Non-Suicidal Self Injury

Podcast 020: Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part One)

Non-Suicidal Self Injury
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Non-Suicidal Self Injury

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Non-Suicidal Self Injury Part One’ Aaron speaks with Dr. Claire Kelly about her work at Mental Health First Aid Australia and in particular her work in the space of Non-Suicidal Self Injury.

Dr Claire Kelly is the Director of Curriculum at MHFA Australia and an Honorary Fellow at Deakin University. Claire has been involved with MHFA since 2003, when she first became an instructor while completing her Doctorate at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in Canberra, where the program was first developed. Prior to her current position, Claire was the Youth MHFA Programs Manager for 10 years and also worked on the MHFA Guidelines used to develop Edition 2 of MHFA and YMHFA. Claire’s PhD thesis was written on the mental health literacy of Australian adolescents. Her main passion is the mental health of young people and minimising the impacts that mental health problems can have on development, educational outcomes and long-term functioning. Claire has suffered episodes of depression and anxiety since adolescence, which has been a driver for this work.

In todays episode (Part One of Two) Aaron and Claire speak about Non-Suicidal Self Injury and the MHFA guidelines for non-Suicidal Self Injury developed by Mental health First Aid Australia after their ‘Delphi study’ into this area.

Professional youth workers understand that there are many young people who are hurting so bad that they self injure to deal with the turmoil. Unfortunately, not all professional youth workers know how to provide the support these young people need. Todays podcast begins to give us the tools to help the hurt and keep our young people safe.

You can find more information about Claire on LinkedIn.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles that have bearing on todays podcast.

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What are eating disorders?

Eating Disorders

Adolescence can be a difficult time for young people. It is a period of intense change both physically and emotionally, partnered with stress, confusion and anxiety. Young people are extremely vulnerable during this time and can be susceptible to experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance use problems and eating disorders.

Have you ever eaten greasy fast food and regretted it after?

Have you ever felt like you’ve over eaten and felt sick after?

Have you ever gone over the day in your mind and thought about everything you’ve eaten?

These are normal thoughts that all of us experience. But imagine thinking it over and over, all day long, obsessing over every calorie, and feeling constant guilt and regret. This is what someone with an eating disorder may experience, each and every day, sometimes for many years.

Young people are particularly at risk of experiencing an eating disorder. Unfortunately, social media plays a huge part in this. When we were teenagers, the most exposure we had to celebrities and models was in a teen magazine that we bought from the newsagent, or on the occasional movie or television show. But these days, young people are exposed to images every day, literally at the tips of their fingers. Instagram, Facebook and the internet show constant photos and videos of people you know or don’t know, which unfortunately causes feelings of insecurity and inadequateness in young people in terms of how they think they should look.

What is an eating disorder?

“An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterised by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone’s life. It’s estimated that one million Australians have an eating disorder, and this number is increasing. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, a diet gone wrong or a cry for attention. Eating disorders can take many different forms and interfere with a person’s day to day life.”

There are many different types of eating disorders and these have been categorised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), edition 5, which was published in 2013. The most common types are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa; significant weight loss due to the persistent restriction of food/energy intake, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape. People with anorexia often refuse to maintain weight at or above a normal weight for their height/body shape/age/activity level.
  • Bulimia Nervosa; characterised by a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by fasting, self-induced vomiting, purging, excessive exercise or use of laxatives/diet pills.
  • Binge Eating Disorder; regular episodes of binge eating accompanied by feelings of loss of control, and in many cases; guilt, embarrassment and disgust. Unlike those with bulimia nervosa, a person with binge eating disorder will not use compensatory behaviours, such as self-induced vomiting or over-exercising after binge eating. Many people with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese.
  • Others include: Pica, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED).

You can read more about each of the different eating disorders here.

Why are young people more at risk of experiencing an eating disorder?

Whilst eating disorders can affect people of all ages, socio-economic groups and genders, adolescence is the most common stage of onset of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and disordered eating. Although eating disorders can be caused due to a number of factors (personal, environmental, psychological, biological and social), it appears that youth are the most at-risk group of developing an eating disorder, and this can be due to many factors.

As mentioned at the start of this blog post, adolescence can be a tough time for young people. So many changes, both physically and socially, in addition to hormone and brain changes that in turn can affect a young person both emotionally and psychologically. The physical changes within adolescence can cause a young person to feel self-conscious, experience low self-esteem and compare themselves to peers (as well as others that they see through social media). In addition to starting high school, making new friends and trying to “fit in”, young people may also start to feel attraction to others of the opposite or same sex. All of these changes, in addition to their body literally changing shape, as well as other physical changes, place young people at higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Furthermore, eating disorders can be a coping mechanism of young people to try and control something in their life, as they may feel helpless in other aspects of their lives where there has been dramatic change. Who do you work with that has experienced dramatic change recently or even consistently? It’s commonplace with the young people we work with.

Click here for further statistical information about eating disorders.

Are there other risk factors for eating disorders?

There is no single cause of an eating disorder, but other risk factors for eating disorders include low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, depression or anxiety, pressure from family for perfectionism or high achievement, difficulty expressing emotions, ineffective coping strategies, impulsive or obsessive behaviours, conflict in the home or another life crisis, peer pressure, media representations, critical comments about one’s appearance, bullying, physical or sexual abuse, predisposition to an imbalance in serotonin, dieting, history of family obesity and so on.

What are the physical signs of an eating disorder?

The physical signs of an eating disorder might include fluctuation in weight or significant weight loss, loss of menstrual periods (women), fatigue, dizziness, changes in skin/hair/nails, sensitivity to the cold, swelling around the cheeks or jaw, damage to teeth, bowel problems (e.g. constipation) and dehydration.

What are the psychological signs of an eating disorder?

The psychological signs of an eating disorder can include preoccupation with body weight and/or appearance, increased mood changes, irritability, reduced concentration, memory loss, anxiety around meal times, sensitivity to criticism, negative and distorted body image, guilt, self-loathing, obsessive behaviours, rigid thinking (e.g. labelling foods as “good” or “bad”), difficulty with relationships, suicidal thoughts or behaviour and drug and alcohol misuse.

What are the behavioural signs of an eating disorder?

The behavioural signs of an eating disorder may include dieting or overeating, obsessive rituals (e.g. only eating certain foods on certain days), making frequent excuses not to eat, not eating around others, hoarding food, trips to the bathroom after meals and so on.

Can you think of a young person you’ve worked with that displayed psychological, physical or behavioural signs of an eating disorder? What symptoms did they display, and were you able to intervene/assist them?

Importance of early intervention.

It is extremely important that early intervention is achieved in adolescents where an eating disorder is present. This is because during adolescence, not only does a young person’s physical body change, grow and develop, but so does their brain. If this growth and development is interrupted and left untreated, it can cause severe physical damage (chronic illness), further mental health issues and even death.

It’s important to promote eating disorder and body image dissatisfaction prevention programs in schools and within local communities. For instance:

  • Encouraging physical activity in a healthy way, team sports, as well as how to cook nutritious meals are important elements that can be introduced to schools and support services where group work is provided.
  • Anti-bullying programs can be effective in targeting behaviours that can cause eating disorders to develop amongst adolescents in school.
  • Gender equity programs that challenge stereotypes of how young people think they should “look”, as well as dissecting social media and brand representations of men and women.

Eating Disorders

How do we treat eating disorders?

A multi-disciplinary approach to treatment of eating disorders is ideal as there are both physical and psychological aspects that need to be addressed to target the underlying causes and promote long term recovery. There are many different treatment options and settings for eating disorders and these can depend on the type of eating disorder as well as the perceived severity of the problem. Some treatment options include:

  • Physical health management / hospitalisation
  • Mental health management
  • Nutritional counselling and advice
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family based therapy
  • Anti-depressants
  • Support groups and so on.

For more information on treatment options, visit Eating Disorders Victoria.

Further resources:


Youth workers need employment

Youth work employment

Recently, a member of the Ultimate Youth Worker community and I had a great time of discussion after a misunderstanding. We spoke of how many in the community will be feeling the sting of the free market economy and austerity measures. That many youth workers are finding themselves out of work in the current political climate. We spoke of the need for youth workers to have gainful employment and it got me thinking about a few things.

Employment in Australia:

The average wage of a youth worker in Australia is $33k- $63k which is below the average wage in Australia of $60,892. We all know that social services work doesn’t pay a lot, but unless you are at the top end of the pay scale you are earning significantly less than the average employed Australian. Oh, and thats based on full-time employment.

Around 49,600 people are currently employed as Youth Workers in Australia. This includes those with many different job titles. This is set to increase to 62,800 people by 2019, according to the Department of Employment. So, youth work is a growing industry.

Youth work, much like the rest of the social sector, is very female dominated with 25.6% of Youth Workers being male and 74.3% female.

A large proportion of Australian Youth Workers have a Bachelor Degree qualification (32.6%) although this does not necessarily mean a degree in youth work. 56.9% have a diploma or less, and around 10.4% have post-graduate qualifications. What this tells us is that if you have postgraduate qualifications you are the top 10% of youth workers in Australia.

Professional youth work in Australia

There are a lot of youth workers in the sector who are part-time employees. However, in our experience the ones who are full-time employees are often those we would categorise as professional youth workers. These youth workers have a three year degree in youth work and are eligible for membership of a youth workers association. They have at least five years experience in the sector and have a solid network built up. These youth worker’s are rarely out of work unless they face adverse circumstances such as an organisation shutting down. When they are seeking employment they are usually on top of the recruiting pile.

Youth work is a profession which has begun to establish its place in the social services sector and youth workers have established themselves in core services (child protection, youth justice, local government). With all of this happening over the last couple of decades it is easy for youth workers to still feel like the new kid on the block. Youth work employment in Australia is strong, we shouldn’t believe otherwise.

The key take away for you reading this is get qualified. Minimum of a degree, but aim higher. Get experience, at least five years, even if it is part-time work. Five years appears to be the tipping point for people leaving the sector. Above all, build a wide network. If you only have experience in one small sliver of the youth sector you are always in danger of losing your job. If you have experience, understanding and networks across the sector you will never be at the mercy of austerity.

*The information provided on this page is from the Department of Employment’s Job Outlook website. All salary ranges are from Payscale. Where jobs are not exact matches, job areas have been used. This information is to be used as a guide only. 

A place that refreshes

A place that refreshes

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.

a place that refreshes

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.

Mental State Exam

Podcast 019: Mental State Exams

Mental State Exams
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Mental State Exams

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.


Download our MSE Cheat Sheet

Read our blog posts on each of the eight areas of the MSE

  1. Appearance
  2. Behaviour
  3. Speech and Language
  4. Mood and Affect
  5. Thought process and content
  6. Perception
  7. Cognition
  8. Insight and judgement

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Ultimate Youth Worker

What makes Ultimate Youth Workers unique?

Ultimate Youth Worker

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.


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.

Get our core values audit now…


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.


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.

Listen to our podcast on how to get started planning your career…

Understand youth work THEORY

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“.

They 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.


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?


Podcast 018: Reflecting in the moment

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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.The best youth workers actively seek to identify opportunities to reflect on their own interactions and practices with young people. they then seek opportunities to address any concerns or areas for development.

Great youth workers look for models we can tailor to our work

Aaron Garth

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Reflexivity. Taking our understanding of all the stuff we have been critically reflective about and then turning our new found knowledge into action.

 Today’s resources

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, donate here!

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To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
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What youth workers can’t live without?

Youth Worker

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).

Games supplies

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.

A network

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?

Leave a comment below.

Podcast 017: Practising Critical Reflection

Critical Reflection
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Critical ReflectionIn 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.

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What will 2019 look like?

What will 2019 look like?

What will 2019 look like?

What will 2019 look like?

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.

The current offerings for 2019 include:

Critical Incident Debriefing

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:

  • Action research
  • Collaborative research
  • Development of models of best-practice
  • Evaluation
  • Face-to-face and online training modules
  • Implementation science
  • Population studies
  • Qualitative and quantitative studies
  • Youth participation

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.