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

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

Aaron Garth

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Garth

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

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

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

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Aaron Garth

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

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

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

Aaron Garth

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

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Why youth workers need to take a holiday.

I was recently talking to a youth worker who hadn’t had a holiday in over five years. Aside from a couple of long weekends and the forced  week off between Christmas and New Years, he hadn’t had time away from work. When I probed more it turned out the he had marriage issues, spent next to no time with his children and was off the charts on stress tests; basically a self care nightmare. I asked why he was pushing himself and he said that he needed the money and that if he wasn’t there his clients would be in trouble.
 
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a story like this I would have a decent car brought and paid for. Recently, at the Australian Youth Affairs Conference, I was on a panel addressing self care. One of the questions I was asked was the reasons I hear for a lack of self care, really all I hear are excuses.
 
 
The main excuse I hear is that our clients need us. The fact that 100% of them were doing life fine before we got involved in their lives never enters the picture. It is like, if we weren’t there all our young people would die or end up in prison. So we run ourselves into the ground and give them sub standard service along the way.
 
I spoke to the youth workers manager later that afternoon, and after giving them a serve about not showing care for their staff I told her that she needed to send this guy on a forced vacation in the next month. The Director of the service did not know that there were staff in their service that hadn’t taken holidays in years. That service now has a policy that staff must take holidays every year.
 
You have to take holidays. Your family, career and your clients depend on you looking after yourself.
 

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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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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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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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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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