Youth Work 2.0: A manifesto for the future.

We are on the brink of disaster! Our education of youth workers, lack of ongoing professional development opportunities, lack of self-care and professional support is leading to an under resourced service system at the breaking point. recently we heard that the revolving door at the end of youth work qualification is spitting people out of the sector 18 months after qualifying. This is a disaster!!!
When Ultimate Youth Worker began we saw these issues and asked ourselves what would youth work look like if it was properly resourced and supported post qualification, A second generation or 2.0 software update if you will. We wondered what it would take to bring us back from the edge. The list was long and extensive. Over the last year we have spruiked some of our ideas, but here are the two issues we see as critical to our coming year and advocacy in the sector.
  1. First and foremost we need a sector that is resilient. The revolving door needs to be slammed shut. Lets be honest… as a sector we really suck at self care. We don’t teach it in our courses, we don’t do it in our organisations and our supervisors don’t know how to guide us through the difficult times. There are a few exceptions but the weight of stats and anecdotal evidence is against us. Self care must become a core component of our education and our practice.
  2. We must get rid of our obsession with the idea of generalist youth work. That is a minimalist approach to a work which requires more of us. We need to be training specialist youth workers. Every degree should have an honours year where we specialise in an area of practice. AOD, Mental Health, Justice, Homelessness whatever the area young people are found there should be opportunities for specialisation. In particular we believe we should be training better youth mental health specialists at a bare minimum.
These are just two areas we will be advocating for and providing support in throughout the next 12 months and beyond. We have a long way to go but we must take the journey.
What do you think???

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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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  1. Thanks for beginning a very critical conversation. I would add that it is critical that the public understand and “buy in” (quite literally) to the concept, values, and purpose of youth work. Bottom line- if there is no public will and taxpayer support/advocacy, services will continue to get slashed without even a whimper.

  2. A really brave, and helpful, beginning to a conversation. For your first point, I entirely agree. We need more self-care, and often more time to engage and reflect. ‘Evaluation’ session sadly often becomes about ‘which targets did we tick’ and ‘which incidents do we need to write down in case someone complains later’, and not about ‘how do I feel about/cope with this evenings events’, and even less about critically reflecting for the sake of improving practice.

    Your second point I agree with less. I’m really tempted to agree as it would pull us in line with other occupations – like doctors who specialise after their medical degrees, or teachers who take up a particular curriculum subject or area of responsibility – though these seem to happen mid-career rather than during the degree process.

    But ultimately I disagree for 2 reasons – firstly, not every youth worker has a degree. Some of the best youth workers I know are volunteers. Secondly, and probably most importantly, all the examples you gave are essential professions in their own right – but their not youth work. To me a specialised youth worker is an oxymoron – once you become specialised rather than generalised you have changed the standard definition of what it is to be a youth worker, therefore you’re something else.

    I think what makes youth worker distinct and particularly valuable is that it’s so general. Youth workers, of course, must know their limits and maybe we’re not great at signposting to another service when we’re out of our depth. It’s not about us imposing our particular specialism on a young person, but about saying ‘I have the skills to help you learn through your own experiences, and I’m a trusted adult outside the home you can build a relationship with who’ll support you and care for you, be here without judgement, walking alongside you, until you no longer need that relationship’.

    Of course I’m certainly not suggesting someone with a specialism can’t do youth work – rather I wonder if everyone specialised, the specialism would become our identity rather than the typical commitment to young people.

  3. Wow, Thanks for your well thought out response Pete.

    I think that first and foremost we need to have a solid youth work foundation from which we are to work from. Second, here in Australia at least, really the only place which has generalist youth workers is local government. Everywhere else you are a youth worker in a particular service system.

    This issue has been playing itself out for a while with many youth workers leaving the sector because of a lack of recognition. The main point i was trying to get across was that to be seen as competitive we need to have more than our just awesome youth work skills. Being known as the youth worker isn’t enough anymore. Being a youth homelessness worker or a youth AOD worker shows that you have not just generalised but you are willing to specalise in an area of working with young people.

    Anyway just a thought.

    Thanks for the great feedback 🙂

  4. Hi Dana, I agree whole heartedly. If we can get the public to understand what we do as youth workers then funding for developing the sector. We do need to become better at showing what we do as youth workers.

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