What will youth work look like in 2013? The finale.

Its been a month and a half in the making but we are finally there. The finale of our series looking at the next twelve months or more in youth work. We have had blogger’s and professor’s of youth work from one end of the globe to the other. We heard from Shae and Stephen from youthworkinit.com, Sam Ross from teenagewhisperer.com, Professor Dana Fusco from CUNY and Professor Howard Sercombe from the University of Strathclyde. Each had their own perspectives on the current and future trends in youth work. Each brought a different perspective on what forces were pushing and pulling youth work. Each one had a particular pearl of wisdom for us. Today’s post is a wrap up of these posts with a focus on the similarities between them all. We will also give our view of the year ahead.

Wrap up

Our amazing guests spoke about a number of areas in which youth work will develop over the coming year. They spoke about youth worker education, technology, the economic situation and the need to be holistic in our practice.

Youth Worker Education

Dana Fusco spoke of the changes developing in youth work education world wide. In the US there has been a 900% increase over the past four years in youth development courses offered by higher education facilities. In the UK and Australia These courses are in decline. Dana laments the decline in youth work education, “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“.

Howard Sercombe also laments the current education setting for youth worker’s. From developing a cozy little home for ourselves throughout the sixties and seventies to becoming a mainstream course in the nineties we sold our soul to the devil of higher education. Like all good corporate conglomerates the universities shafted us. Taking a subject area steeped in the tradition of practice wisdom and narrative and turning it into a McDonaldised cookie-cutter model of research-based best-practice. However true to our history we steered away from research which ultimately is leading to our higher education downfall. Conversely, Howard states, “For the first time, I can run a course for youth workers using a selection of books on youth work written by youth workers“.


In her response to the question Sam Ross states that she always thinks of the new technology on the horizon. Sam speaks of the massive uptake of mobile and smart phones by young people. She shows the statistics of American young people’s use of their phone and how much of their attention it takes…Are you on social networking sites? They are! Sam speaks of the need for youth workers to use this love of mobile technology to keep the attention of young people focused on what we want them focused on.

However Sam also implores us, “So while 2013 may be technologically more advanced and our ways of connecting and engaging may expand we shouldn’t forget that good youth work was the same in the past as it is today and will be tomorrow“. Its all about the relationship.

The economic situation

There is not a person alive today that can’t attest to the effects of the global financial crisis on the hip pocket. Everything seems to cost more today than it did yesterday. Even in countries like Australia which have had some reprieve from the tidal forces of the economic collapse the financial situation is difficult.  As Howard put it “Austerity measures have required significant cutbacks in local funding and this has carried through, often disproportionately, to youth work services“. But we are not the only ones feeling the pinch. Our young people are finding employment harder to gain, University fees have shot through the roof and the general cost of business has increased significantly.

For youth workers this means difficulties at every turn. Shae and Stephen state, “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“. Many of our guests stated that this cost was prohibitive and that if you are one of those who are entering a university to study youth work then you are likely to pay through the nose and then struggle to pay it back.

If you rely on government funding or philanthropic support to run your organisation you may be short on funds for a while. Many governments are finding their budgets significantly in the red. Many philanthropic organisations have seen their investments dip over the past few years as well and are giving out less to allow for their continuation. Its not happening everywhere yet but as Howard said, “2013 may well be the year when the expected decimation actually happens“.

The need to be holistic in our practice.

Gone are the days where youth work happens in a silo. On any given day we are expected to hold a number of roles. Sam points out that our ability to build relationships with young people is core to our work and that this foundation is what we build on in our context. Shae and Stephen point out that young people do not live in silos but have lives with intersecting and overlapping parts. Work on one without the other areas being addressed is ineffective.

Dana 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“. Its not just the states, its world wide.  We work from the same base but in different contexts. Our young people need us to have an understanding of more than how to run a good game. As copious as the needs of our young people are, the knowledge of a youth worker must equal… at least enough to refer to other professionals.

What will 2013 look like???

At Ultimate Youth Worker we have loved the guest posts over the last month and a half and have been pouring over them and a bunch of other research and have come to many of the same conclusions.  Technology is going to be more important this year than ever before. 12 months on from the death of Steve jobs saw the smart phone war at its highest. Exponential growth in mobile, web and personal technology has meant that the ability to communicate or gain information has never been more accessible. Youth workers need to become more tech savvy just to survive. New web applications, social media and even the ubiquitous email are more important than ever to our relationship building. As youth workers we believe there will be a shift to online training, both formal and informal. Blogs, webinars, podcasts, university course and professional development groups are all starting to toy with developing a solid presence on the web. With the hardware never more than arms length from most young people and youth workers we need to be there.

Youth work education will need to adapt. Aside from becoming more tech enabled we need to gain more breadth and more depth in our education. Young people are changing so fast that we need to keep up with the trends. We hang our shingle on our ability to develop relationships with young people. Good. But we need to develop this skill set. We are a relatively emergent human services field and as such need to develop our purpose, values and critical approach. This is depth. We also need to gain an understanding of where we fit in the multidisciplinary field that young people now frequent.  We need an understanding of who and what our colleagues in other field bring to the table. We need to understand their language, their approach and their skill sets. It is the only way we will be able to speak into their work and intervene for our young peoples best.

Money has never been more important and less relevant. The affect of the financial crisis is all around us and will continue to mess with us for years to come in ways we can’t even imagine yet. IT DOESN’T MATTER. The most effective tools in our toolkit are FREE or really cheap. Building relationships takes time. A facebook page can be accessed by free wi-fi at McDonald’s. A mobile phone plan is cheaper than ever. The tools to build relationships are time, energy and interest. Most youth workers have that in trumps. But that means we need to have them around. Youth workers need to feed their families too. With lay-offs happening throughout the sector worldwide there is fear of being cut. Like Howard says, its happened before. The cycle will return. Be the best you can be with what you’ve got and you will be one of the last to get chopped. 

Be more!!! Be holistic. What do you do when you have that relationship? We believe youth workers need to see young people as whole people in their context. We need a biopsychoscialspiritual focus. We need to understand the person, their context and their pathways out of their situation. We need to support our young people in every way we can. We also need to look after ourselves. As the stress builds and we are asked to become more and do more we need to have the reserves to keep going.

We also agree with Dana and Howard, Now is the time for an international presence developing the practice of youth work. We are seeing great international youth work research, texts, blogs, conferences etc coming to the fore. We need to build on this.

2013 holds possibilities and risks. We have  tried to play it safe for the last decade or more and have seen the rug being pulled out from under us. No more politically light weight youth work. We must band together and do it differently or we will see the death knell of what we hold dear… relationally based critical youth work.

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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