Podcast 022: Is your workplace ChildSafe?

Is your workplace ChildSafe?
  To support the podcast, you can donate here.

Is your workplace ChildSafe?

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Is your workplace ChildSafe?’ Aaron speaks with Neil Milton about how we as youth workers can support young people by being ChildSafe. Neil Milton is the General Manager of ChildSafe. Neil has worked as a youth worker in schools, churches and Not for Profits across Australia. He has also worked for World Vision and has his own street clothing business helping prevent youth suicide. Neil is passionate about making sure children are protected from abuse and harm and that organisations know their responsibilities in regards to child safety. Neil is a public speaker, motivator and he enjoys exercising and hanging out with his wife and kids.

In todays episode Aaron and Neil speak about the work of ChildSafe Australia and their mission to serve organisations and individuals working with children and vulnerable people, with the goal of improving their well-being and safety. We take our commitment to child safety very seriously at Ultimate Youth Worker and have used many of the resources from ChildSafe to help us in making our commitment tangible.

ChildSafe is “a harm prevention charity for the promotion of the prevention and control of behaviour that is harmful or abusive to children and young people when in the care of an organisation”. Children and young people deserve the best endeavours of an organisation towards their safety. This involves more than good intentions, or the assumption that harmful incidents will not happen. Organisations working with children are under increased community scrutiny in relation to screening workers, risk management and the quality of care they offer.

You can find more information about Neil on LinkedIn.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles and training that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, you can donate here.

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help the podcast and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.
  • Do the online ChildSafe Training

Preventing child abuse, how can we do it?

There are 42 articles in the Convention of the Rights of the Child that are predominately centred around the idea that parents and governments are responsible for the physical and emotional safety of children. The convention states that children have a right to feel safe from any type of harm. As parents, mentors, teachers, youth workers or anyone else who is in a position of authority, it is our responsibility to uphold this right. Unfortunately, children are still being harmed.

It’s hard to believe that in a country like Australia, there is still a frightening amount of children experiencing child abuse each year. In Australia between 2016–17, 168,352 children received child protection services, a rate of 30.8 per 1,000 children aged 0–17. Of children receiving child protection services in 2016–17:

• 119,173 were the subject of an investigation (21.8 per 1,000)

• 64,145 were on a care and protection order (11.7 per 1,000)

• 57,221 were in out-of-home care (10.5 per 1,000).

Specifically in Victoria, 11,077 children were the subject of substantiated investigations, and 11,111 were the subject of investigations that were not substantiated.

The chart below indicates that rates of child abuse have either remained the same or increased over a five year period between 2011 and 2016. Of particular note are the rates of child emotional abuse, which are gradually increasing each year.

Why the increase in rates of emotional abuse?

The increase of rates of emotional abuse could be attributed to the fact that emotional abuse of children became more well recognised after the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and therefore more heavily reported on. Whereas historically, emotional abuse was not always as obvious and was often difficult to identify (compared to physical and sexual abuse).

The Royal Commission into Family Violence was conducted from 2015-2016 and its’ aim was to prevent family violence, improve early intervention, support victims, make perpetrators accountable, better coordinate community and government responses as well as evaluate and measure strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services. It was established following a series of family violence related deaths in Victoria, most notably – 11 year old Luke Batty – who was killed by his father in February 2014 following a long history of violence perpetrated against his mother, Rosie Batty.

According to the Royal Commission into Family Violence;

The Royal Commission highlighted this issue within the family violence service system and developed recommendations for change. This could explain the increased rates of reported emotional abuse from 2014-2016.

So how do we prevent child abuse? This is a very loaded question and I can’t expect any one person to have the answer. For this reason I’ve asked some professionals within the Ultimate Youth Worker community to share their thoughts on this important topic. They’ve shared their experiences and wisdom from several different perspectives.

The child protection perspective:

  • What do you see as the main factors in the prevention of child abuse? How can we help parents and families to avoid inter-generational abuse?

“When thinking about preventative approaches to child abuse I think it’s constructive to recognise the use of primary, secondary and tertiary services as the platform for better ensuring the safety and well-being of children and reducing the risk of inter-generational abuse and neglect.

All interventions need to be grounded in an understanding of the complex and compounding issues associated with abuse and neglect including (but not limited to); AOD, family violence and mental health factors. The focus should be on the delivery of psycho-education to increase community and public awareness around risk and protective factors for children, their development and healthy family dynamics.

It should also involve the development of intensive programs, strategies and interventions that target already vulnerable families giving them maximum opportunity to break the cycle of violence. Furthermore, these programs must be culturally specific, relatable and engage therapeutic supports and rehabilitation programs to reduce the risk of future harm to families already challenged by the experience of violence.

In some instances, this needs to be balanced with the use of mental health interventions, legal prosecutions and criminal proceedings where necessary and appropriate. This is in order to reduce risk of recidivism and ensure greater responsibility and accountability for those perpetrating harm.”

(Lani, social worker)

The young person’s perspective:

  • What are some of the most common behavioural traits that you see in young people that have experienced abuse or family violence?
“Not trusting adults and going through an extended phase of “testing” when they meet a new adult. A young person might put on different masks at different stages of the testing phase. Initially, they might be very nice, then become very quiet and reserved. Once they feel that you are safe to be around they can often escalate, testing you with all different kinds of challenging behaviours.
One of the most challenging things young people who have experienced violence and abuse face is low self worth and self esteem. They often don’t believe they can be good at anything, so you need to find little things that demonstrate their strengths and reinforce these things.
It’s important to support these young people by consistently being there with positive reinforcement and a protective environment.”
(Nadav, youth worker)

The family/parent perspective:

  • What’s your experience of working with families where abuse has occurred? 

“Most of my contact is with the mother, some of whom are not Australian citizens. These women hold tremendous strength and resilience where their visa status is unknown, access to government income is little or non existent, access to affordable housing is not an option and their rights to their child/ren are questioned by child protection and challenged by the family courts. In some cases, where returning to their country of origin will place the family in danger from relatives, they are overlooked by our family violence refuge and housing systems.

In the face of so much adversity, it is these women that continue to prioritise their child/ren’s safety and continue to parent their children as best they can with little to no resources.

Many women we work with, both CALD and Australian born often don’t understand that they have been experiencing family violence. A large part of our work is assessing immediate safety and risk. We work from a client centred, trauma informed and strengths based framework.

However there is an enormous amount of work (educative model) to explain and unpack their experiences of family violence. We start to introduce these concepts to the women. As we are a crisis service, we hand this over along with the case plans to the refuge for the ongoing family violence case management of the women and children. From there they are linked into group work and victim-survivor advocacy.

It is quite shocking sometimes when speaking to women where there is no understanding that the violence is abuse and a criminal act. It’s about providing information and options and allowing them the space to reflect on their experiences and shift their understanding.”

(Cindy, social worker)

The child’s perspective:

  • How can we help children in the prevention of child abuse?

– Create a safe space within schools and support services that children can feel comfortable within if they need to disclose abuse.

– Encouraging children to speak out if something has happened to them.

– Educating school staff and other professionals (early child care workers, social workers, GPs, nurses, psychologists) to look out for signs of harm/abuse and train them how to navigate a disclosure of abuse.

– Making books available in your service or classroom that promote body safety. Such as books by Jayneen Sanders.

– Having story books available in your service or classroom that discuss family violence.

– Therapeutic work with children and families.

(Sammy, social worker)
It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a multi-faceted approach to keep children safe from harm. This was beautifully highlighted in the responses above. Thank you to all of our members who shared their thoughts and experiences with us today. This isn’t an easy topic to write about and we appreciate the wealth of knowledge our members have to share.
This article isn’t intended to be a definitive answer on how we protect our children from harm. It is intended to start a conversation based on the knowledge of people who deal with this issue on a daily basis. We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

At Ultimate Youth Worker, we are committed to being a child safe organisation that recognises, respects and promotes children’s rights. Read more about our commitment in our blog. Thank you for taking the time to visit us today, make sure you visit our social media pages and join in the conversation.

Further Reading:

Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part 2)

Podcast 021: Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part Two)

Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part 2)

To Support the Podcast, you can donate here.

Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part 2)

Podcast 021 Dr. Claire Kelly
Dr Claire Kelly

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Non-Suicidal Self Injury Part Two’ Aaron continues to speaks with Dr. Claire Kelly about how we as youth workers can support young people experiencing Non-Suicidal Self Injury.

Dr Claire Kelly is the Director of Curriculum at MHFA Australia and an Honorary Fellow at Deakin University. Claire has been involved with MHFA since 2003, when she first became an instructor while completing her Doctorate at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in Canberra, where the program was first developed.

Prior to her current position, Claire was the Youth MHFA Programs Manager for 10 years and also worked on the MHFA Guidelines used to develop Edition 2 of MHFA and YMHFA. Claire’s PhD thesis was written on the mental health literacy of Australian adolescents. Her main passion is the mental health of young people and minimising the impacts that mental health problems can have on development, educational outcomes and long-term functioning. Claire has suffered episodes of depression and anxiety since adolescence, which has been a driver for this work.

In todays episode (Part Two of Two) Aaron and Claire speak about the MHFA guidelines for non-Suicidal Self Injury developed by Mental health First Aid Australia after their ‘Delphi study’ into this area.

Professional youth workers understand that there are many young people who are hurting so bad that they self injure to deal with the turmoil. Unfortunately, not all professional youth workers know how to provide the support these young people need. Todays podcast begins to give us the tools to help the hurt and keep our young people safe.

You can find more information about Claire on LinkedIn.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, you can donate here.

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

To help out the show:

What is NSSI?

I have a story for you to set the scene.

I was working in a residential home on a night shift, there was myself and one other staff in the home with four young people aged between 5 and 16. One of the young people, a female aged 12, had just returned home after being missing for about a week. This particular young person has a history of methamphetamine misuse, depression, sexual exploitation and intentionally harming themselves. Immediately we were on high alert to her state of mind and presentation, offering comfort and making sure she was in a good headspace. Unfortunately, the young person looked physically depleted and was showing signs of instability.

After a brief conversation with the staff she went to the shower and asked to be left alone, something which in normal circumstances would have been a reasonable request. However, I was uncomfortable with how our initial conversations had unfolded and was on high alert. I consulted with the other staff member (who was female) and expressed my concerns. The other staff member did not share the same sense of urgency with regards to my concerns. I took it upon myself to go to the bathroom door and ask how the young person was doing. She did not respond so I told her I was concerned about her and that she should come out and talk some more, by this point the other staff member had arrived to help. A minute or two later, after being told to “fuck off” several times, the door swung open and the young person pushed past us revealing both herself and the bathroom covered in blood.  This was my first brush with NSSI.

What is NSSI?

I can almost guarantee you that at some point in your career you have heard someone talk about “self harm”. If you are like myself or a lot of other youth workers, you would have even had to manage a situation where a young person has intentionally harmed themselves. This is otherwise known as “non-suicidal self injury”.

Non-suicidal self injury (NSSI) refers to the direct, deliberate destruction of ones own body tissue in the absence of intent to die.

Whilst the person may not have the intention of killing themselves, the issue should still be approached seriously and an appropriate care plan should be put in place to support them and minimise further harm. But before we tackle the topic of how to support someone who is self injuring, let’s begin with some of the methods used to self injure.

One of the most common methods for NSSI is the use of objects to cut the skin, such as; razor blades, glass, knives and almost any sharp object that can be found to cause harm. Other common methods people use are scratching, deliberately hitting body parts on hard surfaces and punching, hitting or slapping themselves. Less common methods include biting and burning.

Here are a few facts about NSSI from Mental Health First-Aid Australia.

So why do people engage in NSSI?

There are a myriad of reasons but from my own personal experience working with young people the most common reason they tell me is that it’s the only thing they feel they have control over. As I mostly work with young people in out-of-home care, this makes a lot of sense. Other reasons include;

  • Attempting to manage painful feelings
  • They feel the need to punish themselves
  • To communicate with others
How do I help someone engaging in NSSI?

Firstly you have to assess if someone may be harming themselves. This might include noticing blood on their clothing, they might be wearing long clothing in warm weather or they may be using medical supplies faster than usual. If you suspect there is an issue then ask them directly, also ask about suicidal thoughts but be sure to not express any disgust or threaten punishment as this can cause further damage. 

Next you want to assist them in whatever way you can can. If you have immediate concerns for their safety then you might need to offer first aid or even call an ambulance. If the concerns don’t require medical attention, we can continue to offer support in other ways. 

In the Youth Mental Health First Aid course you will learn the following acronym that will help you support someone who is engaging in NSSI. The acronym is ALGEE.

Using these steps as a guide, it is important to choose the right time and place to approach a young person about your concerns. When listening, be conscious of your body language and tone and try to be non-judgmental. Arm yourself with knowledge about appropriate support networks that they can tap in to to help minimise future risk. This could include family or even the kids helpline. When encouraging professional support, consider how you can help to facilitate this and what else you could do if they refused. If they do refuse professional help you could encourage self-help methods such as meditation.

Where can I learn more?

If you wish to further your understanding of NSSI we would highly recommend attending a Youth Mental Health First Aid course with Ultimate Youth Worker. In this course we cover the content above a lot deeper plus a range of other mental health issues experienced by young people. I took this course myself last year and it has given me invaluable knowledge and resources to take with me on my youth work journey.

Thank you for taking the time to read about NSSI, please post any questions or comments you may have below or on our social media platforms.

Further Resources

Non-Suicidal Self Injury with Dr. Claire Kelly (Part 1)

Non-Suicidal Self Injury with Dr. Claire Kelly (Part 2)

Non-Suicidal Self Injury

Podcast 020: Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part One)

Non-Suicidal Self Injury
To Support the Podcast, you can donate here.

Non-Suicidal Self Injury

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Non-Suicidal Self Injury Part One’ Aaron speaks with Dr. Claire Kelly about her work at Mental Health First Aid Australia and in particular her work in the space of Non-Suicidal Self Injury.

Dr Claire Kelly is the Director of Curriculum at MHFA Australia and an Honorary Fellow at Deakin University. Claire has been involved with MHFA since 2003, when she first became an instructor while completing her Doctorate at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in Canberra, where the program was first developed. Prior to her current position, Claire was the Youth MHFA Programs Manager for 10 years and also worked on the MHFA Guidelines used to develop Edition 2 of MHFA and YMHFA. Claire’s PhD thesis was written on the mental health literacy of Australian adolescents. Her main passion is the mental health of young people and minimising the impacts that mental health problems can have on development, educational outcomes and long-term functioning. Claire has suffered episodes of depression and anxiety since adolescence, which has been a driver for this work.

In todays episode (Part One of Two) Aaron and Claire speak about Non-Suicidal Self Injury and the MHFA guidelines for non-Suicidal Self Injury developed by Mental health First Aid Australia after their ‘Delphi study’ into this area.

Professional youth workers understand that there are many young people who are hurting so bad that they self injure to deal with the turmoil. Unfortunately, not all professional youth workers know how to provide the support these young people need. Todays podcast begins to give us the tools to help the hurt and keep our young people safe.

You can find more information about Claire on LinkedIn.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, you can donate here.

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

To help out the show:

What are eating disorders?

Eating Disorders

Adolescence can be a difficult time for young people. It is a period of intense change both physically and emotionally, partnered with stress, confusion and anxiety. Young people are extremely vulnerable during this time and can be susceptible to experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance use problems and eating disorders.

Have you ever eaten greasy fast food and regretted it after?

Have you ever felt like you’ve over eaten and felt sick after?

Have you ever gone over the day in your mind and thought about everything you’ve eaten?

These are normal thoughts that all of us experience. But imagine thinking it over and over, all day long, obsessing over every calorie, and feeling constant guilt and regret. This is what someone with an eating disorder may experience, each and every day, sometimes for many years.

Young people are particularly at risk of experiencing an eating disorder. Unfortunately, social media plays a huge part in this. When we were teenagers, the most exposure we had to celebrities and models was in a teen magazine that we bought from the newsagent, or on the occasional movie or television show. But these days, young people are exposed to images every day, literally at the tips of their fingers. Instagram, Facebook and the internet show constant photos and videos of people you know or don’t know, which unfortunately causes feelings of insecurity and inadequateness in young people in terms of how they think they should look.

What is an eating disorder?

“An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterised by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone’s life. It’s estimated that one million Australians have an eating disorder, and this number is increasing. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, a diet gone wrong or a cry for attention. Eating disorders can take many different forms and interfere with a person’s day to day life.”

There are many different types of eating disorders and these have been categorised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), edition 5, which was published in 2013. The most common types are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa; significant weight loss due to the persistent restriction of food/energy intake, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape. People with anorexia often refuse to maintain weight at or above a normal weight for their height/body shape/age/activity level.
  • Bulimia Nervosa; characterised by a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by fasting, self-induced vomiting, purging, excessive exercise or use of laxatives/diet pills.
  • Binge Eating Disorder; regular episodes of binge eating accompanied by feelings of loss of control, and in many cases; guilt, embarrassment and disgust. Unlike those with bulimia nervosa, a person with binge eating disorder will not use compensatory behaviours, such as self-induced vomiting or over-exercising after binge eating. Many people with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese.
  • Others include: Pica, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED).

You can read more about each of the different eating disorders here.

Why are young people more at risk of experiencing an eating disorder?

Whilst eating disorders can affect people of all ages, socio-economic groups and genders, adolescence is the most common stage of onset of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and disordered eating. Although eating disorders can be caused due to a number of factors (personal, environmental, psychological, biological and social), it appears that youth are the most at-risk group of developing an eating disorder, and this can be due to many factors.

As mentioned at the start of this blog post, adolescence can be a tough time for young people. So many changes, both physically and socially, in addition to hormone and brain changes that in turn can affect a young person both emotionally and psychologically. The physical changes within adolescence can cause a young person to feel self-conscious, experience low self-esteem and compare themselves to peers (as well as others that they see through social media). In addition to starting high school, making new friends and trying to “fit in”, young people may also start to feel attraction to others of the opposite or same sex. All of these changes, in addition to their body literally changing shape, as well as other physical changes, place young people at higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Furthermore, eating disorders can be a coping mechanism of young people to try and control something in their life, as they may feel helpless in other aspects of their lives where there has been dramatic change. Who do you work with that has experienced dramatic change recently or even consistently? It’s commonplace with the young people we work with.

Click here for further statistical information about eating disorders.

Are there other risk factors for eating disorders?

There is no single cause of an eating disorder, but other risk factors for eating disorders include low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, depression or anxiety, pressure from family for perfectionism or high achievement, difficulty expressing emotions, ineffective coping strategies, impulsive or obsessive behaviours, conflict in the home or another life crisis, peer pressure, media representations, critical comments about one’s appearance, bullying, physical or sexual abuse, predisposition to an imbalance in serotonin, dieting, history of family obesity and so on.

What are the physical signs of an eating disorder?

The physical signs of an eating disorder might include fluctuation in weight or significant weight loss, loss of menstrual periods (women), fatigue, dizziness, changes in skin/hair/nails, sensitivity to the cold, swelling around the cheeks or jaw, damage to teeth, bowel problems (e.g. constipation) and dehydration.

What are the psychological signs of an eating disorder?

The psychological signs of an eating disorder can include preoccupation with body weight and/or appearance, increased mood changes, irritability, reduced concentration, memory loss, anxiety around meal times, sensitivity to criticism, negative and distorted body image, guilt, self-loathing, obsessive behaviours, rigid thinking (e.g. labelling foods as “good” or “bad”), difficulty with relationships, suicidal thoughts or behaviour and drug and alcohol misuse.

What are the behavioural signs of an eating disorder?

The behavioural signs of an eating disorder may include dieting or overeating, obsessive rituals (e.g. only eating certain foods on certain days), making frequent excuses not to eat, not eating around others, hoarding food, trips to the bathroom after meals and so on.

Can you think of a young person you’ve worked with that displayed psychological, physical or behavioural signs of an eating disorder? What symptoms did they display, and were you able to intervene/assist them?

Importance of early intervention.

It is extremely important that early intervention is achieved in adolescents where an eating disorder is present. This is because during adolescence, not only does a young person’s physical body change, grow and develop, but so does their brain. If this growth and development is interrupted and left untreated, it can cause severe physical damage (chronic illness), further mental health issues and even death.

It’s important to promote eating disorder and body image dissatisfaction prevention programs in schools and within local communities. For instance:

  • Encouraging physical activity in a healthy way, team sports, as well as how to cook nutritious meals are important elements that can be introduced to schools and support services where group work is provided.
  • Anti-bullying programs can be effective in targeting behaviours that can cause eating disorders to develop amongst adolescents in school.
  • Gender equity programs that challenge stereotypes of how young people think they should “look”, as well as dissecting social media and brand representations of men and women.

Eating Disorders

How do we treat eating disorders?

A multi-disciplinary approach to treatment of eating disorders is ideal as there are both physical and psychological aspects that need to be addressed to target the underlying causes and promote long term recovery. There are many different treatment options and settings for eating disorders and these can depend on the type of eating disorder as well as the perceived severity of the problem. Some treatment options include:

  • Physical health management / hospitalisation
  • Mental health management
  • Nutritional counselling and advice
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family based therapy
  • Anti-depressants
  • Support groups and so on.

For more information on treatment options, visit Eating Disorders Victoria.

Further resources:


Youth workers need employment

Youth work employment

Recently, a member of the Ultimate Youth Worker community and I had a great time of discussion after a misunderstanding. We spoke of how many in the community will be feeling the sting of the free market economy and austerity measures. That many youth workers are finding themselves out of work in the current political climate. We spoke of the need for youth workers to have gainful employment and it got me thinking about a few things.

Employment in Australia:

The average wage of a youth worker in Australia is $33k- $63k which is below the average wage in Australia of $60,892. We all know that social services work doesn’t pay a lot, but unless you are at the top end of the pay scale you are earning significantly less than the average employed Australian. Oh, and thats based on full-time employment.

Around 49,600 people are currently employed as Youth Workers in Australia. This includes those with many different job titles. This is set to increase to 62,800 people by 2019, according to the Department of Employment. So, youth work is a growing industry.

Youth work, much like the rest of the social sector, is very female dominated with 25.6% of Youth Workers being male and 74.3% female.

A large proportion of Australian Youth Workers have a Bachelor Degree qualification (32.6%) although this does not necessarily mean a degree in youth work. 56.9% have a diploma or less, and around 10.4% have post-graduate qualifications. What this tells us is that if you have postgraduate qualifications you are the top 10% of youth workers in Australia.

Professional youth work in Australia

There are a lot of youth workers in the sector who are part-time employees. However, in our experience the ones who are full-time employees are often those we would categorise as professional youth workers. These youth workers have a three year degree in youth work and are eligible for membership of a youth workers association. They have at least five years experience in the sector and have a solid network built up. These youth worker’s are rarely out of work unless they face adverse circumstances such as an organisation shutting down. When they are seeking employment they are usually on top of the recruiting pile.

Youth work is a profession which has begun to establish its place in the social services sector and youth workers have established themselves in core services (child protection, youth justice, local government). With all of this happening over the last couple of decades it is easy for youth workers to still feel like the new kid on the block. Youth work employment in Australia is strong, we shouldn’t believe otherwise.

The key take away for you reading this is get qualified. Minimum of a degree, but aim higher. Get experience, at least five years, even if it is part-time work. Five years appears to be the tipping point for people leaving the sector. Above all, build a wide network. If you only have experience in one small sliver of the youth sector you are always in danger of losing your job. If you have experience, understanding and networks across the sector you will never be at the mercy of austerity.

*The information provided on this page is from the Department of Employment’s Job Outlook website. All salary ranges are from Payscale. Where jobs are not exact matches, job areas have been used. This information is to be used as a guide only. 

A place that refreshes

A place that refreshes

Where do you go when you are grasping at life and need a huge jolt of self care? What is the place that brings joy to your soul? When we teach self care at Ultimate Youth Worker we ask people to think about a place where they feel safe and that rejuvenates them. A place that refreshes. For some students it comes to them easily. A beach, a coffee shop, the forrest, their grandma’s house. For others they struggle with the concept.

a place that refreshes

When I am having a struggle or I am trying to get my thoughts together I dream of the bush. Not just any old piece of bushland though. I dream of Mount Disappointment State Forrest about an hour North of Melbourne, Victoria.

When I was a teenager I spent many of my school breaks in and around Mount Disappointment, hiking and camping. I spent long hours walking through the bracken ferns. I stopped to listen to wombats foraging and echidnas looking for a tasty ant to snack on. I slept under the stars and smelt the rains. As I write this I can remember it all as if I was right there. Its beauty, its danger, its comfort and its awe.

Go to your happy place

Mount Disappointment is a place that refreshes me. I do not get to go there as often as I would like these days (I have five kids under 10!!!). However, it lives in my heart. It is my happy place. It brings joy to my heart.

Do you have a place that refills your tank? A place that builds you up? A place that refreshes you? Some of you might disregard this post as a bit airy fairy, I know I used too. In 2010 while going through a really rough point in my career a mentor of mine asked me this question. I laughed at him and called him a tree hugger. He forced me to think it through and then spend a few days in the bush. I felt renewed. My soul was at ease.

Share with us where your soul is at ease! Pictures please.

Mental State Exam

Podcast 019: Mental State Exams

Mental State Exams
To support the podcast, donate here!

Mental State Exams

In todays episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast Aaron and Jessy look at the Mental State Exam and how it can help youth workers in recognising mental health issues in their young people and how it can aid in making referrals. The Mental State Exam is a comprehensive tool that brings together the subjective views of your young person and your objective views to help recognise the symptoms of mental health issues.

One of the best tools for recognising mental health issues and referring young people to clinical mental health services we have come across over the years is a Mental State Exam. It is simple to use, it covers all the bases and it gives your gut feeling a set of clear indicators to work through. It makes referring easier as it gives you language to use that clinical services understand. It also gives you some objective information to have a good conversation with your young person.

In this Podcast Aaron will show you how to complete a Mental State Exam, what to look out for and when to refer on to the proper treatment. The Mental State Exam is a tool, and like any tool it takes practice to master. When we have a good understanding then we can put it in the toolbox and use it when the need arises.


Download our MSE Cheat Sheet

Read our blog posts on each of the eight areas of the MSE

  1. Appearance
  2. Behaviour
  3. Speech and Language
  4. Mood and Affect
  5. Thought process and content
  6. Perception
  7. Cognition
  8. Insight and judgement

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, donate here!

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

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Ultimate Youth Worker

What makes Ultimate Youth Workers unique?

Ultimate Youth Worker

Ultimate Youth Worker, eh. What makes you an Ultimate Youth Worker then?

After seventeen years in the youth sector I have had the opportunity to see the good, the bad and the ugly that can be our cohort. I have seen youth workers who should never have been allowed to start work as they were downright dangerous. I have seen youth workers who have caused more damage to their young people. I have heard of youth workers abusing young people and I have seen them jailed.

However, I have also had the privilege to see some amazing youth workers. Youth worker’s who epitomise the best of the best. Ultimate Youth Worker’s! We get asked all the time what makes a great youth worker… here are our thoughts.

Ultimate Youth Workers…


Ultimate Youth Worker’s are always looking to grow their knowledge and skills. Professional development is good and these youth workers do it, they just need more. While many position descriptions require only minimal qualifications, Ultimate Youth Workers know that the more qualified the youth worker the better outcomes for the young people. Imagine a world where youth workers were minimally qualified if they had masters degrees (it would look kind of like the world psychologists live in).


There is nothing more impressive than a youth worker who really loves what they do. They beam when their young people thrive. They talk about their work positively. They see only the best in their young people. They love the profession. They are just so passionate. Great youth work organisations hire passionate people, then train them up. You can always train people. You can’t make them passionate.


The largest cause of burnout within our sector is that of psychological distress. Supervision provides a conduit for communication on specific issues relating to the causes of youth worker burnout. It asks us to be open and responsive to the issues while learning and developing our skills. Ultimate Youth Worker’s seek out supervision. If they don’t get it at work they find an external supervisor to support them.

Know their VALUES

Ultimate Youth Worker’s understand that the mountaintop experiences are rare. Youth work is hard work. You need to know what will tip you over the edge. You also need to know what will keep you going in those tough times. Your vales are what anchor you to your mission. If that mission is to support young people you need to be fully aware of your values and how they will bring you down and build you up. This is key to being an Ultimate Youth Worker.

Get our core values audit now…


Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t just take your word for it. They never believe what they see in the media. They are curious, wonder filled people. They look at all the research out there. Journal articles, books, video, audio etc. and then they look to how to put this research into action. But, they do their research first.


These youth worker’s are the top of the crop. The best of the bunch. By their very nature they do more. They read more. They network more. They do more to help their colleagues and clients. They just do more. This doesn’t necessarily mean they do more hours, They do more in the hours they have. For their clients, they bend over backwards. They help as much as is humanly possible.

CELEBRATE the successes

Mountain top experiences are few and far between in youth work. It is a hard slog! Every now and then a success does come our way. Ultimate Youth Worker’s celebrate these success like mad. We celebrate with the young people. We celebrate with our colleagues. We celebrate with pretty much anyone who would listen to us.

Plan their CAREER PATH

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. Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t leave their career to chance. It is a well planned process. They are in the jobs they are in because it is a clear choice… not because it was the only one they could find.

Listen to our podcast on how to get started planning your career…

Understand youth work THEORY

Ultimate Youth Worker’s know what to do and when to do it. They know why they have chosen to provide a certain response over the many others they could have. They know theory and how to implement it in practice. They read and critically reflect on how to best support young people through academic research and they ask lost of questions.

Use evidence-based PRACTICE

Ultimate Youth Worker’s fully grasp the nuance of working with young people in a complex environment through best practice research. Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t just wing it. They use facts and figures and programs that have been tested. Evidence is the key here… show me it works.

Look after their SELF CARE

Ultimate Youth Worker’s know that the most important thing they can do for their client has nothing to do with their client at all. They plan to look after themselves. Self care is a requirement for great youth work. It builds longevity. It helps us to slow down and take care of the carer. As a good friend of ours says its putting the oxygen mask on before we help anyone else.

They act with EMPATHY

Ultimate Youth Worker’s walk a hundred miles in the shoes of every one of their young people. They put themselves into the situations their young people are facing and they FEEL what their young people feel. In feeling this they show genuine compassion and a sense of esprit de corps with with the young people we serve.

Recognise youth work as a PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP

Youth work is a professional relationship in a contested environment. As Howard Sercombe says, “It is a partnership within that space – a covenant… in which youth worker and young person work together to heal hurts, to repair damage, to grow into responsibility, and to promote new ways of being“. Ultimate Youth Worker’s recognise the relational aspect of the work as well as the professional boundaries that entails.

Seek to have personal EXCELLENCE

Ultimate Youth Worker’s want to be the best. Second best isn’t in their mindset. Personal excellence is the standard to which they they hold themselves. When there is something they can do better, you can bet they will be working on it. there motto: “Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best“.

They have an answer to THE YOUTH WORK QUESTION

Ultimate Youth Worker’s answer the youth work question by saying they want to see young people supported by people who care and are well trained. they want to see young people reach their potential. They see a future world where young people are seen and dealt with justly. These youth worker put young people first in all their thinking.

They are LEADERS

When you are in a pinch it is an Ultimate Youth Worker who gives you the advice to help you get over the line. They may be a manager, team leader of senior youth worker… they might even be a fresh faced newbie. Ultimate Youth Worker’s are the ones others turn to for advice because they are the best. Other youth worker’s look to Ultimate Youth Worker’s and that is what makes them leaders.

They BUILD THE NEXT GENERATION of youth workers

Every organisation that employs youth workers should mentor them. Every professional association should develop the potential in every new youth worker that joins them. Most of all it should become part of our core responsibilities as youth workers to the stability of the sector. Ultimate Youth Workers seek out new youth workers to mentor. They give them opportunities to learn and grow and fail safely. They build the next generation of youth workers to be the best.

Their work is framed in SOCIAL JUSTICE

Ultimate Youth Workers realise that the world just is not fair… They see it every day. In their work they seek to bring justice to every situation. They look to restore people to dignity and provide honour due to them as people. They believe that justice is for everyone even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. Social justice means that everyone must be treated justly, and Ultimate Youth Worker’s strive to do this every day.

They are POLITICAL activists

Youth work is political. We spend much of our time helping young people navigate the systems imposed on them by politicians. We advocate to politicians to change the systems which oppress the young people we work with. Ultimate Youth Worker’s take it to the next level. They know how to advocate and to who. They lead protests. They train young people to advocate for themselves. They have the numbers of their local politicians in their speed-dial and they are known by those who would pick up the phone.


Ultimate Youth Worker’s take surprisingly bold moves. They are canny outlaws and world changers. They do not take the world at status quo, they seek to change it for the better. They take calculated risks to see grand outcomes for their young people. They never accept things the way they are. They dream of a better future.

These are just a few of the things we see from the best of the best, the Ultimate Youth Worker’s. How do you stack up?