Even if they are small things

Motivational Monday: Greatness.

Greatness in something small.

In youth work we are going through our own adolescent storm and stress. We are pushing to have the prestige that comes with the title ‘profession‘. We are storming against other professions, within our own industry and with our colleagues. We are all aware of how great the step towards professionalising is, and what it will mean for individuals and our sector. For many though it is like building a new skyscraper or cruise ship… A great feat, that will take a long time. In Australia there has been active initiatives towards building a professional association of youth workers since the 1970’s.

[Tweet “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. Napolean Hill”]

The sad fact of humanity is that we are not all destined for greatness. We will not all become a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr or Gandhi or Mother Theresa. We more often than not are destined to plod through life doing the boring, unsexy stuff of the daily slog. It is this boring slog that many of our colleagues struggle with. It is one of the reasons people leave our industry. It is not all mountain top experiences. It is most often time in the valley doing small things.

Even if they are small things

Do great things

Our character, when we are faced with the small things, is what most people will judge our profession and our people on. If we react with disdain and neglect to those small things our funding bodies and the public will continue to crucify youth workers in the media. Auditors will continue to give us poor reviews. Students will stop choosing youth work courses and eventually youth work will fade away. If however we choose to do the small things in great ways then our profession and our individual practice will be marked with greatness.

The average community worker is spending around 60% of their time doing paperwork. Imagine how much more effective we could be if we did our paperwork in half the time with twice the professionalism. Greatness. Imagine if we spent less time dealing with bureaucracy and more time dealing with people. Greatness. Imagine if we dealt with a persons needs not just what we could do in their episode of care. Greatness! Imagine if we cleaned the office toilet with gusto instead of hoping the cleaner would do it. Greatness.

If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. Napolean Hill

Walk Away

Motivational Monday: Walk away!

Walk Away

Walk away from anything or anyone who takes away from your joy. Life is too short to put up with fools- Unknown

My career as a youth worker has always pushed the boundaries. Whether it was pushing social workers in family services work to listen to the voice of the young people in the clientele or getting local government youth services to use more social media I have always pushed for the next evolution in working with young people. I have also pushed the boundaries with other youth workers. Asking them to be more and do more than they ever thought they were able to do. I have asked them to be more professional, more qualified and advocate more for their profession. In all of this I have never asked anyone to do more than I would ask of myself. I take immense joy from developing myself, others and the youth sector!

[Tweet “When you get people pushing you to do the status quo, walk away.”]

However, whenever change is sought people like to try to drag you back to the status quo. Walk away! They like to take your joy and squash it. Walk away! Whether it is people telling you that you can’t do something because it hasn’t been done before or perhaps they say that you wanting to be better is some sort of patriarchal step towards the abyss. I remember speaking at a conference and being told that no one could be an Ultimate Youth Worker in the current political climate so why even try? At a meeting of those who want to see a professional association of youth workers I was told that we could only become a functioning group by having a monopoly from one university with one focus on youth provision. It is times like these that really take away from my joy.

In youth work there are times when we have our joy attacked. Unfortunately it is usually by the people who should be our biggest supporters. When you get people pushing you to do the status quo, people who harsh your buzz, people who want to steal your joy… walk away. Life is too short!

Welcome to 2015 and a few of our goals

Welcome to 2015! Woo Hoo. Well 2014 throughout Australia and indeed the world saw youth work under the pump. In Australia we saw funding and service provision cuts to deplorable standards making many youth workers question if they are in the right industry. In the UK we saw the Early Day Motion 488 and the debate on statutory youth services funding come to the fore. In the US the debate of where youth work fits in informal education versus standard education is still bubbling away with not much in the way of resolution in sight. These are just a few of the issues which are happening the world over. 2014 was hard.

2015 brings with it some hope. In Victoria where we are based a new state government has come to power which historically has supported youth work and young people. At Ultimate Youth Worker we are seeing a real collegiate push from academia to cement youth work as a profession coming not just in the form of a few journal articles but clear steps of sustainable development. We are also seeing more qualified and passionate youth workers coming into the sector who are willing and able to challenge the status quo than we have seen in years. These are truly exciting times to be a youth worker.

2015 fireworks

2015 is going to be an interesting year for Ultimate Youth Worker as well. We will continue to provide our supervision service and our Employee Assistance Program as we have for the last two years. We will continue our blog posts however it looks like we might be doing it a little less frequently. Our podcast which has been an on again off again project will relaunch in March. We are also composing some training videos which we hope to have on the website and on youtube for you all to use as you want. We are also looking at opportunities to provide more online training opportunities including webinars for you to access affordable training. We are currently looking to provide direct service to young people in 2015 through some tender opportunities which have come up. Finally, we will be providing a course in basic drug and alcohol for anyone who wants to productively help young people work through their struggles.

If there is any way we can support you personally or perhaps your organisation contact us to discuss what we can do for you. We wish you a bumper 2015 and a year of care and continuing success.

Christmas present ideas for a youth worker.

Christmas present ideas for an Ultimate Youth Worker

Twas the week before Christmas and if your like me, your wondering what to get for some of your youth work family. It needs to be something to help them grow. Something witty. Something that won’t break the bank. We believe that one of the best Christmas present ideas are one that extends our knowledge and our practice… A book. Developing your professional self is one of our pillars of practice and we believe that reading is one of the easiest and most cost effective professional development activities a person can engage with.

A good book for a youth worker is one that is well researched, has been peer reviewed and is able to develop new skills or understanding. It might not necessarily be a youth work specific book. It might be on management, on productivity or on neurology. It may be from a youth worker or a consultant, an academic or and economist. You never know who will build your knowledge! A good book is one of those great Christmas present ideas.

But which book shall you send to your colleague, boss or trusted staff member. There are literally thousands of books on working with young people, It can be hard to choose. For a good framework for choosing the right book for a youth workers professional development check this out. Whatever book you choose make sure it is one you would want to read yourself… that way you can borrow it later 🙂 Just remember that the best Christmas present idea is one that shows you care.

Here are a few of our favourite book ideas for this year. It is not an exhaustive list but it is definitely a list of books we have on our shelf. Whether you are a frontline worker, a team leader or a manager there is a book here for you. Feel free to take one or more of them!

Any book you buy helps fund us to keep this blog going 🙂

Celebrate successes: The youth work mountaintop.

Celebrate successes

Tonight I met a bunch of youth workers for dinner to celebrate the amazing work they had done throughout the year. We ate, we drank and reminisced about the work that had been done. Camps, friday night programs, mentoring, leadership development and much much more. Over some amazing Thai food we spoke about the future and how to support the young people to begin developing their own programs. It was a real encouragement to see the amazing work that can be done by committed youth workers who are passionate about their young people.


Its great to celebrate on top of the mountain of success

As youth workers we often hear the stories of difficulties, trouble and trauma. But, it is the mountaintop moments which keep us encouraged. By mid year I was a bit over everything. I had been teaching, running programs and generally just scraping by. As I was about to start a new mental health class in July, I was floored when a new student happened to be a former young person I had worked with almost a decade ago. I cried, we hugged it was a very touching moment.

A client of ours recently took on a new job after a transition time in their organisation meant they had to move on. We caught up together over a chocolate milkshake and chatted about the new role and the amazing opportunities it would hold. We spoke about the successes he had in his previous role, the families he supported, the young people he helped back to school and the training opportunities he provided. We laughed till we wept and in the end were encouraged by each others company.

When the tough times hit it is easy to see them. It is these times that we need to focus on the mountaintop experiences of our past. They will help us get through the tough times and encourage us to continue to stay the course. Celebrate your successes!

End of year and can’t be stuffed: no motivation.

I have been speaking to a lot of youth workers in the slow grind to the end of the year and it seems we are all losing motivation. It is always a tough grind to the end of the year however this year seems to have upped the ante. Many youth workers we speak to have lost their jobs, their programs have been de-funded and as a sector we are really feeling the pinch. Organisations are taking the brunt of this major transition as they try to meet KPI’s before years end with minimal staff. As usual young people luck out.

Youth work motivation

Focus on your intrinsic values

A few organisations we work with have been able to buck this trend a little. Their staff, even though losing their jobs, have been professional to the end. Organising other supports where possible and opportunities for their young people to continue to become more amazing. These youth workers have put their own career opportunities as a second priority to the needs of their young people.  Their organisations and senior management have supported their staff admirably. They have provided vocational counselling, Employee Assistance Programs and one on one support so that their staff can get through this time as best as possible.

Motivation is low in the youth sector. Its a tough time for organisations, youth workers and young people alike. However our motivation as youth work professionals is not a condition of how well we support our young people. As professionals we must serve our clients to the best of our ability even when our motivation is low. I was speaking to a group of youth work students who are also feeling this low motivation. They feel like the work they have done to gain their qualification is all for nought because of the issues facing the sector. As such their motivation has taken a beating.

[Tweet “Focus on your intrinsic values and those ‘I can’t be stuffed’ days will be few and far between.”]

With longevity in the field comes wisdom about these changes. Around every ten years or so the social services sector in Australia gets hit with budget cuts. We lose our funding and then over the next couple of years we have wilderness experiences until Government realises that they actually need to support young people. If our motivation is linked to funding we will always have ‘I can’t be stuffed moments’. If our motivation is linked to our own intrinsic values then these temporary setbacks for our profession will leave little mark.

Focus on your intrinsic values and those ‘I can’t be stuffed’ days will be few and far between.

Youth work in the silly season

Surviving is key to the silly season.

December One. The beginning of the silly season. The first day of the run to the end of the year. ‘Every year I dread this time. Yeah there is the awesome Christmas parties and friends and the end of the year. The flip side however is that it is also really busy. It is also the time of year that really hits home for a lot of our clientele just how much their lives are not the same as others. Their short on cash, their family doesn’t look like someone else’s, their future doesn’t look like they thought it would and everything looks bleak. During this time of year many of the young people I had worked with came to crisis.

silly seasonThe dichotomy between the joyous and the pain of the silly season which we as youth workers are stuck between is mind-blowing. It is often this time of year that we see a rise in family violence, crime and suicide. It is all of this and more which makes our days busy. We find that from clock on to clock off we are aware of the suffering of our young people. It is also this time of year that many youth workers are also struggling. As our young people suffer so do we. It is vicarious trauma.

[Tweet “The dichotomy between the joyous and the pain of the season which we as youth workers are stuck between is mind-blowing”]

So in the beginning of this silly season I ask you to consider two things. First, remember that this time for your clients may be one of the hardest. They may need extra support from you during this time just to deal with the fact that the silly season brings forward a lot of raw emotions. Second, I ask you to think about how you and your colleagues are coping. What are you doing to look after your self care? How are you looking out for each other? Perhaps only a couple of drinks at the Christmas party this year!

If we can look out for ourselves and look out for our young people just a little more emphatically over the coming month then perhaps we can limit the effects of trauma and vicarious trauma which comes during the festive season.

Lets look out for each other!

Youth Work Book Review: The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Throughout my career as a youth worker and particularly over the past few years of educating youth workers I have been asked thousands of times what books I recommend youth workers should read. One of the top books I always recommend is The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge, MD. It has almost nothing to do with contemporary youth work, however I think that it paints an amazing picture of the plasticity of the brain. This is key to why I recommend it as adolescence is a time where the brain is undergoing an amazing transformation.

Buy it below

You have to get this book.

Norman Doidge, a Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst  and researcher  delivers a very important and informative book that should be read by all. Dr. Doidge takes us by the hand and carefully explains that the brain can and does change throughout life. Contrary to the previous belief that after childhood the brain begins a long process of decline, Doidge shows us that our brains have the remarkable power to grow, change, overcome disabilities, learn, recover, and alter the very culture that has the potential to deeply affect human nature.

The long-held theory that brain functions were localized and specialised (like a machine) has now evolved to embrace the recognition that the brain is plastic and can actually change itself with exercise and understanding. This is a massive change in our limited understanding of the equipment that helped mankind land on the moon, create cities and solve the worlds diseases… our own brain!

In chapter 1, we meet Cheryl, a woman who has completely lost her sense of balance. She must hold on to the wall to walk, but even that does not steady her. And when she does fall, there is no relief for she still feels like she is falling perpetually into an abyss. This excruciating disorder due to total loss of vestibular apparatus makes her life a living hell. Such people are called “wobblers” because that is what they do. They behave and look like they are walking a tight rope. It is not surprising that many “wobblers” have committed suicide. Enter Paul Bach-y-Rita and his team who have invented a hat. This hat/helmet, with its tongue display and electrodes, acts as a sensor of movement in two planes thus giving Cheryl the ability to orient herself in space, thereby losing the terrible vertigo that led to wobbling. Cheryl and those like her who wear this seemingly magical hat can experience through the tongue connecting to the brain what is needed to maintain balance by finding new pathways in the brain that process balance. The broader implications of this discovery are mind-boggling.

Another hero in the plasticity movement is Michael Merzenich, one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject. Based on his belief in practicing a new skill under the right conditions, he claims that brain exercises can compete with drugs to treat schizophrenia and that cognitive function can improve radically in the elderly. Learning itself increases the capacity to learn by changing the structure of the brain which he likens to a living creature with an appetite needing nourishment and exercise. Working with a monkey he showed how brain maps are dynamic and work by the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. Two phrases associated with Merzenich are ‘use it or lose it’ (as with any muscle) and “neurons that fire together wire together” meaning that throwing a ball, for instance, many times in the same way creates a brain map where the thumb map is next to the index finger map, and then the middle finger. So, brain maps work by spatially grouping together events that happen together. Multi-tasking or divided attention does not lead to lasting change in brain maps.

The story of Mr. L in Chapter 9 illustrates exactly how psychoanalysis changed his character defenses by helping him access his deepest feelings about loss. Mr. L learned that it was safe to give up the denial that protected him for over 40 years from the pain of early loss. He exposed the memories and emotional pain that he had hidden, permitting psychological reorganization. Mr. L changed from an isolated, depressed man unable to commit to anyone, to a man able to experience profound love, marry, and have children.

In chapter 11, “More Than the Sum of Her Parts,” we meet Michelle, born with half a brain. The fact that her right hemisphere took over from her left hemisphere the functions of speech and language, while performing its own functions speaks clearly for neuroplasticity. Michelle leads a comfortable, though somewhat impaired life, enjoys movies, a job, and her family. The story of how one half of her brain took on functions of the missing half is an adventure.

My personal favourite Chapter, Seven, “Pain – The Dark side of Plasticity” introduces us to the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran, described as the Sherlock Holmes of modern neurology. Learning about this man is a fascinating experience in itself. He is heroic in his simplicity and curiosity. “Your own body is a phantom, one that your brain has constructed purely for convenience” says Ramachandran – and this statement has influenced so much of my thinking. His interest became phantom pain – pain that amputees feel after amputation and he discovered that rewired brain maps were the cause. The brain’s plasticity enables rewiring of missing neurons. These discoveries also explain a positive outcome of certain brain remapping and this is in the sexual realm. Phantom orgasm and phantom erection can be experienced in the feet of men with amputated legs and feet leading Ramachandran to wonder about foot fetishes in a neurological way. I will not even try to explain how the mirror box Ramachandran devised to help his patient Philip cope with excruciating pain from an elbow that was amputated works. But, successful amputation of this phantom limb through using the mirror box led others to use it – and there’s more! Ramachandran says that the distorted body images of anorexics and some who go for plastic surgery are caused by the brain and then projected onto the body. So, could one conclude that if one gets the message that he/she is ugly or fat, whether consciously or unconsciously, through loved ones or culture, the brain distorts the perception of the body? Anorectic people actually believe that they are always too fat – defying the reality of scales. It is no coincidence that Ramachandran is from India where his culture was open to what we would call mystical thinking. Psychotic people actually hear voices and hallucinate. Can the theory of brain plasticity be used to explain and even cure such cases. Read this chapter and decide for yourself. The idea that illusion and imagination can conquer chronic pain by restructuring brain maps plastically, without medication, needles, or electricity must be really bad news for the pharmaceutical industry.

The Brain That Changes Itself is one of those books that makes us imagine how much our brains may actually be able to do. Our young people in a state of brain growth have amazing opportunities for their brains to stretch and be pliable. As youth workers this critical time offers us an amazing time to speak into the lives of our young people.

You have to get this book!

Youth work career development: Qualifications, depth and breadth

One of the most often cited reasons for staff turnover in the youth sector is the lack of promotion opportunities. Whether it is leading teams or projects many youth workers want to move up the ladder. However we also have a relatively low entry point to becoming a youth worker with over 50% of the Australian youth sector having a Certificate IV or less. This lack of career progression options has been an issue within the sector for many years with the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition recently bringing it t the forefront again. It also forms the basis for one of the most frequently asked questions I get from students at university and TAFE… how do we get a decent job in the youth sector?


So with limited opportunities and a limited pool of highly qualified youth workers, what is a youth worker to do??? Plan their career!

Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, it is important to realise that no one other than you is looking out for your career progression. Most youth work organisations do not do succession planning or if they do it is mainly focussed on the top job. So if you thought that your manager was getting you ready for or had a focus on developing you for your next role, the chances are you are wrong. There are a few managers and organisations who take very seriously the idea of staff development and succession planning. However for the most part you are on your own.

[Tweet “Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, you need to think about career progression.”]

If there are limited opportunities for you to progress upwards in your organisation (usually because you are in a small or medium sized organisation) then you may need to think laterally. What other organisations do work you want to be involved in? What requirements do they have for staff? What qualifications do they want you to have? Is there specific knowledge or experience you need for the roles? In our experience you will need depth of knowledge about young people and a breadth of experience if you are to stand out for the roles you want.

If you imagine a Certificate IV as the minimum standard and a PhD as the maximum depth that your qualifications can have, look at the depth of your qualifications. More depth provides you more opportunity to get promoted. The other axis to look into is breadth. If all you have focused on is youth work you may have great depth (which is fantastic for an academic) but you will have no breadth. Now if you choose to gain some qualifications in the peripheries then you begin to gain some breadth. Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, Management, Business, Family Therapy, Education; all of these periphery qualifications and more can give you more options for your career.

Depth and breadth of your qualifications are only one part of your career development plan. It gives you options. To begin the process though you have to have an area in mind that you want to end up in. At the beginning of my career I knew that I wanted to be the best at working with young people who were at the crisis end of the spectrum. That meant I had to Gain qualifications in these areas. I gained qualifications in Youth Work, AOD and Dual Diagnosis. Qualifications gave me some options. If you don’t have much depth or breadth November is always a great time to check out some options for building your qualifications.

Knowing mental health: Eating disorders

The final week of our mental health month brings us to eating disorders. As youth workers we have seen a marked increase in eating disorders over the past ten years with body image being consistently rated by young people in their top few issues. Approximately 15% of Australian women experience an eating disorder during their lifetime however it is not just an issue for females either. Many young males also deal daily with eating disorders. The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses, and over twelve times higher than that for people without eating disorders. Approximately one in twenty Australians has an eating disorder with the rate increasing in the Australian population.

There is a high level of co-morbidity of mental illnesses with eating disorders. Eating disorders are most commonly accompanied by depression and anxiety disorders; however, substance abuse and personality disorders are also highly prevalent in people with eating disorders. In fact, research suggests that approximately 60% of people with an eating disorder will also meet diagnosis for one of these other psychological disorders (Beyondblue, 2014).

Knowing mental health

Knowing eating disorders

According to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (fifth edition), “eating disorders are characterised by a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behaviour that results in the altered consumption or absorption of food and that significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning“. The following diagnoses come under feeding and eating disorders:

  • Pica
  • Rumination disorder
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa; and
  • Binge eating

Each of these diagnoses, save for Pica, can only be assigned individually to a person in a single clinical episode. Meaning you cannot have a diagnosis of Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa in the same presentation. This is due to their substantially different clinical course, outcome options, and treatment needs. The diagnostic criteria for these disorders is relatively straight forward however the disorders themselves are quite misunderstood. As youth workers we must have a solid understanding of these disorders so we can break the stigma and provide the most appropriate treatment options and support to our clients.