Youth workers contribute to the well being and development of young people. Good youth work is demanding because young people have complicated lives and many of them face most challenging circumstances.
Youth work essentially helps young people to develop resourcefulness, resilience and resolve through relationships with their peers, with youth workers and with other adults. Thereby they can respond more effectively to opportunities and risks.
The work is done in a supportive environment which provides time and space for young people to be:
- safe – from harm, hurt (emotional), fear, failure, pressure to conform;
- reflective (of self and others) so as to think about the reasons for their situations and feelings; and the consequences of their decisions and actions; and
- active by taking part in
(a) conversations and discussions where they can express their views and
(b) activities which are fun, which they enjoy and through which they achieve.
Through youth work experiences and activities, young people make sense and meaning of their experience; and find their voice and make choices, accepting the consequences of both.
Youth workers are there in the present, in the here and now, taking young people as they are, on their terms and dealing with whatever they bring. Youth workers act in the interests of young people in the sense that they are:
(a) trusted because they listen attentively, befriend, offer confidence, do not judge, respond
and reflect; they hold a mirror to young people’s experience that provides perspective by both looking back to consider causes and antecedents and looking forward to anticipate consequences; and
(b) adults who
- inform, advise and signpost where appropriate;
- provide wise counsel;
- advocate on behalf of;
- challenge; and
- maintain boundaries.
To do this youth workers deploy a range of professional skills, knowledge and instincts and display the same characteristics they are seeking to elicit in the young people they work with. These are not easily come by. Indeed, they are won by a combination of experience and training that stretches the mind and the imagination and asks questions that often have serious psychological, ethical and political implications.
Ultimately, youth workers make a stand alongside young people and, in doing so, occupy uncomfortable territory where continuity and change meet; where young people confront adults with their legacy with all its contradictions, imperfections and complexities; and rightly ask for something better. In seeking to strike a better deal for the generation coming through and in striving for a fairer society, youth work is essentially concerned with social justice. That is a prize worth winning.