top of page

About Youth Work NSW

Youth Work NSW is the newly established professional association for youth workers in New South Wales.

Our primary purpose is to support youth work as a profession, ensuring that young people have access to ethical, skilled and committed youth workers.
We create opportunities for youth workers to organise and to share their knowledge and experience, we bring together key resources to uphold and elevate our practice, and we work together with others to make NSW a better, fairer place for young people.

You can read the Constitution here.


The youth work profession was born out of the Industrial Revolution and the mass displacement of people from the countryside to the cities in the nineteenth century.  By 1850 in the great industrial cities of the world, many young people were living and working independently, often from 13 or 14 years old, without the guided introduction to adult life that traditional rural communities would have offered.  Organisations like the YMCA and the Boys Brigade were established in cities like London and Glasgow to connect with young people and help them navigate the challenges of a rapidly-changing society. They quickly went viral throughout the industrialising world, with the YMCA finding a foothold in Sydney in 1853 (less than a decade after its foundation in London), the Boys Brigade in 1882, The Settlement, a university-based community work movement heavily involved with young people, was established in 1891.

From these faith-based and charitable beginnings, youth work has become established globally as a professional practice that is concerned with young people and what young people want to happen, rather than what adults want young people to do.

You can read more about the history of youth work here.

Youth Work as a profession

While youth work has been around a long time it has been slow to organise professionally, partly due to its strong commitment to its alignment with young people rather than powerful institutions.  Youth Work NSW recognises the tensions but, with overwhelming support from the field, have realised that if things are going to change youth workers need to organise, to have access to systematic training and to have a voice in policy development and reform.

There is a persistent theme in the way that our society thinks about young people that sees adolescence as a kind of pathology and young people themselves as a problem.  As a result, young people are treated differently, and often prejudicially. They are excluded from the protection of human and civil rights instruments and from basic rights like the right to vote, the right to equal pay for equal work and the right to equal opportunity in housing or employment.  Interventions are made into their lives by governments and other institutions without young people having any say or any choice in the matter.  Work with young people is often coercive.  Professionals who work with them are often trying to get them to do what parents, schools or the State wants them to do rather than listening to what they might see as the right thing for their own lives.

Youth workers refuse to view young people as a problem. Young people are members of our community, our fellow citizens, people with something to say and a contribution to make. They may face difficulties from time to time, like we all do.  Many of these difficulties arise from the discriminations and exclusions that they face.  Our job is to help young people navigate the adult world and make a successful, effective contribution to it. 


And to push the adult world to be a bit more open to that contribution and aware of its value.

Youth Work NSW’s job is to support and enhance this professional tradition, to be a focal point for it, and to be able to contribute to the development of public understanding and public policy about young people, and youth work, in New South Wales.

You can read more about the idea of the profession and how Youth Work understands itself as a profession here.

bottom of page