It’s high-time for another round of #YouthNotes, where I hang with as many youth workers in as many countries as possible, tryna learn about the communities of young minds that they serve. (If you’re confused, read up more here!)
In this installment, we hopped down to Wellington and explored an age-old question: Ok, but are you legit? In the US, lawyers have to pass the dreaded Bar to practice law; each state has its own rules of certification if you want to teach. What happens when a whole country agrees to certain standards you must pass in order to mold young minds as a youth worker?
In Wellington, we learned about a nationwide effort to help youth workers in New Zealand simply Do Better. Read on for my take as to why the US needs to get to steppin’ in unifying the folks who serve our young minds.
…Illustrated by Broad City gifs.
Last month, as Peter and I cruised our way down from Auckland, we landed in Wellington for a haahht second. We had about 1.5 days to frolic before catching a ferry to the South Island, and I felt a little anxiety about leaving the more heavily-populated and metropolitan North (read: More poppin’ youth programs than the nature-y, vacation-y South).
Bless the universe that brought us Andrew and Elliot from Zeal West, who kindly connected us to Jenna and James at the Zeal Wellington branch. And maybe bless our crazy schedules, too, because we ended up joining for dinner at their house just a 10-minute drive from where we were camping.
But first, lemme orient the folks at home.
Things You Should Know About Wellington
- Wellington is not just the capital of New Zealand; it’s the southernmost capital city in the world. (Sometimes, I forgot how deep-deep-deepity south we are.) It’s situated right at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, and is the typically ferry/flying off point to access the South Island.
- Wellington is New Zealand’s 2nd biggest city, with a population of a lil’ over 400,000 — about the size (and, actually, vibe) of Oakland, California.
- Wellington is like if politically-progressive and beautiful-bay-situated San Francisco had a love child with creative, shiny-gritty Dumbo/Brooklyn — but sometime in its conception, they got freaky with an industrial fan. The wind there is fierce, y’all. But the city has a surprisingly young and fun spirit for being the political capital of NZ, and we could easily see ourselves living there.
- This isn’t necessarily a fact, but shoutout to Wellington’s dope national museum, Te Papa, which also offered super-fast and free WiFi. I walked in and wiped away one
gangsterbackpacker tear. You get me, Welly.
After dinner, we got cozy on Jenna’s couch with some tea and chocolate, and dove into one thing in particular: The impressive-yet-tricky structure of youth programs in Aotearoa.
New Zealand is about that non-profit lyfe.
James dropped a super interesting (ballpark) figure on us — New Zealand has roughly one charity organization for every 30 citizens. That’s wild. Let that one sit on you for a hot second. Even though many family trusts are listed as charities (womp), there’s still an awareness of community care in New Zealand that makes me happy to have started our #YouthNotes journey here.
And as for youth programs? Hold my tea.
New Zealand’s youth workers are not here to play.
New Zealand’s Qualification Authority — basically, the government body that deems you legit for basically everything — has a whooole program for youth workers to earn a Certification for Youth Development. This means there’s a nationwide set of standards and assessments those looking to work with young people.
Beyond your standard background check, certified youth workers must show a thorough understanding of things like:
- Can you plan a safe event for youth in New Zealand?
- Can you practice thorough self-care while caring for NZ youth?
- Can you properly explain the Tiriti O Waitangi — the Treaty of Waitangi, which is basically the “independence” “agreement” between the British and Maori — to a young person?
- And, can you apply a “treaty” approach when negotiating with and supporting young people?
First of all, how dope?
Related question: Can we just?
And thirdly: Can you imagine those types of standards taking place in the US?
Let’s talk about safe youth events.
From my experience with youth work at home, you definitely don’t need any type of official qualification to start planning camp events involving slippery paint, eggs, scissors, and bored teenage boys. You just need, what — a Safeway Club Card? Youth event planning is often a baptism-by-fire experience, and of course, organizations may put you through company training courses — but those could use some work, too.
Because how did I learn how to plan a safe youth event? I, like many youth workers, watched a thousand events go wrong, a thousand activities end in blood and tears, a thousand programs end in frustration. Trial by error. But I think we can do better than just defining standards of safety in your orientation packet.
Let’s talk about self-care.
Self-care among youth workers is certainly encouraged, but not properly evaluated. (Miss me with those “BuT aRe yOu HaPPy HEre” HR surveys that everyone lies on.) Social workers classically run themselves into the ground while manically caring for others. And when you work for a threadbare non-profit trying its best to serve underprivileged young folks with a dwindling budget (aka, 95% of youth programs in the world), ain’t nobody checking that you’ve remembered to eat, shower, and sleep.
Your boundaries are crap and your work is self-sacrifice. The social work world is made up of so many martyrs and maternal figures. Who’s checking for us?
And let’s talk about colonialism (but really, respect).
Can you imagine youth workers being required to comprehensively explain the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights to young people — or, better yet, the numerous broken pacts and betrayals between European colonizers and indigenous Native American tribes? (Can you imagine an America where more adults can properly understand those freakin’ documents at all?)
We’ve raised American youth on all kinds of lies forever, with certainly one of our most damaging being, “The white folks came and made nice with the brown folks! Freedom! Thanksgiving!!!” What if our youth workers were required to understand the broken treaties that birthed us, so as to better explain why so many of our modern public institutions — education, welfare, health care — are still broken, and still fail our youth today?
It’s fascinating that a whole country seeks to learn from the successes and failures of the very document that brought it into modern form. And it’s sort of mind-blowing, how New Zealand seeks to treat its young people with these standards: Not like Adults Fixing The Kids, but the way two countries would (ideally) approach a whole freakin’ treaty — with a wide berth, with a head for negotiation, with an acknowledgement of fairness for both parties.
It speaks volumes to a striking feature of New Zealand culture: The attempts at acknowledging Maori culture, at weaving it into modern Kiwi culture and honoring the country’s roots.
It isn’t perfect by any means — just as tourists, we’ve witnessed discrimination against Maori folks first-hand, girllemmetellyou — but in so many ways, eons ahead of the much-older United States.