01 February 2016
I have done jobs in the past where young people have to come and see me, it’s compulsory, there are consequences if they don’t. But I work in a role now where engagement with me and my team is voluntary. Young people don’t have to speak to me, it’s a choice, and I tell them as much. I tell them “you can tell me to go away, to stop asking you questions, and to mind my business.” Yet they never do… They smile at me, laugh and say “nah, it’s cool I want to talk to someone, and I’d never be that rude.”
I think that is the point of good youth work… It’s about the people and the relationships you are able to build, and as I’ve said before it’s about experiences. You give the young person choices and empower them to make the right one. It’s about being open and honest and not having preconceptions about the people that you are coming into contact with. It’s about kindness, fairness, boundaries, discipline, understanding, empathy and cultural competency… Not in the obvious they speak a different language, are from a different country or I know about their religion type of cultural competence. I am not dismissing these things and think they are relevant and important. But I am talking about a cultural competency that allows you to have an understanding and respect for the different subcultures that exist within our own cultures. I am talking about a competency that allows you to be open minded, that allows you to learn from your young people. A competency that does not dismiss, label or deem their way of life as wrong or bad, but allows you to have a dialogue and a mutual exchange that enables you to open their mind to learning about other ways of life that could lead to positive change. I am talking about a cultural competency that gives you access to motivate inspire and generate a sense of pride and self-worth. That type of competency does not come from just being able to speak a common language it comes from a common understanding and an awareness of self. A recognition of how you are perceived and understood by others, and sometimes that understanding is about being honest about the fact that you don’t understand, but demonstrating that you have a desire to want to. That type of cultural competency is a skill that needs to be developed and is usually born from experiences, personal and professional, but, it is powerful.
For me good youth work is all about the person in front of me. I am working on behalf of my young person so my work is bespoke to their individual needs. Just as no two adults are the same, neither are two young people. Everyone has their own reasons for being where they are, how they are, and with who they are with. My role is not to tell them they are right or wrong, my job is to equip them with the skills to be able to see the difference between right and wrong… But How? What’s the answer? For me it’s RESPECT, for each and every person I come into contact with. No matter the circumstances in which we are introduced. I model how I want them to behave by how I treat them. Lead by example. People mirror people.
You can read books and look at what the evidence and research suggests, that’s great and very important; I wouldn’t have studied and got qualified if I didn’t think it was. For me the qualification was about credibility, my credibility in the field. It was evidence that I could do what I knew I could do deep down, and I am still learning daily.
I remember hearing on a training course once that we need to have respect for evidence, and that respect includes practice based evidence and not just evidence based practice. They went on to explain that every day front line workers have experiences and do things that are amazing and that work and those ideas need to be given as much respect as the things that have been researched and evaluated.
I feel that youth workers daily are developing new and innovative ways of engaging, forming and sustaining relationships that are transforming lives. They provide supplementary care and services to fill the gaps where the people, places, services or finances that are supposed to ensure the welfare and needs of young people are met are unable to do so. Often they do so with little recognition or reward. What makes them great is that they do it because they know deep down what is needed and they care. They believe in change, they have understanding for the different stages that people are at and respect the different paces that people might need to move at to make change happen.