Youth workers to get more support to develop careers in the sector and deal with burnout

Youth workers to get more support to develop careers in the sector and deal with burnout

Youth workers - Lena Teo talking to youth mental health
Ms Lena Teo helping youth understand impact of mental health and how to manage their stressors, in a photo that was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lena Teo)

SINGAPORE: Youth workers can expect more mentorship and support in developing their careers, with the launch of two pilot schemes on Friday (May 7).

Practitioners in the youth work sector deal with a range of issues, from counselling vulnerable or at-risk youth to organising outreach initiatives and having programmes to help them return to schools or employment.

The supervision scheme will enable youth workers to receive continuing professional education from experienced practitioners. 

"Under the scheme, youth workers who are unable to obtain clinical supervision at their organisations may directly seek out and engage an experienced supervisor from an approved registry maintained by Youth Work Association Singapore (YWAS)," said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

READ: To help Singapore’s youth at risk, these outreach workers must hit the streets, and fit in

The mentorship scheme, on the other hand, supports youth workers beyond clinical practice. They will be paired with experienced mentors who will provide guidance in their personal and career development.

HELPING YOUTH WORKERS COPE WITH BURNOUT

Supervision and mentorship from senior youth workers are necessary to solve the issue of “longevity” among younger youth workers, said Mr Wilson Tan, the executive director of Youth Guidance Outreach Services.

Working with youth at risk is a key part of the profession, from keeping them out of gangs to lending them a listening ear.

“Over the first two to three years (in the profession), youth workers really go all out in engaging youths to the extent that they get disillusioned, burnt out, tired out. Then they leave the youth work sector,” added Mr Tan, who is also one of the appointed mentors for the mentorship scheme.  

A simulated art therapy session at YouthReach with youth workers Teng Ziying and Aldrich Jai Kishen.
Boys' Town youth workers with their youth clients, in a photo taken to simulate what an art therapy session would resemble before the pandemic. (Photo: Grace Yeoh)

Speaking from personal experience of being a youth worker for more than a decade, he acknowledged that keeping up the energy and passion to engage youth can be “energy sapping”.

“Supervision (and mentorship) is crucial. When we impart our experiences and skillsets to the next group of young youth workers, they can receive proper (guidance) that will help to pace out their youth work journey,” he added.

Getting youth workers to stay in the industry for the long haul also benefits the youth they work with.

“We don’t want youth workers to be there only for a short period of time, like six months, and then disappear from the youth’s life,” added Mr Tan.

“When youths are going through complex issues, it’s a long term struggle, and having significant people who can journey with them for a prolonged period of time will be helpful.”

YOUTH WORKERS ‘PIVOTAL’ DURING COVID-19

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, youth workers have been dealing with more cases of high risk, vulnerable young people who need support.

This makes youth workers “very susceptible” to burnout, said Ms Lena Teo, director of therapy and mental wellness services at CARE Singapore.

She was speaking to CNA at the inaugural Youth Work Day, organised by the Social Service SkillsFuture Tripartite Taskforce (STT) Youth Work Sub-Team, in partnership with the Youth Work Association Singapore and MSF.

Youth workers - Lena Teo with uni students mental health
Ms Lena Teo (third from left) with university students doing their project about helping youth with mental health, in a photo that was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lena Teo) 

A survey conducted by the National Youth Council during the COVID-19 "circuit breaker" on the impact of COVID-19 on youth found that the top challenges they faced are related to mental health, their ability to cope with studies, as well as job and income security.

The impact is more pronounced for those from challenging circumstances and families that are less equipped to deal with the economic disruptions, according to the survey.

“Youth workers play a pivotal role in supporting youths who are most affected by the crisis,” said Mr Eric Chua, parliamentary secretary for MSF and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, at the event.

“Some went to great lengths to secure IT devices for (youth) to have access to home-based learning. Some equipped youths with skills to secure a job and even accompanied them for interviews. They worked with youths’ families to ensure that wraparound support was provided.”

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Given the ever-changing youth culture and lingo, supervision and mentorship for youth workers “should be continuous” too, said Ms Teo, who is one of the supervisors under the supervision scheme.

“Youth workers should get continuous education to keep up to date. This ongoing process will help them become more effective at helping the youth at risk.”

Mr Chua noted that youth work is “a professional practice that requires both hard and heart work”.

“I’ve observed that many (youth workers) share similar attributes, such as energy, patience, charisma, creativity, adaptability, positivity and youthfulness at heart. These qualities are critical in meeting the demands of working with youth, who are constantly experiencing changes on many fronts,” he added.

“As youth workers adapt to the changing youth landscape, we must ensure adequate support and training is provided to them … We must look at supporting their personal and professional growth.”

Source: CNA/gy(gs)

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