Youth Worker Identity

A couple of months ago I attended a conference where Professor Rob White from the University of Tasmania stated that the key attribute of a youth worker is their identity first and foremost as a youth worker. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I am coming to the end of my masters degree and wonder what it will mean for my future professional Identity.

As a young man I began my studies in youth ministry. I was working for a local Baptist Church and was looking at gaining a qualification for my future work in the Church. A couple of years later I went on to study at RMITas I wanted to expand my understanding of youth work and the youth services sector. During this time I also had the opportunity to gain a Certificate in Alcohol and Other Drug work. After a few years and some interesting conversations I decided to go back and study for a master of social work. All of these courses have informed my practice as a youth worker over the years and have shaped who I am as a person.

Over the years I have had a number of jobs in the youth services field from drug and alcohol outreach to school based youth worker. I have also had a number of other social work roles such as in adult homelessness services and family services. Depending on whom I was talking too and what specialities my role required I would determine what I would tell a person when they asked what it was I did. For the most part I would tell people that I was a youth worker and deal with questions of my knowledge base if they arose later.

I was asked by a mate recently if I would start calling myself a social worker when I graduate from the masters. Without a second thought I said NO. Whilst I will be qualified as a social worker my heart is in youth. Truth be told I only did the qualification because I was sick of the politics and hierarchy of the welfare field in Australia and wanted “a piece of paper” that said I was as good as the rest. In my heart of hearts I am a youth worker and I am proud of it.

There is a discussion in the field about professionalism and a concurrent discussion on the idea of specialisation Vs generalisation in the field. When the chips are down it doesn’t matter if you have a specialisation or not. A specialisation does not make the professional. Our identity is not in our specialisation it is in our initial focus… working with young people. When we are the best at the core stuff that is when the sector sees us as professionals. Our professional identity hinges on our ability to do our job better than anyone else and that is something that we can be proud of. We resonate with Professor White’s statement that the key distinguishing attribute of a youth worker is indeed their identity first and foremost as a youth worker.

Stay Frosty.

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 worker’s need to gain practical wisdom!!!

Over the last few months I have been encouraged to imagine what youth work might look like in the future. This has been an exciting process, however it has also had a disheartening effect on me. You see when you look forward you inevitably return to the present and you may even glance to the past.
Youth work as a profession has had a very rocky few decades in Australia and particularly over the past couple of years has been at the centre of immense change in the social services sector. Amongst the youth work fraternity this change has come in the form of associations for youth workers being instigated in some states with the purpose of gaining a professional membership of qualified youth workers. it has also had an assault on its professionality by groups such as RMIT University who have tried to envelop the youth work course into the social science stream so as to generalise it rather than have it as a stand alone course.
As I look into the past I lament the neo-liberal focus on professionalisation as meaning only having qualifications. I also lament the removal of practice wisdom from our day to day work and the replacement with rules and regulations. I lament that we have been so divisive in how we have dealt with each other as youth workers instead of banding together. We have made progress but we have also spent a lot of the time LOST in the wilderness navigating from glimpses of someone else’s map.
In their inspiring book “practical wisdom” Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe believe that we need to re-imagine our work as neither rules based or incentive driven but as being driven  by practical wisdom. They call for us to become ‘canny outlaws’ who buck the trend of standardisation and become more empathetic and learn from the collective wisdom of the sector. In their view we need to become wise through mentoring and practice development without the constrains of standardisation and rote learning.
As I gaze into the future of youth work I imagine a profession unlike any other. One where we mentor our new colleagues and share practice wisdom freely. One where gaining a qualification is inconsequential but where ongoing education is the benchmark. A profession where our work is so exceptional that we are envied by others and where it is so unique that it is not so easily quantifiable.. or dismissed as it is currently. I see  a profession of diverse skills, qualifications and theories that work in harmony to support young people as a whole person. I see a bright future. To get there we must stop tearing ourselves apart and begin to develop our own professional identity free from the constraints of other professions and those that have been imposed on us by governments and the neo-liberal agenda.
Lets change the future!

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 extra standing will i have if Youth Workers professionalise?

I was recently chating with a bunch of social workers about their professional association and it became clear to me that even after all the work that has gone into the AASW as a professional association their membership still have the professional standing of a monkey with an organ grinder.

Why do I think this you may ask??? Basically because anyone can call themselves a social worker and there is nothing that they can do about it. For all intents and purposes the AASW is a registration board for all those social workers who want to be members. there is no requirement of them to be members and no legislative power to make it a requirement.  

The difference in a professional association such as the APS, the Victorian Institute of Teachers or the Nurses Board of Victoria is that they are legislated and mandated by the Government and as such are able to “register” and “qualify” their membership. You cannot call yourself a Psychologist, Teacher or Registered Nurse if you are not one, and you can be held accountable by the law if you do so without their authority. It also means that you can be removed from practice if you are deemed to have broken the rules of the association.  

If Youth Workers are to reach the level of PROFESSIONALS we need to take our campaign to the next level. Social workers are starting to move this way through the provision of Medicare provider numbers to those in their membership who qualify, however even this needs to go a step further. Members must be required to register with the association to practice.  

This is the same for Youth Work. At the present anyone can call themselves a Youth Worker. Some of my best mates and closest colleagues are unqualified Youth Workers, however if we are to become a body of professional workers then we need to be required to register.  

The only way a person can be required to register before practice is if they are legislated to do so. You don’t often see people practicing as a doctor without registration for long before they are caught and arrested. The same should be said for Youth Workers and Social Workers.  

We need to advocate for this intervention if we are ever to be taken seriously as a profession. What extra standing will I have if Youth Workers professionalise? Little if any, because at the moment the current form of association in Victoria will render us little more than a club.

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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