Developing the leaders of the future: youth work qualifications aren’t enough!

I was having a conversation with a diploma student today that made the hair on the back of my kneck stand on edge. He said to me without a hint of a joke that once he had finished his two year course that he would be qualified enough to become a manager in the organisation that he volunteers in. I remember having a conversation with a couple of my mates as we were coming to the end of our degree and a number of them believed that they had reached the pinnacle of youth service leadership. In Victoria the Youth Workers Association and many of the proponents of professionalisation have placed an inordinate amount of weight on qualifications and their ability to measure leadership in the sector.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I think that a three year degree does give you some bragging rights over someone who has only done a year… but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a leader in the sector. Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, one of the leaders of the sector, attained no formal qualification but holds an honorary degree in youth work. Many of the best youth workers I know have minimal formal youth work qualifications. Qualifications do not make you a leader.
 
Youth workers are looking for leaders in the field.
 
There is no denying that the youth sector is in need of strong leaders to guide it into the future. What would this leadership look like??? Here are a few thoughts:
 
  1. Focused on effective results not efficient KPI’s.
  2. Advocates for sector wide reforms including; better funding, focus on holistic interventions and staff support.
  3. Developers of new research and practice literature which brings a youth work specific body of work to academia.
  4. A core focus on our clients need, not our funding bodies “requirements”. 
  5. The ability to inspire the next generation of youth workers to expand the profession.
  6. The wisdom to change with the times and not follow blindly other human service professions
  7. A focus on character rather than qualifications when recruiting new staff.
  8. A recognition of the role of youth workers by broader society
Not one of these rely on a person holding a qualification. What would you add to the list?
 

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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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The Habit of Youth Work: Excellence in all we do.

Youth work is a difficult profession. It requires the patience of a saint, the wisdom of Aristotle and the stamina of a thoroughbred. In the craziness of all we do sometimes excellence is traded for efficiency. How many of us have been asked to cut corners to meet our funding targets or have been required to work with more clients to meet deadlines??? Often when our efficiency increases our effectiveness suffers.
 
Ultimate youth worker’s recognise that efficiency is not the be all and end all. We seek to find the best opportunities to meet the needs of our clients time and time again… and for the most part these opportunities are different for each client. The idea of best practice meaning one single fixed form of doing something is foreign to the youth worker. However, being there through thick and thin, when others leave and our young people see no hope that is the mark of an Ultimate Youth Worker.
 
Reflective practice is a skill that takes practice
 

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit“.  Aristotle

 
 
The best youth workers I know are those who spend their time repeatedly doing the work of a youth worker. They run groups, case manage, play games, build relationships, advocate and plan programs to name but a few tasks. They do this over and over again until it seems like second nature and then they do it some more. When they are asked to do something outside their purview they become canny outlaws and work for the best of their client without dropping effectiveness. 
 
In his ground breaking book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to become truly successful at a task. This means that the average full time youth worker would need to work for just over five years to become successful, or upwards of ten years for a part timer. If we as a field expect excellence of our youth work colleagues we must first understand that it takes time and energy (at least five years) to learn how to do the job. If the anecdotal evidence is anything to go by then the average of a two year career expectancy for youth workers leaves them startlingly short. We need to invest more time in new youth workers in the first five years of their career to help them achieve excellence.

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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I %^&*ing HATE school: I’m going to be a drug dealer!

Not long after starting my youth work career I went back home to spend a weekend at my mums house. my youngest brother was having a party and after chatting with a few of his mates a pattern started to emerge…they all hated school. The stories all seemed the same, struggling at home, lost in classes and teachers who just seemed to get on their case. Most of these kids were lucky if the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was met in their lives and many of the teachers were asking them to work in the self-actualisation region.
 
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
The more I listened to my brothers mates, the more I was appalled at the education system and the teachers lack of empathy. Conversely, at the time I had a number of friends who were studying education so I began a witch hunt. Teachers were evil I just needed the proof. My own dislike of school and my own run ins with teachers who knew about as much about adolescent welfare as I know about thermodynamics (which to be sure is only how to spell it) may have been clouding my judgement. As my investigation progressed however I began to realise that it is not teachers fault that they seem empathetically impotent, their course structures do not really teach them anything about the welfare of their students.
 
My friends who completed their secondary teaching degrees had one subject on student wellbeing. Most of them either slept, drank or played snooker through the classes and those that did attend found that the content was unhelpful when it came to actually helping their students. As people who are spending 30+ hours a week with young people it blew my mind to realise how little they are taught about young people in their courses. Realistically if you don’t do electives about young people you would only have two subjects which relate to youth development and wellbeing.
 
 
A couple of years later I got to go to the school my brother and his mates attended to do a guest talk. As a former student there who had finally gotten life in order I was asked to inspire young minds to greatness. All I could think was it would have been great if any of my teachers could have inspired me to greatness…instead they inspired me to drop out of secondary school. I did my best and spoke like a true salesman for half an hour and at the end the students had a chance to chat with me. Many of the students were in similar situations to my brothers mates and all of the ones I spoke with told me that their teachers had no clue about their circumstances outside of school.
 
When I got home I reflected on that night years ago and something one of my brothers mates said after I tore him a new one for thinking of dropping out of school. He said “I %^&*ing HATE school: I’m going to be a drug dealer!” You know what…that’s exactly what he did. More and more these days schools have become the central welfare point for young people and their families, however the people they are turning to have minimal training and resources at best. This does pose more difficult issues for youth workers in schools.
 
As the most trained and equipped people to deal with the issues young people are facing, school based youth workers have a huge role to fill. We need to be supports and referral points for young people, supports and trainers for teachers and most of all advocates for the young people while they are going through their storm and stress. We need to give teachers their dues, they are great educators, and we need to help them gain a better understanding of adolescents and how to improve their welfare.

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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A new paradigm for world wide youth work

For a long time now there has been a conversation going on in youth work. A professional/ para-professional dichotomy which many believe is subversive to the current push for professionalization. A conversation which preaches resistance to the neo-liberal free market push which seeks qualification over experience and cheap labour over appropriate supports.
 
The issue with requiring professionalism of a vocation is one which is being faced by social work in Australia and has been faced by psychologists. One of the issues which has and will continue to rear its head is if youth workers professionalise they will require higher pay. Higher pay in a free market means less workers. Less workers mean less appropriate service provision. Another issue is that of training and qualification. With over 75% of the current youth work employ holding a two year diploma or less where do we set the bar. The youth workers association in Victoria requires a bachelor degree for full membership. The Department of Human Services however only requires a Certificate IV for its youth work staff.
 
At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that the professionalisation debate is currently doing more harm than good to youth work. In the storm and stress that is youth work we need all the boots on the ground that we can possibly muster. At Ultimate Youth Worker we see the current debate thinning out the herd. It makes qualifications the epitome of the profession and damns anyone else. Youth work throughout history has bucked the trends and required youth workers to think outside the square. The current push for professionalization places us firmly in the square.
 
Any dead fish can float with the current, It takes a live one to swim against it. We need a new paradigm to the idea of current professionalization ideology. We need well trained, well supported qualified youth workers! What we don’t need is a broad swathe approach to attaining this. We need a whole lot more practical wisdom in youth work. We need a whole lot more passion. We need a whole lot more accountability. What we do not need more of is control in the form of restricting sector size. We need to set ourselves apart from the pack.
 

What do you think? Leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

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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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The need to network: Collaboration for effective youthwork.

Its National Youth Week here in Australia and we are ramping things up at Ultimate Youth Worker. This week Our Director of Operations had the privilege of hosting a forum for The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria. The forum focused on how youth workers can best provide opportunities for engagement and participation for young people. During this session on of the gaps that was identified in the local area was the lack of communication and networking between service providers.
 
 
Youth participation and engagement is our core business as youth worker’s. However, to be most effective we need to know what is going on in our area and who is doing it! A dozen youth workers from eight youth service providers spoke about the need for there to be more opportunities for them to meet each other and speak about the things that are going on in their area. Many spoke of their networking with each other on an ad hoc basis. Most knew of each others organisation. No one knew everyone or the programs which they ran. The networks were pretty much in disarray.
 
As the session progressed the youth workers began to get to know each other. They worked out what each other did and what programs they ran. They began asking each other more pointed questions. In all they got to know each other better. As we were finishing up it was a great thing to see all the youth workers exchanging numbers and working out times to meet again. Networking is an extremely useful and enjoyable experience but one we as youth workers struggle to do.
 
 
Whatever situation you find yourself in currently, you can always build your network. It doesn’t take going to a seminar or a training session. All you need to do is stick out your hand and say hi to another person. In youth work we need to have great networks as it sets us up to collaborate with other organisations to provide the best service possible to our young people. In the current landscape of service cuts and funding constrictions it is the service providers with the best networks that are moving ahead in leaps and bounds where others are flailing.
 
The difference between a good youth worker and an Ultimate Youth Worker can often be their network and collaborations.
 

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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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Youth workers need to do more than just support young people.

As a youth worker I have worked in a number of settings. I have learnt new skills and tried new things. One thing however that has stayed the same through all of those settings is that youth work is not all I have done. I have been a plumber, a carpenter, a painter, an envelope stuffer, a mechanic, a teacher, a chef, a guitarist, an accountant and many others. For most of my job I do all this other stuff and use my youth work skills to engage with young people and expand our service.




MItchell Youth Centre
 
Some of these skills I have gained over my lifetime. Others I learnt on the go. All of them are secondary to my youth work, however without them I would be little more than a counsellor. Recently I have been developing a youth centre for a local council and it has meant a lot of non-youth work. I have painted, cut, built and sanded to my hearts content. One of my supervisors said to me recently that I needed to be more than a Coordinator of Youth Services. I needed to get my hands dirty. All he saw was my time with my staff and when i was at my desk.
 
When people only see our work in throughput numbers or KPI’s from a position description then these other skills don’t add into the equation. My supervisor didn’t see my networking, my painting or my building skills. He didn’t see the participation of the young people in the development of the centre. All he saw was that I wasn’t at my desk. I wasn’t doing paperwork or running another useless meeting. In his eyes I was not getting my hands dirty like some of my colleagues.
 
Never let a person say you are not doing youth work when you are using these secondary skill sets. Do not let appearances ruin your work. I have built stronger relationships with young people over the last month through building tables and painting walls than had been built previously in one on one meetings. I have better relationships with service providers because I took the time to have a coffee and talk about their cars, or house building or choice in music. Youth work is all about developing relationships. How we develop those relationships often come down to the secondary skills we have. Today’s neoliberal world does not care about this. They care about numbers. They see this as ‘support’.
 
We need to do more than just support young people. At least in the way governments and funding bodies ask us to. We must build deep relationships. It is through these relationships that we can do our best work, and these relationships are built on life and the skills we have picked up while living it. Those secondary skills are just as important, if not more so, than any counselling session or group work program. Building relationships with young people where they are at is what youth work prides itself on. But more often than not these days we are berated for doing this as it does not tick the numbers box. We must strive to be more than just another ‘support’ mechanism for our young people. We must do life with 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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Develop your own professional development plan.

Between the staff at Ultimate Youth Worker we have over fifty different jobs throughout the breadth of youth service provision. The differences in theoretical frameworks, policy imperatives and staffing heirarchies are phenomenal. However one thing was the same in every organisation and career path… Professional Development was bleak and at best ad-lib. Aside from a handful of bosses who would give occasional “advice” noone had a clear plan for professional development. This also leant itself to a lack of career planning and support.
Whether you are in your first two years of your career and looking to the long future ahead or in your last two years and looking to retirement it is helpful to have a plan. Generally, we recommend to organisations that they develop a 3 year focus as to really develop a strong team that can weather the storm of a great leader moving on. We also ask each individual and their management to develop a 3 year plan to address the needs of the organisation, the career objectives of the individual and the potential paths that they could take. This is a very simplistic view of what we do but basically we tell people and organisations that if they don’t plan they will live in perpetual crisis.
So what can we as individuals do if our organisation isn’t planning and supporting our careers?

Develop your own plan!

Where do you see yourself in 3 years??? Team leader? Manager? Still at ground level? A new service path perhaps? Are you wanting to move from resi work to drug and alcohol? From local government to a small NGO??? Whatever the end goal you need to know what it takes!!! Check out position description for the role. Ask a person currently in that role what they do. Gather your data so you know what the end goal really looks like. When you have done all of this then you are ready to complete our four step process to develop a plan for your future.
Next you need to draw up a four by five table. The four areas you need to add to the table are qualifications, skills, behaviours and abilities.

Qualifications

Skills

Behaviours

Abilities

1

2

3

4

5

In each of these 4 columns you add the knowledge you have gained from your data gathering activity.
Lets say you want to move up from an outreach youth worker to a team leader. How would you do it??? Lets use the table and go from there.

 

You probably need some qualifications.

Here in Australia that is usually a diploma in youth work (a 2 year qualification) as a minimum. You may also need some management training. Also in Australia the Diploma in Frontline Management has become the standard. You may be asked for more specific qualifictaions…Just add them to the list.

Qualifications

Skills

Behaviours

Abilities

1

Diploma of Youth Work 

2

 Diploma Frontline Management

3

4

5

    

What skills might you need?

You will more than likely be asked to have a solid understanding of the basics of youth work and if you are going into a specialist area eg Drug and Alcohol, a good understanding of that. You are moving into managing people so you will need an understanding of conflict resolution. Maybe you will even need to supervise your staff.
Qualifications
Skills
Behaviours
Abilities
1
Diploma of Youth Work
Solid youth work theory and Practice
2
Diploma Frontline Management
Specialist understanding
3
Conflict resolution
4
Supervision
5
   

What do you mean by behaviours?

If you havn’t already go check out ou DISC posts. Basically what are the behaviours that a person is required to exhibit in this role. If you are required to network with key stakeholders then you probably need some diplomacy. Perhaps you need to set clear objectives for your team in difficult circumstances. You will need to motivate and lead your team.
Qualifications
Skills
behaviours
Abilities
1
Diploma of Youth Work
Solid youth work theory and Practice
Diplomacy
2
Diploma Frontline Management
Specialist understanding
Leadership
3
Conflict resolution
Motivation
4
Supervision
5

Do I have the abilities I need?

Probably, otherwise you wouldn’t have thought you could do the job. Abilities are the practicalities of the job. Can you read a budget? Can you perform an assessment of a young person? Could you do an annual review. Can you run a team meeting? these may sound simple but many people who look to move up have never done them before.
Qualifications
Skills
behaviours
Abilities
1
Diploma of Youth Work
Solid youth work theory and Practice
Diplomacy
Read and develop a budget
2
Diploma Frontline Management
Specialist understanding
Leadership
Perform risk assessment of young person
3
Conflict resolution
Motivation
Perform staff appraisals
4
Supervision
Run a team meeting
5


If you can fill in all 4 columns then you will have twenty areas from which to benchmark yourself. You may already be ok in a number of these areas or you may have none. Once you have your list of twenty work out which ones you need and go and get them.

There you have it… a professional development plan you can do in an evening of brainstorming.

If you haven’t yet sign up for our newsletter to find out all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker. The form at the top right of this page is all you need to do.

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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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Read a book.

Ongoing Professional Development is one of the foundation pillars which underpin the Ultimate Youth Worker. However, it can be hard to gain enough GOOD development opportunities for us to grow in our abilities and careers. This can be difficult when our orginisations have such small professional development budgets, there is a shortage of worthwhile training and its hard to find the time to get away from the office. So how can we deal with these issues and still gain great develolpment???  Read a book!

So with the myriad of books out there how do you get a good one???

  1. Look for three great ideas
    • When you come across a book in a shop dont just grab it because the title was good. Don’t grab it because you like the look of a couple of chapter headings flick through a few of the pages and find three great ideas. What you consider a great idea may not be the same as the next person but three makes sure you are getting a top read. For me its looking for three ideas I can impliment immediately in my own practice.
  2. Check out the most recommended books on amazon.com
    • There are millions of books on amazon and at the time of this post there were 25,693 books which came up when I typed in youth work to there search engine. But don’t stop there. Read widely! Look at counselling skills, mental health, group work or any number of other areas of practice.
  3. Check out a reputable review of books

There was a story a few years back that may have been apocryphal but why ruin a good story. Apparently George W. Bush Jr read 95 books in one year whilst President of the United States of America. Some believe this to be a bit of a fishing story however if it is even half true then one of the busiest men in the world was still able to out read most people hands down.
How is your reading collection going? I currently have six books on the go as well as a number of journals (probably about my limit whilst retaining info). My Bedside table looks like a bomb went off. My professional development is my responsibility and reading a book is the easiest and most readily available mode. It is hard to find time, money or a good book. But as our friends at Manager Tools say, reading is one of the most important things a person needs to do each week.

Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and you will be kept up to date on all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker. Just add your details to the form at the top right of this page it’s all you need to do.

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And by all means leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter. It is a supportive community that makes us Ultimate 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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How to encourage young people as a youth worker

One of the most enjoyable parts of being a youth worker is providing a measure of encouragement to our young people. Often the world sucks! Through broken people, the media and even their “friends” young people are attacked from all sides by people telling them how bad they are, that they are delinquent and even worse they are useless. Young people are behind the eight ball when it comes to developing their self-confidence and then society throws them under the bus to finish them off. No wonder our young people struggle to dream of a better future.
 
The difficulty with encouragement is that it is sometimes really hard to do!  Some of our young people are a joy to be around and others take a lot of effort. Some of our young people are easy to encourage and for others it is like pulling teeth. When a top performing young person does their normal activity it is relatively easy to find something to encourage them about. When a difficult young person goes about their normal activity we want to take to them with a baseball bat… (or perhaps that’s just me). So how can we encourage our young people even when we want to murder them???
 
We need a framework! A tool for the job! And it just so happens that I have one for you that I picked up in 2004. I Was doing an internship with a great youth organisation here in Melbourne when we were taught this amazing little gem. I do not remember who they borrowed the concept from but it is awesome to use as a foundation for encouraging young people. It can take less than 10 seconds, is three sentences and works every time… WE GUARANTEE IT!!!
 

 

So what are the three sentences?

I saw what you did…
That makes me feel…
I see you becoming… 

 

Lets spend some time and break this down for you.

  1. I saw what you did… You need to observe a behaviour in your young people (However small it might be) and put it into words. It could be an interaction with another person, An action they don’t often do like cleaning up without asking or even not acting negatively when provoked. As long as you observed it and can articulate what you saw then you have completed the first step.
  2. That makes me feel… I must confess this is the step I struggled with most, and still do sometimes (I am an emotionally stunted individual, at least that’s what my wife tells me when I have angered her). Once you have observed and articulated the behaviour you need to let them know how their behaviour has impacted upon you. Once again it doesn’t need to be monumental. I once told a young person that I was relieved that they hadn’t gotten into a fight with a half dozen other young people (I was in the middle of the group and saw my life flash before my eyes whilst a bright light emerged in front of me… I think I heard voices). Pick a feeling and let them know why you feel that way.
  3. I see you becoming…The final step is to let them know that you are seeing a transformation. If their behaviour was a meaningless blip on the radar it will have little impact on them when you point it out. If however, the behaviour is a step in the direction of awesomeness that has a lasting effect. It shows that you see their behaviour as a step in a process rather than a one off brain fart in their otherwise perfect record of naughtiness. It also leaves a thought in the back of their mind about where YOU see THEM heading in life.
This framework is great to use with difficult young people because it guides you and you don’t need to struggle with what to say. But it works equally well with a good kid, a little old lady (Just don’t tell them you see them becoming worm food…apparently they don’t like to be reminded they are close to death. Who knew!) and even with your spouse. It doesn’t matter who you use it with, just that you use it. We all know that young people need more encouragement and often it just seems too hard. This tool provides the leverage you need to move towards a more encouraging youth practice. 
 
Encouraging Young People
 

 Examples

  • A young person in Out of Home Care who usually turns every discussion into an argument or a physical altercation decides to walk away from another young person when their chat begins to turn ugly. You walk up to her and say… I saw you walk away from Sarah just then. When you take action to stop a fight like that I feel confidant that you are maturing. I see you becoming better at managing your emotions.
  • When I was a street drug and alcohol outreach specialist, I came across a young guy who was obviously hanging out for a hit. I had known him for a few months and was aware that he had little self control when it came to his drug use. As we spoke he stated that he had told his dealer that he was not going to use on the particular night because a friend of his had overdosed a year earlier. I said, “I can see that your choice not to use has caused you a heap of hurt and that doesn’t look like its going to let up. That makes me feel like your mate meant a lot to you and that when things mean a lot to you you will go the extra mile. I see you becoming a man who will put himself on the line for what he believes in”. He continued to use for just under a year but the work we did for that time was firmly cemented in his ability to choose the hard path and commit to it even if it hurt.
A challenge to end this post. Encourage at least one person every day!!! If you struggle with what to say use our framework. The point of the exercise is to just do it. Society is so stuffed up that any encouragement no matter how staged or poorly enunciated is gold. People will lap it up like they had never been encouraged before. If you got to here I know you want to encourage your young people. It warms my hear to know that you want to make your young people feel loved and supported. I see you becoming an ULTIMATE YOUTH WORKER!
 

 

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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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Deep engagement in youth work

All too often in youth work we are forced to commit ourselves to shallow engagements with young people. Whether because of funding, policy or staffing constraints we are required to put aside relationship building to satisfy paperwork for bureaucrats. More and more young people are crying out for real support from youth workers, and more and more the squeeze of the bureaucrat tears our loyalty and professionalism in two. How can young people trust us when we can’t offer them the basis of trust…time?
 
In my mid twenties I was seconded to a small rural drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre as their Assistant Manager. I was excited. However that excitement barely lasted my first week. I was tasked with transforming the service into a dual diagnosis rehabilitation facility by our government benefactors within very stringent time lines and policy environments. One of my constraints was that a maximum stay with our service was eight weeks with many young people leaving before the sixth week. The government saw this as young people having an inability to stick at rehabilitation. I saw young people who did not trust the staff and could not develop lasting relationships in six weeks being oppressed by a system set up to help them.
 
 
I advocated for a change to our constrained time frames and was blocked. We showed client feedback and were countered by vagueties and innuendo. We even provided cost benefit analysis to the minister showing the need. Nothing. The idea of engaging with young people beyond a surface level was one which we just could not get the bureaucracy to understand. This led me to become as Schwartz and Sharpe (2011) a canny outlaw, Trading conventional wisdom for practical wisdom. I found every opportunity to keep a young person on for a second stay. I developed links to supported accommodation and provided staff to outreach to the young people. My rationale was that if we were to really effect change in our young peoples lives then we had to gain their trust and that required a deeper engagement than six weeks could provide. It was during this time that I began to develop my understanding of the need for deep engagement as a pillar of successful youth work practice.
 
Young people are seeking genuine care from youth workers. Care built on developed trust. To build this trust we must share life with our young people and this can only happen by spending time with them. I have worked in many corners of the youth sector, government departments, residential care, family services, homelessness and ministry; the same issue exists in every one of them. Policy constraints, lack of funding and a lack of trust from our young people. If we wish to turn the tide of societal disintegration we have to step into the gap. Our identity as youth workers places us in that gap. We believe that young people should have every opportunity to develop and the best way for that is to engage as deeply with them as possible. Sharing in their struggles, triumphs and developing a trust that can only come from a shared path.
 
 
 
We are accountable to many stakeholders as youth workers. In this role we must hold our accountability to our young people as our highest duty. To provide the best practice possible to our young people we must engage deeply and build trust. But how do we do it I hear you say? It is no easy feat. We will have to move counter culturally to the norm of current youth work practice. We must spend more time with our young people in meaningful activities rather than one hour appointments.
 
Deep engagement is difficult in our current service system however, it is the only way to build the foundation to work with young people to change their trajectory. Deep engagement is the benchmark for youth services provided by the team at Ultimate Youth Worker. It is also the central concept in all of our teaching, supervision and coaching around client engagement. We believe this so intensely that we routinely pass up work that is not geared towards enhancing engagement with young people. This is our number one imperative when working with young people. If you are not willing or able to engage deeply with young people do not engage at all! 
 
In coming months we will discuss how to engage deeply with young people, however it may require you to shirk the ‘rules’ imposed on you. Are you willing to become a ‘canny outlaw’ to support young people more effectively?
 

If you haven’t yet sign up for our newsletter, find out all the goings on at Ultimate Youth Worker by signing up using the form at the top right of this page. It is all you need to do.

 

 You can also sign up to have our blog posts sent straight to your email by adding your email to the subscribe button on your right.

 

You can also leave us a comment below or post a comment on facebook and twitter.

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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