The idea of Youth Work is related to young people and their interests. A youth worker is someone who works with young people and focuses on their personal as well as social and educational development in an informal manner. In Youth Work, the focus is on the young person and their interests, not in the potential that we see in them. This involves the young person making their own decisions. How much they wish to engage with the youth worker is also up to them. Youth workers are professionals who undergo some amount of training so that they are better equipped to deal with a wide range of issues, though some specialise in one specific area as well. These areas include family conflicts, substance use and abuse, sexual assault, employment and other areas of life.
Youth workers can be found by contacting any local youth centre. They are present in every area. Many local communities employ youth workers as well and one can easily look for them online.
From the above explanation, we can assess that certain values form the core of youth work. These include - preparing the youth for participation, acting as an educator when needed, inclusivity and self-expression. All of this ultimately leads to empowerment. The core value that I will be focusing on is the role of participation.
The core of youth work culture relies on young people's voluntary engagement and participation in various projects and endeavours (Davies, 2005). Youth workers are responsible for young people getting involved in various issues and aspects which affect life. Having a say in matters, indulging in meaningful participation, getting involved in the process of decision making and through all of this, recognising and nurturing their strengths, interests and abilities.
The point of participation and engagement is to primarily provide young people with a place to go and for activities to indulge in so that they feel a sense of belongingness as well as not give in to distractions and risky behaviour. It is through taking part that one develops relevant skills that contribute to the overall development of one's personality. Studies confirm that there exists an association between participation in activities involving decision making and the development of relevant abilities in planning community services. (Wong et al., 2010)
The stages of participation usually are - young people making contact with the youth worker, thereby getting access to information and opportunities. Over time, as their confidence grows, they establish new relationships, become more engaged, express their views and ideas, feel more included and thereby contribute more to the projects and programmes. This causes them to take up more responsibility, becoming independent and confident in their skills. Thus, participation plays a major part in personal development.
There are many key principles which are the driving force behind youth work. Some of them include - equality, acceptance, inclusion, diversity, sense of belief in one's value system and promoting young people.
Inclusion is one of the most important key principles of youth work. It involves creating an environment that invites participation and values the voices of everyone involved. Speaking specifically on youth work, inclusion here would imply that the youth have potential, are worthy, valued and treated with dignity, irrespective of religion, culture and background. Actively working towards Inclusion is thus, a major aspect of youth work. By calling youth work an inclusive practice, we are implying that we are making young people from all walks of life - be it from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to those coming from broken families to also young people with disabilities - feel welcomed, provide opportunities to participate and take positive steps towards self-development. However, in youth work, one may have to deal with biases from time to time and take responsibility to create a safe and accepting environment for the youth.
Usually, youth work aims to reach out to marginalized young people. Several studies have shown that participation in youth-led clubs is associated with community connectedness and civic engagement (Russell et al., 2010). It is through the culture of acceptance and promotion of inclusivity that ultimate empowerment can be achieved.
Though a youth worker does not need any formal training or a degree to practice, there are certain skills, however, that they need to employ to be good mentors to the young people. These include good listening skills, fostering feelings of togetherness, identification as well as a resolution of issues faced by the youth such as inequality. Youth workers must also be respectful and have the best interests of the young people at heart. The skills focused on here is listening skills, communication skills and empathy. Somehow all of these skills seem interconnected.
Listening is a social activity, practised across many professional occupations. It is an extremely important skill to have as a youth worker. Attentive listening is mutually beneficial to both participants as, it increases understanding as well as provide social support (Thorsheim and Roberts, 1995). Workers have suggested that listening to young people creates a better sense of appreciation of their concerns, leading to more appropriate responses to their needs. Attentive listening helps build relationships and provide support in young lives. Committing to young people by listening to them and building supportive relationships lies at the heart of good youth work practice (Pope, 2016).
Like attentive listening, empathy is also an important skill to possess. Empathy helps the youth worker feel what the young people are feeling by putting themselves in their shoes. Thus, it helps the youth workers gain a better perspective of the issues faced by the youth today and equipped with the better understanding they can resolve these issues efficiently. Through empathy, better insight can be gained into the motives and needs of the youth - what they want to achieve, what are their biggest roadblocks, what kind of methods would help them get past these obstacles - thus not only helping the youth worker understand the situation better but also come up with solutions that would be most effective and tailor-made as per the individual.
Communication skills are of extreme importance for a youth worker. The ability to get ideas and opinions across to the youth is not easy. But, with clear and efficient communication skills the worker is better able to get through to the young people they are dealing with. Good communication skills will enable young people to sit up and take notice of the youth workers' ideas. Confident speech can also do the job of inspiring the youth.
A youth worker should not be confused with a counsellor or a case manager. A youth worker is someone who focuses on only young people. They help facilitate the social, educational, and personal development of the youth through a series of informal approaches.
A counsellor, on the other hand, is a trained professional dealing with and providing guidance concerning personal and psychological problems. Also, a counsellor deals with people from all she's groups, not just young people. Counsellors have completed their formal education and have degrees of expertise on their subject, something which youth workers do not necessarily have. To be a youth worker, one needs to be emphatic, have good listening skills and the best intentions of the young people at heart. Hence, counselling is not the same as youth work.
A case manager is someone who assesses, monitors and provides management of illnesses that are either chronic or recurring. They even provide support services and rehabilitation. Case managers too, unlike youth workers, require clinical training and expertise. They work with people from all age groups, not exclusively with the youth.
Youth work is an important and relevant aspect of many people's lives. It contributes to the development of young people by building their self-esteem and confidence. It helps develop their ability to make and maintain social relationships, create opportunities to learn and develop new skills. Youth work encourages an atmosphere that is inclusive, diverse, accepting and positive. Young people involved in youth work projects and activities eventually make better decisions and take up leadership roles in future. Needless to say, the experience is an enriching one.
Youth workers serve as role models for young people. They must be exposed to the right kind of models because they are highly impressionable. Being involved in youth work makes young people realise that they too have a voice, are in a safe space where they can speak up and they will be heard without judgement and will be accepted for who they are.
Apart from contributing to personal and social development as well as providing a safe environment, youth work helps foster relationships, a sense of community and belongingness. There also exists a sense of appreciation that young people experience being a part of such initiatives.
Nowadays young people have a lot of exposure to various avenues. They have accessibility to things which may or may not be good for them. They are impressionable which makes them vulnerable to at-risk behaviours, making them susceptible to negative consequences in future, such as poor health, injury or even death. The personalities of young individuals have not completely developed. This makes them more vulnerable to making poor decisions and not thinking about long term consequences. Common risky behaviours include substance abuse (drugs, alcohol and tobacco), violence and petty crimes, sexual behaviour resulting in STDs and unwanted pregnancies. In my opinion, one of the biggest risks that young people face today is the accessibility to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and the subsequent abuse of these substances.
A youth worker serves as a role model for the youth, can influence young minds, swaying them in the right direction. They create opportunities where young people can be themselves, be open, expressive and learn about themselves in the process. It shouldn't come as a surprise that many youth workers work with substance users, such as drug addicts. Workers also talk about substance abuse issues with young people who may not be users, to encourage them to make better choices. The main aim of youth work is the welfare of the youth and keeping this sentiment in mind, the youth workers, without passing judgement, will educate the young people about the ill effects of drug use, how to make better decisions and battling addiction in a safe and accepting environment, through dialogue and communication. Youth workers will try to get the young person in trouble to acknowledge that they have a problem and they should get timely help for the same - maybe check into an s rehabilitation centre or join group counselling. For implementing these measures, youth workers may even be required to closely work with a counsellor or social worker. The youth worker will be required to juggle many roles - listener, educator, motivator, mentor and role model - for the welfare and development of the young person under his watch.
To summarise, under present circumstances the young people are extremely vulnerable to the ills of the world. They may not have positive models within their families or other social circles and that is where the concept of youth work comes in and helps. Youth work is extremely relevant. It helps young people develop socially as well as personally and gives them the confidence to face challenges in everyday situations. It may also encourage them to someday become youth workers themselves and help shape the lives of other young people. Though youth workers are different from counsellors and case managers, they share similar motives, such as the welfare of those who are placed under their care. By donning many hats, along with some patience and concern for welfare youth workers touch many lives, make a difference and bring about positive changes in the lives of young people everywhere.
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