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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The question of qualifications.

Since our last post our Director of Operations has been fielding questions that usually started with ‘so you think anyone can be a youth worker…?’! These conversations often led to a discussion around the idea of minimum qualifications for youth workers and a subsequent frustrating discussion on what that would look like.
For the record we thought it would be worth trying to articulate our company position which we began to do in our last article. We asked our Director of Operations to spell it out.
We DO believe that Youth Workers should have qualifications. The higher the better!!! We do not believe that setting a minimum qualification is the answer. Minimum standards do not set a bar of excellence but a ‘just scrape through’ mentality. Here in Victoria this happened in the drug and alcohol sector when the sector settled for 5 units from a Certificate IV as their standard because many people who were practicing had a Certificate IV or less. If we set the minimum qualification at a bachelor degree as many want to in Victoria and as has happened in Ireland then we would be alienating over %75 of the current youth sector which without legislative support would just lead to a hierarchy of staff in organisation in the same vein as the professional/volunteer dichotomy present in Ireland.
We DO believe that a tiered system of qualifications and responsibilities needs to be implemented alongside a professional association which requires ongoing professional development for membership. If you are un-qualified then you should have less responsibility than someone with a Masters degree. But if you are employed as a youth worker you should be required to meet stringent professional development levels throughout your career to be allowed to practice. If you are employed as a youth worker you must be required to develop your professional understanding to maintain employment. 
We DO NOT believe that implementing a minimum qualification level will make the youth sector any more professional. The best most professional youth worker I know is a plumber by qualification. He may not know all the theories but he is always on the hunt for good professional development and training. He attends forums and is involved in many practice groups and looks for opportunities to better his practice and that of his organisation. Conversely, one of the degree qualified youth workers I trained with has not attended professional development training in over five years, is not a member of any professional groups and is by all accounts a mediocre youth worker at the best of times… and he manages a medium sized youth service. Qualifications do not make a professional.
As I was sitting in Macca’s on the weekend watching my kids play on the playground I started thinking about how I was going to approach this article. when my wife brought out our food I looked at the tray mat which showed a career progression graph with roles, responsibilities and training requirements to make it up the McDonald’s ladder. It fit the model that we at Ultimate Youth Worker believe should be implemented perfectly. Qualifications scaffold your ability to move up the ladder from Certificate I through to Higher Degrees. Experience in each area of responsibility builds opportunity for advancement. Ongoing development is a requirement for continued employment. You are always learning and always being prepared for the next level of the career path. You never stay as an un-qualified person you get trained or you are let go.
One of our friends mentioned that for this to happen dollars need to be spent and opportunities need to be available. It means that professional development needs to become a BUDGET REQUIREMENT rather than a reluctant line item. It means professional development must meet the needs of the sector and focus on CONTINUING development rather than just rehashing material you would learn in a Certificate IV level course. It mean that the profession needs to endorse a process rather that a dead end. Not just an endorsement like the lip service of the past but one where funding agreements are littered with the notion of ongoing staff development, where professional associations run more training than the universities and where youth workers aspire to be better than the minimum standard.
Qualifications are important, however ongoing professional development is more so. Sector wide funding for ongoing professional development is sparse at best and if we can not get it right no level of qualification will ever be enough. For the record we believe that setting a minimum qualification would diminish a focus on excellence rather than build it. We believe that there needs to be a clear career progression path for staff in the sector and qualifications need to match duty levels. The Sector needs to step up and provide opportunities for development and this requires a dedicated effort and funding.
We have much more to add to this discussion and will continue to speak on our view for the future.

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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 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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Relational youth work

The importance of good professional supervision

Over the course of my career I have had over a dozen supervisors throughout half a dozen or so specialities. Some of these supervisors were Youth Workers, some Social Workers, some Pastors and some drug and alcohol workers. Their qualifications had ranged from Diploma level to Masters degrees and one had no formal welfare qualifications at all. Not an unknown factor to those of us in the youth sector.

In Australia there is no requirement for a supervisor to have a professional qualifications. As a Degree qualified Youth Worker and soon to be Masters qualified Social Worker I have never attended a class on supervision, i have never heard a lecture on what constitutes good supervision practice and i have never had a supervisor who had either. At best my supervisors had attended a 2 day course in supervision and at worse my supervisors had less than a year more experience in the field than i had. So if there are only a few courses for supervisors and most of these less than a week long, how do you become a good supervisor???

The best supervisors I have had came from both ends of the spectrum. One was a qualified Social Worker with over a decade of experience who regularly attended courses on supervision. The other was a Youth Worker who had no qualifications but was an avid reader of supervision texts and attended every professional development opportunity focussed on supervision. The skill set that both of these supervisors had in common was and eager appetite to better their own practice as supervisors and a great ability to listen. The styles they used were different, the theoretical focus wide and varied and the outcomes specific to the needs of myself and my clients.

Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice“.

Do your supervisors support your development? If not you might be in the market for an external supervisor! What ever your situation if you want longevity in the sector studies show that you need a good supervisor.

Apply for supervision today

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 for audacious Ultimate Youth Workers

Over the past two days I have attended the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVIC) ConnectFor conference in Melbourne. During this time I was surrounded by many amazing youth workers who passed on knowledge and many researchers who called us to action. Most of all the young people, many of who had been in the child protection system, called us to CHANGE the sector for them.

Charles Leadbeater stated that we don’t need to give young people more education, but better and different education. He went on to say that we need more innovators… people who are bonkers and creative to change the system. He went on to state we need to stop doing things ‘to & for’ and start doing things ‘with & by’ young people in our practice. Finally he urged us to assume ambition & capability in young people.

Professor Mark Rose urged the Youth Workers to be AUDACIOUS if the face of overwhelming trends.he also urged us to not let political correctness get in the way of doing good work. finally he urged educators to provide high quality education as it is through education that people’s minds are opened to the future.

Dr Hilary Tierney discussed the state of the youth sector in Ireland with a focus on how it is working towards professionalisation. She spoke of how the Irish youth sector is legislated as a ‘Voluntary’ sector; meaning that young people volunteer to attend, adults volunteer to staff services and organisations are voluntarily managed and funded. The main gist of the presentation was that Ireland is struggling with all the same questions about professionalising that Australia and many other countries are. Amazing seminar!!!

After many years of work Mr Bill Scales AO presented the finding of the Vulnerable Youth Inquiry. He stated that a child born in Victoria has a 1 in 4 chance of being referred to Child Protection and that the economic cost of child abuse in Victoria is over $1.6 Billiion. He spoke of the need for an independent monitor for the vulnerable children in Victoria and how youth workers need to do their job WELL as it is critically important to the success of the sector.

Prof. Rob White spoke of the need for youth workers to be frontline warriors in times of change. He stated that the key attribute of a Youth Worker is their identity first and foremost as Youth Workers. He went on to say that the need for Youth Workers to be treated as whole people would reduce burnout with the need to continue professional development for longevity in the field.

It was today that the government announced that they were going to consult with the youth sector on the need to professionalise.

Finally, a group of young people asked us to BELIEVE in them. They asked us to be CONSISTENT and they asked us to be more EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT.

At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that the sector is seeking a change. Youth Workers are seeking to be more than they have been and expecting their peers to be more than they had been taught in their courses. The winds of change are blowing, lets make the youth sector the most professional, emotionally intelligent and AUDACIOUS sector in Australia.

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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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