Get out of youth work: how to know when its time to move on.

Over the years I have had the privilege of working with a number of amazing youth worker’s who epitomise the values of Ultimate Youth Worker’s everywhere. Conversely, I have met a number of youth worker’s that should never have begun the process of working with young people. I have met a number that if it were up to me would have been fired immediately after I met them, and a number who are so damaged that they should be black banned from ever working with an adolescent. Whilst most people who become youth workers do it because they want to help, there are also a number who for all their knowledge or passion just cannot help anymore.

I have seen to many youth worker’s walk the line of burnout or self destruction and not being supported by their orginisations they fall and fail their young people. Orginisations have a responsibility to watch their staff health and wellbeing for their staffs wellbeing as well as the clients. However, good youth worker’s also have a responsibility to know when to call it quits.
When I worked in family services I came across a number of situations which slowly ate away at me. Families who fought about everything, young people who had to take care of their families as their parents were unable or unwilling and more abuse than I care to remember. About six months into my stint I began to see my clients as merely client numbers rather than people. There were a number of reasons that I began to disassociate however the worrying thing to me in hindsight is that neither my supervisor or my colleagues noticed.
About nine months into it my wife noticed something was up. I was working a particularly ugly sexual abuse case that was pushing me to breaking point. my wife confronted me and I had to make a choice… Stay or Go. I spoke to my supervisor and was removed from the case. Less than three months later I had left the orginisation. Partly due to my being on the edge of burnout, partly due to my orginisations lack of empathy.
What I learnt from that debacleI share with you:
  1. If you stop seeing your clients as human its time to go. Wether it is a particular case or the orginisation or the entire career path will be determined by how jaded you have become. You will only do damage to your clients and in turn to yourself. It is a self fullfilling prophecy and it only ends bad.
  2. If your orginisation will not support or is unable to support you, jump ship. Better to take your chances finding another job than being fried. Your health and wellbeing is more important than making quota or your CEO feel better. Needless to say, an  orginisation that does not support its staff is not really supporting its young clients either.
  3. Having significant people outside of your career is crucial to providing clear insight into you and your level of strain. I mentioned my wife, who was an amazing support during this time, however I had friends, family and mentors who also provided much needed respite and assurance.
  4. It can only end bad if you keep gutting it out. The more you invest the more likely you will fall. If you are not getting good supervision and support gutting it out is like playing russian roulette. The question is not if you will get shot , but when.
If you notice the symptoms, get out now. I took five months off and reflected on my calling. I found a great job and was well supported. I am still getting past the jadedness that comes with an unsupportive orginisation…but who’s perfect?
Do yourself and your young people a favour, If it is starting to go pear shaped get some support…and if necesary abandon ship.

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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  1. Pingback: Self care is an Occupational Health and Safety issue for youth workers! | Ultimate Youth Worker

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