NOTE: This article has changed the way that youth workers are planning their projects. 


What makes a young person vulnerable?

As a youth worker, some of the young people you will come into contact with may be more vulnerable than others and have a wide range of needs, some more serious than others.

These needs could stem from a number of risk factors or negative influences in that young persons life.


This could include one or more of the following;

  • The development of that young person, including their emotional and social development, behavioural development
  • Identity, including self-esteem and self image
  • Health, Including their general health, physical development, or speech and language
  • Family and home life, such as family breakdown, negative reputation, unemployment and financial issues
  • Housing
  • Educational issues
  • Negative peer group

The impact of these factors could increase the possibility of that young person engaging in negative behaviour, such as offending / anti-social behaviour, substance misuse, poor self care, inappropriate sexual behaviour, having mental health issues, poor attendance at school, college or training or being NEET.

This type of behaviour could have a harmful impact on that young persons future, and we, as youth workers want to encourage and support young people to achieve positive outcomes, therefore, we should be making every effort to reduce any negative factors.

Although there are many professionals from different agencies who can contribute to reducing these negative factors, I believe that youth workers are one of the best placed practitioners to begin the process of supporting the young person in addressing many of these factors due to the voluntary nature of their relationship.

Youth workers need to take advantage of this position when planning and delivering their provision, by not only catering to the wants of the young people, but also incorporating elements which can contribute to providing their needs.



Striking a balance

There is no doubt that, we in the west live in a consumer-driven society. We are confronted every day with media messages from every angle telling us that we need some type of new goods or product to improve our lives and make us more likeable or acceptable by society. This has caused the line between what we want and what we truly need to become distorted.

Also, our desire for what we want is much greater than the desire for what we need. The want is usually impulsive and selfish, but the need is usually suppressed and concealed. The want is usually a short term fix, while the need is often deep rooted and difficult to deal with.

When planning an outstanding project it is important to strike a balance between delivering what the young people Want and what they Need. If your project can deliver both of these, then it will be successful in many ways. The problem you will find is often times people focus primarily on what they want, rather than what they need.

Many times I have seen youth workers who were unable or unwilling to make that distinction between a want and a need and make the mistake of continually providing a young person or group’s wants in an attempt to win favour with them.

This is often done with the best of intentions and a desire to do the best for the young people; however, it has often backfires, creating a sense of entitlement, ingratitude and can be seen to reward or reaffirm negative behaviour.


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The WANT / NEED Window

When exploring this theory some years ago I created a diagram which I called The Want / Need Window, to help me to better understand how the wants and needs of a young person impacts on their engagement and participation in the provision offered. This also helped me to consider this when planning project and services to deliver to young people.

Let’s explore how the window works.


Looking at the diagram you will see a basic scale comprising of four factors; low want, high want, low need, high need.

The level of Want is plotted vertically on the scale with the bottom indicating that the project or service does not adequately meet the Wants of the young person and the top end indicating that the project or service does meet their Wants.

The level of Need is plotted horizontally on the scale with the left side indicating that the project or service does not adequately meet the Needs of the young person and the right side indicating that the project or service does meet their Needs.

The window is broken up into four squares or quadrants; each quadrant represents the level at which the service or provision offered meets the young persons wants and needs.

It also gives a basic description of the likely response of the young person when offered that service or provision.

Each quadrant is designed to be viewed from the perspective of the young person and not that of the service provider.



The Four Quadrants



Low Want, Low Need;

The service or provision offered does not offer anything that the young person feels they want or need at that particular time in there life.


It will be very difficult, if not impossible to get that young person to voluntarily engage in that service.


High Want, Low Need;

The service or provision that is on offer is something that the young person really wants to do, however, that provision will not supply any of their needs.


The young person  will happily engage when they choose to, however, this could be a missed opportunity to begin to address some of the underlying issues.


Low Want, High Need;

The service or provision that is on offer is something that the young person does not want to participate in; however, it will support some of their needs.


The Young person may, with enough encouragement, engage voluntarily; however, they might need a lot of support to remain engaged. This support could be in the form of a key worker or a peer mentor, or simply allowing them to bring a friend along to the initial sessions.


High Want, High Need;

The provision that is on offer is something that the young person really wants to do and also includes an element of support directed towards their needs.


It is very likely that the young person will engage voluntarily with very little persuading and will remain engaged throughout the length of the project.



I am very aware that this balance is not always achievable, however, the aim is to consider these factors when planning projects.


In the next post we will be examining a number of tools you can use to help you assess the needs of young people.

In the meantime, please use the comments box below to share your thoughts and experences on striking a balance between the wants and needs of young people.


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