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Youth Counselor


Adolescents have it rough most of the time. Their body is undergoing change, their emotions are all over the place, they are trying to figure out their future, but they are reluctant to let go of their past. Throw in a couple of run-ins with the police, trouble with their parents and a bunch of teachers who don't understand them, and there is the ideal candidate for a youth worker.

Youth counselors are fantastic people. They work with all kinds of teenagers, from 13-year-olds who have been caught stealing one too many times, to 16-year-old abuse victims who have run away from home. These counselors act as psychologists, friends, and advocates for the youth that many members of the adult world would rather not have to deal with. They accompany the youth to court, they throw parties for them in group homes. They help their clients with their homework, they sit up late with them at night and talk about their fears and regrets. Youth counselors establish trust between themselves and their clients, in order to allow for healing, learning, and development to take place.

Youth counselors help their clients in a number of different ways, in a variety of locations. They are on staff at group homes, they have offices in hospitals, mental health clinics, and shelters. They can be found in schools, in community youth groups, and in private clinics. They meet regularly with their clients, helping them develop strategies for change and development. They hold workshops instructing them in life skills, anger management, and run self-esteem building initiatives, like drama workshops and writing classes. They meet with their clients one-on-one to discuss their issues privately. The primary goal of all adolescent counselors is to prevent the troubled youth from turning into angry, dysfunctional adults. By building up confidence, improving their educational prospects, and allowing them to trust and share, youth counselors are trying to mold their clients into well-adjusted people with bright, positive futures.

Youth workers work as part of a team of social workers, psychologists, recreation therapists, foster care workers, teachers and other professionals. They make sure that the various treatments and efforts of these other workers are helping their clients, they assess their treatment paths, and make recommendations to the other professionals about the youth at risk. This is not an easy job, as each worker may have four or five children under their watchful eye at one time. It takes a dedicated, organized, and passionate individual to become a youth worker.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in a career in youth work? Youth workers should be sensitive, honest, and dedicated to helping youth figure out their place in the world. They must be mature, have good self-esteem, and be creative thinkers and problem solvers. Youth counselors must be able to come to decisions quickly and under pressure. They should be flexible, willing to work long hours, and organized enough to balance a number of clients, including documenting their progress, meeting with their other workers, and still have time to take them shopping or listen to their stories.

They need to have excellent observation and communication skills, and be someone who relies on instinct as well as education when it comes to approaching and tackling new challenges. They should also have an interest in social activism, and be ready to act as an advocate during government cutbacks to social programming which will adversely affect their clients, or when communities come down hard on the youth they are trying to help.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Interview clients and their families, social workers, and teachers to learn background information
  • Actively encourage clients to join programs and discussion groups
  • Meet with clients regularly, giving support and discussing any difficulties or problems
  • Refer clients to other social services
  • Run various kinds of workshops and social service programs
  • Assist in evaluating the treatment programs by monitoring clients' behavioral changes
  • Communicate client information with other social service agencies
  • Maintain a safe emotional distance from clients
  • There is no typical day for a youth counselor. It all depends on where they work. Usually, though, there will be a lot of discussion, listening, and advising clients. Facilitating group discussions, and planning and implementing recreational activities and life skills workshops will be frequent tasks. The youth counselor will spend substantial amounts of time writing reports and conferring with other social workers about their clients.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Youth counselors are employed whereever there may be adolescents at risk. They may be on staff at community centers, religious groups, young offender correctional facilities, group homes, private clinics, hospitals and mental health clinics, high schools and with government youth development projects. They are primarily government employees, and may be required to work evenings, overnights, weekends, and holidays. When working with at-risk individuals, it is important that their support systems be reliable, and willing to help whenever it is needed--therefore, on call work can be expected. The youth counselor may have an office, with a desk and a computer, but will also do a lot of traveling, visiting the places their clients go, including school, dinners out with parents, and court.

  Long Term Career Potential  
There are many options for youth counselors. They can move up the ranks, becoming a supervisor or director of a program, center, or group home. They can enter private practice, work for a school board, or different government agencies. Youth counselors can always become speakers in schools, community centers, and parent support groups, or run workshops. There is of course the option of returning to school and becoming a social worker, or a family counselor, teacher, or professional social activist, fighting on behalf of your former clients' rights.

  Educational Paths  
While full-fledged social workers require a university degree in social work, youth counselors can usually get started with a diploma in child and youth care, or community service diploma with a focus on youth studies. This is the minimum requirement for youth counsellors, however if you plan on moving on, additional courses, volunteer experience, or some university courses in social work and psychology aren't a bad idea.

Some regions offer certification programs, which may or may not be mandatory upon graduation from your program. It is a good idea to contact the youth work department at the school you are planning on attending to find out your region's certification requirements.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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