Youth work career development: Qualifications, depth and breadth

One of the most often cited reasons for staff turnover in the youth sector is the lack of promotion opportunities. Whether it is leading teams or projects many youth workers want to move up the ladder. However we also have a relatively low entry point to becoming a youth worker with over 50% of the Australian youth sector having a Certificate IV or less. This lack of career progression options has been an issue within the sector for many years with the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition recently bringing it t the forefront again. It also forms the basis for one of the most frequently asked questions I get from students at university and TAFE… how do we get a decent job in the youth sector?

youth-work-degree

So with limited opportunities and a limited pool of highly qualified youth workers, what is a youth worker to do??? Plan their career!

Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, it is important to realise that no one other than you is looking out for your career progression. Most youth work organisations do not do succession planning or if they do it is mainly focussed on the top job. So if you thought that your manager was getting you ready for or had a focus on developing you for your next role, the chances are you are wrong. There are a few managers and organisations who take very seriously the idea of staff development and succession planning. However for the most part you are on your own.

[Tweet “Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, you need to think about career progression.”]

If there are limited opportunities for you to progress upwards in your organisation (usually because you are in a small or medium sized organisation) then you may need to think laterally. What other organisations do work you want to be involved in? What requirements do they have for staff? What qualifications do they want you to have? Is there specific knowledge or experience you need for the roles? In our experience you will need depth of knowledge about young people and a breadth of experience if you are to stand out for the roles you want.

If you imagine a Certificate IV as the minimum standard and a PhD as the maximum depth that your qualifications can have, look at the depth of your qualifications. More depth provides you more opportunity to get promoted. The other axis to look into is breadth. If all you have focused on is youth work you may have great depth (which is fantastic for an academic) but you will have no breadth. Now if you choose to gain some qualifications in the peripheries then you begin to gain some breadth. Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, Management, Business, Family Therapy, Education; all of these periphery qualifications and more can give you more options for your career.

Depth and breadth of your qualifications are only one part of your career development plan. It gives you options. To begin the process though you have to have an area in mind that you want to end up in. At the beginning of my career I knew that I wanted to be the best at working with young people who were at the crisis end of the spectrum. That meant I had to Gain qualifications in these areas. I gained qualifications in Youth Work, AOD and Dual Diagnosis. Qualifications gave me some options. If you don’t have much depth or breadth November is always a great time to check out some options for building your qualifications.

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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8 tips for amazing youth work external supervision.

External supervision

Two years ago when Ultimate Youth Worker began we started as a small external supervision service for youth workers. We started this because we saw the lack of supervision given to our friends and colleagues as well as the lack of qualified youth workers providing external supervision. We wanted to see youth workers supported by youth workers to develop their youth work practice. Over the past two years we have supported dozens of youth workers to do just that. However, we still hear of people offering supervision to youth workers which cause more trouble than support.

These well meaning people, often social workers and psychologists, do not understand the intricacies of youth work theory and practice. They begin to make their supervisees more like them.   Youth workers deserve better. We deserve supervisors who understand youth work theory and practice and how they interweave. We deserve the best possible support to do the work we do.  

So what should we look for when choosing an external supervisor. Here are a few thoughts we have on the expectations of a good youth work supervisor:

  1. They must have a youth work background. It should not come as a surprise but many other professions do not work with young people. There are also issues which youth workers face which are not covered by other professions. I have heard of social workers, psychologists, OT’s and nurses supervising youth workers when they have never worked with young people. A great external supervisor will have extensive youth work experience… at least five years direct practice is a minimum.
  2. They must be qualified. They must hold a qualification in youth work. Minimum of a diploma level however we recommend the degree. They must also have some qualification in supervision. The minimum standard should be one of the five day courses available by many professional associations.
  3. They must have an articulated best practice framework of supervision. If they cannot articulate the framework they use and why then do not hire them. They must address how they will work with you and the areas they will cover with you.
  4. They must have a track record of other clients. If it is the first time they have supervised people you don’t want to pay to be a guinea pig. If they are genuine they will have a record of staff they have supervised.
  5. They must be a member of a professional body. Whether it is a youth work professional association, a peak body or another professional body. You want to know that they are being kept accountable for the work they are doing within the youth sector.
  6. They must be accessing supervision themselves. Good supervisors have to talk things through too. They need to make sure they are supervising well and ethically. They need to unload the traumas they hear as much as their supervisees.
  7. They must hold professional indemnity insurance. While you should never need it, if you get advice and you use it and something goes wrong you need to be aware that they are insured.
  8. They must be a fit and a challenge. This one takes time and why we recommend a review after the first few sessions. They must fit you personally. Your personality and where you want to be going. And, they must be able to challenge you. to help you step outside yourself and try more.

If you ask your potential external supervisor these questions then you will be assured to have a great supervisor to help you trek through the ups and downs of youth work. If you want a supervisor who ticks all these boxes contact us and we will point you in the right direction.

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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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?
 

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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 will youth work look like in 2013?

Today I am stoked to continue our series with a guest post from one of the worlds most well known youth work professors. In this series we have heard from Shae and Stephen Pepper from youthworkinit.com and will continue to hear from some of the leading minds in youth work from throughout the world culminating in early 2013.
Today’s Guest Post is written by one of New York’s finest, Professor Dana Fusco. In over 20 years as a lecturer in youth work she has shaped the argument for youth services in the United States encompassing areas such as reflective practice, after school services and youth work in interdisciplinary teams. Dana has a BA in Psychology from SUNY at New Paltz and a Phd in Educational Psychology from CUNY Graduate Center. She also runs the facebook group Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions
So Dana, what will youth work look like in 2013???

Dana Fusco, Professor, City University of New York, York College, United States

 In the United States, youth work is not a unified or singular practice; rather, it has been described, and still is, a family of practices (Baizerman, 1996[1]). That family provides, in the most ideal circumstance, a plethora of diverse opportunities for young people. What we, as youthwork practitioners hope is that the set of diverse experiences known as ‘youth work’ will help young people to live rich, healthy, and fulfilling lives now and into the future. Our praxis is grounded or contextualized in the actual, not theoretical, lives of young people; is responsive to their lived experiences, their hopes, their aspirations and dreams; and proclaims a participatory and democratic approach that supports youth voice and agency as a part of community engagement.
 
In the places where youth work looks like this in 2012, I suspect it will continue to do so in 2013. That said, there are some trends on the horizon that potentially put the family of youth work practices in jeopardy. If we think of youth work as a stew, then each practice is an important ingredient towards a ‘tasty’ and healthful creation. In the U.S., our stew seems a bit ‘soupy’ these days, with ‘critical’ and emancipatory forms of youth work being those most often removed or replaced. This trend was precipitated by several sociopolitical and economic factors, with the most direct consequence being the pressure for out-of-school, nonformal environments to link up to, connect with, and supplement school. The goal for those who hope to formalize out-of-school environment is that there is a collective impact towards meeting NCLB (No Child Left Behind) targets (standardized test scores in reading and math).
The trend of youth work moving towards formalized education began with the development of a billion dollar federal reserve for afterschool programs under the Clinton administration, known as 21st Century Community Learning grants. These grants had two contradictory consequences. On the one hand, they put into the public eye, the importance of afterschool environments, many of which at that time were the youth-club-in-community-center variety, and legitimized these spaces as critical for young people. On the flip side, those dollars came with “strings” to improve academic outcomes. Some community agencies with a strong history of local work with young people have maneuvered within the structure to work in participatory and emergent ways. Many have closed their doors. Those newer to the scene might be doing good educational and ‘youth development’ stuff after school, i.e., enrichment and project-based learning, but not youth work in the way we have known it.
This situation leaves us with two potential possibilities for the future of the field. First, we can name these afterschool practices as part of the family of youth work practice and accept them as such. Second, we can decide that this form of afterschool, which is geared towards ‘a priori’ academic outcomes, might be too predetermined and ritualistic to be considered youth work at all. If this is the case, we must not only define youth work by what it is not but by what it is – an emergent and relational form of workingwith young people that is community-based, participatory and responsive, or what I am now calling, critical youth work (CYW).
If we choose the second option it will be critical that we more clearly define the purpose and values of CYW. As I see it, CYW aims to co-create spaces with young people where they can lead and learn. In this formulation, youth work begins with young people’s concerns, interests, goals, and/or needs, and positions practitioners to construct a ‘use of self’ that creates a relational web of possibility. Then, in this conception of the future, it is the education of the youth worker that becomes increasingly pivotal.
In 2013, it is not only changes in youthwork practice that we must attend to but also changes in youthworkeducation (YoEd) In the U.S. we have seen an explosion in YoEd within higher education, a 900% increase over the past four years with most of these framed as ‘youth development.’ Conversely, in the U.K. and Australia, longstanding youthwork courses and degree programs have closed their doors including those found at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and Manchester University. While the reasons for such closures have been couched in economic and enrollment terms, one wonders why Youth Work/Youth Studies then and not Latin or philosophy, which equally might enroll under five students each year. The lack of understanding among higher education administration about community-based youth work is partly to blame. The title itself, youth work, leans towards the vocational, not the liberal arts. In 2013, it is hard to predict where those who want to study youth work and youth studies in these countries will go. If they go into existing, related disciplines, e.g., social work, then youth work will too likely become case management; if they go into education, then youth work will become para-teaching. With such potential outcomes, an international community of youth workers and youth work educators is needed whether in the form of an association or something else in order to work towards saving/reclaiming and re-thinking the discipline of youth work. I believe today it is in our international community that we have collective power and bargaining to legitimize the work and the body of knowledge that we have co-created as a viable area of study and practice for working with young people.

In 2013, this would be something to aim for!

 
[1] Baizerman M. (1996). Youth work on the street. Community’s moral compact with its young people. Childhood, 3, 157-165.
 


For more than 20 years, Dana Fusco’s research has focused on youth work as a practice and a profession and has led to increased national and international recognition. Recently she was the keynote speaker at the History of Youth Work conference in Minnesota and presented at the International Conference on Youth Work and Youth Studies in Glasgow. She serves on a national panel of leaders in youth work, the Next Generation Coalition, has authored dozens of peer-reviewed articles and produced the documentary, “When School Is Not Enough.” Professor in Teacher Education at York College, CUNY, She received her Ph.D. in Education Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center.
 
Dana is The Editor of the path-breaking book Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions, which brings together an international list of contributors to collectively articulate a vision for the field of youth work. This book is a must have and is one we would recommend you all get. We did. You can buy it 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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What will youth work look like in 2013???

Today it is my pleasure to kick off a series that will take us to mid January 2013. In this series we will hear from some of the leading minds in youth work from throughout the world as they answer the question, “What will youth work look like in 2013???”

Today’s Guest Post is written by one of our favourite your work blogging duo’s, Shae and Stephen Pepper. In their short time on the scene they have rocketed to the front page of Google with their amazing blog posts on everything from ‘games for youth groups’ to ‘how to run a retreat’ (check out their amazing book). They have also been our biggest supporters in the blogosphere by promoting us in their weekly top blog posts of the week.

So guys, what will youth work look like in 2013???

This post was written by Stephen & Shae Pepper of Youth Workin’ It.

When Aaron asked us to write about what we thought youth work would look like in 2013, my first thought was “probably not all that different to 2012!” As with any profession, change can be very slow as people are more comfortable with the status quo, rather than exploring new ideas that may not succeed.

Having said that, there are three areas that we think youth work will need to start focusing on from 2013 onwards:

University

 

Over the last 25 years, the cost of university education in the US has more than tripled, which has resulted in 1 in 11 people defaulting on their student loan repayments within two years of making payments.

Something has to give.

It’s unlikely that universities are going to willingly lower the cost of gaining a degree, which will mean that people will seek alternatives instead. The good thing for them is that alternatives are starting to take shape.

The Minerva Project is seeking to be a virtual Harvard, while charging tuition fees that are less than half the price of regular universities. Udacity is offering higher education for free. Khan Academy has delivered more than 200 million free lessons online. Codecademyis teaching people how to code for free.

All these initiatives are going to have two major results. One – fewer US students will go to university in its traditional format. Two – learning at the higher education level will become more freely available for everyone; not just in the US, but all over the world.

What does this mean for youth work?

Fewer university students means fewer young people in university towns. This will have an impact on youth work provision in those towns, potentially reducing the funding received from the local government for youth programs.

More young people will also continue living at home from the age of 18 instead of moving away to live at university. This will therefore change the demographics of non-university towns as well, as there will be more 18-21 year olds.

Youth workers – particularly youth pastors – will need to take this into account. Churches often lose young people once they turn 18 because they move away to university. If that’s not happening, it’s vital that they do more to incorporate these 18-21 year olds as part of their church community.

Unemployment

 
Youth unemployment is a massive problem all over the world. In the US, 17.1% of young people are unemployed but it’s far worse in other countries – 21% in the UK, 34.5% in Italy, 53% in Spain and 55% in Greece.

We’ve written on Youth Workin’ It in the past about why youth unemployment matters:

  • They’re unable to gain skills
  • It’s harder for young people to get a job longer term
  • The impact on their self-worth
  • The decrease in social mobility
  • Long-term societal issues


What does this mean for youth work?

 
Youth workers need to start doing more to help young people gain the skills they need to find employment. We’ve offered a few ideas for youth unemployment solutions, but the solutions will need to be tailored based on your local area.

Unemployed young people in Detroit may have grown up expecting to work on a production line building cars, but many of those opportunities have disappeared. Youth living in rural areas have different job opportunities to those in large cities. Youth in countries like Spain and Greece face even more challenging circumstances, seeing as they’re competing against so many other young people for jobs.

There’s sadly no magic solution to fix this problem – if there was, governments all over the world would have implemented it by now. Local youth workers are well placed though to offer programs that can help unemployed young people – check out Plantation Cafe Trading in Guildford, England for one initiative that helps youth gain landscape gardening skills that makes them more employable.

One positive thing is that it’s so much cheaper and easier for young people to set up their own businesses. They no longer need thousands of dollars to set up a business, as they can start their own website for less than $100 or use platforms like eBay or Etsy to earn an income.

This is especially helpful for students who are less academically capable, as they’re often the ones who are more gifted creatively. The low barrier to entry for new businesses is also enhanced by how easy it now is to reach a global audience.

Holistic youth work

 
Many youth work programs have a tendency to focus on one aspect of a young person’s life – physical OR emotional OR spiritual. Here in the US, the majority of youth work programming is done by and through churches, meaning that the emphasis tends to be on the spiritual.

We think it’s important that youthwork becomes more holistic, by focusing on the physical AND emotional AND spiritual lives of our young people.

The reason why youth workers need to pay much more attention to all three of these areas is that each one impacts the other:

  • Young people from low income households may have a hard time focusing at school simply because they’re hungry
  • For churches, youth who were abused by their Dad will have a hard time relating to God as their Father
  • Depressed young people can have physical symptoms, whether that manifests itself through illness or self-harm

What does this mean for youth work?

Youth workers don’t have to be an expert in all three of these areas. A sports coach doesn’t also have to be a child psychiatrist and youth pastor. A kids church helper doesn’t also have to be a nutritionist and counselor.

All youth workers do need to have an awareness of the interconnectedness of the physical, emotional and spiritual lives of youth though. Churches in low income areas could offer free meals at their youth programs. Community youth clubs could offer sex education classes. School counselors could try and get a depressed young person connected with a faith-based youth group (or even another social club) within a school, so that they have support from other young people of their age.

Youth workers should also be willing to partner with other organizations to ensure that all of these needs are met. There are many benefits to having partnerships in youth work, one of which is that far more can be achieved when skills and resources are combined than if you tried to address the needs all by yourself.

University. Unemployment. Holistic youth work. These are the three areas that we feel youth workers need to start focusing on more.

How about you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

 

This post was written by Stephen & Shae Pepper of Youth Workin’ It. They blog about youth work 6 days a week and also offer consultancy, services and youth work resources for youth workers and organizations worldwide.

 

 

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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The question of qualifications.

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

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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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