, then do it all over again.

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References

Boud, D. (2001). Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. In English, L. M. and Gillen, M. A. (Eds.)Promoting Journal Writing in Adult Education. New Directions in Adult and Continuing Education No. 90. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 9-18.
Moon, J. (1999). Reflection in Learning and Professional Development. London: Kogan Page

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The question of qualifications.

Since our last post our Director of Operations has been fielding questions that usually started with ‘so you think anyone can be a youth worker…?’! These conversations often led to a discussion around the idea of minimum qualifications for youth workers and a subsequent frustrating discussion on what that would look like.
For the record we thought it would be worth trying to articulate our company position which we began to do in our last article. We asked our Director of Operations to spell it out.
We DO believe that Youth Workers should have qualifications. The higher the better!!! We do not believe that setting a minimum qualification is the answer. Minimum standards do not set a bar of excellence but a ‘just scrape through’ mentality. Here in Victoria this happened in the drug and alcohol sector when the sector settled for 5 units from a Certificate IV as their standard because many people who were practicing had a Certificate IV or less. If we set the minimum qualification at a bachelor degree as many want to in Victoria and as has happened in Ireland then we would be alienating over %75 of the current youth sector which without legislative support would just lead to a hierarchy of staff in organisation in the same vein as the professional/volunteer dichotomy present in Ireland.
We DO believe that a tiered system of qualifications and responsibilities needs to be implemented alongside a professional association which requires ongoing professional development for membership. If you are un-qualified then you should have less responsibility than someone with a Masters degree. But if you are employed as a youth worker you should be required to meet stringent professional development levels throughout your career to be allowed to practice. If you are employed as a youth worker you must be required to develop your professional understanding to maintain employment. 
We DO NOT believe that implementing a minimum qualification level will make the youth sector any more professional. The best most professional youth worker I know is a plumber by qualification. He may not know all the theories but he is always on the hunt for good professional development and training. He attends forums and is involved in many practice groups and looks for opportunities to better his practice and that of his organisation. Conversely, one of the degree qualified youth workers I trained with has not attended professional development training in over five years, is not a member of any professional groups and is by all accounts a mediocre youth worker at the best of times… and he manages a medium sized youth service. Qualifications do not make a professional.
As I was sitting in Macca’s on the weekend watching my kids play on the playground I started thinking about how I was going to approach this article. when my wife brought out our food I looked at the tray mat which showed a career progression graph with roles, responsibilities and training requirements to make it up the McDonald’s ladder. It fit the model that we at Ultimate Youth Worker believe should be implemented perfectly. Qualifications scaffold your ability to move up the ladder from Certificate I through to Higher Degrees. Experience in each area of responsibility builds opportunity for advancement. Ongoing development is a requirement for continued employment. You are always learning and always being prepared for the next level of the career path. You never stay as an un-qualified person you get trained or you are let go.
One of our friends mentioned that for this to happen dollars need to be spent and opportunities need to be available. It means that professional development needs to become a BUDGET REQUIREMENT rather than a reluctant line item. It means professional development must meet the needs of the sector and focus on CONTINUING development rather than just rehashing material you would learn in a Certificate IV level course. It mean that the profession needs to endorse a process rather that a dead end. Not just an endorsement like the lip service of the past but one where funding agreements are littered with the notion of ongoing staff development, where professional associations run more training than the universities and where youth workers aspire to be better than the minimum standard.
Qualifications are important, however ongoing professional development is more so. Sector wide funding for ongoing professional development is sparse at best and if we can not get it right no level of qualification will ever be enough. For the record we believe that setting a minimum qualification would diminish a focus on excellence rather than build it. We believe that there needs to be a clear career progression path for staff in the sector and qualifications need to match duty levels. The Sector needs to step up and provide opportunities for development and this requires a dedicated effort and funding.
We have much more to add to this discussion and will continue to speak on our view for the future.

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Why youth worker’s need to gain practical wisdom!!!

Over the last few months I have been encouraged to imagine what youth work might look like in the future. This has been an exciting process, however it has also had a disheartening effect on me. You see when you look forward you inevitably return to the present and you may even glance to the past.
Youth work as a profession has had a very rocky few decades in Australia and particularly over the past couple of years has been at the centre of immense change in the social services sector. Amongst the youth work fraternity this change has come in the form of associations for youth workers being instigated in some states with the purpose of gaining a professional membership of qualified youth workers. it has also had an assault on its professionality by groups such as RMIT University who have tried to envelop the youth work course into the social science stream so as to generalise it rather than have it as a stand alone course.
As I look into the past I lament the neo-liberal focus on professionalisation as meaning only having qualifications. I also lament the removal of practice wisdom from our day to day work and the replacement with rules and regulations. I lament that we have been so divisive in how we have dealt with each other as youth workers instead of banding together. We have made progress but we have also spent a lot of the time LOST in the wilderness navigating from glimpses of someone else’s map.
In their inspiring book “practical wisdom” Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe believe that we need to re-imagine our work as neither rules based or incentive driven but as being driven  by practical wisdom. They call for us to become ‘canny outlaws’ who buck the trend of standardisation and become more empathetic and learn from the collective wisdom of the sector. In their view we need to become wise through mentoring and practice development without the constrains of standardisation and rote learning.
As I gaze into the future of youth work I imagine a profession unlike any other. One where we mentor our new colleagues and share practice wisdom freely. One where gaining a qualification is inconsequential but where ongoing education is the benchmark. A profession where our work is so exceptional that we are envied by others and where it is so unique that it is not so easily quantifiable.. or dismissed as it is currently. I see  a profession of diverse skills, qualifications and theories that work in harmony to support young people as a whole person. I see a bright future. To get there we must stop tearing ourselves apart and begin to develop our own professional identity free from the constraints of other professions and those that have been imposed on us by governments and the neo-liberal agenda.
Lets change the future!

Dealing with our God complex!!!

I remember not long after I got married about 5 years into my youth work career being out every other night and working to fix the problems of every young person who came through my circle of influence. I also remember the conversation I had with my wife where she told me I needed to deal with my God complex!!!
I didn’t think I had a God complex! I was just the local youth worker. I was the one who they looked to for advice. I was the one they could come to to deal with their issues. I was the one who helped the through the storms and stresses of youth. There wasn’t another youth worker in the area and I was the first point of call for many of the young people.
Many youth workers, particularly early in their career, strive to do everything they can for the young people they work with. This is not wrong as some would have you believe. A little misguided perhaps, but not wrong. Where this misguided focus can tend to become trouble is when youth workers forget that they do not know everything. Sometimes we get in so deep that we forget to advocate, refer and empower.
Our God complex comes to the fore when we overstep our ability. As youth workers we aren’t psychologists, accountants, doctors or lawyers. we may have some understanding of other areas of practice, but for the most part as youth workers we know about young people and that is where our practice should stay. When our passion makes us over reach we become detrimental to our young people and bring our profession into disrepute.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS! When we know what we are able to do we can provide a great service to our young people. When we know our limits we can focus our ongoing professional development to expand our abilities. When we know our limits we can work with our colleagues from other disciplines comfortable in our own abilities. Most of all when we know our limits we can live a balanced life without the God complex.

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What post-qualifying education might look like!!!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the need for ongoing professional development and post-qualifying education for youth workers. for us to be the best, the Ultimate Youth Worker’s, we must continue to learn and develop as we progress through our career. However, in Australia there is no requirement for a person who works with young people to hold a qualification, let alone attend professional development!!!

In Australia there is currently no national professional association and very few states have fledgling professional associations for youth workers. Currently, these associations have limited memberships and do not require their membership to have ongoing professional development to maintain their membership. My wife is a psychologist and as such is required to meet a level of ongoing professional development to maintain her registration with her professional association. Some of my mates are social workers and they too have to meet a level of ongoing professional development for registration. Why not youth workers???
One of the main difficulties is pitching the professional development to a sector that has such a wide range of qualifications. In Victoria over %50 of “Youth Workers” hold a Certificate IV (a one year TAFE qualification) or less. There is a smaller percentage who hold a Diploma (2 years) and an even smaller percentage who hold a degree (3 years) and an almost unmentionable number who hold post-graduate qualifications. What often happens is that training groups pitch their training at the lowest common denominator or bastardise their training to meet the needs of a select few… meeting the needs of only a small proportion of workers. In effect most professional development courses rehash knowledge from TAFE level courses which does not bode well for CONTINUING professional development. 
Another reason is that it is easier to rehash old course material than to think outside the box and develop good ongoing training. There is a train of thought which states that if you have done your course and passed then you are competent and therefore do not need to learn other techniques and ideologies. The problem with this is that the profession stagnates. Imagine if doctors did that??? We would still be curing infection by chopping limbs off and alienating people with skin conditions like leprosy. We need fresh ideas thrown into the mix for the profession to grow and flourish. We need them for workers to gain a clear foundation for their practice.

But what would this continuing professional development look like???

First of all it means a minimum level of education for all Youth Workers. This is a contentious subject in Victoria as what would the minimum level be??? Many want a degree level qualification to be the minimum. However, those with TAFE qualifications are livid about the prospect of being excluded. However the idea of being professionals means stating that there is a group of people who can do a certain job and a group that can not. (see Jethro Sercombe Part 1 & Part 2).
Second, it means that Post-Qualifying education and continuing professional development must be more than rehashing old course material. We need researchers devoting themselves to the future of youth work. We need academics looking for the newest best practice theories to guide our practitioners. We need practitioners brave enough to challenge the status quo and say that we need to be better for the sake of our young people.
Finally, we need to develop a culture of excellence in the face of mounting Neo-Liberalism. When governments say it is better to have more people who are less qualified than having the best qualified workforce we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When employers skimp on professional development because their budgets are shrinking we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When our colleagues say to us that they won’t go to training because they don’t need it we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When professional development groups put forward substandard training at top dollar we need to say ‘Not good enough’. Expect more of our profession, our colleagues and ourselves! Do not settle for mediocre, it is not why you got into this work. Be the best you can be and expect it from others.
Youth work is an honourable profession. It requires passion and skills to be balanced for the best outcomes of our young people. I know you have passion, it is why you began the journey. Lets gain skills that will take youth work into the next century as a leading force in social services and community welfare.