Code of Ethics

Youth Work Code of Ethics

Youth Work Code of Ethics

Youth Work Code of Ethics

I remember when I first started as a youth worker. I knew that ethics were important, that they underpinned the work that I did and that a youth work code of ethics existed in Victoria. However, being the gung-ho youth worker that I was, I was more interested in diving head first into the nitty gritty stuff rather than sitting down and dissecting how a code of ethics might better inform my practice. Over the years I have spent a lot of time reflecting on and refining the work that I do and this has led me to spend a lot more time developing a more rounded and ethical approach to my work. Whilst I would argue that I naturally act within an ethical framework, it can be helpful to know the “guidelines” set out by the industry professionals in your area. This is where a code of ethics comes into play. Having a code of ethics can guide you in the right direction with regards to professional development, increase your longevity in the field and help you to fully understand your roles and responsibilities on a micro and macro scale.

Earlier this year we spoke with Professor Howard Sercombe about his work developing a youth work code of ethics in Australia. I’ve listened to it and summarised a few key learnings that I drew from it, however I do encourage you to listen to the podcast and then have some discussions with your colleagues about the information raised. Here is what stood out for me;

  • Whilst we can perform our job ethically without necessarily having a code of ethics written down, having it written down allows us to be more conscious of the work we do and why we do it.
  • It gives us a common language to use with each other and allows us to define ourselves and our role to other professionals.
  • There is no nationwide code of ethics. Some states are opposed to a code of ethics, however those states that do possess a code share ones that are similar in their makeup.
  • A code of ethics is not a list of rules. Youth Work is such a broad field and the circumstances we face are so varied that having one set of rules would not work.
  • A code of ethics can be described as “terms of engagement”; core principles that govern our overall approach to working with young people.

Youth Work Ethics

With this mind, I have taken some of the key responsibilities from “The Code of Ethical Practice for the Victorian Youth Sector” and outlined ways in which they inform my day to day practice as a youth worker. The Victorian Youth Work Code of Ethics states that “The youth work practice responsibilities describe key elements of what youth workers do when guided by the youth work principles. They are the essence of youth work practice and are important in youth workers fulfilling their responsibilities. The youth work practice responsibilities are not placed in order of importance, but are all of equal value”.

Young People as the Primary Consideration.

This means thinking about, then doing, what is best for the young person. So even if other people are involved in your work—like the young person’s parents or another worker—you always make decisions in the best interest of the young person”.

I hear all the time “we have the young person’s best interest at heart” or many other variations of the same sentiment. But what does it actually mean in practice? I regularly try to think back to when I was their age and how I would have responded to certain situations, then put myself in their shoes. Being able to understand a young person’s situation from their point of view allows you to truly consider what is best for them at that point in time. From this point of view, you can connect with them on their level and act as an advocate.

As a residential youth worker, a prime example of “young people as the primary consideration” is the Looking After Children documents (LAC). The Department of Health and Human Services states that “Looking After Children (LAC) is an outcomes-focused approach for collaboratively providing good care for children placed in out-of-home care. In Victoria, LAC provides the practice framework for considering how each child’s needs will be met, whilst that child is in out-of-home care. It is used for managing out-of-home care in accordance with the Best Interests Case Practice Model cycle of information gathering, assessment, planning, implementation and review”.

Parts of the document are completed by the caregivers, and parts are completed with the young person to ensure they have a say in the outcomes they want from being in out-of-home care. The goal setting element of this document is extremely important and can be an empowering process for the young person if done correctly.

Boundaries.

The youth work relationship is strictly professional. Professional boundaries intentionally protect both the young person and the worker. Youth workers will maintain the integrity of these limits”.

Some of the young people I work with make it their mission to find me on social media. For the most part they are successful. This has led me to finding ways to conceal my online identity and I have even deleted some accounts to avoid causing any issues. For the most part this is not a real issue though, as the boundaries are very clearly set out in the beginning.

This is such an important responsibility to adhere to when working with young people. Depending on the service and your role, you have to walk a fine line between between being a “friend” and being a “worker”. Professor Howard Sercombe states that the relationship between a youth worker and a young person creates a space of safety and security that can make it easier for them to disclose. As a youth worker you connect with the young people on their level and form a close and trusting relationship, but you must also make sure that they understand your role and the responsibilities you have. For instance, the legal responsibilities you have in terms of mandatory reporting. As stated above, this is for the protection of the worker and the young person.

Cooperation and Collaboration.

This means you work together with other people to get the best results for young people. For example, you might involve another service or the young person’s family if it’s appropriate (and the young person gives consent)”.

To practice this responsibility ethically would involve putting differences aside and always having the child or young person’s best interests at the forefront of your practice. As the age old saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”; the same applies for the social services sector and the young people and children we support. We are constantly liaising with family members, other services and government organisations to ensure the best possible outcomes for the people in our services.

I am currently involved with a program that is a prime example of cooperation and collaboration. Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFCO); a foster care based program, includes four key professionals that are working with and for each young person around the areas of individual therapy, skills coaching, family therapy and education. Every week, we meet with the young person, their carers and their family, as well as have a clinical meeting. In this meeting, professionals share ideas, make sure we are all working towards the same end goal and develop a fully collaborative plan for each young person’s time in the program and beyond. This model displays transparent regard for the young person, what they want to achieve and how. This is extremely important when working with other professionals and / or other organisations, as the young person must firstly give consent but also have ownership over their case plan.

Recognition of Indigenous Peoples.

Youth workers recognise that we live on the traditional lands and waters of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. They recognise that culture and connection to land and community is a right for Indigenous young people and that they have a right to cultural safety. Youth workers will be respectful of Indigenous culture at all times and recognise the importance of culture as it relates to Indigenous young people’s self-esteem and sense of identity

In 2015-16, Indigenous children aged 0-17 received child protection services at a rate around seven times that for non-Indigenous children, and they were 10 times as likely to be in out-of-home care(Australia’s Welfare 2017: in brief, AIHW).

The above statistic is alarming. In my work I am ten times more likely to work with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) child or young person than a non-ATSI child or young person. This highlights how important it is to have a deep understanding of how to appropriately and ethically work with ATSI people.

I was lucky enough to begin my journey as a youth worker within an ATSI leadership program in Melbourne. Through this I was able to learn a lot from local ATSI young people and elders about the importance of culture, not only in their lives, but in the lives of non-ATSI people too. One important lesson I took from this experience was that ATSI culture is so expansive and differs all over Australia. So in order to be culturally sensitive in my practice I have to familiarise myself with the history and customs of each different community I am working with australian online casinos here.

There are many ways in which having an ethical practice with regards to recognition for Indigenous people can be achieved. A few simple but important things that can be done are;

  • Knowing the traditional owners of the land you live/work on and display a flag or sticker to show your acknowledgement.
  • Perform an acknowledgement of country at the beginning of meetings/events.
  • Participate in cultural awareness training at your workplace.
  • Know the history of Australia and the details around its’ invasion.
  • Know the appropriate language and terms to use when talking to and about ATSI people.
  • Attend events in support of ATSI rights and recognition.
  • Familiarise yourself with laws and important documents that relate to the history and recognition of ATSI people. Such as the “Bringing them Home Report”, and more recently the “Uluru statement from the heart”.

Knowledge, Skill and Self-care.

This means you commit to ongoing learning. For example, you might read new research or take special training. Self-care means you’re aware of and take responsibility for your own physical and emotional wellbeing. This is important because you help young people best when you feel well yourself. Your organisation also has a responsibility to support your professional development and self-care

At Ultimate Youth Worker we have spent a lot of time speaking about self-care. Our last blog post was entirely dedicated to self care as it is such an important part of ethical practice. 

Knowledge is also part of this section of the code and is just as important. Within all the work that I do, knowing the legal boundaries and expectations of my role is just as important as knowing organisational ones. Trainings such as those from Youth Law have formed an integral part of my understanding around mandatory reporting and age of consent laws. As these laws can change, it is your ethical duty to ensure you are up-to-date with the laws that affect your role.

As part of my own quest for knowledge, skill and self care, I participate in the World Youth Worker Network. It is a facilitated peer support network run by Ultimate Youth Worker solely dedicated to the longevity of youth workers through personal and professional development. The network has given me a deeper understanding of my core values, my purpose and goals in life. It has played an integral part in ensuring that I have the best ethical practice possible.

The other responsibilities in the Victorian code of ethics are privacy and confidentiality, duty of care, social context and anti-oppressive practice: non-discrimination, equity and self-awareness. As stated at the start, no single responsibility is considered more or less important than the other, and most of them are overlapping in how they affect our day to day practice. Are you familiar with the code of ethics for your sector? Do you think it’s important to have a code of ethics and apply it in your everyday work? We would love to hear your thoughts and feelings on this topic. Leave a comment on our socials and get the conversation started!

If you would like to read more about different codes of ethics in Australia, you can access them in the links below:

The Code of Ethical Practice for the Victorian Youth Sector.

Australian Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. 

Western Australian Association of Youth Workers Youth Work Code of Ethics.

Youth Ethics Framework for Tasmania.

NSW code of ethics.

South Australia Code of Ethics.

Jessy Hall

Jessy is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Ultimate Youth Worker. 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, after being inspired by the strength and passion of the young people on this program he immediately began his studies at Chisholm Institute of TAFE where he completed a Diploma of Youth Work. Since then, Jessy has expanded his knowledge and skills in the field by working in residential care facilities, being part of an Australian first evidence based foster care program (TFCO) and partaking in various trainings in youth mental health and other relevant areas to his work. Jessy currently lives in Melbourne but is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime and 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. Jessy has dreams to one day start his own organisation dedicated to developing the next generation of socially engaged and passionate young people.

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How can youth participation happen when communities don’t ‘like’ young people.

Youth participation in community is a long way off

I have just spent the last hour refuting stupidity on my local community Facebook page. A couple of young people tagged a guys fence and he was ranting about catching them and doing them physical violence. The comments grew from there to other members advocating eye for an eye, adults beating children and my personal favourite bemoaning ‘do-gooders’ who want to talk instead of punish. To say it infuriated me is an understatement. However, this also reminded me of how far we have to go as a society n validating young people as equal citizens and partners of youth participation.

The people on the Facebook group were clear about their dislike of young people in general. Comments such as ‘If your kids come home a bit worse looking next time don’t come crying to me!’ and ‘Give the lil smart ass punks a hiding’ and ‘that’s the reason why our kids are little a**holes because we “talk” to them! If I did that in the 80s or early 90s you can guarantee I would of copped something.’ were rife among people. They go on to call them ‘pricks’, ‘turds’ and ‘poor example’. Not once did they ask why the young people were there, nor how we could involve young people in the community. Just over and over again how delinquent young people in our community are. Not once about youth participation in society.

 youth participation

Good society is full youth participation

I personally know over a dozen local young people who regularly support the local community off their own back. Who could all pass as candidates for local citizens of the year. But in the eyes of many in communities across the world young people don’t count. The idea that young people have nothing productive to contribute to society is one of the most damaging ideologies of our time. As youth workers, we need to change this problem.

We need to stand up to people who want to taint the reputation of our young people. We need to help our young people to show their positive side to the public. We need to address the ageism in society so that our youth are allowed full rights of participation. Youth participation is the challenge of all youth workers and the requirement of a fully developed society.

What do you think?

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Local government youth work: Placation or proliferation?

In my illustrious career I had the privilege of being a coordinator of a small local government youth service for the lengthy duration of seven months. As I was transitioning to this role I was warned by a number of colleagues that this would be a difficult role for me to hold due to my own philosophical and professional beliefs in youth work. I wish I had have listened to my advisers then. Whilst I made some amazing friends and worked wit some extremely dedicated staff the constriction on youth service provision made the role untenable.
 
I have spoken to a number of my youth work colleagues who have worked for councils and have had a mixed response to my feelings. Many of my colleagues stated that council youth work provided them with the best possible framework for strengthening young people and providing opportunities for growth and development. That advocacy and participation are held as core duties and that programs work fills a gap in service provision.
 
I have also spoken to a number of youth workers who see council youth work as no more than placating residents and disenfranchised young people. They see the idea of program work and generalist work as proliferating disenfranchisement in young people. That at best council youth services provide a way of keeping young people off the streets and at worst provide an oppressive program keeping young people out of public life.

From my own experience I would say that the later is probably a bit far fetched, however many councillors and senior managers in local government have little understanding of the importance of young people in their municipalities. Local government youth workers need to be less constrained than they are at the moment so that they can provide locally focused responses to local issues. Youth workers in local government are often reminded that their client isn’t their community it is their councillors. This does place a clear line in the sand that youth workers must grapple with… especially when our profession believes that young people are our primary client.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Firm, Fair, Friendly but never Familiar: Boundaries in youth work.

Over the years I have been asked hundreds of times about how to set boundaries in youth work. I have spoken to this issue in youth work classes from certificate to degree level. I have spoken on this in supervision session and in seminars. I have also written about it in this blog. Recently I was asked if there was one thing about boundaries that I would pass on to new youth workers what would it be.

 

One line

I had a mate who had done Sgt. training in the army and one of the roles of a Sgt. is to supervise other troops. In the training my friend was told that when commanding troops he needed to be “firm, fair , friendly but never familiar”. My friend once told me this and it had always stuck.
 
 
In youth work we are often trying to lead our young people through the difficult trials of adolescence. Sometimes we need to be firm on the boundaries of our role and their responsibilities. Youth work is all about social justice and as such we want to be as fair as possible when working with young people. Youth work is also a profession developed on friendship building skills. However, sometimes our clients see this friendliness as becoming friends with their youth worker. Which is why we can never become familiar with our young people.
 

One line sums up my ethic on youth work boundaries, “Be firm, fair, friendly but never familiar”.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Do youth workers really provide justice for young people in youth justice?

One of the first options put forward to my youth work class for gainful employment was working in the youth justice system. I looked into it with keen enthusiasm as it was one of the areas I was interested in when I first joined the course. I began looking at the policies and practice standards required of the sector and was excited to see the focus on restorative practices. I read some journal articles and blog posts and began to ask some questions. Finally, I asked a few people who worked in the sector what it was really like and my whole worldview was thrown into a spin. 
 
Many of the youth workers I spoke to felt like little more than jailers or parole officers. They felt that their role was to keep the young people  from causing trouble to society. They mentioned that they got to use some youth work skills however it was minimal. The focus of their work seemed to me to be clearly in the ballpark of retribution not restoration.
 
I was downtrodden. The system seemed to be talking the talk but not walking the walk. I was put in contact with a number non government support agencies to see what else was happening and my view became brighter. Group conferencing, crime prevention, family mediation and mentoring became my landscape of hope. Perhaps the youth justice system wasn’t so bad.
 
A number of the youth workers that I met in the statutory youth justice system were what I now know as canny outlaws. Rallying against the system these youth workers spend time building relationships, helping to keep young people involved in treatment programs and providing much needed guidance. The main thing is that these youth workers practiced youth work.

If you are a youth worker in a youth justice system, you need to remember that your first duty is to the young people. You are not a police officer, parole officer or jailer. You are a youth worker. If you remember that then you will provide justice to these most troubled of young people.

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Virtue Ethics and Practical Wisdom.

This week we are learning through video. This is a short clip of Barry Schwartz speaking on Virtue etthics and practical wisdom. Enjoy and discuss.

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Do you have a code of ethics???

Working with young people has led me to be in some dicey situations throughout my career. I have worked with young people who use drugs like candy, who have been so abused they have no boundaries and those who have no fear of the future and live like it. I have been in flop houses, under bridges in the middle of the night, in the middle of resi brawls and in situations that would make sailors blush. It is in these times that I wonder what my lecturers would have told me about my situation and a code of ethics.
 
When the chips are down and we are in one of those situations your old lecturer told you not to get into the only thing you have to rely on is a code of ethics. Whether it is a personal code or a professional code it guides your behaviour in those sticky situations.
 
So what code do you live by??? Do you have a personal code that you live by??? Put another way, what gets you out of bed in the morning. What do you believe so intrinsically that keeps you on the right path?
 
What about your organisation? Do they subscribe to a particular code of ethics??? have a look at a few codes and see what they involve… YACVic, AASW and APS are just a few. Does your nation or state have a code of ethics your orginisation could or should follow???
 
A lot of questions this week. over the next few weeks we will unpack this a bit. In the meantime you can read some of Howard Sercombe’s work on codes of practice.
 
 

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Relational youth work

Setting boundaries in youth work:How much do I share about me?

Over the past two weeks I have spoken to a number of youth workers and all of these conversations have turned at one stage or another to the topic of how much they should share about themselves with their young people. Some of the comments that I have heard were, “if I was asked I would tell them that it was a personal question and our work is not about me”, “our sector is to friendly with our clients, we need to distance ourselves”, and “how much do I share about myself when trying to build relationship with my young people”. My conclusion is that if our business is building relationships with young people then youth work educators need to spend more time on how we develop these relationships and on our identity as a profession.
 
 
When I started in youth work I too was prone to these questions. With some young people I shared about myself and with others I shut them out. I had no framework for how to deal with this and like many others I just played it by gut feeling. When I began my studies I thought I would be given some clarity on how to answer this question. low and behold I got nothing. Not even a push in the right direction. I was frustrated that there was no clear lines of accountability! If those in the academy could not help then I guessed I would have to work it out myself.
 
To build a framework I asked colleagues, mentors even my supervisors about what to do. BAD IDEA!!! For every person I spoke to I had at least one new answer. Nothing was adding up. I read books and articles on professional boundaries. Basically they said don’t sleep with your clients or do anything illegal and you will be fine. I was ready to blow up. How was I going to work this out???

 

In the end I had to come up with a framework of my own. It has formed the basis for one of the Ultimate Youth Worker pillars of practice: deep engagement. Over the years I have copped a lot of flak for my framework. Some say that I am to open with my young people. Others say I am to closed. Whichever way you will lean I have put my stake in the ground and intend to continue with this model until I find something better.
 
Before I give you the framework let me set some context. This afternoon I was chatting with a youth worker who spoke of the way his organisation teaches youth work students. They base some of their work on the work of a New Zealand based organisation who teach that youth workers need to have both professionalism and community focuses in their work. It is loosely based on the idea of ‘Hapu’ or extended family. A concept that is very much in line with Victoria’s Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary who believes that community has a responsibility to support and raise our young people. The balancing act of being a ‘professional’ and yet being a community focused person is difficult… but I believe it is also the key to the best outcomes for our young people.
 

 

So I have started to let the cat out of the bag. However, balancing professionalism and a community/extended family mentality is not enough. To many of our young people we fill relational holes in their lives such as those left by parent, siblings and friends. How do we keep the balance when they are striving to become our best buddy??? Two streams of thought always enter my mind and have become the basis for how I balance this conundrum.
  1. In the Army here in Australia all leaders no matter their rank are taught that a good relationship with their team is critical for success. However if the lines get blurred because the relationship becomes more than that of a team and becomes a friendship things can get very messy. to combat this many of the leaders are taught the mantra “be firm, fair, friendly; but never familiar”. this little saying is the first way I balance my answers to those sticky situations. My young people are people not just clients! If I expect them to trust me and give me straight answers then I should show them the same respect.  This doesn’t mean give them your home address and take them to your favourite watering hole. But within reason engage them in meaningful conversation as you would anyone else. Let your practice wisdom guide you but do not be afraid to share. I have spoken to sex offenders about my two little girls, told young people which suburb I live in (its a big place and I would be hard to find as I am not listed in the phone book) and even spoke about some of my failings (Yes, even we at the Ultimate Youth Worker have failed). The key to this is emotional intelligence. No more than you are comfortable with and as obscure as necessary for safety. For example, with some young people in residential care who had an affinity of following staff home I would often only say I lived in a particular local government area. With other young people I have no issue saying which housing estate I live in in my particular suburb.
  2. The second one comes from my Christian youth work days and a bible passage which always spoke to me in this case. In 1 Corinthians 8 it talks about not letting your actions cause a brother to sin. This may be hard for some of our readers but I have found it to be a great help. In sharing with the above mentioned sex offenders that I had children I was pressed for details of their physical appearance. I had a split second to answer and in that time I believed that due to the nature of their offending and a knowledge of where their rehabilitation was at it would cause more harm than good to answer this question directly. I instead provided a half answer, “They look like me only shorter”. It was enough of a non answer for the young person to not follow up with more questions. When I worked in drug and alcohol rehab I was often confronted with the question “How would you know what its like”? As a manager I often had a suit and tie on which set me apart from the other staff who were jeans and t-shirt kind of people. Often I would just let it go by and not worry. However on one occasion I shared about my background growing up in a broken home in a rough neighbourhood in Melbourne. I shared that as a late teen I had a problem with alcohol and that one of my friends had supported me to reign it in. This led to a stronger relationship with that particular group but also many more questions which I had to fend off or minimise as I believed the answers would not have helped their recovery. One particular young man would ask incessantly how it felt to get drunk. As a person with a history of failed attempts at kicking the bottle I would often retort that it was a “painful experience for all involved”.
The main thing to think about on top of this is a safety issue. Is what your telling the young person going to cause you, your family or the young person undue harm or inconvenience. If the answer is yes then don’t tell them.
 
This is the bare bones of a framework that has taken me a decade to perfect. Over coming blogs we will discuss some scenario’s and further add meat to the bones.

     

    let us know how this framework might impact your practice by leaving us a comment below or posting a comment on facebook and twitter.

 

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Youth work boundaries: fuzzy or fixed???

Today I was speaking with some youth worker’s about the state of our profession in Australia and what is holding us back. One of the reasons which was put forward was that some people in the field struggle to implement solid boundaries. As we spoke about our respective youth work studies it became apparent that one area that was severely lacking was ethical boundary setting.
 
Throughout my career I have seen youth worker’s struggle along the spectrum of boundary setting from the laissez faire to the severely strict. Each part along the spectrum has its positives and its negatives so lets have a look:
 

laissez faire

 
The laissez faireyouth worker is everyones friend. They know everything about their young people and wear their heart on their sleeve. These youth worker’s will often work overtime, rarely refer on to other agencies and struggle with the idea of confidentiality. The laissez faire youth worker has unprecedented access to the young people and is seen as the cool worker, or the one who understands them the best. Initially these youth worker’s are praised for going above and beyond but eventually they are seen as just being to close to the young people.
 

The severely strict

 
This youth worker is seen as cold and calculating and has fixed unwavering boundaries. The young people they work with have given up so much information while the youth worker has deflected any questions of a personal nature. The youth worker uses “boundaries” as an excuse to not be personable. This type of worker is seen by the young people as the cranky mother type or the angry old man. The youth worker expects conformation to their rules… all of which are aimed at regulating the behaviour of young people. The severely strict youth worker will admonish you when you ask about their family or where they live. Their colleagues see them as distant and to involved in the work rather than the relationships.
 

The Balanced Youth Worker

 
The balanced youth worker has boundaries which are set but flexible for individual situations. These workers are clear about what they are not willing to do with a young person and flexible with how much they are willing to do within the remaining purview. These youth workers are seen by their colleagues as providers of individual services to individual young people. With some young people their boundaries are solid and with others they are somewhat looser. These youth workers are able to articulate why they are setting the boundaries where they are and what outcome they expect from setting them there. The balanced youth worker gives of themselves to build relationship but does not share it all. They are not guarded but are wary of not placing their burdens on the young people they work with.
 
These are just three of the possible points on the spectrum and are not an exhaustive list however it gives you a framework for judging where your practice lies.
 
What other characteristics can you think of???

 

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Youth Justice: Restoration or Retribution?

We asked our followers recently what they would like us to talk about on the blog and one topic stood out as a major one to start on… Youth Justice. Over the years I have had a number of jobs either in or supporting the youth justice system in Australia. I must confess I struggled working in the sector. Not because the young people are difficult (in fact they were some of the most responsive young people I have ever worked with), but because of the community perception and the subsequent policy directives. The young people I worked with often lacked direction, struggled with education and were wary of anyone who showed concern for their welfare. The community saw liars, thieves and violent offenders who should be hauled over the coals.
 
It is hard to ignore the crimes that some of  these young people have committed, and you know what we shouldn’t!!! These young people have been detained because of what they have done and will pay for their crime. However there are a couple of ways that this can happen depending on your point of view. Is detention there for retribution or restoration??? The young people did the crime and they should do the time. We believe that JUSTICE requires it. However, the question we should ask is what happens to them between the first day behind bars and their last day to develop them so that they do not continue back through the revolving door?
 
In the adult prison system, here in Victoria, there is over 50% likelihood that an offender who is jailed will return to prison within two years of release. A child of a prisoner is SIX times more likely to become an offender than their peers. A young person who is incarcerated will rarely complete secondary education. WHY???  The best answer we can come up with is that the system is a system that is geared toward retribution. We individualise the dimensions of the crime and remove the ideas of social justice from the rights of an offender and then ask them to change. We strip them of their humanity and then ask them to be humane. Crazy!!!
 
In many youth justice systems and support agencies here in Australia there has been a push towards more restorative practices. This has been met by mixed responses from the community. Governments are still stuck in limbo between retribution and restoration. To provide a measure of punishment for their crime, but to also provide opportunities to develop skills for post-release. The rise in victim-offender mediation and group conferencing has been amazing and the opportunities through NGO’s such as Whitelion and Jesuit Social Services to name a couple, for young people to gain employment and social skills has definitely changed the landscape.
 
But what does it all mean for us as youth workers??? Many writers have said that a core tenet of youth work is social justice. I ask whether we are being social just to the young people we incarcerate??? Earlier this year I spent some time in Tasmania visiting Port Arthur (if you ever get the chance you simply have to go). Port Arthur was one of the original penal colonies when the British began transporting convicts to Australia. In particular I was fascinated by Point Puer the first ever boys prison in the British empire. The punishments were severe and boys as young as nine were incarcerated there, however they also taught the boys some skills. Some became so skilled they were employed straight from detention to the detriment of other qualified tradesmen who hadn’t been incarcerated. Can you imagine if our incarcerated young people were taught trades in the same way??? Being taught excellence in your handy work. Being so highly sought after that you could walk out of detention and straight into a well paying job???
 
 

(A sample of the young boys handy work… It could hold over 1000 people.)


As a youth worker it is our responsibility to advocate for our young people. The current system still lets our young people down. We still have those who believe in retribution in positions of power in the youth justice system and we still have young people following in their adult counterparts footsteps… Dancing through the revolving door. There will always be crime as long as people are on the earth. How we deal with the crime is what is in question.
 
We believe in RESTORATION here at Ultimate Youth Worker. This does not mean being soft on crime, on the contrary. It does mean providing every opportunity for the young person to make something of themselves. To throw off the social, economic and cultural ties that bind them. To make amends and for them to be given the opportunity to live as free men and women. We believe that the best way to deal with crime is to deal with the social issues which lead to crime. We believe that the best way to deal with offenders is to develop them as whole people! To do this we need to address all the failings of society which led to their incarceration… and restore them to their community. Reflect on this:

Youth workers are facilitators of restoration not social controllers.”

If you take on the challenge to provide a restorative environment for young offenders then you may find yourself having to become a canny outlaw. It is hard to fight for whats right in the face of the easy way of following the rules. Our young people need you to speak for them. They need your actions and support. They need you to be practically wise. They need restoration.



 

For more info on restorative justice see Howard Zehr below.

 
 

What are your thoughts???

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

 
 

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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