Youth work practice is complex and dynamic. It is riddled with situations that are layered and involved, dealing with multiple considerations and changing circumstances. These dilemmas represent the knotty situations even experienced practitioners face every day. In these situations, there is no formula or manual that tells the youth worker what to do.
Last week, Cece wrote about how personal ethics inform decision making in these situations. Much of my work focuses on the dilemmas of youth work - exploring the range of dilemmas encountered, as well as the features of effective responses.
This spring, youth workers participating in the Youth Work Institute course Deliberate Practice Matters were introduced to recent research I co-wrote on the diversity and complexity of dilemmas that youth workers face daily, and how their responses influence program quality. Together, they dug into the sticky challenges and issues of everyday youth work and examined ways to respond to real-life dilemmas. In addition to reacting to dilemmas identified by research, participants discussed and mind-mapped dilemma scenarios from their own work, including:
- How do you deal with a "three strikes and you're out" policy that results in losing the very youth the program is intended to serve?
- How do you respond when you witness a youth helping a parent tamper with a drug test in order to avoid jail?
One way to help youth workers understand and effectively respond to dilemmas is to create a forum for them to talk about their struggles with one another. This might be through a course like Deliberate Practice Matters, dedicated staff meeting time for discussing dilemmas, or even social media, such as Australia's Youth Action and Policy Association's blog on ethical dilemmas in youth work. I don't have answers - in fact, I would argue that there typically is no one right answer. But I have seen how powerful - and empowering - it can be to strategize responses to these dilemmas with peers.
What resources do you use to guide your responses to dilemmas of practice? Consult a trusted colleague? Rely on your formal training? How do you decide what's right to do and good to be in your work with young people?