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Ethical Standards


Youth Work

What the NYA Standards mean for you and your practice.


In 1999, the National Youth Agency began a consultation process, together with research that culminated in the formulation of eight ethical and professional principles for youth workers operating in the United Kingdom.

This training report has been written as a tool for workers to examine the implications of these statements for part time youth workers.

Why do we do youth work?

Before we continue, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. We have had a discussion about what youth work is, and what it does. Together with this understanding, we should also ask – why do we do youth work?

Our reasons are varied, but we may see some common reasons with other colleagues. It could well be that we want to...

Change the world?

Help young people gain a voice?

Provide education and open up opportunities?

Pass on our skills and experience?

Keep young people off the streets and out of trouble?

Of course, there are millions of other reasons that bring us into youth work, and these reasons are usually underpinned by our values.

Personal Values

Each person holds a set of values and beliefs that guide them in the moral actions they undertake. Values can be found in almost everything we choose to do, be they religious, or based on our family backgrounds, or our political allegiances.

Importantly, it is often these personal values that bring people into different public service roles, and in this case – youth work. However, sometimes these values can contradict with our professional values – or the purposes of youth work.

The Professional Values of Youth Work

We’ve look at definitions of youth work, but here’s another one that I like:

“Practitioners should set out to enable individual to autonomously pursue their own well-being.

In particular they should seek to enlarge young people’s understanding of their own needs with those of others, help them to display civic courage, and enable them to gain the knowledge, skills and disposition necessary to think and act politically.”

(Taken from: Smith, M.K. (1988) Developing Youth Work, Milton Keynes: OUP)

Lets explore what Mark Smith is trying to say here. He talks about the role of youth workers in ‘enabling’ young people to act independently in identifying their needs and others. Moreover, Smith places an emphasis on our roles as educators – enabling young people to gain information and build their skills to ‘think and act politically’. Civic courage refers to the ability to do this in the face of oppression and discrimination that young people experience.

So, we can begin to see some of the responsibilities within Mark Smith’s statement about what youth work is, and what we should be doing. Although many different agencies employ the services of youth workers – they may have very different reasons than those explored by Smith.

Lets look at the term values again. Having given some attention to the personal values that we carry with us – let us now explore some of the professional values (reasons, motivation and purpose) of youth work.


Extracts taken from a plenary delivered by Jason Wood for part time youth workers in July 2001. 

Please reference accordingly.

© Student Youth Work Online 2001 & Education for Life 2001