Drug & Alcohol Youth Worker

The use of drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and heroine by young people is perceived to be an increasing problem in today's society. It is every parent's worst nightmare - whether real or imagined.  Of course, drug and alcohol abuse is by no means confined to youth.  Some adults also have serious problems with drink and drugs.  Youth workers are often based in the youth and community service of education departments in authorities.  As this is outreach work, the post may also be located in social services because there is an obvious link in that both deal with people at risk. The purpose of the job is to provide a programme of drug prevention education for young people.

Work Environment
This is wherever young people meet for social reasons such as youth and community centres.  Often the posts are part time but a standard working week entails 37 hours. There is a need to work anti-social hours, mostly in the evenings and at weekends.  The environment is not always a structured one and sometimes can be stressful.

Daily Activities
Outreach workers focus on a defined area within the authority establishing links with young people.  They seek to engage with them in their own environment in an attempt to prevent the use of harmful drugs through education.  Their work also includes directing people to sources of help in giving up drugs.  Often the youth workers are employed on a Drug Prevention and Awareness Project (DPEAP) and are accountable to the project co-ordinator.   After they have familiarised themselves with the geographical area of work, outreach workers will establish links with youth centres and the like.  They will join in with drama, sports and other activities in order to get to know the young people and gain their trust.  Their contact with young people requires a light touch and informality.  Both formal and informal education sessions will be arranged and the hard issues of drug abuse faced.    Even though the outreach workers' role is to do with education and awareness, they can organise counselling sessions and information about help that is available for those who need it. If it is alcohol that is the problem, clients can be referred to Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. For the variety of drug abuses that young people may fall prey to, there are agencies that they can be directed to.  This may include GPs and hospitals. 

Outreach workers do not, on their own, make medical or specialist psychological judgements but refer appropriate cases to experts.  They will also work closely with social workers.  In general the youth workers' main function is to build up contacts with the local community and established services for young people, and work on educating their clients before substance and alcohol abuse becomes a problem.  This will entail developing strategies to meet identified needs and promote the service of the DPEAP within the community.  As the causes of abuse may involve a host of other factors, contact with the family is crucial too.

Skills & Interests

To do the job well you would need to have:

  • the flexibility to adapt to change and work effectively in a variety of situations, groups or individuals; 
  • the ability to plan and deliver work effectively; 
  • the ability to receive, understand and convey information and ideas well, using oral and written communication skills; 
  • good health and stamina; 
  • a willingness to work unsociable hours; 
  • a commitment to continuous professional development; 
  • organisational skills; 
  • the ability to draw out the strengths of young people in formal and informal situations.

In terms of knowledge, you should have an understanding of:

  • youth work as an educational process; 
  • how youth work is delivered within an equal opportunities framework; 
  • issues affecting the lives of young people.

In essence, you should be 'streetwise'.

Entry Requirements

As you can work as both a qualified and unqualified youth worker and on a full or part time basis, experience is the key.  Most of the following would be expected:

  • work with young people and adults in formal and informal settings; • work with groups and individuals; 
  • having organized a programme of social education activities; 
  • face-to-face youth delivery work; 
  • experience in developing clear professional boundaries with young people and adults; 
  • having worked with committees.

In addition, a certificate in youth work or the equivalent is helpful.  A good general education is usually required with GCSEs in a minimum of 3 subjects.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
There are many opportunities available in the field of education and social work but no clear promotion path except, after qualification, to Project Leader/Co-ordinator. With outreach work there is the chance to work on special issues like mental health, asylum seekers, Aids and so on.  As a long term aim you could progress by aiming for the Diploma in Social Work or a post in the probation service. In adult education, there are opportunities in basic skills literacy and numeracy work.

Further Information & Services
Alcoholics Anonymous www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/Professionals
British Association of Social Workers www.basw.co.uk/about
British Sociological Association www.britsoc.co.uk
Care Council for Wales www.ccwales.org.uk
Community Service Volunteers www.csv.org.uk/socialhealthcare
DrugScope www.drugscope.org.uk
Skills for Care www.skillsforcare.org.uk
Social Care Association www.socialcareassociation.co.uk

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales (www.careerswales.com/) or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

Related Links