Why you need to read youth work journals

Late last year Australian youth work was dealt a blow which hurt us to the core. Youth Studies Australia, our journal of 18 years, lost its funding and even after outcry from the sector and pledges to step in it closed up shop. As an avid reader for almost a decade I will miss the journal. The stories and articles as well as the reviews helped me in numerous ways though out my career. Youth Studies Australia is but one journal however that targets youth workers. 

A cursory check of my old RMIT library account shows over 20 academic journals devoted to youth work from throughout the world. These journals cover the breadth and width of youth service provision and give youth workers varied policy and cultural backgrounds to draw from. Over the years I have read articles from all of these journals and have found them to provide great insight into young people and youth programs that youth workers can use to develop their own practice.

Previously on this blog we have implored youth workers to read a book, to develop their their knowledge and practice wisdom. We Have asked youth workers to seek professional development opportunities and to study harder. We have asked youth workers to be more accountable to the young people and the sector. One of the easiest and least time consuming ways we know of doing this is reading journal articles.

Journal articles are bite sized peer reviewed gold nuggets of practice wisdom which take less than half an hour to consume and which give years of excellent ideas. Articles are the way Ultimate Youth Workers share what is working for them and their young people for us to leverage in our own practice environment. It is also the most up to date research available to the sector.

In a nutshell, read up.  

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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When your policy says nothing: Youth work practice wisdom

I have read more policy documents in the last month than I have read in the last two years. It has really hurt my head! Not because of the ammount of reading, but because of the lack of genuine content in the pages. A lot of the policy documents were very circular and led the readers round in circles. Others were full of legalise and bureaucratic jargon which really said nothing. I wish I could say that this was an unfortunate occurence which only happemned the once… but it is a trend I see every week.
Policy is useless if it is not easily readable and practically based. This is not an issue solely belonging to large government departments, it is an issue which we have seen in small, medium and large organisations from government, not-for-profit and corporate industry. People tend to make their policy very vague!
When a policy is vague the responsibility for action is also vague. You cannot go to you boss every five minutes because the policy is lacking. So what are we to do? Use our practice wisdom.
When the policy is lacking and your boss is vague your practice wisdom should kick in. A strong understanding of your sector and its ethics can guide you where your organisation fails to guide. Some argue that organisations are deliberately vague in policy to limit litigation and to place the focus on individual workers. If you can explain why you did wha you did and that it links with your industry code of ethics this also helps to limit your likelihood of litigation and also provides good practice to your clients.
If your policies are vague bring it up with your boss and human resources department as this will not help you in the long run. But when all is said and done policies cannot cover all aspects of the work we do as youth workers.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Using writing as a tool for critical reflection: Youth worker skill building

I always hated journaling. When I was a young intern in my 20’s I absolutely hated Tuesday morning as it was journaling time. My other intern colleagues would open their books and just write. I would stare at the blank page and start to sweat. I am sure my supervisors thought I was wasting time…They told me as much… but I just couldn’t put pen to paper and make sense of my world.

Four years later as I was completing my final placement for my youth work degree I was again thrust into the world of journaling. I still hated it. This time my pen to pare looked more like case notes than critical reflections. This is what I did… This is what I saw… This is who I met with… and on I went. My supervisor rebuked my lack of insight into the work we were doing. I really hated reflective journaling. 
About four years ago now I was in a very sticky situation at work. Suffice it to say I was a mess. one of my mentors suggested that I journal my experience and the groan and roll of my eyes told him just how much I was looking forward to that idea. But the old Vietnam vet wouldn’t leave well enough alone. He dug in and asked me what I had done previously that made me hate the idea of reflective writing. I told him and this time he groaned and rolled his eyes. The next hour or so changed my mind on reflective writing and set me on a course to leading other there.
Reflective writing is not a chronicling of events, a case note or even a dear diary entry. It is the systematic untangling of the intangible and the obscure. It is making sense of the senseless. It is opportunity to grapple with feelings and values when we feel like we are drowning in emotion. Over the years I have read widely on reflective writing and here are a few of my favourite kick starters.
  1. Write about the situation that is causing you concern  from a different vantage point. The clients, a parents the fly on the wall.
  2. Spend five minutes free writing (what ever comes out of the end of the pen when you put it to paper) then pick one idea or word from that and write about it.
  3. List all your feelings about a situation and then write for five minutes about one of them.
  4. List all the people involved in a situation and then write a short bio as if they were actors and the situation is a play.
  5. Write a letter to yourself about the situation in the third person
  6. Write a letter to a child about why you love your job
These are just a few ideas that I have used to jump start my critical reflections over the years. They may not all work for you, the trick is to just do something.
P.S.  I still hate writing but the therapeutic and supervisory gold that comes from reflective writing cannot be underestimated.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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We need to measure everything: youth work is changing and so must we.

Over the past year we have attended a number of conferences and seminars throughout Australia on the awesome practice that is youth work. We have also had the privelege of speaking with a number of our international counterparts about where international practice is at. As we have reflected about these instances as a team we have become aware of a major concern in the sector. We lack good clear data for advocating about the great work we do.
In her address to the Australian Capital Territory Youth Workers Conference, Gabi Rosenstreich, CEO of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, reminded the gathered youth workers that anecdotes and innuendo have little sway with funding bodies, governments and communities. Professor Judith Bessant also stated the need for more research both quantitative and qualitative. This message has been one we have heard throughout this year from people in leadership positions throughout the sector.
Many organisations are gathering some great data in their day to day work, however the resounding discussion in the sector seems to be that we need to get more. To this end we would also state that the data needs to be shared. There is little point in having the data if it sits in your computer or on a shelf… it needs to get into the hands of people who can use it. Send your data to peaks, universities, advocacy groups and just about everyone you can think of.
Recently the publication Youth Studies Australia ceased its run as Australia’s foremost journal on young people and the youth sector after eighteen years in print. If we do not share the knowledge we have and the solid data that has been compiled then it will not just be our journal that goes the way of the dodo but our sector as a whole. We are at a very precarious point in Australia and throughout the world. We need to be able to prove our worth and not rely on the historical altruism which has got us through in the past.
What are you doing to build our research pool?

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Developing a professional youth sector is harder than we first thought.

Today I was at the Annual General Meeting of the Youth Workers Association here in Victoria. It was a modest affair with about a dozen die hard youth workers attending of the over 400 members. The Association launched its objectives for the next three years and reading through it I pondered how the objectives would be met with only a dozen youth workers. 


One thing holding the Association back was that those without a degree had limited voting rights, if any. This issue has been changed with a simple vote on changes to the constitution allowing those holding a two year diploma the ability to vote. We need to stop trying to keep people out and work out how we can bring the youth work family together.

For us to all work together will be difficult… but it is the only way we will be taken seriously. We have to stop our petty infighting and band together to change the sector for the better. Lets stop the fighting and stand together for the future we want to develop.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Managers need support to do their job: youth work depends on it.

For youth workers to be the best they can be, they need well trained and supported management. We need to have managers who have skills in supervision, people management and an understanding of youth work. They need to have organisational support from CEO’s and Board members to develop their staff and themselves.

At a recent seminar in Tasmania I spoke with a number of managers and executives who agreed intrinsically that youth workers need better supervision and support. They believed that organisations had a responsibility ethically to provide a safe and supportive environment to staff. They all saw that the fear from staff and organisational leaders was destroying cohesive service delivery and support. Yet when it was put to the group that they needed to do something about it the room went silent.

Managers need the support of their staff and their organisations to implement great youth work practices. Get behind them.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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We need to develop the future potential of the youth work sector.

In a month I will be speaking at a conference in my nations capital city about the need for self care in our sector. This is the one thing I would do with the rest of my life if I was only able to do one thing. If I was able to do two things, then I would spend that time developing new talent. Mentoring, teaching, supervising and helping them develop networks. In the ACT there is going to be youth work awards, recognising the outstanding work of a few people within the sector. We should spend more time recognising the awesome young workers coming through the ranks.
 
 
How does your organisation develop and recognise the future potential in its youth workers? What are you doing to develop future talent?
 

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Do you suffer from “youth worker says yes” syndrome?

Two years ago almost to the day I joined the board of an organisation. In that time I have served faithfully have only missed one meeting and helped turn that little unincorporated society into a fully fledged $3million dollar a year not-for-profit with all the bureaucratic trimmings. I have enjoyed this time immensely, however tonight is my last meeting with the organisation and I cant wait to move on.
If I had have realised the amount of work which was required to support this organisation I would have seriously thought differently about joining. It wasn’t just the meetings, it was the staff development, the mountain of emails and the extra events and fundraisers I was expected to be at. Also the mentoring of new board members really took a toll on my time and energy.
The worst thing is that it is only one of more than a dozen committees and boards I am a part of! I suffer major “youth worker says yes” syndrome. When I was a youth work student my lecturers pounded into me the need to join everything and get to know everyone. We were told to build our skills by joining committees. We were told that to be the best we needed to be involved in EVERYTHING!!! 
As youth workers we love to be involved… but it can be detrimental. If you are a joiner you know how much it can destroy you. 
Whats one thing that you can let go or get rid of in the next month? What could you do for your own self care with that extra time? What do you need to say no too?

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Failure is only the beginning in youth work.

My best friends think that I am absolutely nuts. How can I work day in and day out with people who almost ritualistically fail in life. People who are such failures in societies eyes that they do not even register as worthwhile. This is how many young people are viewed in society. As failures!
 
For some reason we see failure as bad in our society. We believe that anyone who fails is useless and that they do not deserve to try again. However as every Ultimate Youth Worker will tell you failures give us a platform from which to work from and they make success taste oh so much sweeter.
 
Truman Capote said “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour”. Many of our young people try, try and try again this in itself is a huge success. When they finally get a win on the board they are ever more excited than before.
 
Almost every long term youth worker I have spoken to has told me that those mountain top experience are not what keeps them in the field but it does make the failures taste so much better.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Passion needs to be tempered for effective youth work.

I was recently speaking to an organisation who were going to fire a youth worker. They had a list of grievances a mile long  from inappropriate behaviour towards colleagues to inability to take constructive criticism. When I spoke to them about the behaviours it became clear that the behaviours were coming from an overly zealous youth work employee.
 
The employee had seen a number of issues in their place of employment and wanted them all fixed at once. He saw traumatic events being forgotten by other staff in their day to day work with highly traumatised young people. He pushed to forcefully for management to change procedures. He flaunted his knowledge in the faces of more experienced practitioners.
 
 
 
Sometimes when we see injustices, particularly if we are new to the sector, we forget that our passion can come across as arrogance. We get colleagues and service providers off side by our actions our effectiveness takes a massive hit. Most changes to entire sectors do not happen from the little guy in the field but by managers and policy makers at the top of the pile.
 
Passion is good, for the most part. It reminds us why we got into the work we do. Passion needs to be tempered by common sense. Otherwise we burn our bridges before they even get built.
 

Leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

If you haven’t yet, sign up for our newsletter to find out all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker. (Sign up here)

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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