Firm, Fair, Friendly but never Familiar: Boundaries in youth work.

Over the years I have been asked hundreds of times about how to set boundaries in youth work. I have spoken to this issue in youth work classes from certificate to degree level. I have spoken on this in supervision session and in seminars. I have also written about it in this blog. Recently I was asked if there was one thing about boundaries that I would pass on to new youth workers what would it be.


One line

I had a mate who had done Sgt. training in the army and one of the roles of a Sgt. is to supervise other troops. In the training my friend was told that when commanding troops he needed to be “firm, fair , friendly but never familiar”. My friend once told me this and it had always stuck.
In youth work we are often trying to lead our young people through the difficult trials of adolescence. Sometimes we need to be firm on the boundaries of our role and their responsibilities. Youth work is all about social justice and as such we want to be as fair as possible when working with young people. Youth work is also a profession developed on friendship building skills. However, sometimes our clients see this friendliness as becoming friends with their youth worker. Which is why we can never become familiar with our young people.

One line sums up my ethic on youth work boundaries, “Be firm, fair, friendly but never familiar”.

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. I spent many years in the military, I mostly agree with firm, fair, friendly, but not with familiar. many of the people that I supervised were close friends, and our work did not suffer because of it, we actually performed better.
    In working with youth, or any other age group for that matter, trust can be critical and part of trust is allowing others to be familiar. I treat each person as an individual and look forward to becoming friends and gaining mutual understanding. Of course,propriety needs to be observed and there are situations and people that will fall outside of this.

  2. Thanks Mark,

    in the case of the youth work profession being too familiar with clients has led to a number of major issues throughout the years. That is why I like the Firm, Fair, Friendly but never Familiar.

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