Whangia ka tupu, ka puawai: That which is nurtured, blossoms and grows

It’s International Youth Worker Week! An extraordinary youth worker from Rainbow Youth, Morgan Butler, has been named from the hundreds of nominees as a finalist in the Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards. Morgan is a Support Manager at Rainbow Youth, an organisation which supports queer and gender-diverse youth by providing and running training opportunities, peer support services and advocacy campaigns. Morgan’s a pretty amazing person, doing youth work in a context where the need is great. Sexuality and gender diverse young people face big challenges in Aotearoa currently, and Morgan’s work to empower and champion rainbow young people makes a big difference.

Youth workers work in a distinct, complementary and highly effective way with our young people alongside social workers, teachers, counsellors, youth aid officers, nurses, mentors and doctors. Youth workers put young people’s strengths and rights at the centre of their work. Rather than educating, treating or solving problems, youth workers work to build a relationship which empowers the young person.

Our amazing Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft has spoken compellingly about the need for youth workers who walk alongside young people as opposed to intervening. He draws a distinction between care and cure models, and argues for the need for both, particularly for young people who are engaged with our care and youth justice systems.

Youth work is something which needs to be nurtured as a profession, so that this relational approach can blossom, grow and take a place at the table where services are designed for young people. In my work as a teacher, I saw firsthand the transformations that awesome youth workers like Morgan can effect because of the quality of the relationships they build. Young people can flourish and build hope when they are understood and seen and affirmed on their own terms. Youth work in Aotearoa is underpinned by the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa, a manifesto which sits within the heart of the youth development sector.

New Zealand’s youth workers and youth work practice are internationally recognised as leading thinking about what it means to work in a postcolonial, treaty-based and rights focused way. We want all our young people to flourish and grow into hopeful and connected members of our communities, democracy and economy. The conditions which enable this growth are eco-systemic – they’re made up of the complex, interdependent relationships between policy, practice, professions, culture and resourcing. These factors define our youth development ecosystem, and consequently the space that as a nation we’re creating for our young people to step into.

Currently in Aotearoa, our youth development ecosystem is compromised. Young people are sliced up by policy, with fragmented approaches across education, health and youth and social development. This government’s social investment approach has resulted in a much needed focus on spending on 0-5 year olds- but this has happened at the expense of a strategic focus on our 12-24 year olds. Staffing cuts at Youthline announced over the weekend come at the end of a very uncertain year for the community sector in general, and the youth development sector in particular.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate our amazing people like Morgan, who with so many others across the youth development and community sectors are working against the odds to make a big difference our country’s future. We do this in a challenging environment, where funding is scarce and our work is not always valued in the way it should be. So, let’s nurture our people working in challenging environments, so that the people they work with can flourish and grow.

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