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It's time: A case for the professionalisation of youth work



Michael Emslie argues that the time is right for youth work in Australia to be professionalised in line with other human service practices such as nursing, education and psychology. He identifies a groundswell of activities that support the professionalisation of youth work and a concurrent growth in high-level interest in strengthening social and community services. He argues that this context presents an opportune time to professionalise youth work. Emslie provides reasons why it is imperative to regulate and monitor the youth sector as a profession, and explains how professionalisation will help address the critical shortage of qualified youth practitioners and also improve the quality of service young people receive.
16 Youth Studies Australia VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 2012
by Michael Emslie espite decades of reports on institutions, policies and interventions failing young
Australians, the youth sector in Australia, unlike other human service practices,
is not regulated. Unlike teachers, nurses or psychologists, youth workers are not
required to complete an accredited qualication before they can practice, and they do not need
to register with a professional body that recognises their credentials. There are no uniform
standards of practice or ongoing professional development expectations, and no formal
complaints mechanism to deal with breaches of conduct. In other words, youth work is largely
uncredentialed and unregulated, and has not been professionalised.
This article follows on from earlier discussions about the professionalisation of the youth
sector, and argues that it is timely and important to professionalise youth work now (Barwick
2006; Bessant 2004; Corney, Broadbent & Darmanin 2009; Grogan 2004; Sercombe et al. 2002).
I discuss a range of current “on the ground” and high-level activities that represent a critical
watershed for the development of youth work as a profession. I also present reasons why the
professionalisation of youth work is urgently needed and these include to help alleviate the
prevailing threats to youth work education and to improve the quality of service that young
people receive. Possible obstacles to professionalisation and ways of addressing these are
also identied. This article will be of interest to policymakers, researchers, practitioners and
Michael Emslie argues that the time is right for youth work in Australia
to be professionalised in line with other human service practices such
as nursing, education and psychology. He identies a groundswell
of activities that support the professionalisation of youth work and a
concurrent growth in high-level interest in strengthening social and
community services. He argues that this context presents an opportune
time to professionalise youth work. Emslie provides reasons why it is
imperative to regulate and monitor the youth sector as a profession, and
explains how professionalisation will help address the critical shortage
of qualied youth practitioners and also improve the quality of service
young people receive.
‘It’s time’
A case for the professionalisation
of youth work
Youth Studies Australia VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 2012 17
educators who follow the professionalisation
debate and have an interest in improving
the standards, standing and practice of
youth work.
The time is right to professionalise
youth work
There is a groundswell of activity and
initiatives that support the professionalisation
of youth work. The youth sectors in Victoria
and Western Australia have established youth
worker associations in their respective states
as they recognise the need for improvements
to the preparation, performance and
management of youth workers (Western
Australian Association of Youth Workers
(WAAYW) 2008; Youth Workers’ Association
(YWA) 2011). Simultaneously, there have been
other recent and disparate activities taking
place across Australia that also aim to improve
the education and training and quality of
service delivery within the youth sector, as
well as prevent harm as a result of youth work
practice (Australian Childhood Foundation
(ACF) 2010; Australian Learning and Teaching
Council (ALTC) 2010; Community Services
and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC)
2010a; Department of Justice (DoJ) 2010; Youth
Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) 2007).
At the same time there is a growing array of
agencies and initiatives with a shared interest
in organising, regulating and monitoring
the Australian social and community sector,
which includes the youth sector, in ways
that support professionalisation of the youth
sector and could be mobilised to realise it.
(Australasian Housing Institute (AHI) 2011;
Australian Association for Social Work and
Welfare Education (AASWWE) n.d.; Australian
Community Workers Association (ACWA)
2010; Australian Council on Healthcare
Standards (ACHS) n.d.; Case Management
Society of Australia (CMSA) n.d.; Department
of Families, Housing, Community Services
and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) 2011;
Department of Human Services (DHS) 2010a,
2010b, 2010c; Healy & Lonne 2010; Quality
Improvement Council (QIC) 2004).
These “on the ground” developments are
complimented by renewed high-level interest
in strengthening the social and community
services sectors. The Australian Prime
Minister, Julia Gillard, is backing non-prot
sector reform and has recognised the need for
a highly skilled community sector workforce
(Australian Labor n.d.; Gillard 2007).
Baldwin (2009) identied 11 recent Australian
Government inquiries and initiatives aimed at
reforming and strengthening the social sector.
Barraket (2008) has argued that Australia has
entered a “new era of governance”, which
is characterised by changing relationships
between the state and the not-for-prot
sector that are based on collaboration and
partnership. The aim is to enhance the role
the sector can play in implementing various
government policies. Similarly Smyth (2008)
has suggested that Australia’s welfare system
is in a “state of transition ... from hierarchical
and market, to network forms of governance”
and that this “new paradigm ... will require
different funding and accountability
arrangements” (pp.212-31). Mendes (2008)
also observed that, after years of “welfare
retrenchment” under the Howard Coalition
government, the Federal Labor government
is committed to greater social investment
to tackle poverty and disadvantage, and
welfare services have a key role to play in this
development. If the Australian Government
is serious about improving the capacity of the
youth sector, then professionalisation is a good
place to start.
There are also peak national advisory and
intergovernmental forums in place that have
an interest in improving social and community
services, as well as the jurisdiction to formally
progress the professionalisation of youth work
nationally (Australian Government 2010a,
2010b, 2010c; Department of Prime Minister
and Cabinet (DPMC) 2010; Community and
Disability Services Ministerial Advisory
Council (CDSMAC) n.d.). For example, the
Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
(2009) recently recognised the urgent need
for reform to child protection systems across
Australia, and Healy and Lonne (2010)
recommended “COAG examine the need
for national regulation of the social and
community services workforce” (p.68).
The Australian Government’s “innovation
agenda” has also prioritised improvements
to service delivery in the community
18 Youth Studies Australia VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 2012
At the
youth workers
do not need
to be a
graduate of
an accredited
youth work
course to
sector, and professionalising youth work
would be a tting way to improve the
quality of service that young people receive
(Australian Government 2009). Likewise,
the Productivity Commission (2010) recently
recommended “workforce planning” for the
community services sector and observed a
“clear trend to the professionalisation of the
community services direct care workforce”
(p.262). Skills Australia (2010, pp.24-25)
similarly recommended “skill strategies” for
high-growth industries such as community
services. A national strategy aimed at building
and improving the youth sector workforce
should prioritise the professionalisation of
youth work.
Australian governments across all
jurisdictions have recently taken unprecedented
action to strengthen the health sector workforce.
In light of the synergies between health and
community services, these developments
provide strategic opportunities to formally
move on professionalising youth work.
COAG, for example, recently introduced the
Australian Health Practitioners Regulation
Agency (AHPRA), a new statutory authority
responsible for the national registration
and accreditation of 10 health professions
across Australia (AHPRA 2011a). In 2012,
registration will expand to include a further
four professions (AHPRA 2011b). One of these
is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
practice, which demonstrates the scope of
AHPRA to oversee the professionalisation of
specialist practitioners whose work focuses on
a specic population, as is also the case with
youth work. Health and community services
also share much in common, often working
collaboratively to achieve similar outcomes for
people and communities. This puts AHPRA
in a strong position to expand its expertise
and operations and take on the regulation of
the social and community services workforce,
including youth work.
Professionalisation would
assist in securing youth work
university courses
The professionalisation of youth work is
urgently needed to help stem the tide and
threats of cuts and closures to undergraduate
youth work education in universities. In 2010
the University of Western Sydney youth work
course closed, and concerns have been raised
about the upheavals and effects of changes
to the quality of the youth work program at
RMIT (Parliament of Victoria 2010). There
are only ve government-accredited youth
work degrees or degrees with youth work
majors offered within Australian higher
education institutions and typically the
numbers of students who commence youth
work courses are small. At the same time,
universities are under increasing pressure to
make nancial savings as a result of prolonged
and signicant government underfunding.
This context places “boutique” courses
such as youth work more and more at risk
of restructures and rationalisations, which
involve generalising youth work into other
disciplines such as social work, education or
psychology to enable larger class sizes and
cost savings; moving youth work courses
into the vocational education and training
(VET) or technical and further education
(TAFE) sector because they are cheaper to
deliver; or closing the programs altogether. An
accreditation authority, which is commonplace
for professions, is desperately needed for
youth work to set and enforce standards of
education within higher education programs.
Universities would only be able to alter youth
work courses if such changes were in line with
the accreditation standards.
Regulating youth work as a profession
would increase demands for more university-
based youth work education, which would
in turn help prevent the closure of university
youth work courses and facilitate the offering
of new programs. All professions require
an accredited university qualication that is
both scholarly and practical in orientation as
a minimum for registration. At the moment,
youth workers do not need to be a graduate
of an accredited university youth work course
to practice. This means that anyone can call
themselves a youth worker whether or not
they have had any formal education. It also
means that governments and universities
are not required to invest in youth work
education to ensure the ongoing supply of
professionally educated graduates. The Senate
Community Affairs References Committee
Youth Studies Australia VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 2012 19
(2009, 2004) recommended the establishment
of specic tertiary courses in recognition of
the value of higher educated professionals
in improving responses to vulnerable young
people. Ross, Shafer and Klein (2006) similarly
argue expertise and expert performance is
achieved by well-designed domain-specic
training. However, most Australian states and
territories do not have university youth work
programs and are unable to educate their own
local youth work workforce. Filling this gap is
long overdue. The professionalisation of youth
work is needed now to ensure more quality
youth work education across the country.
Professionalisation would help
address the shortage of qualied
youth practitioners
There is a growing need to produce
competent and qualied youth workers,
and professionalisation would lead to
improvements in youth work education,
which could satisfy that need. The Australian
Council of Social Services (ACOSS) (2010),
Healy and Lonne (2010) and the Productivity
Commission (2010) have indicated that
there is an undersupply of professionally
qualied human service practitioners to meet
community sector workforce demands. Access
Economics (2008), Rose (2008) and Rose and
Atkins (2006) also report critical skill shortages
in the youth sector.
Child protection and youth justice services
struggle to attract and retain suitably qualied
staff (Bamblett, Bath & Roseby 2010; Brouwer
2009). Likewise, the Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2009) reported
consistent growth in employment in child
and youth services from 1996 to 2006, and
Access Economics (2009) as well as the
CS&HISC (2010b) predict this trend will
continue in community sector industries,
which include youth work. The Department
of Education, Employment and Workplace
Relations (DEEWR) (nd) also reports job
prospects for youth work are good. The
CS&HISC (2010b, pp.28-29) forecasts that
community service workers will need higher
levels of education and qualications. There
is ongoing and sustained funding in services
for young people across Australia, and new
government initiatives continue to emerge
that specically seek to employ youth work
graduates. Government youth policies and
agendas also identify workforce development
and producing “capable people” as a priority
(Baillieu & Wooldridge 2010; COAG 2009; DHS
et al. 2010).
Professionalisation would make youth
work more attractive to newcomers and
encourage experienced practitioners to stay.
High staff turnover is a critical problem that
jeopardises the sector’s viability and capacity
to provide quality services. There is a greater
demand for youth services, as well as an
increase in complex “cases”. The need to stop
worker “churn” is more urgent than ever
because of the dearth of qualied, skilled and
experienced youth workers. There would be a
number of benets associated with registration
such as that offered by the Victorian Institute of
Teaching (VIT) (2010), for example a structured
induction program to support youth workers
in their rst year. Professionalisation would
also improve the status of youth work, making
it a more attractive career to enter and stay
in. It would demarcate practice domains and
the settings and situations in which it would
be preferable to employ youth workers rather
than other professionals, because their skills
would be the most appropriate and effective.
Professionalised management could
also result in improved pay and working
conditions. Decent wages, reasonable
workloads and quality supervision would
also assist in addressing the critical workforce
concerns of recruiting and retaining qualied,
skilled and experienced youth workers.
Professionalisation would help
prevent harmful interventions
Improvements in the quality of service young
people receive are long overdue, and could
be achieved by professionalising the youth
sector. The record of intervention into the
lives of young Australians is littered with
cases of abuse, neglect and unprofessional
conduct, as well as repeated failures to
adequately and appropriately manage such
instances (Bessant, Hil & Watts 2005). The
violations of young people’s human rights by
governments, churches and other agencies
20 Youth Studies Australia VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 2012
have been extensive (Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC)
1997; Senate Community Affairs Reference
Committee 2004). Ofcial reports on the
systemic failures of statutory child protection
systems, youth justice centres and out-of-home
care services have also become commonplace
(Bamblett, Bath & Roseby 2010; Brouwer
2009, 2010a, 2010b; Commission of Inquiry
1999; Layton 2003; Wood Commission 1997a,
1997b). Accounts of serious misconduct and
negligence by staff employed by government
and community sector agencies meant to care
and protect vulnerable young people also
regularly feature in the media (Francis 2011;
Hagan 2010; Nader 2010; Robinson 2010).
In addition, Kelly (2007) and Tait (1995)
have argued that too often interventions by
“experts” into the lives of young Australians
are oriented towards regulating and
controlling populations of young people
problematised as “at risk”.
Examples of failure to care for and protect
young people or deal with structural inequities
that cause youth poverty and disadvantage
demonstrate that tighter regulation of the
youth work workforce is desperately needed.
Basically it is time for youth work to be
oriented towards realising youth rights,
and professionalisation could assist in
this reorientation.
Professionalisation entails compliance with
set standards of behaviour, codes of ethics
and practice guidelines (Professions Australia
1997) and these regulatory mechanisms should
be introduced as a priority to enhance the
quality of professional youth work practice,
prevent harm and restore public condence
in services that care for young people. Most
states and territories have mandatory working-
with-children checks; however, in the light
of ongoing failures, they are insufcient to
elicit good practice (Rayner 2007). If youth
work were regulated, the ethical values and
dispositions youth workers commit to, the
reasons why they commit to them and the
ways they can give effect to them would
be claried in a code. Professionalising
youth work would build a “community of
practitioners” who were trusted and expected
by the public to deliver youth work. Using
the Australian Medical Association (AMA)
(2009) as a model, a youth work professional
association would act in the public interest by
challenging governmental and organisational
policies that have the potential to cause
harm to young people. Formal sector-wide
mandatory notication of misconduct,
investigation, and disciplinary mechanisms
that aim to address instances of malpractice
and protect young people are urgently needed
and would be put in place if youth work
were regulated.
Overcoming obstacles
to professionalisation
I have presented a case for the desirability,
necessity and urgency to professionalise youth
work; however, there are possible obstacles
to professionalisation that may need to be
overcome before signicant progress is made.
Arguments for the professionalisation of youth
work in Australia have been aired for over 20
years, but nothing has happened (Sercombe
2004). One obstacle could be doubts and
conicts within the sector around the issue
of professionalisation (Quixley & Doostkhah
2007). Sercombe (2004) argued that youth
workers are difcult to organise, and reaching
a consensus in the sector is hindered by
competition between players. Organisations
have to compete for funding and contracts,
which is an effect of reform to the public and
non-government sectors shaped by neoliberal
ideas. The economic rationalist approach to
welfare provision and governance has been
characterised by the closure and appropriation
of the sector’s peak organisation, curtailment
of advocacy, generic management, inadequate
levels of funding, underpayment of workers,
increased casualisation of the workforce, and
short-term and insecure funding contracts
(Bessant & Weber 2003; Eddy 2004; Phillips
2007). These concerns further limit the capacity
of the youth sector to work collectively in ways
that could progress professionalisation.
An inability to secure adequate resources
for professionalisation could be another
reason for inaction. Grupper (2003) identied
professionalisation as costly, and a youth
work professional association would need
to charge fees; however, low youth worker
wages may restrict the setting of fees at a level
Youth Studies Australia VOLUME 31 NUMBER 1 2012 21
that would make an association viable. At the
same time, underpaid workers are unlikely
to pay registration fees when registration is
not required for practice. The trend to new
forms of governance between Australian
governments and the community sector may
provide opportunities as well as the political
will and leadership needed to overcome these
barriers. Efforts within various states towards
professionalising their youth sectors, as well
as Fair Work Australia’s recent ruling on social
and community services industry wages, could
also assist (Fair Work Australia (FWA) 2011).
Another hindrance could be resistance
from youth workers who have not undergone
tertiary training who fear that they may be
excluded from a professional association,
making them ineligible to practice. Different
levels of and pathways to membership, based
on type and level of education as well as
work experience, could be offered initially as
a way of addressing such concerns. Diverse
membership options could be complemented
with “grandfather” or “sunset” clauses,
which are one way professional associations
provide workers time to upskill and retrain
to meet eligibility criteria. An investment in
university youth work education enabling the
delivery of exible and accessible upskilling
and retraining opportunities, such as high
quality distance education and online courses,
could also assist. In addition, education
providers could offer recognition of prior
learning that includes crediting demonstrable
capabilities acquired through work experience
as a way of supporting workers to secure
necessary credentials.
I have argued that it is time youth workers
were required to complete an accredited
university qualication and register with
a professional body that recognises their
credentials. Uniform standards of ethical
practice, ongoing professional development
expectations, and a formal complaints
mechanism to deal with breaches of conduct
are long overdue. The groundswell of activities
and initiatives that strategically make now the
right time to professionalise youth work have
been identied.
Reasons for professionalising youth
work at this time were also examined.
Professionalised management is urgently
needed to help protect, secure and expand
university-based youth work undergraduate
courses, as well as address the critical shortage
of qualied youth practitioners. I also argued
that professionalisation should take place
now as a way to prevent further harmful
interventions into the lives of young people.
Professionalisation should be a priority to
improve the quality of service to young people
in ways that they deserve but have gone
without for too long.
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... Opposition to professionalisation has cited resistance to power structures, undermining of the autonomy of youth workers and the infiltration of increased bureaucratic processes inhibiting youth work effectiveness (Grogan, 2004;Quixley & Doostkhah, 2007;Sercombe, 1998;Sercombe, 2004). The move towards professionalisation of youth work is supported on the grounds of ethical practice, qualification standards and the requirement to work parallel to funding requirements and legislation (Beker, 2001;Bessant, 2004a;Corney et al., 2009;Emslie, 2012;Krauss et al., 2012;Sercombe, 1997;Sercombe, 2004). Cooper (2013) Literature within the Australian context concerning professionalisation was largely written prior to the introduction of professional youth work associations. ...
... The academic literature is sparse regarding professionalisation of youth work and its impact on career paths after the formation of professional youth work associations. Emslie (2012) recognised the formation of youth work associations as "the need for improvements to the preparation, performance and management of youth workers" (p. 17). ...
... The findings supported the need for knowledge-based youth work, built on theoretical frameworks and models, as opposed to competency-based training. These findings were consistent throughout the data and were reflective of more contemporary literature that has argued for the importance of higher education level qualifications as the youth work standard (Bessant, 2007;Bessant & Emslie, 2014;Borden et al., 2004;Emslie, 2012). ...
This study selected a Western Australian sample group of 10 degree-qualified youth workers who had graduated between 1990 and 1999 and had experienced careers in youth work spanning 20 years. The existing literature pertaining to long-term youth work careers was sparse in certain aspects, which established the primary need for the research focus. The related literature was found to represent a negative image of youth work as a career. Youth work was considered lacking in professional identity and was most commonly characterised by burnout, temporary employment prospects and an occupational pathway to other related professions. The study found important differences in comparison with findings of the existing literature. Participants described careers characteristic of continuous employment; sustainability through supportive connections; longevity through leadership opportunities; and a diverse fusion of opportunities, variety and flexibility in roles undertaken. In stark contrast with the existing literature, these findings led to the development of a synthesised provisional model of the long-term youth work career.
... Youth workers are often under the supervision of other professionals such as social workers and teachers. Emslie (2012) asserts that qualification is not a determining factor for one to work with young people in youth service programmes. No matter how qualified youth workers maybe, other professionals decide on their behalf. ...
... Regardless of the long struggle of the professionalisation of youth work, youth work is a profession with no status and remain unpopular in South Africa (National Youth Policy, 2021) the study found that professional youth workers are vulnerable to professional abuse in their workplace and job market owing to the non-recognition of the profession by the government. Emslie (2012) affirms that the professionalisation of youth work that can make the profession gain recognition is a difficult task many may think of. The study further revealed that this vulnerability youth work experience involves a lack of protection by the union since professional youth workers do not have a professional body that seeks to protect their profession. ...
... This professional discrimination creates unnecessary competition between these two professions. Emslie (2012) work shows that the level of education one has in youth work means nothing because one does not need a qualification to be a youth worker. The NPO was the optional sector that hired youth workers to compete with the government agency. ...
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Professional youth workers face various challenges in delivering youth service in South Africa. There is an outcry in the youth development sector that the delay in the professionalisation of youth work in South Africa contributes to the vulnerability of professional youth workers. The study aims to investigate the challenges faced by professional youth workers in South Africa in offering youth services. This study adopts a qualitative method and purposive sampling was employed to sample the participants. The study sample size was ten professional youth workers between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, most of them work for NGOs and only one worked for the government as a youth officer intern. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data, an Volume 11, Number 3, September 2021 pp 31-53 Qualitative Study on Challenges Faced By Professional … 32 individual interview was followed in the semi-structured interview and a thematic analysis was used to analyse the results. The study findings show that professional youth workers in South Africa continue to experience the following challenges in offering youth services, lack of recognition by the government, language barriers, salary exploitation, and working long hours in dangerous environments. The study recommends, that the National Youth Development Agency should prioritise the professionalisation of youth work as one of its key strategic objectives.
... Current youth work literature in Australia continues to debate the professionalisation of youth work and examines the education and training of youth workers in Australia (Maunders & Broadbent, 1995;Wilson, 1995;Bessant 2003;2009a;2009b;Sercombe, 1997;Bessant & Webber, 1999;Maunders, 1999;Corney, 2004;Corney & Broadbent, 2007;Wojecki, 2007;Corney, Broadbent & Darmanin, 2009;Emslie, 2012;Cooper, 2013;Bessant & Emslie, 2014;Cooper, Bessant, Broadbent, Couch, Edwards, Jarvis & Ferguson, 2014). ...
... Discussion concerning the professionalisation of the sector has led to the development of codes of ethics in most states within Australia. The debate continues still, persistently generating calls for the need to professionalise the youth work industry (Maunders & Broadbent, 1995;Sercombe, 1997;Bessant, Sercombe & Watts, 1998;Maunders, 1999;Bessant, 2004;Barwick, 2006;Corney & Hoiles, 2006;Corney, Broadbent & Darmanin, 2009;Emslie, 2012) with the "attendant disciplines of a code of ethics, mandatory training, and professional registration" (Sercombe, 2004, p.20). ...
... Youth program staff need high level skills and this requires appropriate professional recognition, training, support and remuneration. This is true of youth programs generally (Emslie, 2009(Emslie, , 2012Hartje et al., 2008), but especially so for those in remote Indigenous communities where contextual challenges add to the difficulty of recruitment and retention. Without such recognition, remote communities are without equitable benchmark indicators for their youth program staff. ...
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This article provides a discussion of research literature concerned with the efficacy of on-country activity, culture, language, art and performance in supporting positive social outcomes for Indigenous people. It also includes references to a number of case study examples from regional Australia of successful ‘outcomes’ that have emerged from projects drawing upon culture, language and the arts. It concludes that there is solid evidence of a correlation between positive social outcomes and activities that encourage culture, language and ‘on-country’ contact.
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Traditionally, youth work has been based on volunteerism or as a casual and low paid occupation. However, there is an increasing call for credentialing and professionalisation in the youth work sector, which in turn led one New Zealand community polytechnic (tertiary community college) to introduce a bachelor’s degree, the Bachelor in Youth Development, (BYD) in 2011. This research study aimed to explore a sample of graduates’ experiences of the BYD and the benefits of accruing the qualification in their working lives. The following research question guided the study, “how did the BYD impact on a sample of graduates’ perceptions of themselves as youth workers and understandings of the career?” A mixed-method approach, consisting of a survey and individual interviews, was selected; however, this paper solely reports the results of ten semi-structured interviews conducted with ten graduates. The participants included six females and four males, from a variety of ethnicities and graduating cohorts. The participants reported a shift in their self-perception as uneducated and unskilled employees, to competent learners and highly skilled workers. Obtaining the degree resulted in secure employment for the participants, while for some it led to promotion and higher study. Implications are that a degree-level youth work qualification may enhance one’s confidence and practice as a youth worker and lead to career progression. However, a societal shift in the understanding and value of the profession needs to occur if the qualification is going to be recognised and rewarded in the sector.
In this thesis I argue that what we tend to see in contemporary accounts of human service practice in the relevant literature is a ‘common-sense’ informed by a complex mix of neoliberal political and policy imperatives and various kinds of technical-rational styles of administration and management. These accounts of practice can inadvertently contribute to the problems they are meant to address and can do more harm than good. Common-sense accounts of practice also align with how human services are typically regulated and they align with prevailing ways the education of human services takes place, including in universities. Consequently, the same types of problems that take place with human service practice also take place with the institutionalisation and reproduction of human services. If we are serious about achieving good practice in human services, then we need to think more clearly about what practice in human services is. There is a good case for articulating a theory of human service practice to inspire new and better ways of achieving good practice. The theory of good practice outlined here draws on the philosophy of Aristotle and neo-Aristotelian accounts of practice. It draws especially on Dunne who argues that a theory of practice should offer a defensible account of how we should conceptualise the stuff that human services deal with, and the sorts of knowing, action and ends that best accord with such conceptualisations. I argue that the beings at the centre of human services should be understood as complex, emergent, unpredictable, and ‘wicked’ in the sense that Rittel and Webber talk about. This highlights the possibility that the people, problems and practices of human services can be revealed in multiple and contrary ways. Accordingly, human services hold both promises and dangers for people and good practice is far from self-evident and is highly contestable in each individual case. I argue that phronesis (practical wisdom) is the way of knowing that best corresponds to and is most suited to deal with the uncertain, messy, contingent and context-dependent beings of human services, which require and deserve ongoing deliberations and good determinations on each occasion that are at the same time always tentative and remain open to other suggestions and modification especially because our knowledge may be erroneous and incomplete. I argue that good practice also requires reflexivity and value rationality to help identify and alleviate the problems associated with neoliberal approaches to practice and as an alternative to technical rationality and value neutrality. I make the case for praxis (good action) along with a range of other human activities including value-rational deliberation as the forms of action that best align with and are most appropriate for dealing with the ever-changing, often inexplicable and always difficult beings of human services. Praxis is in accordance with phronesis and can be understood in part as durable practice and in part as responding to each case in new ways. In particular, it involves figuring out and enacting the most desirable course of action in each instance of practice while at the same time remaining receptive to other possibilities and to doing things differently particularly because we might not always be immediately aware of what we are doing, and our actions could be doing more harm than good. I show that clarity about our telos will help to re-orient human services to pursuing preferred ends and securing goods that are better suited to the entities of human services compared to instrumentally designed relations between widely applicable and transferable techniques and pre-determined outcomes. I argue for the telos of youth work to be enabling young people to live the good life. Following my accounts of phronesis and praxis this orientation of human services towards more desirable and ethical purposes takes the form of a commitment that is always carefully reconsidered at the same time as determinedly pursued. However, unlike outputs that can be wholly predetermined, efficiently sought after and completely achieved, this is an end that is never fully attained. This is especially the case because there is always more that can be known and done and because there are always disagreements on the goods to be secured. This theory of practice should correspond to and supports the education of people for professional practice. In particular, the education of human services needs to reproduce how the beings of human services are to be conceptualised and the ways of knowing, forms of action and ends that cohere. At the same time, university-based human service education should support the development, exercise and experience of good practice-as-praxis guided by phronesis.
Conference Paper
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According to much of the relevant literature, achieving good youth and community work is simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated. However, realising good practice may not be so easy in light of the extent of reports of bad practice in social work and human services. This study investigated and critiqued commonplace accounts of how good caring work can be achieved. In particular two problems with the literature were identified and examined. First, I argue that, often, descriptions of good practice in the helping professions are deficient. Second, I make the case that the typical ways of funding and regulating the people professions to achieve good practice are inadequate. These concerns warrant further research on the question: how can good practice in youth and community work be achieved?
This chapter lays the foundation for the analysis of university teachers’ experiential stories by sketching some of Martin Heidegger’s key ideas. During Spier’s interpretive analysis process, philosophical notions from Heidegger’s Being and Time enabled him to discern deeper layers of ontological meaning that were previously unnoticed. This chapter touches on Heidegger’s existential notions that were particularly informative, including care, being-with, conversation and temporality. In turn, for readers unfamiliar with Heidegger’s philosophy, the hope is to unlock the interpretive themes discussed in the analysis chapters.
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In many countries youth work education in the university confronts a precarious future. Paradoxically, this takes place as the labor market is unable to meet demands for qualified practitioners. This article makes a case for further investment in university-based youth work education. While presenting labor demand and supply arguments, we also suggest that a good university education is important for producing graduates capable of becoming experts and good practitioners in the Aristotelian sense of the word. This entails the provision of learning opportunities to attain specialist knowledge, technical expertise and ethical capacities of the kind that distinguish youth work practice from other approaches to work with young people. Such an education also promotes the prospect that practitioners are able to develop a professional habitus that advances youth work as a discrete field of professional practice. While the material used in this article is Australian, we suggest there are sufficient commonalities between the Australian experience and many other countries for the arguments, findings and recommendations made here to have more general applicability.
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There is growing interest in the professionalization of the youth work field in Australia and the United States. In this article I draw on relevant literature from the sociology of professions to explore the appeal of professionalization for youth work. The interest in professionalism is examined along with the strategies youth work practitioners could build on and use to progress professionalization. The tactics proposed are for proponents to concurrently use lessons from other professionalization projects, garner support in the youth sector, lead a project that has broad appeal, utilize existing institutional arrangements, and establish an international movement.
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The collective identity of youth workers and their capacity to industrially organise is being eroded by deskilling, via the introduction of 'semi skilled specialisation' in TAFE training. There are also implications for the quality of service delivery, particularly for those young people most at risk. Recent attempts at professionalising the youth sector have focused on 'codes of ethics' and left pay and conditions issues to community sector unions. The history of nursing provides a case example of the benefits of combining professional aspirations with industrial organisation. If the professional and industrial interests of the community services sector are combined, the collective voice of youth workers will be strengthened and the quality of service provision will be enhanced.
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Sercombe, H. (2004) Youth work: The professionalisation dilemma. In Youth Studies Australia Vol 23 No 4 20-25. Also at
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This paper deals with a somehow forgotten factor in the discussion about professionalization of the child and youth care field. It is a major and most influential component in every social reality—economic considerations. It is obvious that professionalization costs a lot of money, a fact that is creating strong opposition from various social partners. This factor has not always been taken into consideration, seriously enough, in the discussion about professionalization. Unfortunately, it might become a source for serious problems in the long run. Some examples are already known, like the reduction in the number of children in residential care in many countries. It is argued that instead of debating against or for professionalization of the field, innovative models have to be invented that look at professionalism as a continuum, with minimum and maximum boundaries. These new models have to implement differential levels of professionalism, in the planning of all services for children and youth in need of care, taking economic considerations into account.
An apparent crisis of youth at‐risk is a key marker in contemporary debates about young people among a range of intellectuals, social commentators and experts in various domains and centres of expertise. Drawing on aspects of the reflexive modernization, governmentality and feminist literatures, this paper explores how risk discourses emerge as a means for rendering reality knowable—a technique that facilitates the management of individual biographies in institutionally structured risk environments. In this context there is intellectual work to be done in the social sciences that takes as its object the possibilities and limits of institutionalized intellectual abstraction for problematizing youth via rationalities of risk—and the limits of these rationalities for providing resources for governing our thoughts, actions and dispositions—our freedom.
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