Work with the Young Person as the Focus

Work with the Young Person as the Focus

I was recently looking at the Certificate IV in Youth Work training package and wondering the age old question of what makes how youth workers engage with young people different. Different from social workers, teachers, student welfare professionals, mental health workers and all the other professions and para-professions that work with young people. It is an age old question in youth work. What do we do? How is this different from everyone else. In fact it is probably the foremost question of our professionalisation debate. The sad fact of the matter is that most youth workers cannot agree on the core tenets of youth work as a profession. It was with all this rattling around in my head when I came across one performance element in the very first youth work unit and my mind was changed, work with the young person as the focus. If youth work students could just fully get this then all the other debates become minutia.

The third performance criteria states that one of the areas of knowledge and skills that a youth worker must hold is to “work with the young person as the focus“. Now, this may seem like a foundational piece of knowledge and it is, after all it is in the first youth work unit of the Certificate IV (CHCYTH001 Engage Respectfully with Young People). It is also a fundamental skillset that many youth workers forget, or worse are required to dismiss. 

You see there are many people in the world who want to guide our young people. For the most part these people have good intentions. Teachers want students to learn so they can get a job and live as part of society. Parents want their children to be safe. Student welfare staff want young people to have the language, literacy and numeracy skills to graduate. However, do they put the young person first? do they work for the young person as the focus? do they have other motives?

This is the key to great youth work ethos as well as exceptional youth work praxis. I will go into more depth below, but in the mean time lets get back to what the training package informs us about this. There are six performance criteria that youth work students must demonstrate here to be deemed to have the knowledge and skills to be a youth work graduate. They are:

  1. Apply youth-centred practices when working with young people 
  2. Respect the rights, needs and responsibilities of the young person 
  3. Explain worker rights and responsibilities to the young person as necessary 
  4. Establish a professional relationship and boundary expectations with the client 
  5. Identify and manage power inequities in the professional relationship 
  6. Apply principles of ethical decision-making in working with young people 
 
Engage Respectfully with Young People

How do we work with young people as the focus?

Apply youth-centred practices when working with young people 

The Youth worker needs to demonstrate that they have a solid grasp on youth-centred practices and how to implement these with young people. This begs the question, what are youth-centred practices? A few that spring to mind are ‘youth engagement’, ‘youth participation’ and Carl Rogers ‘person centred therapy’. There are a few more, but the idea here is the young person needs to be at the centre of the activity of youth work. So, if the young person is not at the centre of your work, you probably aren’t doing youth work. 

Respect the rights, needs and responsibilities of the young person 

We must have a rights based approach to youth work. The Victorian Youth Work Code of Ethics is explicit about this approach. We as youth workers are very much informed by the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child in our dealings with young people. We are also needs based. It is about what our young people need, not their mum, dad, teacher or the local constabulary. The space of responsibilities is a contentious issue for youth workers and is linked heavily to the rights side of things. Here in Victoria we have a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, it states,  “in protecting the rights of a person there is a corresponding duty to other individuals or the wider society to act responsibly towards them“. As youth workers this means we have the responsibility to protect our young peoples rights, it is not our young peoples responsibility.

Explain worker rights and responsibilities to the young person as necessary 

As youth workers we have many rights and responsibilities. One of our rights is to be safe in our workplace. This is enshrined in work health and safety legislation. Another right is to be paid for our work. These rights and more also come with some responsibilities. Responsibilities such as holding a duty of care, being a fit and proper person and looking out for their safety. Our young people must hear and understand these things. We might even give them an information sheet that explains them.

Establish a professional relationship and boundary expectations with the client 

In his most excellent book “Youth Work Ethics” Professor Howard Sercombe states, “the {youth work] relationship is intentionally limited“. He goes on further to state, “It is a partnership in that space… in which youth worker and young person work together to heal hurts, to repair damage, to grow into responsibility an to promote new ways of being“(2010, p.11). This is one of the most useful steps in the youth work relationship as it clearly identifies to the worker and young person what can and can’t be part of the relationship. We identify timelines for support, clearly identify agreed expectations and put up barriers for protection. This has become an even more important step in Australian youth work since the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse.

Identify and manage power inequities in the professional relationship 

As youth workers we must recognise that we have power over young people. We might try to minimise its effect, but it is there. How we go about identifying this, potentially with our young people and then managing it is central to being able to build and maintain out relationship. One key way to do this well is to have regular supervision where you are challenged about this.

Apply principles of ethical decision-making in working with young people

Having a code of ethics is a really important step for professional youth work. However the document is useless unless it is put into practice. As youth workers we need ethical decision-making frameworks to help us navigate the murky waters of youth work practice. One clear decision imperative is that our young people are our primary consideration, or as the training package puts it we work with the young person as the focus. We are big fans of Virtue Ethics at Ultimate youth Worker and we use this extensively in our work, however there are a number of ethical decision frameworks that can help us to put our young people at the centre of our decision making processes.


If we are to take youth work to the heights of professionalism we must be able to identify what makes us unique. One of the very clear practices that sets us apart is how we view those we work with. Not as helpless clients but as young people free to determine their futures. For us to engage respectfully with them it must not be from a stance of the all knowing adult. We often say to youth workers that our job is that of a sherpa. We are a knowledgable guide who walks alongside young people and we help to carry the load occasionally while they strive to reach the top of the mountain they are climbing at the time.

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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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Podcast 041: Listen to Engage

In todays episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast, “Listen to Engage”, Aaron speaks to us about the need for youth workers to listen respectfully to their young people. One of the keys to developing respectful engagement with our young people is the skill of listening to gain understanding of how they view their experiences.

Listen to Engage

We have two ears and one mouth, so the proverb goes, so listen twice as much as you speak. As youth workers we engage in a relational profession. We speak, we listen, we engage. Unfortunately, we can sometimes forget this. We listen to inform our young people of our opinions. We refute or rebut their view of their experiences. To answer before listening is our folly and our shame. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent. For us to engage respectfully we need to put our young people at the centre of our engagement. Treat them with dignity, understand their experiences from their point of view and respect their autonomy

Six steps to good engagement

Here are a few tips that will help you to engage respectfully with your young people. When having a conversation it is extremely important to listen well.

Pay attention

It is easy for our minds to wander. If we do not pay attention it is impossible to engage well. We need to be active listeners. Use our minimal encouragers. Look them in the eyes when they make their points. Focus on what they are saying. Actively listen.

Hold your judgements

Hold your tongue, your beliefs and judgements. This is key to relational practices. What we think is not important here. It is all about being focused on the young person.

Reflect on what has been said

Take time to think. You do not have to speak straight away. Let what has been said truly sink in to your brain and heart.

Clarify

Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood. Make sure you understand what has been said. If you are unsure ask questions to clarify.

Summarise

Once you have paid attention, held your judgement, reflected on what had been said and clarified any misunderstanding this is a good time to summarise and paraphrase what has been said to make sure you have fully understood your young person.

Share

If you have done all of these things then you will have earned the right to speak into the lives of the young people.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles and training that have bearing on todays podcast:

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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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Podcast 030: Self Care in Youth Work

Self Care in Youth Work

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Self Care in Youth Work’ Aaron chats with Ex-Student Panel about self care in youth work. How do youth work practitioners leave work at work? Do relationships, boundaries and practices change when we engage in self care? What supports do youth workers need to be effective at self care? What happens when things go pear shaped?


Self Care in Youth Work

Youth work is all about relationships. We pride ourselves on being able to create and maintain positive relationships with young people where they can grow into the people they want to be. We focus so much of our attention on supporting young people by carrying their baggage while they scale their own developmental mountains. We are like Sherpas. This means we have to make sure we look out for ourselves so we can provide the best possible support (we need to be able to carry that load) to our young people.

If we don’t look after ourselves ultimately we can do more damage to our young people. Walking into the room burned out, frustrated, and with low tolerance to the difficulties life throws at us is not what our young people need from us. In order to give our best, we need to be at our best. This takes training and persistence. Self-care is not sexy. It is a long and difficult process that has its rewards in the journey and at the top of the mountain.

SO what have four youth workers learnt about self care in the day-in day-out struggles of the job after a few years in the field? How do they leave work at work and look out for their own self care?


Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles and training that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

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Before you go…

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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Debriefing after an incident

Podcast 029: Debriefing after an incident

Critical incident debrief

Critical Incident Debrief

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Online Youth Work’ Aaron chats with us about how to conduct a critical incident debrief. We look at two models and unpack how individuals and teams can best use the debriefing process to look after themselves and reflect on the best ways forward.


As youth workers we find ourselves working with young people when they are at the best and when they are in their darkest places. When they are at their best we feel a sense of pride and live on the mountaintop. When they are in their darkest place we can see them in the depths of pain and the heights of anger. In their darkest place young people can be prone to making rash decisions. Sometimes, this can lead to young people lashing out, running away or in extreme cases they may harm themselves.

When a young person lashes out or injures themselves as youth workers we find ourselves in the midst of critical incidents. We deal with the circumstances as best we can. We keep as many people safe as we can. We provide first aid to those who need it. We call on emergency services such as the police or ambulance officers as the need arises. After all is said and done we find ourselves in front of the computer. Writing up an incident report.

What could have been hours of our lives, probably on our own, whittled down to a few pages in the hands of bureaucrats. For most of us that is about where it finishes. If you are lucky you may get to chat it over with your Team Leader or Manager who may even recommend that you use an Employee Assistance Program. Unfortunately, many EAP’s do not understand the work that youth workers are involved in and the sessions end up being less than useless. What we really need in this situation is a proper critical incident debrief.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we work with many organisations to implement a strong Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) framework. We use and train others to use two different yet important models within a wider (CISM), the After Action Review and the Critical Incident Stress Debrief.

After Action Review

An After Action Review (AAR) is a process used by teams to recognise and understand the lessons learned from successes and failures, with the goal of improving future performance. It is an opportunity for a team to reflect on an incident, activity, event or task so that they can do even better the next time. AARs should be carried out with an open spirit and without blame. The Army use the phrase “leave your rank at the door” to remove blocks to involvement whilst optimising learning through the process. One member of the group facilitates, capturing results on a flip chart or in a document.

After Action Review is a form of group reflection where participants review four things:

  • what was intended
  • what actually happened
  • why it happened and
  • what was learned.

Critical Incident Stress Debrief

Critical Incident Stress Debrief is narrowly defined in scope and intent as part of a more comprehensive CISM. CISD is strategically focused on the detailed disclosure of facts, thoughts, and emotional reactions and sensory material linked to a particular traumatic event (or “incident”). It is often seen in the literature as psychological first aid and is generally carried out within 48 hours after an incident. This is not counselling or psychotherapy (however that may be part of a fully developed CISM).

The steps to a Critical Incident Stress Debrief include:

  1. Assess (audit) the impact of the critical incident on support personnel and survivors
  2. Identify immediate issues surrounding problems involving “safety” and “security”
  3. Use defusing to allow for the ventilation of thoughts, emotions, and experiences associated with the event and provide “validation” of possible reactions
  4. Predict events and reactions to come in the aftermath of the event
  5. Conduct a “Systematic Review of the Critical Incident” and its impact emotionally, cognitively, and physically on survivors. Look for maladaptive behaviours or responses to the crisis or trauma
  6. Bring “closure” to the incident “anchor” or “ground” support personnel and survivors to community resources to initiate or start the rebuilding process (help identify possible positive experiences from the event)
  7. Debriefing assists in the “re-entry” process back into the community or workplace. Debriefing can be done in large or small groups or one-to-one depending on the situation. Debriefing is not a critique but a systematic review of the events leading to, during, and after the crisis.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles and training that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
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To help out the show:

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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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Positive T-Shirts

Podcast 024: Positive T-Shirts

Founder Positive T-Shirts

Neil Milton is the founder of Positive T-Shirts which is a social enterprise-giving all profits towards preventing youth suicide. Neil is a public speaker, motivator and novice social media junky. Neil also is the General Manager for another not-for-profit working to prevent harm and abuse of children. He has worked in some of the roughest schools in Adelaide as a youth worker and has also had a stint working for life line.

His motto in life is “one day at a time”

Neil enjoys hanging out with his wife and children, also exercising, when he gets out of bed!

Positive T-Shirts

The Positive T-Shirt brand birthed in 2016 out of a passion to create t-shirts and other apparel that literally change lives as you wear it and as others see it. That’s why profits of products sold go towards preventing youth suicide.

All profits raised are donated to in2life which helps fund the training of volunteers who support young people, through their facebook group ‘coming together to prevent youth suicide‘. Donations also support school programs enabling young people with the skills needed to help their friends, who may be struggling.

In todays episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast Aaron speaks with Neil about his journey to founding Positive T-Shirts. We discuss why Neil decided to support the cause of suicide prevention and how you can get a great bit of merchandise to aid the cause.


Today’s resources

Here are links that have bearing on todays podcast.

Contact Neil and the Positive T-Shirt team

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
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To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help the podcast and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

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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ChildSafe

Podcast 022: Is your workplace ChildSafe?

Is your workplace ChildSafe?
  To support the podcast, you can donate here.

Is your workplace ChildSafe?

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Is your workplace ChildSafe?’ Aaron speaks with Neil Milton about how we as youth workers can support young people by being ChildSafe. Neil Milton is the General Manager of ChildSafe. Neil has worked as a youth worker in schools, churches and Not for Profits across Australia. He has also worked for World Vision and has his own street clothing business helping prevent youth suicide. Neil is passionate about making sure children are protected from abuse and harm and that organisations know their responsibilities in regards to child safety. Neil is a public speaker, motivator and he enjoys exercising and hanging out with his wife and kids.

In todays episode Aaron and Neil speak about the work of ChildSafe Australia and their mission to serve organisations and individuals working with children and vulnerable people, with the goal of improving their well-being and safety. We take our commitment to child safety very seriously at Ultimate Youth Worker and have used many of the resources from ChildSafe to help us in making our commitment tangible.

ChildSafe is “a harm prevention charity for the promotion of the prevention and control of behaviour that is harmful or abusive to children and young people when in the care of an organisation”. Children and young people deserve the best endeavours of an organisation towards their safety. This involves more than good intentions, or the assumption that harmful incidents will not happen. Organisations working with children are under increased community scrutiny in relation to screening workers, risk management and the quality of care they offer.

You can find more information about Neil on LinkedIn.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles and training that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, you can donate here.

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help the podcast and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.
  • Do the online ChildSafe Training

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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Non-Suicidal Self Injury

Podcast 020: Non-Suicidal Self Injury (Part One)

Non-Suicidal Self Injury
To Support the Podcast, you can donate here.

Non-Suicidal Self Injury

In this episode of the Ultimate Youth Worker Podcast ‘Non-Suicidal Self Injury Part One’ Aaron speaks with Dr. Claire Kelly about her work at Mental Health First Aid Australia and in particular her work in the space of Non-Suicidal Self Injury.

Dr Claire Kelly is the Director of Curriculum at MHFA Australia and an Honorary Fellow at Deakin University. Claire has been involved with MHFA since 2003, when she first became an instructor while completing her Doctorate at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University in Canberra, where the program was first developed. Prior to her current position, Claire was the Youth MHFA Programs Manager for 10 years and also worked on the MHFA Guidelines used to develop Edition 2 of MHFA and YMHFA. Claire’s PhD thesis was written on the mental health literacy of Australian adolescents. Her main passion is the mental health of young people and minimising the impacts that mental health problems can have on development, educational outcomes and long-term functioning. Claire has suffered episodes of depression and anxiety since adolescence, which has been a driver for this work.

In todays episode (Part One of Two) Aaron and Claire speak about Non-Suicidal Self Injury and the MHFA guidelines for non-Suicidal Self Injury developed by Mental health First Aid Australia after their ‘Delphi study’ into this area.

Professional youth workers understand that there are many young people who are hurting so bad that they self injure to deal with the turmoil. Unfortunately, not all professional youth workers know how to provide the support these young people need. Todays podcast begins to give us the tools to help the hurt and keep our young people safe.

You can find more information about Claire on LinkedIn.

Today’s resources

Here are links to some articles that have bearing on todays podcast.

Thanks for Listening!

To support the podcast, you can donate here.

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this cast with a friend or colleague.
  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

To help out the show:

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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Employment

Youth workers need employment

Youth work employment

Recently, a member of the Ultimate Youth Worker community and I had a great time of discussion after a misunderstanding. We spoke of how many in the community will be feeling the sting of the free market economy and austerity measures. That many youth workers are finding themselves out of work in the current political climate. We spoke of the need for youth workers to have gainful employment and it got me thinking about a few things.

Employment in Australia:

The average wage of a youth worker in Australia is $33k- $63k which is below the average wage in Australia of $60,892. We all know that social services work doesn’t pay a lot, but unless you are at the top end of the pay scale you are earning significantly less than the average employed Australian. Oh, and thats based on full-time employment.

Around 49,600 people are currently employed as Youth Workers in Australia. This includes those with many different job titles. This is set to increase to 62,800 people by 2019, according to the Department of Employment. So, youth work is a growing industry.

Youth work, much like the rest of the social sector, is very female dominated with 25.6% of Youth Workers being male and 74.3% female.

A large proportion of Australian Youth Workers have a Bachelor Degree qualification (32.6%) although this does not necessarily mean a degree in youth work. 56.9% have a diploma or less, and around 10.4% have post-graduate qualifications. What this tells us is that if you have postgraduate qualifications you are the top 10% of youth workers in Australia.

Professional youth work in Australia

There are a lot of youth workers in the sector who are part-time employees. However, in our experience the ones who are full-time employees are often those we would categorise as professional youth workers. These youth workers have a three year degree in youth work and are eligible for membership of a youth workers association. They have at least five years experience in the sector and have a solid network built up. These youth worker’s are rarely out of work unless they face adverse circumstances such as an organisation shutting down. When they are seeking employment they are usually on top of the recruiting pile.

Youth work is a profession which has begun to establish its place in the social services sector and youth workers have established themselves in core services (child protection, youth justice, local government). With all of this happening over the last couple of decades it is easy for youth workers to still feel like the new kid on the block. Youth work employment in Australia is strong, we shouldn’t believe otherwise.

The key take away for you reading this is get qualified. Minimum of a degree, but aim higher. Get experience, at least five years, even if it is part-time work. Five years appears to be the tipping point for people leaving the sector. Above all, build a wide network. If you only have experience in one small sliver of the youth sector you are always in danger of losing your job. If you have experience, understanding and networks across the sector you will never be at the mercy of austerity.


*The information provided on this page is from the Department of Employment’s Job Outlook website. All salary ranges are from Payscale. Where jobs are not exact matches, job areas have been used. This information is to be used as a guide only. 

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

What makes Ultimate Youth Workers unique?

Ultimate Youth Worker

Ultimate Youth Worker, eh. What makes you an Ultimate Youth Worker then?

After seventeen years in the youth sector I have had the opportunity to see the good, the bad and the ugly that can be our cohort. I have seen youth workers who should never have been allowed to start work as they were downright dangerous. I have seen youth workers who have caused more damage to their young people. I have heard of youth workers abusing young people and I have seen them jailed.

However, I have also had the privilege to see some amazing youth workers. Youth worker’s who epitomise the best of the best. Ultimate Youth Worker’s! We get asked all the time what makes a great youth worker… here are our thoughts.

Ultimate Youth Workers…

Get EDUCATED

Ultimate Youth Worker’s are always looking to grow their knowledge and skills. Professional development is good and these youth workers do it, they just need more. While many position descriptions require only minimal qualifications, Ultimate Youth Workers know that the more qualified the youth worker the better outcomes for the young people. Imagine a world where youth workers were minimally qualified if they had masters degrees (it would look kind of like the world psychologists live in).

Are PASSIONATE

There is nothing more impressive than a youth worker who really loves what they do. They beam when their young people thrive. They talk about their work positively. They see only the best in their young people. They love the profession. They are just so passionate. Great youth work organisations hire passionate people, then train them up. You can always train people. You can’t make them passionate.

Get good SUPERVISION

The largest cause of burnout within our sector is that of psychological distress. Supervision provides a conduit for communication on specific issues relating to the causes of youth worker burnout. It asks us to be open and responsive to the issues while learning and developing our skills. Ultimate Youth Worker’s seek out supervision. If they don’t get it at work they find an external supervisor to support them.

Know their VALUES

Ultimate Youth Worker’s understand that the mountaintop experiences are rare. Youth work is hard work. You need to know what will tip you over the edge. You also need to know what will keep you going in those tough times. Your vales are what anchor you to your mission. If that mission is to support young people you need to be fully aware of your values and how they will bring you down and build you up. This is key to being an Ultimate Youth Worker.

Get our core values audit now…

Do their RESEARCH

Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t just take your word for it. They never believe what they see in the media. They are curious, wonder filled people. They look at all the research out there. Journal articles, books, video, audio etc. and then they look to how to put this research into action. But, they do their research first.

GO THE EXTRA MILE

These youth worker’s are the top of the crop. The best of the bunch. By their very nature they do more. They read more. They network more. They do more to help their colleagues and clients. They just do more. This doesn’t necessarily mean they do more hours, They do more in the hours they have. For their clients, they bend over backwards. They help as much as is humanly possible.

CELEBRATE the successes

Mountain top experiences are few and far between in youth work. It is a hard slog! Every now and then a success does come our way. Ultimate Youth Worker’s celebrate these success like mad. We celebrate with the young people. We celebrate with our colleagues. We celebrate with pretty much anyone who would listen to us.

Plan their CAREER PATH

Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, it is important to realise that no one other than you is looking out for your career progression. Most youth work organisations do not do succession planning or if they do it is mainly focussed on the top job. Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t leave their career to chance. It is a well planned process. They are in the jobs they are in because it is a clear choice… not because it was the only one they could find.

Listen to our podcast on how to get started planning your career…

Understand youth work THEORY

Ultimate Youth Worker’s know what to do and when to do it. They know why they have chosen to provide a certain response over the many others they could have. They know theory and how to implement it in practice. They read and critically reflect on how to best support young people through academic research and they ask lost of questions.

Use evidence-based PRACTICE

Ultimate Youth Worker’s fully grasp the nuance of working with young people in a complex environment through best practice research. Ultimate Youth Worker’s don’t just wing it. They use facts and figures and programs that have been tested. Evidence is the key here… show me it works.

Look after their SELF CARE

Ultimate Youth Worker’s know that the most important thing they can do for their client has nothing to do with their client at all. They plan to look after themselves. Self care is a requirement for great youth work. It builds longevity. It helps us to slow down and take care of the carer. As a good friend of ours says its putting the oxygen mask on before we help anyone else.

They act with EMPATHY

Ultimate Youth Worker’s walk a hundred miles in the shoes of every one of their young people. They put themselves into the situations their young people are facing and they FEEL what their young people feel. In feeling this they show genuine compassion and a sense of esprit de corps with with the young people we serve.

Recognise youth work as a PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP

Youth work is a professional relationship in a contested environment. As Howard Sercombe says, “It is a partnership within that space – a covenant… in which youth worker and young person work together to heal hurts, to repair damage, to grow into responsibility, and to promote new ways of being“. Ultimate Youth Worker’s recognise the relational aspect of the work as well as the professional boundaries that entails.

Seek to have personal EXCELLENCE

Ultimate Youth Worker’s want to be the best. Second best isn’t in their mindset. Personal excellence is the standard to which they they hold themselves. When there is something they can do better, you can bet they will be working on it. there motto: “Good, Better, Best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best“.

They have an answer to THE YOUTH WORK QUESTION

Ultimate Youth Worker’s answer the youth work question by saying they want to see young people supported by people who care and are well trained. they want to see young people reach their potential. They see a future world where young people are seen and dealt with justly. These youth worker put young people first in all their thinking.

They are LEADERS

When you are in a pinch it is an Ultimate Youth Worker who gives you the advice to help you get over the line. They may be a manager, team leader of senior youth worker… they might even be a fresh faced newbie. Ultimate Youth Worker’s are the ones others turn to for advice because they are the best. Other youth worker’s look to Ultimate Youth Worker’s and that is what makes them leaders.

They BUILD THE NEXT GENERATION of youth workers

Every organisation that employs youth workers should mentor them. Every professional association should develop the potential in every new youth worker that joins them. Most of all it should become part of our core responsibilities as youth workers to the stability of the sector. Ultimate Youth Workers seek out new youth workers to mentor. They give them opportunities to learn and grow and fail safely. They build the next generation of youth workers to be the best.

Their work is framed in SOCIAL JUSTICE

Ultimate Youth Workers realise that the world just is not fair… They see it every day. In their work they seek to bring justice to every situation. They look to restore people to dignity and provide honour due to them as people. They believe that justice is for everyone even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. Social justice means that everyone must be treated justly, and Ultimate Youth Worker’s strive to do this every day.

They are POLITICAL activists

Youth work is political. We spend much of our time helping young people navigate the systems imposed on them by politicians. We advocate to politicians to change the systems which oppress the young people we work with. Ultimate Youth Worker’s take it to the next level. They know how to advocate and to who. They lead protests. They train young people to advocate for themselves. They have the numbers of their local politicians in their speed-dial and they are known by those who would pick up the phone.

They are AUDACIOUS

Ultimate Youth Worker’s take surprisingly bold moves. They are canny outlaws and world changers. They do not take the world at status quo, they seek to change it for the better. They take calculated risks to see grand outcomes for their young people. They never accept things the way they are. They dream of a better future.


These are just a few of the things we see from the best of the best, the Ultimate Youth Worker’s. How do you stack up?

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 youth workers can’t live without?

Youth Worker

This post started as a bit of tongue in cheek discussion with a good friend about what youth workers can’t live without that led to a facebook question (which became very real, very quickly) and ended with me writing this down. What do you think about this list? What are we missing?

Coffee (or Tea)

Many years ago I stated unequivocally that Ultimate Youth Workers drink coffee like it is our life blood. The avalanche of vitriol that came my way from our friends in the United Kingdom was phenomenal. So from then on I have begrudgingly allowed tea in the mix. To be sure I have often wondered how youth workers would get anything done before we have our first cup of love.

A good compendium

Youth workers are often seen as less professional than others when we arrive at meetings. We dress like young people, we usually have a cup of coffee in our hand and when we sit down at these meetings we have a crappy note pad and a ten cent biro in our hand. Well if that doesn’t scream professional, nothing will. Buy a good compendium, it holds a legal pad, there are good ones for $30 on amazon (and don’t forget a decent pen… spend at least $2).

Games supplies

I was reminded of a post by our good friend James Ballantyne at Learning from the Streets and some of the stuff that clutters up a youth workers car. In my own car I have two frisbees, a basketball, a tennis ball or three, a cricket bat, multiple decks of cards (including a 500 deck, Uno and Skip-Bo), a few empty water bottles, a ream of different coloured paper and every colour Sharpie you can imagine. With these tools I can create the most imaginative games under the most extreme circumstances.

A go bag

In military terms a go bag is a bag of goodies that will sustain you in a crisis. When I worked as a casual residential worker I would get a phone call an hour before they needed me. I still have a go bag in my car for just such an emergency. My bag is a basic duffle bag (similar to this) and has in it:

  • A full change of clothes
  • a few snacks, a couple of meals, a few sachets of coffee
  • A towel and a toiletry bag with all I need
  • A small first aid kit (With any medication I might need)

I also keep a sleeping bag and a pillow in my car so if I need to do a sleep over shift I am always ready to go.

Someone to download with

You need to be able to debrief in this job. If you don’t you are on a slippery slope to burnout. You need to have a mentor who you can go to and just ask any questions. You need a supervisor who can support you as a person, a practitioner and a professional. You need to have someone who understands the job, you and the pressures you are under.

Qualifications

When I started as a youth worker I had no qualifications. I didn’t know anything , I didn’t know any better and my bosses didn’t really give me any training to bring me up to speed. I had to work it out myself. That is the worst possible position for a new youth worker to be in. I made dozens of stupid mistakes that could have been avoided.

In 2005 I began a degree in youth work almost four years after I started as a youth worker. What I learnt over the next three years set me up to provide the best service possible to young people. Since that time I have gone on to do many more qualifications, I taught in TAFE and in Higher Ed and I have come to the conclusion that the best way for youth workers to learn how to do the job.

A network

One of my mantras for my students is build your network. I say it so often some of my students will joke that I have a network for everything. The simple fact is that youth workers get things done because of the people we know. Join LinkedIn (you can add me first). Every time you meet someone get their card and add them to your contacts. Join some groups on facebook.

A Self Care Plan

You must, YOU must, YOU MUST have a self care plan if you want to survive in youth work. It isn’t something that you can just wing. You must have a plan that covers the main areas of life and it must be written down. You need to review it ever three to six months to see how you are going.

We believe in this one so much we have dedicated a vast number of blogposts and our first podcast episode to having a self care plan.

A hobby outside Youth Work

Youth work can become our life. We love it. It’s rewarding. But it can also suck the life right out of you. In my career I have seen a bunch of youth workers run themselves so hot that they burnt out. If your life is only about one thing you are in trouble. Youth workers need to have a hobby outside of youth work. Something that has nothing to do with youth work in any way.

A good book

Youth workers are readers, at least we all should be. In our bags we should have with us a good book every day. When I was in direct practice on a daily basis I lost count of how many hours I lost sitting in waiting rooms with young people. After a good 30 to 45 minutes we would end up sitting staring at a wall or if we were really lucky a tv. Have a book with you. Read, Read, Read.

A good suit (or equivalent)

We do love a snug pair of jeans and a sweet hoodie as youth workers. It’s our uniform. However, there are times that our uniform doesn’t work for us or our young people. When I worked with the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner I spent much of my time with young people in residential care, resi workers and volunteers who would have thought a three piece suit was out of character. I would then end up in Meetings with senior public servants and managers from not for profit organisations where a suit was the uniform.

You will go to court for your young people, you will attend funerals and if you are really lucky you might get invited to a wedding. You need a suit.


Well that is the list. What do you think? What else should be added?

Leave a comment below.

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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