The Commonwealth Youth Program is particularly focused on the professionalization of Youth Work. This brief aims to explore why they have taken this stand and why it will benefit young people. More importantly, it is presented to the Commonwealth Youth Forum to seek support for this issue and to enable young people to become active partners with the Commonwealth to achieve success.
There are common themes around the Commonwealth and in fact around the globe of the practice of Youth Work. Youth Workers work with young people to advocate for their political, civic and human rights, facilitate their access to education and employment,support their well-being, ensure that they have a voice in their community and act as enablers to assist young people to access opportunities to be active citizens in every sense of the word.
In the UK,they define the practice as“Youth Work helps young people learn about themselves, others and society, through informal educational activities which combine enjoyment, challenge and learning.” In South Africathey identify,
“Youth work as a field of practice that focuses on the holistic development of a young person.”In New Zealand,
“Youth work is the development of a relationship between a youth worker and a young person through: connecting with young people; where: young people are empowered, including the choice to engage for as long as agreed; and that: supports their holistic, positive development as rangatahi that contribute to themselves, their whanau, community and world.”(Youth Policy.Org)
I don’t think anyone would deny that it is important work that can make a difference in young people’s lives and it is already happening everywhere in many countries so why are we talking about professionalizing Youth Work. Because professionalizing youth work is an important process that will also make a difference in young people’s lives. The process puts a spotlight on the specific issues, barriers and needs that young people confront every day. The process then inevitably focuses on the resources required to undertake work with young people to systematically challenge and remove those barriers. The process also aims to impact on the quality of the youth work that young people experience and it publicly validates the role so that the advocacy performed by youth workers is seen as legitimate, lawful and most importantly essential.
This has already begun as the majority of Commonwealth Countries have a youth policy or strategy that, like in the case of Zambia,begin by wanting to focus holistically on the problems that impact on young people concluding in their youth policy that the responsibility of Government is to provide resource mobilization to ensure young people can access the necessary services (Ministry of Sport, Youth and Child Development, 2006). Similarly in Jamaica, the Youth Policy is underpinned by human rights and discusses the responsibility of Government to foster those rights and ensure young people’s access to education, health, and employment services (National Centre for Youth Development, 2003). Around the globe Governments understand the importance of ensuring that young people are able to participate in the civic and political life of their country.
Professional Youth Workers are able to assist Governments to partner with young people to achieve their stated outcomes however; Youth Workers need training and support to succeed in this role. Professional training and building the capacity of the youth work industry through the establishment and ongoing maintenance of associations and networks will make a significant contribution to that partnership and to young people. Professional Youth Workers understand their role as advocates and can identify the systemic barriers that young people face and subsequently how they can work alongsidecommunities to remove those barriers. Professional Youth Workers grow in their understanding of how to work with Government, partner with relevant stakeholders and most importantly validate practice ensuring that it is ethical and always driven by the best interests of the young person.
In return Governments will partner with a professional sector that shares common goals that focus on achieving change in young people’s economic and social status.All be it that they may not always agree on the process to achieve those goals or the success of the outcomes. Professionalizing Youth Work will support that process because Governments will grow in their understanding of what the role of Youth Workers are and how they work with young people to achieve just that, a change in their economic, civic participation and social status and of course the range of their work that supports young people in a myriad of other ways. Governments will grow in their understanding of the role of Youth Workers in public policy debates and why they must be included as legitimate stakeholders with young people. Governments will grow in their understanding of why they fund Youth Work and the quality of the practice that they can then assume because of professionalization and establishing the professional identity of Youth Work.
So the professionalization of Youth Work is not only about the identity of youth workers but it is much more about the process that is as a consequence of that professionalization. That process, like youth work, is focused on improving outcomes for young people and it is why the Commonwealth Youth Program maintains that Professionalization and subsequently formally legitimizing the role and practice of Professional Youth Workers will continue to make significant differences in young people’s lives in the Commonwealth.
Associate Professor Robyn Broadbent
Victoria University Youth Work
Ministry of Sport, Youth and Child Development, 2006, Zambia Youth Policy.
National Centre for Youth Development, 2003, Jamaica Youth Policy.
Youth Policy.Org, Overview of National Youth Policies,