This Is Youth Work: Voices from the Frontlines of Ontario’s Youth Sector

This poster was created by YouthREX.

Presenters:
Uzo Anucha, PhD (Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Academic Director, YouthREX, York University); Sinthu Srikanthan (MSW, Research Associate, YouthREX, York University); Cyril J. Cromwell, PhD (c) (Learning and Development Manager, YouthREX, York University).

Abstract:
Situated between the private and public sectors, the Ontario youth sector is often tasked with designing community-focused and community-based solutions to system-level barriers and inequities for Ontario’s youth. Youth workers, as frontline staff, are a vital component of such community-based youth programs. They work with youth and often become role models, mentors, teachers, and sometimes even surrogate parents to the young people who participate in youth programs. 

We conducted a study to better understand the experiences of these youth workers who are charged with enacting “investments” in youth wellbeing in Ontario’s youth sector. Our study asks: What is youth work in Ontario really like? How does youth workers’ work intersect with their personal lives?  What are the systemic issues, gaps, and barriers encountered by youth workers? How do youth workers navigate these gaps? What issues affect youth workers' ability to do their work with youth as effectively and healthily as possible? 

Our methodology includes seven focus groups with 58 frontline youth workers in five cities across Ontario (Ottawa, London, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Toronto). 

Thematic analysis of these focus groups identified findings centred around four themes: 

1) Youth worker identity and lived experience as a resource 

2) Youth work as numbers work and the pressure of meeting outputs and targets 

3) Youth work as rule bending and unauthorized work 

4) The marginality of youth work and invisibility of youth workers' voices (devalued work and precarious employment)

These findings provide an understanding of the complexities of youth work that stretch across personal, professional, and political identities as well as the precarious working conditions of youth workers. The findings also provide an understanding of how youth work is enmeshed in other systems and how factors beyond the scope of the youth sector impact and shape youth work on the ground. 

 

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