The stupidity of calling youth work science will limit our effectiveness!

If I hear another person talk about the science behind youth work or the best-practice “research” that has been done I will scream. This pervasive discourse of youth work through a scientific lens, to the detriment of practice wisdom and individuality, will lead to the destruction of our sectors most central ideologies. 

Putting people in comfortable boxes has never been central to the work of a youth worker, until recently. To have clear diagnoses, a cookie cutter support plan and a “best-practice” set of interventions is the way of the medical, psychological and scientific sectors. There has been a lot written about the divide between the art and science of youth work with much more over the past decade focusing on the scientific. This does not take into account the the complexities that coalface youth workers deal with on a daily basis. “Becoming a professional when one’s discipline is people/young people requires more than technical knowledge; it requires a way of being that is relational, emergent, flexible, dialogic, participatory, and contextualised (Fusco 2013).

Youth work is a flexible, fluid profession. We have historically steered clear of generalising how we work with individuals as it limits our fluidity. We seek to support young people in their context with their individual needs. When we begin to use the frameworks of economic rationalism and the sciences to frame our practice we begin to see people view our practice wisdom and philosophy as weak hokum. Where science seeks fact and answers to problems, we seek to delve into the human condition through questions and journeying with our young people.

There is no doubt that the scientific has bolstered youth work. What we know of brain and psychosocial development has become integrated into our practice kitbag. But, there is a big difference between using the knowledge of a profession and subscribing to its framework and philosophy. If we allow governmental managerialism and our own inadequacies to force us to give up what makes us unique we will regret it.

Let us know your thoughts. Leave us a comment.

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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99% attitude and 1% skill: youth work students need to realise!

I have recently been reviewing the student placements of a number of youth work students. I have been speaking with their supervisors and have come to the conclusion that there is one thing that all youth work students need to know before they go on placement… it doesn’t matter how much you know or don’t know it is almost all about your attitude.
 
Many of the supervisors stated that they did not care how much the students knew they just wanted willingness to learn and a positive attitude. The students who showed these qualities were given great marks and amazing opportunities. For those that didn’t have the right attitude they were shunned and treated with reservation.

When you have students come into your organisation for placement gently remind them that their attitude is important to their overall success in their placement and in the sector. Skills are the 1%ers which can be taught. Attitude is the thing that will get them through every time.

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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Developing leaders in youth work: Its crucial to mentor.

Many years ago after finishing my degree I asked one of my professors for some guidence with an piece of work I was doing. Without hesitation she said that she would be delighted as we need to develop more leaders in the youth sector. This short statement has meant a lot to me over the years but I never fully understood its importance until this year.
As a teacher of youth work students I can see the passion and future potential colliding every day I teach. The students of today will be the managers in a decade. The work we do now will pay dividends in a generation. Sadly though, it seems that there is little happening post the education of youth workers.
We who have been in the sector for a while need to mentor those coming through. Whether you are a coalface worker, a Manager or a CEO you need to support the next generation coming through. If we truly want to see audacious youth workers in an excellent sector then we need to impart our practice wisdom to those who are going to be the leaders of the future. Every organisation which employs youth workers should mentor them. Every professional association should develop a register of potential mentors. Most of all it should become part of our core responsibilities to the sector.
If one youth worker supports one other youth worker per year through their career then we will see a revolution. Imagine mentoring 30-50 other youth workers who in turn support another 30-50. We would have a highly supported and trained workforce for generations.

 

Our challenge to you:

 

If you have five years or more in the sector, find one person you could potentially mentor for the next 12 months.

 

Let us know how you go! Leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

If you haven’t yet, sign up for our newsletter to find out all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker. (Sign up here)

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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Is youth work suffering the death of a thousand cuts?

Over the past weekend I spent some time reading about the professionalisation debate which has swept the global youth work fraternity. I read that as an industry it is required of us to become more professionalised in order to cement our place in the human services sector. I read that we must become more stringent on who we let in and what we do to those who do not conform to the new ways. I read that we need associations to manage our professionalism in the same vain as nurses, psychologists and lawyers. I read and I wept.
 
There are few in the youth services industry which would not argue that we need to become more professional. There are even fewer who would argue that we don’t need more stringent requirements on those we allow into the sector. The issue that we see in the current professionalization argument is that we are forsaking youth work to be seen as equal to every other generic profession.
 
 
 
Youth work needs to stand up and be counted. There is little good in us becoming like every other cookie cutter profession. In doing so we will suffer the death of a thousand cuts. Every time we give up a little of our innovation or uniqueness to become more like other professions we die a little. When we become more like everyone else we lose something of ourselves.
 
Recently I was speaking with a youth work student who believed whole heartedly that the only way to do youth work was case management. She believed that the way she had been taught to do youth work over her studies was leading her into a case management role. This limited view came to bear as her lecturers sought to instil that case management was the highest form of professional youth work.
 
We are at the crossroads, and as I was told as a child we need to look both ways before moving forward. So far, most of the literature has not asked what the down side of professionalism might be… and this is the question that we most need to discuss. Because after all the fate of our sector rests on the decisions we make today.
 

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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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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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Youth worker education: The time for change is nigh.

A while ago we wrote on what post-qualifying education might look like for the youth sector. We had a number of people agree and disagree with our thoughts but the one thing that we kept coming back to was the current state of youth worker education. Our sticking point in these discussions was the lack of practical placement in current education.
 
 
In a recent survey of its members the Youth Workers Association in Victoria came to the belief that no more than 30% of a youth work course should be undertaken “on the job”. The reality of the average youth work degree is that it is more like 15%. The issue that we see is that youth worker education is becoming an almost purely theoretical endeavour. When the core of our work is developing relationships can this truly be taught through theory alone???
 
Recently I was chatting with a friend who is completing a degree in tourism and marketing and he was surprised to hear that we did not need to complete an industry year. In his course they complete two years of study, then an industry year, and return to complete their final year. This not only leads students to gain a practical understanding of their field, but also provides links to employment.
 
As a teacher in the field education of youth workers and a former employer I have noticed a severe lack of industry knowledge and practical skills in students and graduates of youth work courses. In our attempt to make youth work a theoretically sound profession we are losing much of the practice skill development. We are turning out a great number of theoretical practitioners but rare is the great practitioner.
 
We don’t need less practical placement in youth work education, we need more! You can’t learn youth work from a book…it must be learnt through doing it. Sixty-five days of placement in a couple of youth services is not nearly enough for students to gain a depth of understanding in youth work practice. We believe that the model of an industry year is a good starting point however to make it a worthwhile learning experience there must be opportunities to critically reflect for both student and organisation. Mentoring of new students is a possible answer to this conundrum. Perhaps universities could provide regular seminars on new research as a link between industry and academia.
 
The point is students need to have a stronger link to industry before they graduate.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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Police records and public perception: Youth work with conviction

Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with a number of young people who have had run ins with the justice system. Many of these young people have had people look down on them because of their infringements. A number of them have since become youth workers.
 
Over the last couple of years we have had a number of inquires and inquests into the abuse of young people in care in Victoria. It never fails that there was a lapse in organisational protocols that let someone with a record into a place of trust who then abused their role. However, for every one person who causes trouble hundreds more go about their job with honour. The issue however is that the public view and society more broadly is that if you have a police record you are not worthy of being placed in a position of trust. We are a species which seeks retribution rather than restoration.
 
 
This of course leads to issues in youth services as we believe strongly in the restoration of people, the focus on strengths and the ability for people to choose their own destiny. It is also an issue as many youth workers come from having been troubled youth themselves! I think we would be surprised to see how many youth workers had some sort of record.
 
To attempt to negate the negative we have instituted a number of safeguards including a Working With Children Check and Police Check to screen potential youth workers for their appropriateness. However, if you went by the general recommendation a person with a record would still not be able to get a position, whether your offence was superficial or serious. As an employer I have employed youth workers with and without police records. The seriousness of their offence is always one of my first questions but if it is a minor offence I am know to have a discussion.
 
I remember sitting in a court room when a Judge told a young man who was about to start a youth work course that he was an idiot for his infringements. The Judge told the young man that with his background and his knowledge of the justice system he would make a great youth worker. That was over a decade ago and I have had to deal with the fallout of a stupid decision ever since. Many youth workers are in the game to help young people stay on the straight and narrow and hopefully not head down the path that they trod.
 
 
Youth workers need passion and conviction. A conviction against their name is not necessarily a reason to exclude someone from becoming a youth worker. As with most things that develop an Ultimate Youth Worker its all about character. Whether you have a record or not I will not employ a youth worker if they can’t show character. If you have a police record let people know, show them your character. If you are hiring and a person states that they have a record have a discussion, see if their character is a fit for your organisation. Above all be transparent.
 
 

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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Developing the leaders of the future: youth work qualifications aren’t enough!

I was having a conversation with a diploma student today that made the hair on the back of my kneck stand on edge. He said to me without a hint of a joke that once he had finished his two year course that he would be qualified enough to become a manager in the organisation that he volunteers in. I remember having a conversation with a couple of my mates as we were coming to the end of our degree and a number of them believed that they had reached the pinnacle of youth service leadership. In Victoria the Youth Workers Association and many of the proponents of professionalisation have placed an inordinate amount of weight on qualifications and their ability to measure leadership in the sector.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I think that a three year degree does give you some bragging rights over someone who has only done a year… but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a leader in the sector. Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, one of the leaders of the sector, attained no formal qualification but holds an honorary degree in youth work. Many of the best youth workers I know have minimal formal youth work qualifications. Qualifications do not make you a leader.
 
Youth workers are looking for leaders in the field.
 
There is no denying that the youth sector is in need of strong leaders to guide it into the future. What would this leadership look like??? Here are a few thoughts:
 
  1. Focused on effective results not efficient KPI’s.
  2. Advocates for sector wide reforms including; better funding, focus on holistic interventions and staff support.
  3. Developers of new research and practice literature which brings a youth work specific body of work to academia.
  4. A core focus on our clients need, not our funding bodies “requirements”. 
  5. The ability to inspire the next generation of youth workers to expand the profession.
  6. The wisdom to change with the times and not follow blindly other human service professions
  7. A focus on character rather than qualifications when recruiting new staff.
  8. A recognition of the role of youth workers by broader society
Not one of these rely on a person holding a qualification. What would you add to the list?
 

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

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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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Why do youth worker’s struggle to work together???

Over the last few months we have been working with a number of organisations to help them develop in one way or another. For some it is providing supervision, for others it is developing policies and procedures and others it is a top down organisational overhaul. In almost all of these organisations we have noticed that youth workers are really good at throwing each other under the bus! We are even better than our clients!
The amount of cat fights and general mistrust that we have witnessed is truly astonishing. Colleagues who would turn against each other over trivial issues and games of oneupmanship that would put most two year olds to shame. I must say it made me sick to think that I belonged to such a profession. It has led me to ask the question “Why do youth worker’s struggle to work together???
Here are my current thoughts:
  1. Youth work has become a competitive industry and this permeates through to staff. 
  2. Vicarious trauma which is not dealt with properly has to come out eventually, usually in burnout.
  3. When people work in close proximity in tough situations it can lead to some personality clashes.
  4. Managers provide minimal accountability and do not squash issues within the team quickly enough.
  5. Some people are just not cut out for youth work!!!

What do you think??? 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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What gets youth worker’s through stressful times???

In our work the staff at Ultimate Youth Worker meet with a number of downtrodden, stressed out youth workers who are just trying to keep it together. Why these fine examples of the social services sector have begun to erode is anyone’s guess. Overworked, under payed, vicarious trauma, limiting government policies and organisations that don’t care are all excuses we hear for burnout and workplace stress. But you know what we all face that, so why do so many fade away???

Youth work isn’t always fun!

The one thing that we see over and again that separates those who can push through stress and those who get squashed under the pressure is purpose. When the youth worker’s who are close to the edge are asked why they got into youth work it invariably is for a nothing reason. “I wanted to become a teacher and I though this would help“. “I just felt like these kids need help“. “People just need to give something back“. The worst offenders are those with altruistic motives.

“A difficult time can be more readily endured if we retain the conviction that our existence holds a purpose – a cause to pursue, a person to love, a goal to achieve.”- John Maxwell

Unless you have the courage of your convictions youth work will chew you up and spit you out. Youth work is a purpose that you need conviction to follow. A reason to wake up in the morning. A cause to pursue. A goal to achieve. Youth work is more than a stepping stone to your next career. Youth work is not something you do to warm the cockles of your heart.  Youth work is a profession that needs professionals with the right reason for being there… A real purpose.
What gets you out of bed in the morning???? Is your purpose to support young people to become the best they can possibly be? Or perhaps you are in it for the inordinately large pay check! If your own values and purpose aren’t clear then you are on a fast track to burnout.

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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