What youth workers can’t live without?

Youth Worker

This post started as a bit of tongue in cheek discussion with a good friend about what youth workers can’t live without that led to a facebook question (which became very real, very quickly) and ended with me writing this down. What do you think about this list? What are we missing?

Coffee (or Tea)

Many years ago I stated unequivocally that Ultimate Youth Workers drink coffee like it is our life blood. The avalanche of vitriol that came my way from our friends in the United Kingdom was phenomenal. So from then on I have begrudgingly allowed tea in the mix. To be sure I have often wondered how youth workers would get anything done before we have our first cup of love.

A good compendium

Youth workers are often seen as less professional than others when we arrive at meetings. We dress like young people, we usually have a cup of coffee in our hand and when we sit down at these meetings we have a crappy note pad and a ten cent biro in our hand. Well if that doesn’t scream professional, nothing will. Buy a good compendium, it holds a legal pad, there are good ones for $30 on amazon (and don’t forget a decent pen… spend at least $2).

Games supplies

I was reminded of a post by our good friend James Ballantyne at Learning from the Streets and some of the stuff that clutters up a youth workers car. In my own car I have two frisbees, a basketball, a tennis ball or three, a cricket bat, multiple decks of cards (including a 500 deck, Uno and Skip-Bo), a few empty water bottles, a ream of different coloured paper and every colour Sharpie you can imagine. With these tools I can create the most imaginative games under the most extreme circumstances.

A go bag

In military terms a go bag is a bag of goodies that will sustain you in a crisis. When I worked as a casual residential worker I would get a phone call an hour before they needed me. I still have a go bag in my car for just such an emergency. My bag is a basic duffle bag (similar to this) and has in it:

  • A full change of clothes
  • a few snacks, a couple of meals, a few sachets of coffee
  • A towel and a toiletry bag with all I need
  • A small first aid kit (With any medication I might need)

I also keep a sleeping bag and a pillow in my car so if I need to do a sleep over shift I am always ready to go.

Someone to download with

You need to be able to debrief in this job. If you don’t you are on a slippery slope to burnout. You need to have a mentor who you can go to and just ask any questions. You need a supervisor who can support you as a person, a practitioner and a professional. You need to have someone who understands the job, you and the pressures you are under.


When I started as a youth worker I had no qualifications. I didn’t know anything , I didn’t know any better and my bosses didn’t really give me any training to bring me up to speed. I had to work it out myself. That is the worst possible position for a new youth worker to be in. I made dozens of stupid mistakes that could have been avoided.

In 2005 I began a degree in youth work almost four years after I started as a youth worker. What I learnt over the next three years set me up to provide the best service possible to young people. Since that time I have gone on to do many more qualifications, I taught in TAFE and in Higher Ed and I have come to the conclusion that the best way for youth workers to learn how to do the job.

A network

One of my mantras for my students is build your network. I say it so often some of my students will joke that I have a network for everything. The simple fact is that youth workers get things done because of the people we know. Join LinkedIn (you can add me first). Every time you meet someone get their card and add them to your contacts. Join some groups on facebook.

A Self Care Plan

You must, YOU must, YOU MUST have a self care plan if you want to survive in youth work. It isn’t something that you can just wing. You must have a plan that covers the main areas of life and it must be written down. You need to review it ever three to six months to see how you are going.

We believe in this one so much we have dedicated a vast number of blogposts and our first podcast episode to having a self care plan.

A hobby outside Youth Work

Youth work can become our life. We love it. It’s rewarding. But it can also suck the life right out of you. In my career I have seen a bunch of youth workers run themselves so hot that they burnt out. If your life is only about one thing you are in trouble. Youth workers need to have a hobby outside of youth work. Something that has nothing to do with youth work in any way.

A good book

Youth workers are readers, at least we all should be. In our bags we should have with us a good book every day. When I was in direct practice on a daily basis I lost count of how many hours I lost sitting in waiting rooms with young people. After a good 30 to 45 minutes we would end up sitting staring at a wall or if we were really lucky a tv. Have a book with you. Read, Read, Read.

A good suit (or equivalent)

We do love a snug pair of jeans and a sweet hoodie as youth workers. It’s our uniform. However, there are times that our uniform doesn’t work for us or our young people. When I worked with the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner I spent much of my time with young people in residential care, resi workers and volunteers who would have thought a three piece suit was out of character. I would then end up in Meetings with senior public servants and managers from not for profit organisations where a suit was the uniform.

You will go to court for your young people, you will attend funerals and if you are really lucky you might get invited to a wedding. You need a suit.

Well that is the list. What do you think? What else should be added?

Leave a comment below.

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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