The stupidity of calling youth work science will limit our effectiveness!

If I hear another person talk about the science behind youth work or the best-practice “research” that has been done I will scream. This pervasive discourse of youth work through a scientific lens, to the detriment of practice wisdom and individuality, will lead to the destruction of our sectors most central ideologies. 

Putting people in comfortable boxes has never been central to the work of a youth worker, until recently. To have clear diagnoses, a cookie cutter support plan and a “best-practice” set of interventions is the way of the medical, psychological and scientific sectors. There has been a lot written about the divide between the art and science of youth work with much more over the past decade focusing on the scientific. This does not take into account the the complexities that coalface youth workers deal with on a daily basis. “Becoming a professional when one’s discipline is people/young people requires more than technical knowledge; it requires a way of being that is relational, emergent, flexible, dialogic, participatory, and contextualised (Fusco 2013).

Youth work is a flexible, fluid profession. We have historically steered clear of generalising how we work with individuals as it limits our fluidity. We seek to support young people in their context with their individual needs. When we begin to use the frameworks of economic rationalism and the sciences to frame our practice we begin to see people view our practice wisdom and philosophy as weak hokum. Where science seeks fact and answers to problems, we seek to delve into the human condition through questions and journeying with our young people.

There is no doubt that the scientific has bolstered youth work. What we know of brain and psychosocial development has become integrated into our practice kitbag. But, there is a big difference between using the knowledge of a profession and subscribing to its framework and philosophy. If we allow governmental managerialism and our own inadequacies to force us to give up what makes us unique we will regret it.

Let us know your thoughts. Leave us a comment.

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. Aaron
    I’ve only just caught up with this excellent post, which I’ll link to on the IDYW site. Personally I remain sceptical about, indeed distrust, what you term brain and psychosocial development, but concur with your overall argument. I’ll also link to your challenging thoughts on the nature of ‘professionalism’.

    I’ll also take this opportunity to apologise for not responding to your favourable comments about the IDYW site a few months ago. I’ve been a bit upside down!



  2. Thanks Tony.

    It is always a blessing when you guys speak of us… it is only natural to return the favour. I have loved some of your articles of late. Very meaty topics. Keep up the fight.

    Don’t worry about response time, I understand the pressures of the world on us bloggers.

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