Revisiting the Queensland Definition of Youth Work, Youth Affairs Conference, August 2014


More on what to expect at the 2014 State Youth Affairs Conference

There are two types of youth workers – those on the ground and those who sit in the office. We need the office-sitters to write things up well but they also need to remain true to what’s happening on the ground.

– Regional Murri Youth Worker – Qld What is Youth Work Consultations, 2012

It’s now several years since I traveled around Queensland with Steve Fisher, listening to youth workers from varied regions and in diverse roles explaining what makes their work unique and what they considered essential to be included in defining youth work across Queensland. We held separate workshops for Murri workers and ended up with key information from Murris to the rest of the sector about the similarities and the differences in the way we all work. Face to face workshops were followed up with an on-line survey and in 2012, YANQ formally endorsed the first Queensland definition of youth work. See <link>

The definition emphasises youth rights, empowerment, practical support, youth centered practice (including young people entering into voluntary relationships with service providers), promoting strengths and change, culturally based practice and working ethically. All the youth workers who contributed to the definition were emphatic about their work being “values based”. Murri youth workers decided to endorse the general statement and added statements about respecting and working from accepted cultural protocols, accepting that this may be different to “usual” practice, honouring the different place of family and clan and the expectation that non-Indigenous workers would do their utmost to support Murri colleagues and to work appropriately with young Murris.

It was difficult to capture the passion with which contributors spoke about young people and their work and to write up the definition in clear English. A lot of workers, especially from Murri or rural/remote communities, said they were completely fed up with “jargon” and many commented on interference from funding bodies or from within their own management which prevented them from working in ways they knew actually worked for young people. Anything from limitations on home visits couched as “OH&S requirements” but interpreted by staff as “checking up on us” to being unable to record extra or different information to the restricted set included in a government constructed data base to having reduced capacity to provide “practical support” (e.g. bus fares, food vouchers, clothes). Some also spoke of deeper concerns – pressure to divulge personal information or break confidentiality with young people, programs which linked young people into involuntary relationships with workers and the subsequent difficulty in developing the sort of working relationship most likely to benefit the young person, restricted service criteria which limited the amount or type of contact young people were able to have with them…

Despite all this, many of the youth workers I listened to impressed me greatly with their determination to keep on working ethically and on acceptable terms to young people, along with their preparedness and ability to think so clearly about what was essential to include in defining their work and sector.

Several years on from this, after massive cuts to youth services by the Queensland NLP government and now the Feds, it is timely to touch base with the definition again. Does it adequately reflect our aspirations as youth workers and for young people? Is there any way of strengthening it to support our remaining NGOs and allies to uphold the qualities, skills and knowledge developed over the past 25+ years which we accept as indispensable in ensuring we can fulfill our purpose: i.e “to resource and support young people who want help to access, navigate and make the best of their life choices.” What can we do as youth workers and what can we request of workers with young people (e.g. diversionary workers, teachers, statutory care workers, etc) to support grass roots youth work? Where do our varied roles intersect and how can we work together to ensure the very things which are most valued by young people about youth work aren’t eroded and replaced by the very things young people mistrust or dislike about other approaches? How can we keep young people in the center of our responses?

I’m looking forward to revisiting the state definition of youth work during workshops at the YANQ conference and considering how it may be used to strengthen support for and understanding of Youth Work across Queensland. And I can’t wait to hear more from Tony Taylor about the UK experience and what we Aussies might be able to learn from this.

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