The following scenarios came through the submissions and focus group discussions prior to the release of the second edition of the Code of Ethics for Youth Work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Examples include the following: Behaviour in Personal Time, Clothing, Confidentiality, Criminal Convictions, Dating Young People, Drugs, Gifts, Protesting, Training and Value-based Organisations.

1. Behaviour in Personal Time

A youth worker is regularly intoxicated in their personal time.

Youth workers are positive role models for the young people they work with (Clause 2 Wehenga Tūmanako/Behaviour Covered by the Code). Any behaviour that might be observed by young people or their whānau and is contrary to what the youth worker promotes could affect the youth work relationship – and would therefore be covered by the Code of Ethics.

Clause 3 (Ārahitanga/Your Conduct) requires youth workers to ensure their conduct does not compromise their integrity or bring themselves or their profession into disrepute. Factors that may affect the seriousness of the situation include:

  • How the youth worker behaves at the time of intoxication
  • Whether they are intoxicated in public
  • The nature of intoxication
  • Whether the intoxication has any affect during work time (e.g. hangover, motivation, driving over the limit)
  • What the youth worker or their agency’s message on drinking is (e.g. abstinence or harm minimisation)
  • How the youth worker processes their behaviour with young people, their agency, and/or their supervisor (Clause 4 Puatatanga/Being Transparent).

Other clauses that may be relevant include the personal care clauses (i.e., 17, 18 and 19).

2. Clothing

Youth worker regularly wears tight and revealing clothing.

While the youth work profession celebrates many different contexts, the Code defines central expectations. Youth workers should consider the effect their clothing might have on both young people and the youth work relationship. This involves balancing many factors including:

  • The identity and individuality of the youth worker
  • Relating appropriately to young people
  • Promoting positive body image
  • Activity appropriate clothing (e.g. rock climbing, swimming)
  • Cultural considerations (Clause 12 Āhua me te Oranga/Diversity and Cultural Safety)
  • Respect for more formal events (e.g. funerals, pōwhiri, church).

The youth work relationship is not sexual (Clause 8 Manatū Tangata/ Sexual Boundaries). Regularly wearing tight and revealing clothing could be misunderstood or cause offence (Clause 3.3 Ārahitanga/Your Conduct). Other clothing that should be avoided includes gang-related clothing and t-shirts with messages that are likely to offend.

3. Confidentiality

A young boy confides to his youth worker that his girlfriend is pregnant. He is adamant he does not want his parents to know.

Clause 6 (Noho Matatapu/Confidentiality) outlines the importance of maintaining trust in the youth work relationship. Both the Code and the Privacy Act require this information to be kept in confidence unless the young person has agreed otherwise (i.e. there are insufficient reasons to justify breaching the confidence). However, other clauses of the Code cannot be ignored. The youth worker must work towards ensuring key connections (Clause 13 Papakainga/Ensuring Key Connections, and in particular 13.3).

The processes of empowerment (Clause 21 Hakamanatia/Empowerment) and self-determination (Clause 20 Hiringa/Personal Determination) require consideration of the other supports in the young person’s life. Youth workers are encouraged to explore the reasons why a young person may feel they cannot communicate to their whānau around these issues and explore ways these barriers can be reduced (for example the youth worker might offer to go with the young person to talk with his parents). Ultimately the youth worker must respect the young person’s decision.

When working with young people who are facing challenging decisions youth workers must be aware of their own values (Clause 19.3 Matatau/ Personal Awareness). For example a youth worker with very strong views about abortion (either for or against) will need to be aware of the impact these views might have on the relationship. Similarly a youth worker who has struggled to conceive or experienced an unplanned pregnancy may have unresolved issues that may affect their ability to work effectively with the young person.

Depending on the choices the young man and his partner make the youth worker must also be aware of their limitations (for example he may require legal advice on issues of custody or child support). Whenever a youth worker has limitations they must consider Clause 14 Tautauamoa/ Working Collaboratively and/or Clause 26 Mana Akoranga/Training and Professional Development as key strategies to ensure the young person is able to access the necessary support.

4. Criminal Convictions

A youth worker applies for a position in your agency. Upon completing a police check you discover she has a conviction for possession of a Class C drug from five years earlier.

Youth organisations should not only complete police checks on applicants, but also referee checks and interviews. It is negligent to appoint a youth worker to a position working with young people where reasonable steps would have identified significant concerns.

It is of concern that the agency had only become aware of the conviction upon return of the police check. Agencies should ask open questions when interviewing youth workers that will ascertain this information. If the youth worker has hidden their conviction this is serious from both an ethical and an employment perspective, and agencies should get advice about their disciplinary options (including the possibility of dismissal).

While some offending will immediately exclude applicants (e.g. sexual offending), other types of offending that are historical and that the applicant has moved on from could in fact create empathy and provide realistic advice for young people wanting to change destructive behaviour. Where a history of minor drug offending is disclosed agencies should seek information on the youth worker’s journey with their drug issues (i.e. were there any drug addictions, what rehabilitation process has the applicant been through, what is the applicant’s current attitude to illegal drug use).

5. Dating Young People

A young youth worker (19) is attracted to a young person he works with.

This issue is not uncommon in youth work contexts (particularly those that occur in a wider organisational context, in smaller communities, or groups that promote a high level of youth participation and leadership development). The key issue is the power imbalance that exists at the start of the relationship (i.e. that the attraction developed while the young person related to the youth worker in that role). Clause 8 Manatū Tangata/Sexual Boundaries is very clear that any relationship between a youth worker and a young person is unacceptable. The Code goes on to establish a process the two parties can choose to follow once the youth work relationship has finished.

Whether or not a romantic relationship develops it is important that the youth worker process their feelings with their Supervisor at all stages (Clause 18 Whakahaeretanga/Supervision). Youth workers should also be transparent with managers, mentors, Governance etc. Where appropriate it is also important to encourage and support the young person to process their thoughts and feelings.

It is important not to assume sexuality when considering issues of attraction.

Other clauses that are relevant include Clause 2 Wehenga Tūmanako/ Behaviour Covered by the Code and Clause 4 Puatatanga/Being Transparent.

6. Drugs

Several young people regularly turn up to their youth activity stoned.

This situation is not uncommon, and youth workers have used a number of strategies in this context. Group rules/agreements are one important tool so that all participants are aware of expectations and consequences (although this awareness may be affected by their level of intoxication!). This is consistent with Clause 5 Whakaae Tika/Obtaining Informed Consent.

The decision of whether or not the young person should stay in the programme will depend on the agency rules, level of intoxication, and the affect their behaviour is having on others. Regardless of whether the youth worker allows the young people to stay, the fact that this occurs regularly requires the youth worker to consider wider factors. If the youth worker is going to empower a young person (Clause 21 Hakamanatia/Empowerment) who is regularly using drugs they need to look for opportunities to process the topic with the young person, partnering together to see positive change.

Other clauses that may be relevant include Clause 6 Noho Matatapu/ Confidentiality, Clause 9 Noatanga/Knowing Your Limits and Clause 14 Tautauamoa/Working Collaboratively.

If the young person escalated the situation by dealing or supplying drugs to another young person this should be treated extremely seriously.

7. Gifts

A young person is very isolated and dependant on drugs. They ask their youth worker if they can borrow some money as they are desperate.

The youth worker is under no obligation to give or lend money to a young person. If they wish to do so they should approach this with caution (Clause 11 Āhua Kōrero, Āhua Taonga/Exchanges Between Young People and Youth Workers). Factors the youth worker should consider include:

  • What the money will be used for (in particular the legal implications)
  • Issues of dependency as opposed to empowerment
  • Consequences of non-repayment
  • The effect on the youth work relationship – with this and other young people
  • Any agency policies in place.Other relevant clauses include Clause 3 Ārahitanga/Your Conduct and Clause 4 Puatatanga/Being Transparent (i.e. the youth worker should notify their agency of any gifts given or received).

8. Protesting

A youth worker encourages a group of young people to participate in a protest. One of the young people is arrested.

The Code encourages youth workers to be resourceful in providing opportunities for young people to help shape their lives (Clause 21.4 Hakamanatia/Empowerment). The processes of empowerment and self- determination can involve supporting young people to positively impact the world around them.

However, the Code also requires that youth workers avoid activities that would bring young people into disrepute (Clause 3.4 Ārahitanga/Your Conduct). Participation in protests that may lead to the arrest of a young person is an area that would garner diverse opinions in the youth work community. A decision on whether these actions amount to ‘disrepute’ would depend on the circumstances, including the nature of the protest.

Should a youth worker contemplate participation of young people in a protest they must ensure they have obtained informed consent from the young people and, depending on their age, their parents (Clause 5 Whakaae Tika/Obtaining Informed Consent). The youth worker must also be aware of their personal agendas (Clause 10 Utu Painga/Personal Agendas) and avoid manipulating young people in this regard.

Other relevant clauses include Clause 22 Ōu Tikanga/Rights and Responsibilities and Clause 24 Kawenga/Agents of Change.

9. Training

A youth worker refuses to attend bi-cultural training because of his personal beliefs.

While the Code of Ethics is inclusive of different value bases and contexts (Clause 19 Matatau/Personal Awareness), there are some core areas that youth workers must accept if they choose to adhere to the Code of Ethics. Clause 25 Māramatia Aotearoa/Understanding New Zealand requires youth workers to participate in regular training on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It is the attitude implied in the above scenario that is of more concern than their non-attendance at a workshop.

Other clauses that are relevant include Clause 12 Āhua me te Oranga/ Diversity and Cultural Safety, Clause 22 Ōu Tikanga/Rights and Responsibilities and Clause 26 Mana Akoranga/Training and Professional Development.

10. Value-based Organisations

A church-based youth group is running an event that intends to give young people the opportunity to ‘follow Christ’.

All youth work organisations need to be aware of their value base and what effect this has on the youth work relationship. Agencies that need to take particular care in this regard include faith-based agencies, the queer community and cultural communities. As a profession youth work promotes positive youth development, and in this context values the role that faith- based youth workers can have in a young person’s life. The Code therefore puts a framework around this process.

Young people must know what they are participating in (Clause 4 Puatatanga/Being Transparent) and have a choice about when and how they respond (Clause 5 Whakaae Tiki/Obtaining Informed Consent). In case the youth worker must ensure they do not abuse their position to manipulate young people into the faith belief (Clause 10 Utu Painga/ Personal Agendas). In the above situation experienced and respected youth workers, including those from that particular value base, should be consulted to help determine whether the youth worker’s actions were manipulative or abusive.