Challenges Within Youth Services – Education Essay
Within the context of youth work and the experiences of a youth worker an expansive range of diverse and multi-faceted issues, challenges and opportunities arise, exist and are intrinsically embedded in the provision of
services to young people. It is virtually incomprehensible to conceptualise the diverse range of issues, challenges and opportunities experienced by all youth workers within all youth work areas of service. Rather we can overview and examine holistically the major issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning the contemporary discourse of the youth worker and youth service provision. It may also be important to note that many opportunities and challenges experienced may be deconstructed and compartmentalised within the framework of a broader issues thus enabling us to understand fundamental concerns informing and underlying practice.
A major issue facing youth workers and youth services within our contemporary context is professionalism. Although this is primarily the concern of the youth worker, youth services are affected in all levels by this contentious issue. A undercurrent perception not uncommon regarding youth work often conceptualises and services as “positioned at the point of failure of mainstream” (Bessant et al 1998 p313) and youth workers at best an agent of social change holding the young person’s welfare at paramount concern (O’Shea 2005) at worst a worker uneducated or unaware of the needs of young people who may just be “hanging out” with young people or working against the interests of young people in fulfilling the interests of other parties rather than the youth (Bessant et al 1998)
Youth Work is situated in a unique intermediatory position, as it does not fit within the existing framework of what constitutes a disciplined profession, which authoritatively includes elements such as formal training, a recognised body of knowledge, a code of ethics and registration with a professional association (Sercombe 1997 p19). Rather youth work is defined as “constituted by a particular kind of relationship between a professional and young people” (Bessant et al 1998 p230) with “the youth worker engaging the young person as the primary constituent” (Sercombe 1997 p18). Challenges faced regarding professionalism are plentiful especially for the youth worker as the common misperception of youth work as not a real job or profession may be detrimental to the youth worker and the youth service(Bessant et al 1998). This situation is somewhat exacerbated by the lack of specific qualification required for entry into the youth work sector and the limited availability of a specific body of knowledge, theoretical frameworks or literary contribution on youth work itself (Bessant et al 1998) This is challenging and at times may be compromising due to “the limited community understanding of the skills, qualifications and training of youth workers.” (Maunders and Broadbent 1995 p22) Educational options for youth workers although improving are still very limited and scarce, often disallowing youth workers or potential youth workers from developing a theoretical framework of understanding from which to conceptualise the planning and implementation of youth work practices (Maunders and Broadbent 1995)
The lack of a youth work code of ethics is an issue of current contention with a calling for greater regulation and guidelines as a method to improve the standing of youth work comparatively to complementary disciplines such as Social Work or Psychology. (Sercombe 2002) Currently a draft code of ethics for Australia has been proposed by Howard Sercombe in attempt to gain greater clarity and unity of the youth work sector (Sercombe 2002) However at present youth workers and youth services must independently articulate and implement their own ethical standards and practices which may be problematic to the youth worker and youth service. A lack of cohesion and potential discrepancy between definitions and applications of ethical conduct may result in substandard quality or possibly harmful services for young people. This subsequently may further lead to the conceptualisation of youth work as unprofessional or even unethical. (Bessant et al 1998)
The lack of recognition of youth workers by any youth work professional association is also a potential issue and challenge for youth workers and the youth sector with an exclusion from specific employment opportunities for youth workers in some governmental departments or in specific human services roles requiring professional recognition. (Bessant et al 1998)
Dichotomous opportunities may be conceptualised when examining professionalism for both the youth worker and youth services. A dynamic and flexible approach to youth work for both the youth worker and the youth service may prove to be beneficial when “the lack of consensus means no blanket rules can be imposed on youth work as a profession” (Sercombe 1997 p21) This allows the individual youth worker to use their own devices to construct personal professional standards and ethics to adhere to while remaining adaptive and flexible to a wide range of issues and situations. Youth workers often also engage in the profession coming from various backgrounds and it must be recognised that the variety of disciplines, knowledge and experience applied to youth work practice is an opportunity for skill sharing and striving for the benefit of young people in a diverse and reflective manner. (Sercombe 1997) The youth service may also benefit from this adaptability with the opportunity to construct services without bureaucratic intervention or governance resulting in the idyllic possibility of an egalitarian and participatory approach and structure of youth work provision a benchmark to aspire to, differing from the rigidity and formal structure of many human and social service provision. (Bessant et al 1998) This may not always be able to be practically implemented however it may be prevalent in the theoretical construction of aims, objectives and overall purpose of a youth service.
Juxtaposed to this we may consider professionalism as an opportunity that youth services and youth workers especially may wish to explore in the future in order to ensure that certain standards of conduct and practice be established for the youth worker and the youth service for holistic and consistent practice while simultaneously attempting to accommodate the diversity of approaches and practices in order to avoid a repercussion of rigid or maladaptive practice. Approaching some form of professionalisation of a well established sector might indeed prove inventive and successful in raising standards, increasing the flow of ideas and ensuring the greatest quality of service for young people.
Another issue faced by youth workers and services is adapting to and accommodating to the needs of a diverse range of young people with multiple needs in an ever-changing environment. (Bessant et al 1998) A challenge to address and assist young people with their issues without limiting their experience “around the social stratification of age despite the fact that this is not the most stratifying factor in most young people’s lives.” (Stewart 1998 p36) which may be an increasing relevant challenge to youth workers and services as vast arrays of issues are faced in collaboration with young people. This may also be an opportunity for youth workers and youth services to further attempt to identify the multiple and diverse of young people and explore in consultation with young people possible avenues to adequately address and cater for diverse issues and clients within the youth service.
The current political context within which we are located is a determinative component when exploring issues, opportunities and challenges of the youth worker and youth services. (Bessant et al 1998) A gradual transition into the adoption of conservative policy reform and service provision (O’Shea 2005) has proliferated into an issue of major concern to the youth sector with agendas of economic reform and economic rationalism (O’Shea 2005) manifesting public discourse prioritised over notions of social justice and empowerment, a prerogative of previous governmental policy. (Bessant et al 1998) The new neo-liberalist conservative policies (O’Shea 2005) governmentally embraced have resulted in the “re-shaping the way governments make policy and deliver youth related services.” (Bessant 1997 p36) This shift in the public sector has subsequently detrimentally impacted the youth sector with a movement towards increased competition, deregulation, privatisation and the introduction of new management practices such as competitive tendering and managerialism (Bessant et al 1998) in result forcing “public services to adopt practices of the private market, which some people argue is in conflict with the values underlying human service provision.” (Bessant et al 1998 p307)
Many challenges have arisen within youth services and for youth workers with the movement towards the value principles of the market. (O’Shea 2005) A shift away from the value of quality and process within youth services towards quantity and outcome and that which is quantifiable and measurable ((Bessant et al 1998) in an attempt of “re-orientation based on concerns about minimising costs and maximum efficiency.” (Bessant et al 1998 p308). Although this is rationalised by the government as viable there are little opportunities for youth workers or youth services within this current schema of conservatism. (O’Shea 2005) Youth services and youth workers face multiple challenges as an attempt to provide the highest quality service amiss a market structure contradictory to their purpose (Bessant et al 1998) Restructuring or closure of services, higher accountability to governmental departments, pressure to compromise goals or philosophical viewpoint, funding uncertainty, increasing job and service security as well as increasing workloads (Bessant et al 1998) have characterised this shift with the effectiveness measured by youth workers and services by “evaluating their ability to meet certain performance measurements, rather than their ability to contribute to broader social change.” (Bessant et al 1998 p310) The conflicting interests of youth workers and youth services in contrast with the government have increased pressure on services and workers increasing bureaucratic processes and output focus (Bessant et al 1998) which may detract in some manner from the ability of workers and services to work with and represent the needs of young people and possibly can compromise quality and availability of services.
Funding of youth services is central to these concerns becoming increasingly competitive and prohibitive to get funding from the government (Bessant et al 1998)
This has led to increasing job insecurity and heavier work responsibilities for youth workers (Bessant et al 1998) which is of increasing concern as the work environment of the youth worker is a significant factor to “strongly influence the way youth work is approached” (Bourke 2000 p41) These factors along with the potentially volatile nature of working conditions of the youth worker and the less than generous financial remuneration culminate in a less than satisfactory environment for a youth worker to become engaged in. (Bessant et al 1998)
Youth peak organizations are also of major concern when examining the broader context of service provision within our current political milieu. (Bessant and Webber 2001) Funding cuts disbanded the Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition (AYPAC) in 1999 echoing the government’s de-prioritising of youth concerns resulting in the formation of a youth roundtable which is unable to adequately address and represent the overall needs of the youth sector and services in collaboration with the remaining state peak bodies (Bessant and Webber 2001) This may pose an increasing challenge on youth services and also on the youth worker as inadequate representation and support to lobby and represent the needs and rights of young people and the youth work sector may have a detrimental impact on current and future service provision and the ability to have the voices and experiences of young people listened to and prioritised. (Bessant and Webber 2001)
There is a diverse and ever changing range of options for youth workers and youth services in attempting to ensure that they embrace and act on arising opportunities as well as develop opportunities from issues and challenges or appropriately address issues and challenges to conceptualise, deconstruct and re-develop issues and challenges into an active framework within which movement and change are focal and explicit.
This can be projected in our exploration of professionalism within youth work practice and its implications for the youth worker and youth services. Issues and challenges can be deconstructed and reconceptualized as opportunities which youth workers and youth services can take advantage of for the benefit of young people and their service provision. Opportunities exist in establishing a more concrete standards of conduct and practice relating to ethics and prioritising the young person within practice as a worker’s paramount concern (Bessant et al 1998) If this was to be approached effectively with the collaboration and consultation of young people, youth workers and youth services, standards and guidelines may be able to be establish which attempt not to impinge on the flexible and dynamic nature of youth work. The expansive knowledge and experience within the youth work sector may be an important inclusive factor in establishing ethics and standards as although many youth workers may resist professionalisation due to potential inflexibility or exclusion, not many youth workers would argue a lack of support for ensuring the highest quality service and standards for young people. (Bessant et al 1998) Incorporating a bottom up development approach in establishing ethics and standards of practice also enables factors which may previously have not been considered to be brought into question and incorporated as relevant to the youth work sector. Establishing ethics and standards in a well developed and dynamic human service sector may achieve an insight and understanding not previously achieved or realistically articulated which may be a strength youth workers and youth services can build upon.
Increasing educational options for existing youth workers and potential youth workers is another opportunity for youth workers and youth services in responding to the needs of young people and working towards the greatest benefit for each young person. Increasing educational opportunities has potential beneficial implications for youth work. These include an increase in youth worker skills including theoretical understanding; communication, understanding and conceptualising youth work practice and gaining practical experience within an educational context (Maunders and Broadbent 1995) Greater training opportunities may lead to a further development of a more specific body of knowledge encapsulating youth work and a greater literary contribution to the youth work sector in Australia. (Maunders and Broadbent 1995)
Emphasis on the need for an increase in youth work educational opportunities and the development of appropriate strategies to raise awareness to this may involve advocacy for more tafe and university options and working on other methods within youth services to ensure workers have educational opportunities and opportunities to pursue interests or their knowledge base regarding young people and their needs. (Maunders and Broadbent 1995)
There is an ever present expectation and pressure on youth workers and youth services to solve a plethora of young people’s issues and consistently provide a high quality, equitable service for young people within which they prioritised as the youth worker’s and youth service’s paramount concern. (Bessant et al 1998) This expectation although not unreasonable, fails to be contextualised within the broader spectrum of the political systems it is intrinsically tied to. The current neo-liberalist conservative focus of our government (Bessant et al 1998) has further problematised and challenged youth workers and services making service provision increasingly difficult. The youth sector faces quite a challenge if it wishes to adjust governmental thinking or appeal to the government’s sense of equality (Bessant et al 1998) thus in order to respond effectively to welfare service marginalisation by the government (Bessant et al 1998) youth workers and youth services must build their support network to strengthen their lobbying and political power. (Bessant et al 1998) Improving the unity and communication between youth services would be an important step as well as attempting to strengthen state youth peak bodies and work towards the re-establishment of an adequate national youth peak body to address and represent the needs and rights of young people. A clear collaboration and identification of the needs of the youth sector would be beneficial in maintaining paramount focus on young people and the clear establishment of the position and principles underlying youth services relative to the governmental policies to work towards a more equitable of support and resources to the youth sector.
Issues, opportunities and challenges facing youth workers and youth services are multi-faceted and entwined in contexts within which opportunities and challenges are often embedded within broader issues and may be interchangeable when deconstructed and reconceptualized. The micro and macro environment surrounding youth work are fundamental dichotomies in exploring youth workers and youth services. The micro environment considers the experience, structure and practice of youth work and the various issues such as professionalisation and diversity that affects or reconceptualizes this in any manner. The macro environment examines outside influences and their influence on youth workers and youth service provision. Throughout this research and examination of youth workers and youth services all issues, opportunities and challenged focused upon a relatively adaptable but clear concept highlighting the youth worker and youth service as playing a facilitative role in the assisting of the self actualisation and empowerment of young people, a concept and principle determined and unyielding, underpinning the diverse and flexible nature of youth work within Australia.
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