What makes a great youth worker?

In one of our seminars we start by asking people to draw a picture of the ultimate youth worker. We ask them to write around the picture what make this youth worker ultimate. It is always interesting to see what is written and what the picture looks like. The picture is often of a hip, hoodie wearing young person (even if the picture was drawn by someone in their forties) with all the coolness anyone can muser. The words that are used to describe this youth worker are cool, rapport builder, knows the new music and did we mention they had to be cool.
 
For the most part the things that people place down are superfluous. They are not needed to be a great youth worker. In fact most great youth workers have little idea about the new music or could ever see themselves in the category of “cool”. What this shows is that many youth workers have brought into the popular rhetoric as to what a youth worker looks like and is. The biggest issue for me and my staff is that so many youth workers do not speak about their values!
 
When we speak to truly great youth workers and ask them this question they spruik values such as social justice, participation, human dignity, self determination and human rights. We ask them what an ultimate youth worker looks like and they paint a picture of any person walking down the street. Old, young, black, white, qualified, unqualified it doesn’t matter.
 
A strong understanding of the values base which you bring to the profession of youth work is key to the ongoing effectiveness of your work.
 
What values do you bring?
 

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 change makers: rebellion or resurrection

Youth work is changing rapidly. Many of the changes are coming to the fore because of issues which have haunted an under qualified, under supported and minimally accountable workforce. Unfortunately the way the issues are being dealt with is with a firm hand with an iron grasp. We are setting the barrier to entry in our fledgling professional associations as high as possible. We are requiring more in every youth work position description to show how good we are and we are using highly regulated professions as a template for our own.
 
Youth work has also seen a number of people who have said that this is not good enough. However, these voices are being shouted down in a torrent of violent opposition as rebellious to the cause of professionalism. Youth work is a profession which thrives under scrutiny and leads in innovation. Why would we want to lose our innovation to fall in line with groups like nurses and social workers???

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. Albert Einstein

Youth work needs more great spirits and canny outlaws to keep it from becoming just another form of toothless neoliberal social service experiment. We need to resurrect the passion and talent that youth work has historically been known for and harness it for the future. There will be some who see it as holding the profession back… but these are just mediocre minds.
 

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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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Sucess for the Ultimate Youth Worker

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. – Sir Winston Churchill

Starting a new business comes with many risks and hopefully a number of rewards. Over the past twelve months we have definitely felt this at Ultimate Youth Worker. All of our staff got on board because we saw the need for more support in the youth sector. We have helped dozens of youth workers and their organisations to develop a more supportive environment in this time. But it was not all success!
 
We failed more times than we care to admit. We lost clients because of a lack of frameworks. We spent more time learning about business management than doing our business. We left, lost or were encouraged to leave well paying jobs to get Ultimate Youth Worker off the ground. Our first six months we made a total profit of $80. But we were always enthusiastic.
 
So often we work with young people who have failed more times than they can even remember. They are downtrodden and feel about two feet tall and one more failure might just tip them over the edge. Our job as youth workers is keep them enthused. In their enthusiasm their wildest success will finally come.
 

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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What will youth work look like in 2013?

It is with Great pleasure and a sad heart that we come to our final guest post in this series. We have heard from a number of truly inspirational and well qualified youth work professionals as to what they believe youth work will look like in 2013. Over the last three weeks we have had Shae and Stephen from youthworkinit.com, Professor Dana Fusco of CUNY and authour of “Advancing Youth Work: current trends, critical questions” and fellow blogger and youth work professional Sam Ross the teenage whisperer. This week we have the distinct pleasure to hear from Professor Howard Sercombe of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.
Howard has researched extensively in the area of youth studies, including studies of the future of youth, young people and public space, and community development with young people. He is interested in how we think about young people, and is currently working with colleagues from neurophysiology and developmental psychology on the implications of the brain architecture research on our understanding of young people. Professor Sercombe has had a major role in the development of youth work as a profession. His scholarship around this area includes writing the Australian Code of Ethics for Youth Work which has been adopted or adapted in three Australian States and the Australian Capital Territory and is under consideration nationally. He also wrote the Code of Ethics for the profession in Scotland. He has lectured extensively across the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Zambia on professional ethics and professionalisation, and his book Youth Work Ethics (Sage, 2010) is a milestone in the field. He is currently developing approaches to research methodology that take seriously the ethical commitment to justice and development.

So Howard what’s your take on the future of youth work?

Realities, as always, are contradictory.  Mixed.  From the perspective of the UK,  things look grim. The fiscal crisis has hit the traditional funding sources of youth work hard.  For the last fifty years, local government has had a statutory responsibility to make provision for youth work, though local authorities have had a lot of latitude about how, and to some extent if, they carry this out.  Austerity measures have required significant cutbacks in local funding and this has carried through, often disproportionately, to youth work services.
But this picture is mixed.  Some authorities have actually increased funding to youth work, in recognition of the impact of the recession on young people.  Others have cut provision completely.  As a generalisation, however, cutbacks have been widespread and often deep.  In Scotland, where I live, cutbacks have been worrying but not catastrophic, at least not everywhere. 2013 may well be the year when the expected decimation actually happens. The real concern is that this fiscal crisis is not a temporary adjustment, and future cutbacks look like coming on top of the existing ones. Even when the recession is over, we face the fiscal time bomb of an ageing population. Some are proclaiming the death of youth work as we know it in the UK.
Some of us have been here before, however. Political economists in the 1970s talked about the contradiction between accumulation and legitimation: the need for the State to continue to guarantee profit and private accumulation, while reassuring the general population that the system was still working in their interests.  It is typical in the early phase of a fiscal crisis for the State to pull back from areas of expenditure it sees as optional, in order to support capital in its restructuring and rebalancing.  Youth work is politically lightweight, so we tend to fall into that category.  Then, two years in, the entirely predictable spectre of youth unemployment starts to raise its head.  That is followed by a crime wave, or a moral panic about one, and there is a panic reinvestment in youth work to deal with it.  I’m expecting the same pattern.  The London riots came too early in the process to have that effect, and was able to be dismissed by the political class in terms of a cultural moral deficit and individual criminality.  A repeat may not be as easily dismissed.
But all recessions are different, and this one different to most.  Most come on the back of an economic boom, leaving the State with at least some financial capacity to manage the recession.  The need to bail out the banks right at the beginning of the crisis meant that affected governments hit the recession already broke.  That means that the capacity of the State to reinvest is limited.  Youth work will continue to be done, but we might see a significant return to voluntary labour to get the hours in.  In fact we already are!
Youth work education is in a difficult place as well.  Youth work found a place in professional education in the universities from the 1960s, with real growth in the 80s and 90s.  In the last decade, however, the situation has shifted.  The focus on research has diminished the respect for practice wisdom in professional education, and youth work (along with other professional areas like teaching) has not kept up with the research agenda. Corporatisation in the university sector has meant more aggressive pursuit of objectives that promote the university as a corporation rather than the objectives of public service: and that means either high status or high earning activities.  Youth work is not a natural contender for either.  The poorly thought out introduction of fees in England has meant that training for low-earning professions like youth work are charged at the same rate as high earning professions like law, with a significant impact on demand.  The number of universities who have decided to close youth work courses is still a trickle rather than a flood, but some of those courses (including my own) were strategic and long-standing.
But that isn’t the whole story.
Beyond the question of funding and institutional support, there is a growing level of maturity in the youth work profession in the current environment, and a clearer assertion of identity.  Paradoxically, even while the funding base contracts, for example, the Scottish Government continues to insist that community learning and development, which embraces youth work, sits at the centre of its anti-poverty and inclusion strategies. The House of Commons Education Committee inquiry into youth services also provided a ringing endorsement of youth work, though noted the lack of a credible evidence base for its effectiveness.  The Irish and South African government has a very active division working on the professionalisation of youth work, government does too.  Several governments have established youth work in law, with more heading in that direction.
The consolidation of youth work practice through codes of ethics and other core constitutive documents has been progressing across the globe in the last decade. Professional organisations for youth workers are springing up everywhere.  Globalisation has meant an international community of youth workers, with more international conferences, policy conversations, research and collaboration.  There are more books published on youth work, by major commercial publishers, than ever before. Routledge has just commissioned a new series of books on youth work practice. Sage has taken over the locally-published Learning Matters series.  For the first time, I can run a course for youth workers using a selection of books on youth work written by youth workers. This is mirrored in journal and on-line publication as well.  Youth work is moving beyond the parochial, and is recognising its common core beyond local expressions of it.  It is becoming an international profession.
And there is a bigger picture.  The modern category of youth is an artefact of modernisation itself.  At other times and in other places, young people were much more integrated intergenerationally, and had a clear role.  Modern industry required fewer workers, and more educated, literate and disciplined workers.  What happened was the quarantining of people by age into educational institutions, their isolation from the relations of production and from contact with adult social institutions and the subsequent emergence of a (now global) youth culture.  This creates a youth population which is significantly, but incompletely contained by the school and other educational institutions.  There are also key developmental processes around people becoming autonomous and self-directed which total institutions like the school are not good at facilitating.  Youth work exists in all modern societies, under whatever guise and however resourced, because it is socially necessary.  It emerged during the Industrial Revolution, and has a continuous presence ever since.
The industrialisation and modernisation process is spreading apace throughout the world: particularly in the new economic powerhouses: the  ‘BRICS’ countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).  All of them have huge, underemployed youth populations, and are very aware of the political time bomb that involves.  In the next decade, all of them will need to make decisions about youth policy, and divert resources towards young people.  How youth work positions itself within that process remains to be seen.
Professor Sercombe is an experienced youth work practitioner, trainer, consultant, analyst, media commentator and researcher in the youth studies area.  He has primary experience in street-level youth work with homeless and street-present young people as well as a developed academic profile with expertise ranging from social policy analysis to adolescent development to professional ethics.  He has worked in urban settings as well as remote outback towns, with Aboriginal and mainstream young people, and across a range of methodologies.
Not withstanding his current position in the university, Howard sees himself as first and foremost a youth worker, as he has for the last thirty years. His current work is focuses on how youth workers can understand their role and their work, how conceptions of young people shape their practice, on the peculiar ethics of youth work as a profession, and how truth is created and translated between policy, research and practice.  He is also working on the implications of the adolescent brain research for our understanding of young people and the practice of youth work.  He rides a Yamaha 1200 VMax motorcycle with a sidecar, is married to broadcaster Helen Wolfenden, and has three sons.

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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Read a book.

Ongoing Professional Development is one of the foundation pillars which underpin the Ultimate Youth Worker. However, it can be hard to gain enough GOOD development opportunities for us to grow in our abilities and careers. This can be difficult when our orginisations have such small professional development budgets, there is a shortage of worthwhile training and its hard to find the time to get away from the office. So how can we deal with these issues and still gain great develolpment???  Read a book!

So with the myriad of books out there how do you get a good one???

  1. Look for three great ideas
    • When you come across a book in a shop dont just grab it because the title was good. Don’t grab it because you like the look of a couple of chapter headings flick through a few of the pages and find three great ideas. What you consider a great idea may not be the same as the next person but three makes sure you are getting a top read. For me its looking for three ideas I can impliment immediately in my own practice.
  2. Check out the most recommended books on amazon.com
    • There are millions of books on amazon and at the time of this post there were 25,693 books which came up when I typed in youth work to there search engine. But don’t stop there. Read widely! Look at counselling skills, mental health, group work or any number of other areas of practice.
  3. Check out a reputable review of books

There was a story a few years back that may have been apocryphal but why ruin a good story. Apparently George W. Bush Jr read 95 books in one year whilst President of the United States of America. Some believe this to be a bit of a fishing story however if it is even half true then one of the busiest men in the world was still able to out read most people hands down.
How is your reading collection going? I currently have six books on the go as well as a number of journals (probably about my limit whilst retaining info). My Bedside table looks like a bomb went off. My professional development is my responsibility and reading a book is the easiest and most readily available mode. It is hard to find time, money or a good book. But as our friends at Manager Tools say, reading is one of the most important things a person needs to do each week.

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And by all means leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter. It is a supportive community that makes us Ultimate Youth Workers.

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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What is a youth workers Duty of Care: Reporting abuse

Over the past few weeks I seem to have had a number of people ask about ethical practice and duty of care in youth work. Many of these discussions have come about from grey situations arising or where multi-disciplinary teams where at work. I have been asked this question by young and old, qualified and unqualified, veteran and newbie from youth worker’s all over the globe. What this question really boils down to is what is my ethical duty when something happens that I believe is morally questionable??? The short answer is it depends on a number of factors!

Know your legal responsibility.

Here in Australia we have a number of different legislations in different states which cover the discussion of a youth worker’s ethical duty of care and legal responsibilities to report abuses when supporting young people. Some are very stringent and others do not require youth workers to do anything. In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania the legislation’s are fairly robust and clear about the requirements required of people in a youth work position. In the Northern Territory they have a very broad definition of who is mandated to report by saying “any person with reasonable grounds”. In Western Australia a very clear list of professionals is listed however youth workers are not required to report. In my home state of Victoria only doctors, nurses, principals of schools and teachers, and police officer are mandated to report abuse. Youth workers are listed in the legislation but not enacted as mandatory reporters.
 
Throughout the globe different countries require different actions from youth workers the best bet is to contact your local youth peak body or government department for clarification. What this means for each individual youth worker is a matter of legal interpretation and your own moral compass.
 

Know your own values.

Even though youth workers are not mandated to report abuse in Victoria The team here at Ultimate Youth Worker would argue that we have a moral requirement to report abuse to the authorities. But where does this lead??? What do we report on??? Abuse!!! Physical, Sexual, Emotional and Neglect. But this can lead to some difficulties with youth work theory and practice. What is the central theoretical framework for youth work practice? We would argue RELATIONSHIP. We know this is contentious and we will get some negative feedback, but we develop our RELATIONSHIP with young people as a means to support them as a whole person. But is the RELATIONSHIP more important than a young persons safety and protection from abuse???
What is OK? If a parent smacks their 13 year old is it reportable? What if it was with a belt? or a baseball bat? When does a smack turn to a beating? When does a beating become abuse? What about sex??? Is it OK for a young person to have sex? What about age differences? Is two years OK? What about four? How about 20? What if the young person is 12 and they are drunk? What if a young person tells you that they have to cook their own meals at home? What is they do everything? For a youth worker there is no black and white, there is only differing shades of grey.
When young people are navigating the storms and stresses of adolescence it is messy. For one young person in a particular situation a youth worker will act one way. For another, they will act completely differently. Professional discretion and practical wisdom are key to the practice of a youth worker who is not mandated to report abuse. All this being said it comes down to a judgement call. What does your gut tell you??? Is it OK for a father to beat their teen till they bleed? Is it OK for a 12 year old to have sex with a 16 year old? Is it OK for a young person to be left to their own devices because a parent is neglecting them? Your answer will determine your course of action.

Ask your colleagues.

Have a conversation with your colleagues around the issue at hand. Use your peer consultation network. Ask what they would do! Take their advice. Peer consultation, unlike a chat about the weekend around the water cooler, describes a process in which critical and supportive feedback on style and worker identity is emphasized while evaluation of practice is not. Consultation, in contrast to supervision, is characterized by the youth worker’s, “right to accept or reject the suggestions [of others]” (Bernard& amp; Goodyear, 1992, p. 103).
Call your local child protection office and ask for a secondary consultation. Ask them what your responsibility is and what you could do from there. Find online casino bonuses here. Use every network you have to discuss the issue and see what options are open to you.

What is my duty of care?

If you are not mandated it is really up to you! If your organisation doesn’t have a policy it is really up to you! If you have a reasonable belief that a young person is being abused it is really up to you! RELATIONSHIP is important, but never at the expense of the young persons safety.
We will continue to develop the idea of our duty of care as youth workers of the course of this blog. Reflect on your practice and that of others you have seen. If you have questions and you will (We still do) leave a comment below or get to us on the social networks.

If you haven’t yet, sign up for our newsletter to find out all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker. The form at the top right of this page is all you need to do.

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 And by all means leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter. We will get back to you.

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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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.

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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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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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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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.

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

The importance of good professional supervision

Over the course of my career I have had over a dozen supervisors throughout half a dozen or so specialities. Some of these supervisors were Youth Workers, some Social Workers, some Pastors and some drug and alcohol workers. Their qualifications had ranged from Diploma level to Masters degrees and one had no formal welfare qualifications at all. Not an unknown factor to those of us in the youth sector.

In Australia there is no requirement for a supervisor to have a professional qualifications. As a Degree qualified Youth Worker and soon to be Masters qualified Social Worker I have never attended a class on supervision, i have never heard a lecture on what constitutes good supervision practice and i have never had a supervisor who had either. At best my supervisors had attended a 2 day course in supervision and at worse my supervisors had less than a year more experience in the field than i had. So if there are only a few courses for supervisors and most of these less than a week long, how do you become a good supervisor???

The best supervisors I have had came from both ends of the spectrum. One was a qualified Social Worker with over a decade of experience who regularly attended courses on supervision. The other was a Youth Worker who had no qualifications but was an avid reader of supervision texts and attended every professional development opportunity focussed on supervision. The skill set that both of these supervisors had in common was and eager appetite to better their own practice as supervisors and a great ability to listen. The styles they used were different, the theoretical focus wide and varied and the outcomes specific to the needs of myself and my clients.

Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice“.

Do your supervisors support your development? If not you might be in the market for an external supervisor! What ever your situation if you want longevity in the sector studies show that you need a good supervisor.

Apply for supervision today

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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