It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between Youth Work and other youth-related professions as many of Youth Work’s defining characteristics, values, and principles are similar to other occupations. For example, as described in the article, a youth worker must guide youths by “[Enabling] young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, to enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential” (Thompson, Westwood,Wood, 2015, p. 2).Though this definition successfully describes some of the defining characteristics of the Youth Work profession, it fails to specify what makes the profession different from other youth-related occupations. A youth social worker can help their clients “develop holistically,” and a teacher can facilitate their students’ “personal, social, and educational development” and “enable them to reach their full potential” (Thompson, Westwood, Wood, 2015, p. 2). What makes Youth Work unique, however, can be best described by the seven characteristics that are not only central to the profession, but are often unique to the trade.
Youth Work is an Educational Practice
As opposed to the type of education that is often present in schools, Youth Work educational practices are more informal. Education is less based on curricula or pre- “determined learning outcomes” (Thompson, Westwood, Wood, 2015, p. 2). It is, instead, fostered by establishing open, trusting relationships between youth workers and youths and by creating environments that encourage learning. In some instances, however, youth workers must lead programs–or work for organizations–where more formal educational practices are necessary. An example of this would be a sex education program. It is the youth worker’s job to find innovative and creative ways to communicate this information through games, art-based projects, and other creative activities.
Youth Work is a Social Practice
Is not uncommon for youth workers to work one-on-one with youths, however, in the profession, it is often preferable to work with groups rather than individuals. By working with groups, youth workers can foster collectivism and create comfortable, open environments for youths where they are able to “test their values, attitudes, and behaviors” with others (Thompson, Westwood, Wood, 2015, p. 2). An example of this type of environment is my youth development class, a place where working in groups and collectivism are often encouraged. This, in turn, creates an open, comfortable environment where my peers and I can freely express our values, attitudes, and behaviors.
Youth Workers Actively Challenge Inequality and Work Toward Social Justice
Youth workers’ jobs go beyond just educating youths about the impacts of oppression and inequality. They also include empowering youths by addressing power imbalances and teaching youths how to challenge oppressive circumstances.
New Urban Arts artist mentor
working with a student
Is not always possible for youths to freely choose to be part of a program, especially if the program is run in a school or is a court mandate. However, youth programs are run on a voluntary basis for the most part. This means that youths are allowed to participate in programs and become members of groups of their own choosing. Of all the youth programs that I have visited, New Urban Arts best exemplifies this trait. In this program, youths are not only in charge of deciding whether they want to be a part of the program, but they are also in charge of creating their own curricula. They decide which art project they would like to work on, and they choose which art teacher they want to work with.
Youth Work Seeks to Strengthen the Voice and Influence of Young People
One of the main jobs of youth workers is to empower youth and to encourage them to positively affect their environments. In order to foster empowerment and inspire change, youth workers must first educate youths by fostering democratic knowledge and promoting democratic behavior.
Youth Work is a Welfare Practice
Another important characteristic of Youth Work is the focus on the welfare and protection of youths. Youth workers should always advocate for the well being of young people. This is a significant and important practice as many youth workers often work with at-risk youths or youths living in disadvantaged areas.
Youth Work Works with Young People “Holistically”
Young people often encounter challenges and obstacles that are complex and particular to them. Working with youth “holistically” means that the youth worker understands the diversity of these problems and the complexity of the individual rather than trying to define said individual by a single issue.