At the recent Federation of Detached youthwork conference in Leeds last weekend, Tania de St Croix presented insights from her Phd work, which has subsequently been published (a copy is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grassroots-Youth-Work-Resistance-Practice/dp/1447328604/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479844846&sr=8-1&keywords=tania+de+st+croix
In it she interviewed a whole load of youth workers, mostly part time ones, and found that, maybe unsurprisingly, youth workers intimated the Passion they had for their work. They were passionate about getting to know young people, passionate about being able to have significance, they used phrases like ‘heart’ or ’emotional’ to indicate that not only did they ‘do’ youth work, it was something that they ‘felt’. They were, and youth workers are generally passionate.
The passion that youthworkers show for young people is as equally shown in their desire to ‘fight’ to protect good services, youth clubs on the brink of closure’ or try and fight for the change that would enable young people to flourish. It is undoubtedly not just a head game, but a heart one too.
Tania goes on to describe how a youth worker , who is passionate, is likely to undertake a path of least controversy in the practice of youth work, for the simple reason that their passion for the young people (and dare i say it in a faith based Setting, coupled with their passion for God) takes a precedence over the politics and organisational structures that are causes of stress. In situations where Management and the Ideology of measuring outcomes in youthwork has taken over, some youthworkers play the game in order to comply, and thus maintain funding for roles, thus ensuring that they continue to maintain being a face to face youthworker. As Tania argues, barely any youthworker resists the onslaught of figures and outcomes, rationalising it as a necessity for funding (p112).
I want to ask a slightly different question however from Tania’s work and insight.
Does a youthworkers passion for their role have an impact on their own self care?
A few weeks ago i posted a blog about self-care in youth ministry, basing it on Stephen Coveys 4 aspects of life such as , Social, Physical, Mental and Spiritual which, for an effective person ( in Stephen coveys ‘habits of effective people’) need to be acknowledged, sharpened and renewed every now and then, if not weekly.
It is worth bringing in the professional boundaries that are also a factor in Youthwork. I would say these are especially worth considering given that youthworkers is a practice which self-orientated to places between other structures, in the borders. This means that its guidelines for practice, though are not vague, but that youthworkers in their dealings with young people will be making on the spot and ethical decisions on an ongoing basis.
They are likely to want to ‘go the extra mile’ for a young person, or work an extra hour on a funding bid, all of which could be sourced from the passion that they have for the young person. As an addition would it be fair to say that youthworkers by disposition are likely to be the ‘kind’ of people who are selfless, who have a desire to be helpful, have a naturally generous personality? This coupled with their passion for their work, their ministry, their young people, their faith even – might mean that they naturally forget their self care.
When i say forget, i might also mean neglect, or ignore, or deem it unimportant. Now, who is going to help a youthworker look after themselves? their manager? their supervisor? their friend (if they have time for friends) – it is most likely to be the youthworker themselves.
But their passion for their young people, their ministry, their future career, their creativity, their team building, their faith – though all commendable, though all important, though all essential to be maintained – might be the very thing that prevents them from thinking about themselves.
I have seen too many Gap year youthworkers suffer burnout two months before they were due to end even a year of full time experiences to know it isnt just Part time, full time paid youthworkers, it is volunteers too.
Maybe in youthwork/youth ministry we need to create cultures that are prophetic, that endorse the times that are quiet as valuable , and encourage people to being off to recharge in their own time, and endorse constructive ways of filling that time to recharge.
Maybe those of us in the position of management of a youthworker need to realise that it might be also our responsibility to push, to create cultures, and encourage, not just model, a work with young people that recognises the need for positive self care in youthworkers. A youthworker might not recognise it before it is too late. They might have been riding the crest of adrenaline for far too long, or using the excuse that they love their work, and its fulfilment of it, has kept them going, when in reality this only lasts so long. They might also be very eager to please when we as those in authority over them give them tasks, we may if were honest as managers sometimes take advantage of this.
So, might a youth workers passion cause them to forego dissention for the sake of vocation, probably, might that similar passion mean that they also forget themselves and their own self care, probably. If a youthworker is likely to forget about their own self care, then it is up to those around them, personally, and for those can create a culture of the work/ministry to value the importance of this.