When I first started Youth Work I use to think I knew it all and that it was simple. I thought I was going to be a female Dr Phil or something like that and ‘save’ people. I was so wrong. I have come to realise that things are a lot more complex and my values are going to be constantly challenged. Believe me some of the young people I have been working have pin pointed every single one of my values and picked them apart.
I use to be a strong believer in the metaphor ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he will eat for life.’ Now I realise there is more to empowering young people than that alone. Let’s consider: How do you know if they know how to fish or not? Maybe they know how to fish but they just need a rod? Do they even like fish? Perhaps they know a better fishing spot or a different technique? We should utilise our young people because they are the experts in what they want, need and how they feel.
Everyone has baggage and the baggage we come with may hinder our practice. You may think you understand the problem however your experience is not their experience. I remember when someone once said “If I can do it anyone can” I was sitting there thinking to myself “I’m glad I’m your client.” You may think you know the solution however personal experience may blind you from the bigger picture. Are we really helping this person? Or are we imposing on them?
When attempting to offer solutions or advice to ‘help’ someone be mindful that it does not compromise their network of relationships or conflict with their culture or values. This would often fail no matter how attractive or sensible they may seem. For example suggesting to someone to stop their substance use to improve their health, however this could mean that a person could lose their entire social network and may not know what to do with the extra spare time due to no longer using or scoring drugs. Therefore it is important to understand other’s world views. Who they are? How do they see they see the world and their place in it?
Sometimes the more I know, the more questions start to arise. You can never know it all. Youth Work is a journey that does not end and you need to keep on reflecting because nothing is simple or easy. Looking back now I am shocked at how much I have grown both as a person and a worker.
By Laura Partington