Become more educated: Youth work longevity requires it!


Over the past few years I have had the privilege of educating youth workers in a number of educational facilities throughout Victoria. I see highly passionate people with a clear understanding of the sector that they want to work in. I also know over 50% of them will not be in the sector in two years! As a qualified teacher in the TAFE system I know what the training package says should be taught to youth workers completing a certificate four or diploma course. I also know how lacking the courses are. The average youth work course is not equipping future youth workers to work effectively with young people in the current climate.

One of the biggest issues facing the future of youth work in Australia and throughout the world is lack of education. In Australia over 50% of youth workers have a certificate four (a one year course) or less. There are a large number unqualified people in our sector. Qualifications are a key indicator of intention to stay in the sector and they are an indicator of the level of support a young person can expect.

I know many unqualified people who provide great service to young people and I know they would all be even more exceptional with some qualification. I know many youth workers who have qualified with a one, two or three year qualification who need to get more qualifications. I know PhD holders who need more education. Read a Book. Do a short course. Get a lateral qualification. Educate yourself more! Read a youth work journal. Attend a conference or a webinar. Listen to a podcast. Educate yourself. 

It costs money but ignorance will cost you more.

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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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Chaplains in schools: A youth workers thoughts

Chaplains in schools

One of the most contentious issues in youth work today is funding. We don’t have enough money and we don’t have enough positions. So when the Australian federal government released their budget last month an a number of youth work programs were defunded the sector cried out. One area that was at the forefront of the attack was the Government’s decision to remove funding for some school welfare staff who were funded under the National School Chaplaincy & Student Welfare Program. The Government decided to revert to an earlier version of the program which solely funded chaplains and not welfare workers. 

Many of the comments that have been floating around the ether have painted a picture of religious right winged fanatics taking over student welfare. Most of all they paint a picture of untrained, unqualified proselytisers who will damn us all to hell. To put it quite bluntly the public is being grossly misinformed. If your argument is about the ideology of having religious people in student welfare positions that is a very different discussion than the one about their ability and qualifications. Here are a few thoughts our Executive Director shared this morning.

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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Adolescent brains are awesome.

Adolescent brains

I love TED talks! There is nothing quite as awesome as a snippet of bite sized informative goodness wrapped in a video. TED talks make us think very differently about the world we live in. They help us to dream and learn and hope for the future. One area in whichTED talks have enriched my work is in understanding brain development.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London. Her research covers the development of social cognition and decision-making during human adolescence. She is Co-Director of the Wellcome Trust PhD Programme in Neuroscience at UCL, Editor-in-Chief of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience journal and was a scientific consultant on the television documentary “The Human Mind” in 2003. She is a member of Royal Society BrainWaves working group for neuroscience and the Royal Society Vision Committee for Maths and Science Education.

In this Talk Prof. Blakemore brings us an animated look at the inner workings of the adolescent brain. Much of what we have thought about brain development over the past few decades is slowly being re-thought. With the advent of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) we are beginning to see the inner workings of the brain while the brain is working. We don’t have to wait for a person to die to cut into their brain to see whats inside.

We now know that the period of adolescence sees a significant growth in grey matter. A growth spurt to provide the space for the significant intellectual growth that occurs during these formative years. Particularly the growth in the prefrontal cortex, the brains reasoning centre, seems to increase during this stage. Anyway, enough from me. Over to Professor Blakemore for more interesting insights into adolescent brains.


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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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Ongoing professional development: Its all about your budget.

I have been in a number of agencies throughout my youth services career and only one of them had a written down budget for youth work professional development. In this organisation I had one of the largest budgets for professional development I had ever had… $1000. However in most organisations I worked in a professional development budget was at best ad hoc and at worse non-existent. 

I have heard of a number of ways to divide up a professional development budget and to tell you the truth I have not put much credence in most of them. How long you have been in the organisation? Your role requirements? Your agencies needs? None of them make any sense when you are talking about longevity in the field. When you want to develop workers to sustain your organisation and the sector you have to think outside the box, and for most organisations that means spending money.

In the mining industry here in Australia some of the best mines realised that they were losing workers because they had no reason to stay. The money was good, The work wasn’t to hard but still they were losing staff… Until they started putting money in the right place. They set up great internet, provided training opportunities and expected staff to develop themselves through courses. Everything from first aid to business development. It was open to the newest of staff and the long tremors. From the lowest paid to the highest paid. The expectation was that you did something.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we would love to offer an unlimited budget for professional development but like every youth organisation we have to balance our budget too. In our case we devote 3% of our yearly budget for staffing to professional development. If you earn $50,000 you have a professional development budget of $1,500. We ask our staff to develop a professional development plan that has some things for us as an organisation and some areas that they want to work on. If they want to work on something that is outside the purview of the work we do we ask them to demonstrate how it would support the work we do in the future. If it would support us or the sectors development we are happy to provide the finances within the 3%. We also offer employees further development above the 3% as needed however as a minimum that 3% is always in our budget.

What does your organisation do? Perhaps you can start providing a guarantee for your employees!  

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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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We need to fail more youth work students: youth work is not a profession for the non hackers

The argument levelled at youth work as a profession and youth workers in particular that gets my goat the most is that we are untrained, unqualified yahoos who do more harm than good to the young people we work with. I have spent my career fighting this argument. Against social workers with four year degrees and psychologists with masters degrees a two year diploma at best seems trivial to other social services professions.

In the discussion of our brothers and sisters in the professionalisation camp many have stated that a degree should be the minimum qualification for youth workers. In Australia over 50% of youth workers have a Certificate IV or less. But as we have said before we believe that more than qualifications are required for Ultimate Youth Workers.

That being said we believe there are a lot of people passing youth work qualifications who should not have made it through. Over the summer we spoke with a number of youth work lecturers and teachers from Australia and across the world. In many of these discussions they lamented the calibre of students which were leaving their courses. Students who were doing the course as a stepping stone to something else. Students who were doing it to keep their welfare cheque coming in. Students who were not putting in effort in academic areas or in field placements.

As a teacher I tell my students that I have no compunction in failing them if they don’t make the grade. That I expect excellence in the classroom because I expect it in the sector. When students struggle I give them all the support available. If they still fail then thats it. 

I have heard of a number of students who have been passed in their courses so that institutions can get the money available for graduating students. I have heard of lecturers and teachers passing students just to get them out of their classes. This type of behaviour needs to stop.

If we as a profession are to gain credibility in the community sector it must start in qualifying only those who meet our stringent standards. Minimum qualifications and coasting through need to be wiped out.

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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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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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Mental health should be a major part of a youth workers training.

I am currently developing curriculum for the diploma of youth work here in Australia. This curriculum is focused on youth mental health. There are many of my colleagues who believe that any form of specialist training of youth workers is degrading our profession. That to develop a new focus in our training is to minimise our effectiveness as an industry to ourselves. However, as should be apparent to long time readers, we disagree completely.
 
We have said before that we believe the time has come for a complete rethinking of the current youth work curriculum. One area we believe has been sorely missing for decades is that of mental health. If one in four young people will have a diagnosed mental health issue it is our responsibility to have a strong understanding of the area. We believe that youth workers should gain at least an emergency triage level understanding of mental health.
 
If you are a youth work educator, a service manager or a team leader we believe it is your responsibility to impart on your junior staff and students a need for new knowledge. In particular and one of the easiest to impart would be that of mental health. Do you do this at the moment? What curriculum do you use to teach mental health?
 
Let us know!

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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Be kind to youth work students: they are the future of the profession.

As a youth worker with over a decade in practice a number of qualifications and a private practice I have supported many youth workers on placement. In these situations I have tried to provide the best learning environment for each individual student. However many youth workers report that they are little more than gofers. Go for coffee, go for printing, go for this meeting.

This unfortunately is not an uncommon experience of students on placement. As a field placement supervisor I have spoken to dozens of students over the past year about their experience and the vast majority have felt like goffers. Go for coffee, go for my printing, go for … The list is endless. Students, particularly in their final year, need to be allowed to practice their skillset not just watch as it is done by others. They need opportunity to practice in a supervised environment to gain confidence and experience. They need supervisors who can let go of their work and pass it on to them.

If you are going to take on a student this year here are a few ideas to help them and you integrate as much as possible.

  1. Reading is essential to any job but more than a week of reading policies and procedure manuals is over the top.
  2. Regular weekly supervision that addresses different aspects of the role is essential. Dont just ask about tasks, but set articles to be read before sessions to stimulate conversation.
  3. Dont expect students to know everything.
  4. Expect them to be competent at a first job standard.
  5. Give them genuine tasks to sink their teeth in. They may be cheap labour, but they are useless to you as goffers! Remember it is costing the student to do the placement.
  6. Have a plan of action from day one with a number of tasks that must be achieved and review this weekly.
  7. Finally, get to know your student and have space for them to get to know you.    



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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Are we to soft on young people exhibiting sexualised behaviours: Youth work dilemma.

Today I was speaking with a group of people from within the education and human services sector about working with young people who exhibit sexually abusive behaviours. What we mean here is young people aged over 10 and under 16 who sexually abuse others. When having this discussion it became apparent that there were two different opinions in the room. The Education view was to intervene early and deal decisively with the behaviours at the earliest point possible. The human services view was to deal with the behaviours only when they became problematic.
 
One view was early intervention and preventative. The other was critical intervention. As someone who has worked in the human services I struggled with the heavy handed approach of the education  sector. One case they spoke of had a child suspended after rubbing himself against a fellow classmate. The human services also struggled with this. They commented that this would not even be an issue that they would look at.
 
After listening to this discussion I started to think that perhaps we are allowing young people to exhibit sexual behaviours to  early. When children under 10 are regularly having sex and children even younger are experimenting with their bodies and each other have we as a society already lost the battle? Young people by nature will experiment with their sexuality, but are we as youth workers to soft on them when they exhibit inappropriate behaviours?

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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What is the best way to start as a youth worker?

I have been asked this question about a dozen times over the last six months by eager young potential youth workers looking to get a foot in the door to their future career. I have to say it is a hard one to answer. For me, I fell into it after a mate asked me to help out his Friday night youth group. So my own experience was of moving from volunteer to paid work and then study. However, many of these eager students are straight from school into youth work courses so what is my advice to them??? Work out what is going to work for you!
 
 
Here are a few ideas I have for these students and other would be youth workers:
  • Know who you are! The amount of students I speak to who do not have a good understanding of their own values and what makes them tick would blow your mind. One of the first things I ask when trying to help potential youth workers is why they want to be a youth worker… if you cant answer this question you may need to take a while to sort it out before continuing.
  • Volunteer work is a great way to build skills and experience. If you are young or have not worked in the sector before then volunteering with a reputable organisation can be a great way to get skills and training… and a job (or at least a good reference).
  • Get some qualifications. In this day and age qualifications are king. You need to have the piece of paper under your belt before many organisations will even look at you. Currently there is a push towards a minimum standard of a two year diploma in Australia, but more is better.
  • Build your networks. Join local council groups, local area networks and peak bodies. Anywhere there is a youth worker join their group. This gives you profile in the sector and opportunity to get information and information is key to good interviews.
  • Work out what area of youth work you most want to get into. Youth work is a wide and varied and it can give you an immense amount of joy… if you are in the right area. Work out what gets you going and then run for it with all your might.
Finally, when you have all of this completed just go to the organisation you are interested in working for and meet with the management. Give them a resume and talk about why you would like to work for them. They may through it in the bin, but they will remember you when you apply for an opening.
 
 

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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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