Self Care 101: Have a plan

Why is self care so important???

In a couple of words self care is important because of ‘Vicarious Trauma’. Within the work we do as youth workers we hear astonishing stories of things going wrong in our young peoples lives. We hear the stories of physical abuse at the hands of parent, sexual abuse at the hands of supposedly caring adults, of emotional abuse by families and school kids and we hear of the ongoing traumas that come with the adolescent storm and stress. These traumas affect everyone of our young people differently… and they also affect us. This is vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma affects our self care.Self care
Vicarious trauma affects most people slowly. It is the indifference at one of those stories of abuse. It is when a young person becomes just another client rather than a person in need. It is when you get home and yell at your wife because it is a Thursday. It can creep up on you and tear you to shreds. I worked as a family worker a few years back. My eldest daughter was about two and I was working with a young family who also had a two year old. That little girl and my own daughter had similar features and mannerisms and when her story of sexual abuse came to the fore I started to fold. My Wife (a Psychologist) saw me starting to fold and told me in her gentle and loving manner to get myself in order.
As a smart and well educated youth worker I did what I thought best and spoke to my supervisor about my struggles. My Supervisor was a caring social worker who in her best social work speak told me to not worry about it. I attempted to explain the gravity the situation was having on me to no avail. Her supervision was about as useful as a pair of board shorts in the arctic. I went to one of my mentors and he sympathised with my situation. He asked me one question that has always stuck in my mind. “do you have a self car plan”?
I had no idea what a self care plan looked like. I had never even hear of such a thing. First we looked at what a balanced life should entail. We then looked at how balanced my life was at the time. NOT VERY. We then looked at what activities I liked doing in these categories:
  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Emotional
  4. And, Spiritual
We wrote a list of five things in each category that I would enjoy doing and that would help me to gain some balance. In the Physical category I had things like Hiking, going to the gym and having an awesome meal. In the Mental category I had ideas like reading a good book, doing sudoku and doing some studies. Emotional had spending time with my family, enjoying some time with my mates and seeing an external supervisor. Spiritual had go to church, pray and find my centre. Once that had been done the rest was pretty easy. Whenever I felt the pressure of the job getting to me I would choose an activity to do and i would touch base with my mentor to let him know what I had done.
Self care is pretty simple when you plan for it. What three activities could you do to take your mind off the stress of the world? Who are three people you can check in with on a regular basis to vent? If your boss sucks at supporting you through the stress you’re not alone. Touch base with us if you need someone. But don’t let another day go by without starting to plan for your care. If you are not on top of it how can you care for anyone else.

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Reflective practice: Why we should journal.

The team at Ultimate Youth Worker are currently developing our “Model of Effective Youth Work Practice” which will guide how we work as youth workers and how we teach youth work to those in the industry. We believe that excellence mean being effective and innovative and as such we are creating a guide for the development of practice excellence. One of the pillars of successful youth work we hold to is that of reflective practice.


Reflective practice is by no means a new idea in the field but it is one that is not widely implemented. Reasons for this are wide and varied but are mostly end up being because people do not know how to do it or what it would look like. In university courses there is often discussion about being critically reflective and aware of your work however when a student becomes a staff member the critical thinking is left behind an ever growing wall of bureaucracy and paperwork. This often leads to frustration on the part of the staff member and in more extreme cases a complete break down in effective service delivery.

Now I hear some of you saying ‘yeah, but isn’t that what supervision is for?’, and quite a valid point you make. in a perfect world supervision would provide an opportunity for staff to reflect on their practice. However, the world is rarely ever perfect. Many of the youth workers we speak to rarely have a supervision session if any. Those that do have them often speak of them as robotic and machinistic, or as one youth worker told us ‘just a way for the organisation to tick another box to cover their butts‘. For the rare few there are times provided for them to think critically about their practice and its effect on them and their client and learn from their experience. We believe that critical reflection should not be a little bit tacked on to the end of a supervision session for the lucky few, but a whole of practice approach to every aspect of what we do!!!
Boud (2001) states, “Reflection involves taking the unprocessed, raw material of experience and engaging with it to make sense of what has occurred. It involves exploring often messy and confused events and focusing on the thoughts and emotions that accompany them. It can be undertaken as an informal personal activity for its own sake, or as part of a structured course“. Reflective practice comes in many shapes and formats and depending on your organisation, the resources available to you and your level of expertise this can look very different in one setting over another. Over the coming months we will discuss some of the ways individuals, organisations and the youth work sector as a whole can implement reflective practices into their daily structures. However, for today we will begin by looking at something every individual youth worker can do to develop their own reflective practice… Journaling.

When I was a young youth worker I completed an internship with a small organisation that trained youth workers to work in schools. One of the most interesting aspects of the internship (and the one I most struggled with) was a forced weekly journalling session. Some of my best reflections on where I was at as a youth worker, what I needed to work on and how I practiced came during this time. However, I struggled with the exercise because I was not given a reason to do it. I struggled because I was not given a format or template to do it. But most of all I struggled because critical reflection was not something that had been instilled in me as a youth worker either in practice or study.

Moon, in her 1999 article, states the following reasons why journaling helps in the process of learning from experience:
  • To deepen the quality of learning, in the form of critical thinking or developing a questioning attitude 
  • To enable learners to understand their own learning process
  • To increase active involvement in learning and personal ownership of learning
  • To enhance professional practice or the professional self in practice
  • To enhance the personal valuing of the self towards self-empowerment
  • To enhance creativity by making better use of intuitive understanding
  • To free-up writing and the representation of learning
  • To provide an alternative ‘voice’ for those not good at expressing themselves
  • To foster reflective and creative interaction in a group

Journaling provides a great base for the individual worker to begin to develop their reflective practice. Here is one template i have come accross that has worked over the years to help me reflect on my practice.

  1. Identify and describe the experience/issue/ decision/incident
  2. Identify your strengths as a practitioner
  3. Identify your feelings thoughts; values, feelings and thoughts of others involved
  4. Identify external and internal factors; including structural/oppressive factors etc
  5. Identify factors you have influence or control over and those you don’t ( do others?)
  6. Identify knowledge used:
    1. factual
    2. theoretical
    3. practice
  7.  Develop an action plan: what do I need to do first, second and third and so on
 Impliment your action plan, then do it all over again.

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Boud, D. (2001). Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. In English, L. M. and Gillen, M. A. (Eds.)Promoting Journal Writing in Adult Education. New Directions in Adult and Continuing Education No. 90. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 9-18.
Moon, J. (1999). Reflection in Learning and Professional Development. London: Kogan Page

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The question of qualifications.

Since our last post our Director of Operations has been fielding questions that usually started with ‘so you think anyone can be a youth worker…?’! These conversations often led to a discussion around the idea of minimum qualifications for youth workers and a subsequent frustrating discussion on what that would look like.
For the record we thought it would be worth trying to articulate our company position which we began to do in our last article. We asked our Director of Operations to spell it out.
We DO believe that Youth Workers should have qualifications. The higher the better!!! We do not believe that setting a minimum qualification is the answer. Minimum standards do not set a bar of excellence but a ‘just scrape through’ mentality. Here in Victoria this happened in the drug and alcohol sector when the sector settled for 5 units from a Certificate IV as their standard because many people who were practicing had a Certificate IV or less. If we set the minimum qualification at a bachelor degree as many want to in Victoria and as has happened in Ireland then we would be alienating over %75 of the current youth sector which without legislative support would just lead to a hierarchy of staff in organisation in the same vein as the professional/volunteer dichotomy present in Ireland.
We DO believe that a tiered system of qualifications and responsibilities needs to be implemented alongside a professional association which requires ongoing professional development for membership. If you are un-qualified then you should have less responsibility than someone with a Masters degree. But if you are employed as a youth worker you should be required to meet stringent professional development levels throughout your career to be allowed to practice. If you are employed as a youth worker you must be required to develop your professional understanding to maintain employment. 
We DO NOT believe that implementing a minimum qualification level will make the youth sector any more professional. The best most professional youth worker I know is a plumber by qualification. He may not know all the theories but he is always on the hunt for good professional development and training. He attends forums and is involved in many practice groups and looks for opportunities to better his practice and that of his organisation. Conversely, one of the degree qualified youth workers I trained with has not attended professional development training in over five years, is not a member of any professional groups and is by all accounts a mediocre youth worker at the best of times… and he manages a medium sized youth service. Qualifications do not make a professional.
As I was sitting in Macca’s on the weekend watching my kids play on the playground I started thinking about how I was going to approach this article. when my wife brought out our food I looked at the tray mat which showed a career progression graph with roles, responsibilities and training requirements to make it up the McDonald’s ladder. It fit the model that we at Ultimate Youth Worker believe should be implemented perfectly. Qualifications scaffold your ability to move up the ladder from Certificate I through to Higher Degrees. Experience in each area of responsibility builds opportunity for advancement. Ongoing development is a requirement for continued employment. You are always learning and always being prepared for the next level of the career path. You never stay as an un-qualified person you get trained or you are let go.
One of our friends mentioned that for this to happen dollars need to be spent and opportunities need to be available. It means that professional development needs to become a BUDGET REQUIREMENT rather than a reluctant line item. It means professional development must meet the needs of the sector and focus on CONTINUING development rather than just rehashing material you would learn in a Certificate IV level course. It mean that the profession needs to endorse a process rather that a dead end. Not just an endorsement like the lip service of the past but one where funding agreements are littered with the notion of ongoing staff development, where professional associations run more training than the universities and where youth workers aspire to be better than the minimum standard.
Qualifications are important, however ongoing professional development is more so. Sector wide funding for ongoing professional development is sparse at best and if we can not get it right no level of qualification will ever be enough. For the record we believe that setting a minimum qualification would diminish a focus on excellence rather than build it. We believe that there needs to be a clear career progression path for staff in the sector and qualifications need to match duty levels. The Sector needs to step up and provide opportunities for development and this requires a dedicated effort and funding.
We have much more to add to this discussion and will continue to speak on our view for the future.

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Why youth worker’s need to gain practical wisdom!!!

Over the last few months I have been encouraged to imagine what youth work might look like in the future. This has been an exciting process, however it has also had a disheartening effect on me. You see when you look forward you inevitably return to the present and you may even glance to the past.
Youth work as a profession has had a very rocky few decades in Australia and particularly over the past couple of years has been at the centre of immense change in the social services sector. Amongst the youth work fraternity this change has come in the form of associations for youth workers being instigated in some states with the purpose of gaining a professional membership of qualified youth workers. it has also had an assault on its professionality by groups such as RMIT University who have tried to envelop the youth work course into the social science stream so as to generalise it rather than have it as a stand alone course.
As I look into the past I lament the neo-liberal focus on professionalisation as meaning only having qualifications. I also lament the removal of practice wisdom from our day to day work and the replacement with rules and regulations. I lament that we have been so divisive in how we have dealt with each other as youth workers instead of banding together. We have made progress but we have also spent a lot of the time LOST in the wilderness navigating from glimpses of someone else’s map.
In their inspiring book “practical wisdom” Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe believe that we need to re-imagine our work as neither rules based or incentive driven but as being driven  by practical wisdom. They call for us to become ‘canny outlaws’ who buck the trend of standardisation and become more empathetic and learn from the collective wisdom of the sector. In their view we need to become wise through mentoring and practice development without the constrains of standardisation and rote learning.
As I gaze into the future of youth work I imagine a profession unlike any other. One where we mentor our new colleagues and share practice wisdom freely. One where gaining a qualification is inconsequential but where ongoing education is the benchmark. A profession where our work is so exceptional that we are envied by others and where it is so unique that it is not so easily quantifiable.. or dismissed as it is currently. I see  a profession of diverse skills, qualifications and theories that work in harmony to support young people as a whole person. I see a bright future. To get there we must stop tearing ourselves apart and begin to develop our own professional identity free from the constraints of other professions and those that have been imposed on us by governments and the neo-liberal agenda.
Lets change the future!

Dealing with our God complex!!!

I remember not long after I got married about 5 years into my youth work career being out every other night and working to fix the problems of every young person who came through my circle of influence. I also remember the conversation I had with my wife where she told me I needed to deal with my God complex!!!
I didn’t think I had a God complex! I was just the local youth worker. I was the one who they looked to for advice. I was the one they could come to to deal with their issues. I was the one who helped the through the storms and stresses of youth. There wasn’t another youth worker in the area and I was the first point of call for many of the young people.
Many youth workers, particularly early in their career, strive to do everything they can for the young people they work with. This is not wrong as some would have you believe. A little misguided perhaps, but not wrong. Where this misguided focus can tend to become trouble is when youth workers forget that they do not know everything. Sometimes we get in so deep that we forget to advocate, refer and empower.
Our God complex comes to the fore when we overstep our ability. As youth workers we aren’t psychologists, accountants, doctors or lawyers. we may have some understanding of other areas of practice, but for the most part as youth workers we know about young people and that is where our practice should stay. When our passion makes us over reach we become detrimental to our young people and bring our profession into disrepute.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS! When we know what we are able to do we can provide a great service to our young people. When we know our limits we can focus our ongoing professional development to expand our abilities. When we know our limits we can work with our colleagues from other disciplines comfortable in our own abilities. Most of all when we know our limits we can live a balanced life without the God complex.

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What post-qualifying education might look like!!!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the need for ongoing professional development and post-qualifying education for youth workers. for us to be the best, the Ultimate Youth Worker’s, we must continue to learn and develop as we progress through our career. However, in Australia there is no requirement for a person who works with young people to hold a qualification, let alone attend professional development!!!

In Australia there is currently no national professional association and very few states have fledgling professional associations for youth workers. Currently, these associations have limited memberships and do not require their membership to have ongoing professional development to maintain their membership. My wife is a psychologist and as such is required to meet a level of ongoing professional development to maintain her registration with her professional association. Some of my mates are social workers and they too have to meet a level of ongoing professional development for registration. Why not youth workers???
One of the main difficulties is pitching the professional development to a sector that has such a wide range of qualifications. In Victoria over %50 of “Youth Workers” hold a Certificate IV (a one year TAFE qualification) or less. There is a smaller percentage who hold a Diploma (2 years) and an even smaller percentage who hold a degree (3 years) and an almost unmentionable number who hold post-graduate qualifications. What often happens is that training groups pitch their training at the lowest common denominator or bastardise their training to meet the needs of a select few… meeting the needs of only a small proportion of workers. In effect most professional development courses rehash knowledge from TAFE level courses which does not bode well for CONTINUING professional development. 
Another reason is that it is easier to rehash old course material than to think outside the box and develop good ongoing training. There is a train of thought which states that if you have done your course and passed then you are competent and therefore do not need to learn other techniques and ideologies. The problem with this is that the profession stagnates. Imagine if doctors did that??? We would still be curing infection by chopping limbs off and alienating people with skin conditions like leprosy. We need fresh ideas thrown into the mix for the profession to grow and flourish. We need them for workers to gain a clear foundation for their practice.

But what would this continuing professional development look like???

First of all it means a minimum level of education for all Youth Workers. This is a contentious subject in Victoria as what would the minimum level be??? Many want a degree level qualification to be the minimum. However, those with TAFE qualifications are livid about the prospect of being excluded. However the idea of being professionals means stating that there is a group of people who can do a certain job and a group that can not. (see Jethro Sercombe Part 1 & Part 2).
Second, it means that Post-Qualifying education and continuing professional development must be more than rehashing old course material. We need researchers devoting themselves to the future of youth work. We need academics looking for the newest best practice theories to guide our practitioners. We need practitioners brave enough to challenge the status quo and say that we need to be better for the sake of our young people.
Finally, we need to develop a culture of excellence in the face of mounting Neo-Liberalism. When governments say it is better to have more people who are less qualified than having the best qualified workforce we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When employers skimp on professional development because their budgets are shrinking we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When our colleagues say to us that they won’t go to training because they don’t need it we need to say ‘Not good enough’. When professional development groups put forward substandard training at top dollar we need to say ‘Not good enough’. Expect more of our profession, our colleagues and ourselves! Do not settle for mediocre, it is not why you got into this work. Be the best you can be and expect it from others.
Youth work is an honourable profession. It requires passion and skills to be balanced for the best outcomes of our young people. I know you have passion, it is why you began the journey. Lets gain skills that will take youth work into the next century as a leading force in social services and community welfare.
Relational youth work

The importance of good professional supervision

Over the course of my career I have had over a dozen supervisors throughout half a dozen or so specialities. Some of these supervisors were Youth Workers, some Social Workers, some Pastors and some drug and alcohol workers. Their qualifications had ranged from Diploma level to Masters degrees and one had no formal welfare qualifications at all. Not an unknown factor to those of us in the youth sector.

In Australia there is no requirement for a supervisor to have a professional qualifications. As a Degree qualified Youth Worker and soon to be Masters qualified Social Worker I have never attended a class on supervision, i have never heard a lecture on what constitutes good supervision practice and i have never had a supervisor who had either. At best my supervisors had attended a 2 day course in supervision and at worse my supervisors had less than a year more experience in the field than i had. So if there are only a few courses for supervisors and most of these less than a week long, how do you become a good supervisor???

The best supervisors I have had came from both ends of the spectrum. One was a qualified Social Worker with over a decade of experience who regularly attended courses on supervision. The other was a Youth Worker who had no qualifications but was an avid reader of supervision texts and attended every professional development opportunity focussed on supervision. The skill set that both of these supervisors had in common was and eager appetite to better their own practice as supervisors and a great ability to listen. The styles they used were different, the theoretical focus wide and varied and the outcomes specific to the needs of myself and my clients.

Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice“.

Do your supervisors support your development? If not you might be in the market for an external supervisor! What ever your situation if you want longevity in the sector studies show that you need a good supervisor.

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The need for audacious Ultimate Youth Workers

Over the past two days I have attended the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVIC) ConnectFor conference in Melbourne. During this time I was surrounded by many amazing youth workers who passed on knowledge and many researchers who called us to action. Most of all the young people, many of who had been in the child protection system, called us to CHANGE the sector for them.

Charles Leadbeater stated that we don’t need to give young people more education, but better and different education. He went on to say that we need more innovators… people who are bonkers and creative to change the system. He went on to state we need to stop doing things ‘to & for’ and start doing things ‘with & by’ young people in our practice. Finally he urged us to assume ambition & capability in young people.

Professor Mark Rose urged the Youth Workers to be AUDACIOUS if the face of overwhelming trends.he also urged us to not let political correctness get in the way of doing good work. finally he urged educators to provide high quality education as it is through education that people’s minds are opened to the future.

Dr Hilary Tierney discussed the state of the youth sector in Ireland with a focus on how it is working towards professionalisation. She spoke of how the Irish youth sector is legislated as a ‘Voluntary’ sector; meaning that young people volunteer to attend, adults volunteer to staff services and organisations are voluntarily managed and funded. The main gist of the presentation was that Ireland is struggling with all the same questions about professionalising that Australia and many other countries are. Amazing seminar!!!

After many years of work Mr Bill Scales AO presented the finding of the Vulnerable Youth Inquiry. He stated that a child born in Victoria has a 1 in 4 chance of being referred to Child Protection and that the economic cost of child abuse in Victoria is over $1.6 Billiion. He spoke of the need for an independent monitor for the vulnerable children in Victoria and how youth workers need to do their job WELL as it is critically important to the success of the sector.

Prof. Rob White spoke of the need for youth workers to be frontline warriors in times of change. He stated that the key attribute of a Youth Worker is their identity first and foremost as Youth Workers. He went on to say that the need for Youth Workers to be treated as whole people would reduce burnout with the need to continue professional development for longevity in the field.

It was today that the government announced that they were going to consult with the youth sector on the need to professionalise.

Finally, a group of young people asked us to BELIEVE in them. They asked us to be CONSISTENT and they asked us to be more EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that the sector is seeking a change. Youth Workers are seeking to be more than they have been and expecting their peers to be more than they had been taught in their courses. The winds of change are blowing, lets make the youth sector the most professional, emotionally intelligent and AUDACIOUS sector in Australia.

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What extra standing will i have if Youth Workers professionalise?

I was recently chating with a bunch of social workers about their professional association and it became clear to me that even after all the work that has gone into the AASW as a professional association their membership still have the professional standing of a monkey with an organ grinder.

Why do I think this you may ask??? Basically because anyone can call themselves a social worker and there is nothing that they can do about it. For all intents and purposes the AASW is a registration board for all those social workers who want to be members. there is no requirement of them to be members and no legislative power to make it a requirement.  

The difference in a professional association such as the APS, the Victorian Institute of Teachers or the Nurses Board of Victoria is that they are legislated and mandated by the Government and as such are able to “register” and “qualify” their membership. You cannot call yourself a Psychologist, Teacher or Registered Nurse if you are not one, and you can be held accountable by the law if you do so without their authority. It also means that you can be removed from practice if you are deemed to have broken the rules of the association.  

If Youth Workers are to reach the level of PROFESSIONALS we need to take our campaign to the next level. Social workers are starting to move this way through the provision of Medicare provider numbers to those in their membership who qualify, however even this needs to go a step further. Members must be required to register with the association to practice.  

This is the same for Youth Work. At the present anyone can call themselves a Youth Worker. Some of my best mates and closest colleagues are unqualified Youth Workers, however if we are to become a body of professional workers then we need to be required to register.  

The only way a person can be required to register before practice is if they are legislated to do so. You don’t often see people practicing as a doctor without registration for long before they are caught and arrested. The same should be said for Youth Workers and Social Workers.  

We need to advocate for this intervention if we are ever to be taken seriously as a profession. What extra standing will I have if Youth Workers professionalise? Little if any, because at the moment the current form of association in Victoria will render us little more than a club.

The debate rolls on.

I was speaking to a group of youth work educators this week when the question of professionalising came up. I was interested to hear their perspectives on the current situation in Victoria.

Some of the issues that were brought up included:

  1. Why diploma and certificate four students would not be able to have full membership when in the field their work is generally the same as that of degree qualified workers.
  2. How a committee looking at professionalising can have good governance and oversight if they only have a select few people invested in the development of an association.
  3. That there has not been a thorough sector consultaton, particularly in rural settings; and
  4. That many students at certificate four and diploma level feel they are being left out of the discussion

Is it best practice to not involve the entire sector in the development of a “Professional Assocciation?”.

Western Australia had many issues in the inception of its professional association that Victoria seems destined to repeat. The sad fact is that not everybody will be happy if a professional association of Victoran youth workers is set up. However, Victoria’s committee should take a page out of WA’s book and consult the sector more widely and network more strongly so as to have more support for an association.
New Zealand spent a much longer time consulting and trialing the ideas of professionalising. To date it is working well. Maybe a longer and more thorough consultation is required.