If you believe what you read in certain newspapers, you’ll think that all youngsters are hoodie-wearing, knife-carrying thugs who are hiding behind our couches waiting for the best opportunity to pounce.
Of course, this isn’t the case!
Young people can often be confused and frustrated. Consequently, some are unable to cope with these emotions and can find themselves getting into trouble. Most of these ‘youths’ are just in need of a helping hand and a point in the right direction – this is where youth workers come into play.
What exactly will I be doing?
Youth work and youth justice is all about helping young people between the ages of 13 and 19 to develop themselves, improve their situation and their future prospects. Often, the focus is on children from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have received the support that so many others take for granted. You’ll genuinely be helping young people to progress with their lives and to push on successfully into adulthood. Consequently, these careers can be incredibly rewarding.
When it comes to youth justice, the main focus is on preventing young people from offending and re-offending. You could be helping to solve all kinds of issues, from drug abuse and criminality to disengagement at school or work. The main aim is to provide support to an individual and prevent them from ‘falling off the right track’, so to speak.
A career in youth work is certainly not going to be your usual nine-to-five desk job. Your working environment is likely to be changing constantly. For example, one day you might be at a youth centre and on another day you might be at a school, a court or a police station. It all depends on who you are helping to support and what’s going on with them at the time.
A big part of a youth worker’s job is to inspire people and help them realise that they have the opportunity to be what they want to be. Some young people are extremely underprivileged and are thus not exposed to the opportunities that so many of us have on a plate.
It’s very easy for people in this situation to think the worst and believe that there is nothing they can do. Your mission is to lead these young’uns towards positive activities and, all ‘cheesiness’ aside, make them believe in themselves!
These careers are certainly not for the faint-hearted. Often, the young people you will be working with won’t want anything to do with you, and many of them will certainly tell you so in no uncertain terms!
Furthermore, the challenging situations that some service users encounter can expose you to some hugely distressing, complicated and uncomfortable experiences. However, at all times, you must remember that youth work can really make a difference to people’s lives.
How do I get started in youth justice?
So have you got what it takes then?! First and foremost, ladies and gents, it’s essential that you have a strong commitment to the young people you are helping. It will also help massively if you have common interests with the people you are supporting. This can be a fantastic way for you to forge relationships with service users early on.
If you are looking to work as a professional youth worker, the National Youth Agency now stipulates that you must hold a relevant undergraduate degree. However, work experience is the key thing for everybody looking to enter this area of social care. This is not only to bolster your CV, but to help you truly understand whether youth work is for you.
Sorry, more cheese on the way… Young people are the future. If we want the best for them when they’re adults – that they’re successful, responsible, hardworking and happy – we need to lay the foundations for that now. If you think that you could be part of that, then this could be the right path for you.