Full Disclosure
September 12, 2008
Youth development- The role of social workers

The importance of the role of social workers in the general development of our society is beyond measure. It is also without any doubt that if we are to improve the youth product in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines that our social workers will play a pivotal role. Yet we all fail at times to recognize the effectiveness of the work done by many of our nation’s social workers.{{more}}

In order to foster effective youth development, there must be an organized system of social workers operating in the general interest for the advancement of youth. Youth development workers work directly with young people, often in small groups, and collaborate with youth, families, and other staff in creating and carrying out important services needed for youth empowerment. These projects identify and nurture the unique gifts and talents of each young person, and assist youth individually and collectively to find and “grow” their power.

An effective youth development worker is creative, energetic, and has an unshakeable belief in the potential of every young person to achieve great things and make real contributions to their community. It is only by being able to effectively harness the potential which resides within our youth that we can truly be able to tap into the bulk of our human resource base. Hence, there is a need for a renewed focus on the role of enhancing the relationship which exists between social workers and our communities.

How then can we better protect our youth? The work in the community should emphasize reducing exposure to risk factors. These risk factors are quite evident in the levels of anti- social activities which so often entice our youth. Social workers who do prevention work engage collaboratively with a wide variety of stakeholders, including youth themselves, in creating projects that reduce behaviors and conditions that lead to poor developmental outcomes, such as substance abuse, violence, harassment, depression, and child maltreatment, among others. It is, therefore, clear that in any attempt to rid our society of many of the vices which plague our nation’s youth, we must ensure that we work closely with our social workers, since the careful utilization of their expertise is critical if we are to succeed.

Where does the work begin? The work begins by convening the groups of stakeholders, inclusive but not exhaustive to parents, youth, educators, religious leaders, community members, and representatives of the business and law enforcement communities. The group assesses needs and resources, identifies goals, plans and implements programs and evaluates their impact. It is in this regard that it must always be appreciated that our circumstances dictate that an absence of strong community groups will make us into an extremely vulnerable society.

The role of the social worker is decisive at this point. The social worker brings specific skills to each phase of the process, while also encouraging a commitment to shared contribution and shared responsibility among those involved. An additional responsibility is identifying and soliciting the financial, political and human support required for program implementation.

The most effective prevention programs are those that are deeply rooted in the local community and are consistent with local values, and can be maintained over the long term with readily available resources. Designing effective programs consistent with these guidelines requires considerable creativity, and blending knowledge of the prevention research with knowledge of local conditions.

A key role for professional social workers is that of counselor, and one of the core functions of social work is to teach resilience. The social work counselor may work with youth individually or in groups, and with families. Counseling goals are individualized, but generally involve decreasing exposure to risk factors, increasing exposure to protective factors, reducing problem behavior and supporting positive action on the part of youth. Examples include improving family communication and relationships, building positive peer networks, assisting youth in problem-solving and in gaining access to resources, working to resolve school problems, and dealing with emotional struggles.

Many of the problems young people experience are rooted in impoverished, difficult and even dangerous social and physical environments. Assisting them may require work in the home or community, accessing alternative experiences or living situations, and advocacy to obtain adequate services.

One particularly exciting emerging professional role for social workers with an interest in youth development is community building and community organizing. It is a known fact that young people flourish in flourishing communities. It has become clear also that our youth can also contribute in major ways to strengthening their communities.

Social workers in these efforts are knowledgeable about and skilled in developing strong social bonds, enhancing civic culture, and working collaboratively with diverse groups, as well as in engaging and supporting the power of youth in their participation in these efforts. This work, however, requires perseverance, creativity and, often, courage. Abilities to effectively negotiate bureaucracies and evaluate projects are also decisive, because community building projects are often dynamic.

A special thanks to all our nation’s social workers.

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.