Ultimate Youth Worker

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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Youth work in the education system: where theory and practice collide.

Last week we spoke about the need for youth workers in the education system to have good relationships. This week we look at the need for a good understanding of theory…youth work and educational.

In youth work we study youth development, theories of participation and many others that help us to work with young people in every situation we find ourselves in. Our theories often focus on the strengths of our young people to overcome the adversities they face. We develop our working styles around the strengths of our young people to provide a solid foundation to build relationship and work towards the future. Teachers also use their theory base to work on developing young people.

Youth work in the schooling system
 
One of the most common theories that teachers use is called scaffolding. Scaffolding was developed by Russian Psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the early years of last century. Vygotsky believed that all understanding is built on the previous learnings of a person. That a process must be undertaken to build new knowledge on top of old knowledge in the same way we build a scaffold. Vygotsky also believed in the Zone of Proximal Development. A space between what a young person can do by themselves and what they could do with the help of an adult. These two theories have permeated educational systems throughout the world for over forty years.
 
Another theorist who has permeated the education system is Ivan Ilich, an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and social commentator on areas such as medicine and education. In 1971 his book “Deschooling Society” gave a radical slap in the face to institutional education and how it has has limited the learnings of young people in society. Instead he posits self-directed learning as a better option.
 
A number of other theories permeate the education system and depending on where in the world you are will depend on the theory that is at the forefront of educational practice. Using the relationships you have made ask a teacher or principal to give you an overview of the theoretical approaches that they use. If you have an understanding of the theories which underpin their work then you can work with them to develop a model of practice in their school which works for both parties.
 
What theories do your schools use?
 

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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 work in the education system

In the early days of my career I had the privileged of being a youth worker that went into our local high school. I was employed by my local church as a schools worker and spent much of my time running lunchtime programs. I spent much of my time building relationships with teachers, support staff and principals. I was in a lucky position. Many of my friends across the world had many more restrictions placed on them when working with and in schools.

One of the subjects in my Bachelor Degree was youth work and the schooling system in the course I learnt a lot about the way education has been framed through history and how it is placed in the current context. I also learnt that to be effective in the system that sometimes you had to work around the system. Honestly, it was one of my least favoured subjects. It really did not teach me how to work in the schooling system.

As youth workers we are guests in the education system. We are seen as providers of non-formal education… life skills and the like. When young people come to us they are not getting a qualification or an understanding of the three R’s (does that mean teachers can’t spell???). Instead we look after the other stuff. We develop the personal.

It is a sacred spot to work in the education system and we must honour the opportunity. The only way it can work is if the relationships are solid.

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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Why youth ministers need to embrace youth work practices: Youth ministry in the 21st century.

A while back I was reading a blog post by Mark Oestreicher, A youth pastor from the USA. In it he states that youth pastors need a title change. They should be known as youth workers. This comment made me both uncomfortable and elated at the same time. Uncomfortable as it brings youth ministry into a realm that took me over a decade to learn and thousands of dollars in university subjects without the need for them to gain training or experience. Elated because the more complex society becomes the more the average youth pastor will experience issues which they traditionally have not been trained for… and youth worker brings with it a sense of training. It does make us ask questions about our identity.
 
I have recently had conversations with youth minister friends of mine who disagrees with Mark. They believed that the average church youth ministry did not regularly come across young people experiencing issues such as homelessness, substance misuse and family violence. They believed that the closest that a youth minister comes to doing youth work is program development and perhaps mentoring. My colleague and I had a long conversation and suffice it to say I disagree.

My first sermon December 2004
 
A number of years ago I had a similar conversation with the leading youth minister at one of the largest denominations in Victoria. In the conversation he said that the average church did not want their young people exposed to poor, homeless or prisoners. Guys I am sorry but the bible that I read said that was exactly who we were supposed to hang out with. This conversation is one of the reasons I moved from traditional youth ministry to youth work.
 
That being said, a number of my youth ministry colleagues would also gawk at this vision of youth ministry. They spend their time with young people in detention centres, running advocacy campaigns and feeding the hungry. Many of the youth ministers deal with family breakdown, issues of homelessness and provide outreach in their community. In Melbourne though it seems the average youth ministry course has not prepared them to do this. They have had to learn on the fly and live by faith.

Leading a camp for children of prisoners in 2007

 

The 21st century youth minister needs to embrace their call and learn some youth work. The average church youth worker could do with a good dose of youth work theory. Perhaps a bit on youth participation and engagement or a bit of outreach and relationship building. They could do with a good dose of practice wisdom in drug and alcohol, program development and mental health. If church based youth workers are serious about being a resource in their community, schools and churches then its time to come into the 21st century. Young people are not turning to their minister for support any more because the average youth minister is not there, willing to step into the breach or trained to do it.

Youth Ministry in the 21st century is now and will become more challenging into the future. It is the person who recognises now the need for ongoing professional development and further training that will become the ultimate youth worker. This means that  bible colleges have a responsibility to teach their students more than before about young people and youth ministry students have a responsibility to seek out more about young people and how to work with them. Youth ministers must become more… they must become youth workers.
 

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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Mental State Exam for youth workers: Appearance.

You have heard the saying don’t judge a book by its cover. Well that’s exactly what I am going to ask you to do. In the first part of a Mental State Exam we look at a persons appearance and make some judgements on where they are at because of this. Now the politically correct crowd will say that we shouldn’t judge people. That we should make informed decisions or be understanding of their context. Bollocks! We all make judgements and that is OK! If your Judgement is informed by theory and experience then it is an informed judgement. Do not get all mushy about it. It will not help your clients.
 
We all notice the appearance of others. What they are wearing, are they groomed, their age, weight or perhaps an odour!!! We make observations about this through the lens of our knowledge of the person, society and our experience. Is that young person with their pants hanging down, hair unkempt and malodorous (my favourite clinical word) just part of the teenage stinky boys club or is there something more to it. What if they usually dress very neatly and wear deodorant?
 
Appearance is possibly the easiest of the Mental State Exam areas to observe. Has your young person recently gained weight…or lost it? Are they smelly or well groomed? Do they stare at the floor or are they making good eye contact? Can you smell alcohol or perhaps their teeth are bad, could they be abusing drugs? Have they stopped wearing clothes that show off their figure and now wear really baggy clothing? Is it a change in fashion or are they self harming???
 
There are no easy answers when observing a young persons appearance. I have over reached and missed signs throughout my career. Sometimes it is a gut feeling. For the most part it is time, time, time that will be your guide. Meeting people once gives you some data to crunch, but what if they are just having an off day? The more you observe the better your analysis. Take into account cultural issues and the current context for the young person and you should be fine.
 
This is only one clue in the Mental State Exam. It is however one of the easiest to practice. Look around when next meeting with a young person and ask yourself about their appearance in every way. Ask yourself why they look the way they do and if this is a positive social step or a negative one. Ask yourself if they appear to have them self together or if there seems to be signs that they are letting themselves go. If there are, it doesn’t necessarily mean panic. It does mean be more observant.
 
See you next week for part two, Behaviour.

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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Celebrate

Become more than you are right now: A youth work specialist

As a parent I want to see my children have more opportunities than I did as a child. I want to see them become more than I became. I want to see them reach their fullest potential. As a youth worker I want to see the young people I work with reach their fullest potential as well. Becoming more than the sum of their parts. As a youth worker though, there was a time I was happy just to have finished my degree and been in a job I enjoyed. I did not want to grow, be challenged or reach for anything. I just wanted to sit still and ponder on reaching the top.
 

 

What I realised rather quickly was that you can never reach the top. Government policies change the landscape of practice. Our own yearnings lead us in new and undiscovered directions. Jobs that were around 10 years ago for youth workers do not exist now. We can not stop to long to smell the roses because the world will pass us by.
 
I have heard over the last year or so a number of youth workers express their satisfaction with where they are in their career journey. I must confess it worries me. It worries me to see 40 year old veterans still on the front with no leadership or mentoring responsibilities. It worries me to see people content to be generalist youth workers in a world of complexities. It worries to see degree qualified youth workers thinking they have reached the Utopian heights of education. In short I am worried about our profession.
 
Recently, the Victorian state government has stated that it will require minimum qualifications for youth workers in child protection. I think the idea of qualifications is great. What I do not like is the idea of minimums. They set the bar so low. It is an epidemic in the youth sector. Government, organisations and youth workers seem to set the bar extremely low. As a profession we rarely use words like excellence, outstanding or superior to describe our outlook. Imagine if a job advertisement asked for outstanding behaviour or superior qualifications, wouldn’t you be interested in looking a bit further???
 
I was speaking to a really passionate youth worker recently who was explaining that her work with young people experiencing issues with mental health was so rewarding but that sometimes the issues they were facing seemed to go beyond her skills. I asked if she had considered doing some more study like a grad cert in young people’s mental health or a bachelor of social work to gain some new skills. She bluntly replied that she was a youth worker and those courses would not be of help. It was if I had asked her to stop being a youth worker and become a monster instead. I often hear of youth workers who are counselling young people say that it is beyond them. Many of the youth work course that I know of have but one subject around counselling if at all. Yet when I ask if they would be willing to do a course or attend a few training sessions they can’t find the time. I once even heard a youth worker say that they would not do supervision with a social worker because they would not understand his practice.

 

In a world that is blurring the boundaries more and more we need to be fresh and up to the job at hand. We need more than a generalist youth work degree to get through the issues we are faced with. If we work in a clinical environment learn about it. If you work in the community, develop your understanding of community development. Do you counsel young people? Read something on narrative therapy or do a short course. We must become specialists in this new world of youth work. It is all well and good to do basic training, but you need your specialist skill sets to make it through the battle. We should all be generalists. But we should never stay that way.
 
What is it that your situation needs right now??? Counselling skills, supervision skills or maybe even community building skills. What does your next career step need? Management skills, financial skills perhaps even people development skills. When you think about the next 3 years of your career do you see yourself moving forward or do you see yourself doing the same thing? If you answered the same thing perhaps you need to think about it harder. Because the job you are doing now will not be the same in 3 years.
 
We need to step up or step off. If we step up we will be future focused and developmentally minded. If not, we should do everyone a favour and move on. The time for generalist youth work being the glorified mountain top is over. We are at the dawning of the age of the specialist youth worker. What will you specialise in?   
 
 

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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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What will youth work look like in 2013?

Over the last couple of weeks we have had the pleasure of some amazing guests answering the question, “What will youth work look like in 2013?” This has been eye opening to say the least. Over the last two weeks we have had Shae and Stephen from youthworkinit.com and Professor Dana Fusco of CUNY and authour of “Advancing Youth Work: current trends, critical questions“. This week it is our honour to have fellow blogger and youth work professional Sam Ross. Sam is affectionately known as the teenage whisperer and much of her blog is devoted to how people can best work with young people, even the difficult ones. Sam is a resident of the United Kingdom and will provide us with a view from Rule Brittania.
 

So Sam what will youth work look like in 2013?

 
Think of the future and I know I always end up thinking about what gadgets we’ll be using, the new technology on the horizon. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this- teens with their unparalleled appetite for the new will be too. With the most accessible bit of tech for teens being their mobile phones (or cell phones) and with their love for them, we can be sure that they are keenly watching for what 2013 brings to phones. So if their eyes are on their phones and what new thing they will be able to do with them, should we be looking at what we can do with them, with their phones in our youth work in 2013?
 
 

Teens and their phones

 
Teen ownership rates are continually rising with a 2012 American study showing that 23% of 12 to 17 year olds own a smartphone and another 54% owning a regular cell phone. Every day 68% of teens text, 51% visit social networking sites and 11% send or receive tweets (Common Sense Media 2012).
 
It probably goes without saying that in 2013 even more teens will be in possession of a mobile and will be using them to text, tweet or do whatever the latest thing is. But why should we as youth workers care about this?  
 
More and more teachers and youth workers are adapting their work to embrace the teen love affair with their phones, rather than trying (and failing) to get them to switch them off. This is a trend that is bound to continue in 2013.
 
The social TV or ‘second screen’ concept is increasingly being used in sessions to change phones from being a source of distraction to a tool of engagement. So rather than young people using their phones to keep up with what is going on outside the session, they are being used to stimulate conversation on the session. So while watching something on a screen or watching a live in-person talk or presentation, young people are invited to submit opinions, questions and comments either by text or submitted on Twitter via hash tag to feed later discussion. This works really well to keep them on-topic, to get the verbally quieter ones contributing and to generally spark off debate.
 
‘Flash research’ is another application for phones in sessions. In the first ten minutes, groups go off and research the net, or text people they know to find information on a topic. So instead of youth workers bringing the ‘facts’ to the session (which always brings out the sceptic), young people show us what is relevant and important to them. This is hugely empowering for them as they feel they have a real voice and that a worker’s view or presentation of ‘facts’ doesn’t automatically trump theirs. The fact that they get to use their beloved phones also means that what might have been a relatively boring brainstorming exercise before becomes something of interest to them. 
 
These are just two of many examples of using mobiles in youth work. The embracing of cell/mobile phones in youth work sessions is bound to continue and expand in 2013, probably in ways which we don’t even realise yet. If we fail to keep up, we do run the risk of offering sessions which do not maximise teen engagementas they lack the cultural relevance which is so important to teens, and they could walk away, declaring us out-of-touch dinosaurs.
 

Timeless ‘tones

 
However, when looking to the future, when trying to predict and stay abreast of change we always need to be careful not to lose sight of what is really important, the stuff that is at the core of our work. We should never forget the timeless qualities that outlast trends and changes in popular culture and that keep our work relevant whatever medium we use to deliver our message.
 
So in 2013, even with the expansion of mobile interaction, quality youth work should look very much like it has done in the past.
 

Relationship, not just interaction, will be key.

 
Social networking and technical gadgetry have been accused of causing an increase in interaction but a decline in real communication. While there are elements of truth to this, technology when used well, can enhance rather than degrade our communication with youth. It can complement what any good youth worker knows lies at the heart of good youth work- human connection of the face-to-face kind. Research shows that despite all the technological advances and the increased ownership of mobile technology, teens preferred method of communication is face-to-face.
 
So while youth work will involve more technical wizardry in 2013 we should also allow time and space for unmediated humanconnection. Particularly for those youth who are struggling with lack of personal connection with family members and other professionals, direct human engagement rather than technologically-mediated interaction can be vital.
 
And if our focus is on relationship it will mean that no-one gets left behind due to lack of ownership of the latest device (23% of teens do not have a cell phone at all). We will be mindful of trying to connect with everyone, whatever their circumstance, in the way that they need.
 

Helping our teens to think and communicate well will be at the heart of helping them succeed.

 
With the continual rise of texting, social networking and social TV in teens’ lives in 2013 it will become ever easier to shoot off opinions and statements with relatively little thought or reflection – their fingers often operating faster than their minds – and this can work against good thinking, good decision-making and good communication.
 
So we need to ensure that even when using the latest tools in our work, that we don’t get slack in helping them think and communicate well. We need to show them that text messaging and social media can be great conversation starters and can be a great way to get us thinking, but if we are to really communicate we will need to take more time to formulate opinions, to express them well, to really listen to others respectfully and to reflect, and that most of the time this happens when we actually take the time to really talk to people. Our sessions should never get carried away on a technological wave that forgets the core skills we need to help them develop if they are to successfully navigate through life.
 
So while 2013 may be technologically more advanced and our ways of connecting and engaging may expand we shouldn’t forget that good youth work was the same in the past as it is today and will be tomorrow. We need to keep mobile and current with our methods but always ensuring we have a strong signal from the good youth work base-station. No signal, no useful service. It was true in 2012 and will still be true in 2013 and beyond.
 

Bio:

Sam Ross, popularly known as the ‘Teenage Whisperer’ is an expert in connecting with and helping the most challenging, disengaged and troubled teens to turn their lives around. She has worked in both educational and youth justice settings, both with young people and their parents or carers. Really understanding teens is the beginning, middle and end of her work and she helps professionals and parents achieve this through her website, providing advice, insight and resources: www.teenagewhisperer.co.uk You can also connect with her on Twitter: @Teen_Whisperer or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/teenagewhisperer
 

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 will youth work look like in 2013?

Today I am stoked to continue our series with a guest post from one of the worlds most well known youth work professors. In this series we have heard from Shae and Stephen Pepper from youthworkinit.com and will continue to hear from some of the leading minds in youth work from throughout the world culminating in early 2013.

Today’s Guest Post is written by one of New York’s finest, Professor Dana Fusco. In over 20 years as a lecturer in youth work she has shaped the argument for youth services in the United States encompassing areas such as reflective practice, after school services and youth work in interdisciplinary teams. Dana has a BA in Psychology from SUNY at New Paltz and a Phd in Educational Psychology from CUNY Graduate Center. She also runs the facebook group Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions.

So Dana, what will youth work look like in 2013???

Dana Fusco, Professor, City University of New York, York College, United States

In the United States, youth work is not a unified or singular practice; rather, it has been described, and still is, a family of practices (Baizerman, 1996[1]). That family provides, in the most ideal circumstance, a plethora of diverse opportunities for young people. What we, as youthwork practitioners hope is that the set of diverse experiences known as ‘youth work’ will help young people to live rich, healthy, and fulfilling lives now and into the future. Our praxis is grounded or contextualized in the actual, not theoretical, lives of young people; is responsive to their lived experiences, their hopes, their aspirations and dreams; and proclaims a participatory and democratic approach that supports youth voice and agency as a part of community engagement.

In the places where youth work looks like this in 2012, I suspect it will continue to do so in 2013. That said, there are some trends on the horizon that potentially put the family of youth work practices in jeopardy. If we think of youth work as a stew, then each practice is an important ingredient towards a ‘tasty’ and healthful creation. In the U.S., our stew seems a bit ‘soupy’ these days, with ‘critical’ and emancipatory forms of youth work being those most often removed or replaced. This trend was precipitated by several sociopolitical and economic factors, with the most direct consequence being the pressure for out-of-school, nonformal environments to link up to, connect with, and supplement school. The goal for those who hope to formalize out-of-school environment is that there is a collective impact towards meeting NCLB (No Child Left Behind) targets (standardized test scores in reading and math).

The trend of youth work moving towards formalized education began with the development of a billion dollar federal reserve for afterschool programs under the Clinton administration, known as 21st Century Community Learning grants. These grants had two contradictory consequences. On the one hand, they put into the public eye, the importance of afterschool environments, many of which at that time were the youth-club-in-community-center variety, and legitimized these spaces as critical for young people. On the flip side, those dollars came with “strings” to improve academic outcomes. Some community agencies with a strong history of local work with young people have maneuvered within the structure to work in participatory and emergent ways. Many have closed their doors. Those newer to the scene might be doing good educational and ‘youth development’ stuff after school, i.e., enrichment and project-based learning, but not youth work in the way we have known it.

This situation leaves us with two potential possibilities for the future of the field. First, we can name these afterschool practices as part of the family of youth work practice and accept them as such. Second, we can decide that this form of afterschool, which is geared towards ‘a priori’ academic outcomes, might be too predetermined and ritualistic to be considered youth work at all. If this is the case, we must not only define youth work by what it is not but by what it is – an emergent and relational form of workingwith young people that is community-based, participatory and responsive, or what I am now calling, critical youth work (CYW).

If we choose the second option it will be critical that we more clearly define the purpose and values of CYW. As I see it, CYW aims to co-create spaces with young people where they can lead and learn. In this formulation, youth work begins with young people’s concerns, interests, goals, and/or needs, and positions practitioners to construct a ‘use of self’ that creates a relational web of possibility. Then, in this conception of the future, it is the education of the youth worker that becomes increasingly pivotal.

In 2013, it is not only changes in youth work practice that we must attend to but also changes in youthworkeducation (YoEd) In the U.S. we have seen an explosion in YoEd within higher education, a 900% increase over the past four years with most of these framed as ‘youth development.’ Conversely, in the U.K. and Australia, longstanding youth work courses and degree programs have closed their doors including those found at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and Manchester University. While the reasons for such closures have been couched in economic and enrollment terms, one wonders why Youth Work/Youth Studies then and not Latin or philosophy, which equally might enroll under five students each year. The lack of understanding among higher education administration about community-based youth work is partly to blame. The title itself, youth work, leans towards the vocational, not the liberal arts. In 2013, it is hard to predict where those who want to study youth work and youth studies in these countries will go. If they go into existing, related disciplines, e.g., social work, then youth work will too likely become case management; if they go into education, then youth work will become para-teaching. With such potential outcomes, an international community of youth workers and youth work educators is needed whether in the form of an association or something else in order to work towards saving/reclaiming and re-thinking the discipline of youth work. I believe today it is in our international community that we have collective power and bargaining to legitimize the work and the body of knowledge that we have co-created as a viable area of study and practice for working with young people.

In 2013, this would be something to aim for!

[1] Baizerman M. (1996). Youth work on the street. Community’s moral compact with its young people. Childhood, 3, 157-165.

Professor Dana Fusco

For more than 20 years, Dana Fusco’s research has focused on youth work as a practice and a profession and has led to increased national and international recognition. Recently she was the keynote speaker at the History of Youth Work conference in Minnesota and presented at the International Conference on Youth Work and Youth Studies in Glasgow. She serves on a national panel of leaders in youth work, the Next Generation Coalition, has authored dozens of peer-reviewed articles and produced the documentary, “When School Is Not Enough.” Professor in Teacher Education at York College, CUNY, She received her Ph.D. in Education Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center.

Dana is The Editor of the path-breaking book Advancing Youth Work: Current Trends, Critical Questions, which brings together an international list of contributors to collectively articulate a vision for the field of youth work. This book is a must have and is one we would recommend you all get. We did. You can buy it 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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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.

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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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