Is Youth Work regarded as a second class profession?

Before I get into the content of this post I must state that I have the utmost respect for teachers and social workers and those in a similar role and this is not an attack on those professionals.

However, I do need to deal with this issue on behalf of all my fellow youth workers who have endured this mistreatment long enough.

What is the problem?

I have never been one for conflict and confrontation, however, on a few occasions I have had to put my foot down and defend my practice in a room full of other professionals.

On many occasions I have been asked, by other professionals, that condescending question, “but what exactly do you do?” this is in the context of me working with young people.

Now, I think I am a practically patient man, and I have learnt over time to just let people play their games and not get drawn into it.

I often respond in a very controlled and professional manner with my standard stock answer; explaining that I aim to engage with young people and encourage their participation in positive activities that will support their development into adulthood. I then may go on to give a few examples of past projects that I feel demonstrate clearly the impact of my work.

There were sometimes a few come back questions, and on occasions, it was as though the order had been given to declare open warfare on the depraved youth worker, and others took the opportunity to take a few shots.

I am a believer that what does not kill you makes you stronger, and I have survived these battles and I hold no malice toward the persons responsible.

I also believe the real question these professionals would like to ask is this;

How is it, that you have such a positive relationship with these young people and how do you get them to remain engaged on a voluntary basis?

I think that many of those who have this attitude towards youth workers simply dislike the fact that we are able to establish, develop and maintain positive, trusting and lasting relationships with the same young people they struggle to keep engaged.

In my judgement, that this professional snobbery is actually a result of professional envy.


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You can’t argue with outcomes

I remember attending a multi-agency meeting regarding a very vulnerable young person which was held at the school where that young person was currently excluded from.

The meeting was made up of a social worker, a teacher, a pastoral support worker, an educational welfare officer, and me.

I attended the meeting in place of one of my staff who was this young person’s key worker at the time.

As the meeting went on it was clear that we were the only agency that the young person was engaging with on a consistent basis. It also came to light that we held the most up to date and correct information about that young person and their family situation and we also had a positive relationship with the young person’s parents who would not engage with the other services.

This was all down to the skill and approach of the youth worker, who I must say was one of the best I have managed.

As the meeting commenced the chairperson asked if my staff member would be willing to act as the Lead professional in a CAF, which I arranged and this led to a positive outcome for that young person.

This was evidence that the role of the youth worker is extremely valuable if not vital to any process involving young people.


The flip side

Unfortunately, there is also another side to this matter, and that is that some youth workers conduct themselves so unprofessionally that it is embarrassing.

I cringe when youth workers consistently arrive late to meetings, or even worse, don’t turn up at all and fail to send their apologies. Or when they fail to deliver on delegated actions and try to wing their way around it.

Many youth workers I know, have a very calm, laid back persona, which works in their favor when dealing with young people, however, they fall short when it is time to make the transition to the professional arena, and this is what gives the critics their ammunition.


So what can be done combat this snobbery? 

Here are 7 tips to help you deal with professional snobbery:

  1. Conduct yourself professionally – I made a decision a long time ago, that no matter what is going on around me and regardless of how others conduct themselves, and I am not going to lower my professional standard.
  2. Be constructive, positive and motivated – Resist the urge to be negative or point out a person’s faults.
  3. Deliver above and beyond expectations – Go the extra mile when completing tasks
  4. Be on time for appointments – Put meeting start times half and hour earlier in your diary. Adopt this theory, “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late”.
  5. Don’t make excuses – If you make a mistake or fail to deliver the goods, just be open and honest and take responsibility.
  6. Be easy to collaborate with – Make an effort to identify and remove any barriers to working collectively.
  7. Don’t bite – Respond to negativity with humour, sensitivity, and tolerance even under difficult circumstances. 

Bonus Tip: 

Ask yourself this question; “If I were the boss, would I want to employ ME?” – If the answer is no, then take responsibility for improving your performance.


I am sure I am not the only one who has had to deal with this. If you have a story, please share it in the comments section below.


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