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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