Free professional development ideas for youth workers
RACHEL DOHERTY
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
Most youth work jobs involve doing professional development. But finding quality training as a youth worker or school chaplains that doesn’t cost a bomb can be hard. Here’s a list of great options that won’t cost a cent. Just your time and a little effort.

Professional development, or PD, is one of those things you have to stay on top of. In the busy day-to-day life of a youth worker, you can find yourself at the end of December with a lot of catching up to do.

The trick is to have a plan and to stick with it.

“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”

WILLIAM ARTHUR WARD

Putting a professional development plan together

Before you start signing up for PD, it’s best to make a plan. To evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a worker and look for areas of improvement.

Lots of youth workers will opt to sign up heaps of program training to meet their professional development requirements. There are plenty of great programs out there, but they often come with a hefty price tag. If you’re not doing the PD to run groups or programs based on the training, you’re not going to be getting the most out of it. And you could be wasting either yours, or someone else’s money in the meantime.

A better way to develop a professional development plan is to start with a bit of audit. Grab your job description and work your way through every skill, task and bit of knowledge it lists. Are there any on there that you don’t have much experience in, or don’t feel all that confident with? Put them on your list.

Think about the things you do in your job too. Are there parts of your job that could do with a fresh approach? Perhaps some new knowledge or skills?

Here’s ten areas of youth work worth keeping in mind when putting a professional development plan together:

  • Counselling and interpersonal skills and processes you can use in supporting young people
  • Facilitation skills for running groups or working with families
  • Theories of behaviour change and emotional development
  • Community work processes and skills
  • Organisational and managerial approaches
  • Understanding how trauma affects young people
  • Theories of brain development in young people
  • Positive psychology approaches, like developing a growth mindset
  • Supporting young people with mental health issues
  • Critical reflection

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” – Abigail Adams

Free professional development options anyone can access

Not all PD has a big price tag. But then, not all professional development is of a good quality either. When choosing PD activities, it’s important to keep in mind these things:

  • How much will it cost me, and can I live with that?
  • How much time does that activity need to get the most from it?
  • How flexible is the timing? Can it fit in with other commitments?
  • How will it build my knowledge and skills to help me do my job better?

If you’re not sure where to turn to start putting a professional development plan together, here’s six options worth considering.

KidsMatter

This is a national mental health framework for primary schools that focuses on prevention and early intervention. They provide training across Australia in the different components of their framework, as well as a range of webinars and online courses.

  • Cost: Free
  • How and when: Online training is self-paced and accessible through their website. Face-to-face workshops require a booking.

MindMatters

The high school version of KidsMatter, with the same framework. There’s a big emphasis on developing resilience and support young people with mental health issues. Resources explaining their framework and webinars to support the mental health of young people are on their website.

  • Cost: Free
  • How and when: Online training is self-paced, webinars require a booking.

Podsocs

A podcast produced by Griffith University for social workers and other human service professionals. They have over 80 episodes on topics like mental health, working with people from diverse backgrounds and reflecting on practice. Most of the episodes run for 30 minutes or less.

  • Cost: Free
  • How and when: Self-paced

QPR Suicide Prevention

An online course provided by the Salvation Army to equip people to help those contemplating suicide. Their course reflects the concept of CPR providing people with an emergency response to suicidal behaviours.

  • Cost: Free
  • How and when: Self-paced

Orygen National Centre in Excellence in Youth Mental Health

Led by Professor Patrick McGorry, Orygen is a world leader on the topic of youth mental health, and located right here in Australia. Their website has plenty of quality training on youth mental health issues through learning modules and webinars.

  • Cost: Free
  • How and when: Self-paced, but the training modules require registration.

Tweens2teen webinars

On the first Thursdays of every month I produce a one-hour webinar starting at 7pm for youth workers. Upcoming topics include:

  • March 2: Helping kids with complex lives
  • April 6: Avoiding the dangers zone – managing burnout and compassion fatigue
  • May 4: Understanding trauma
  • June 1: Pastoral conversations
  • July 6: Sink or swim – good habits for self-care
  • August 3: When it’s time to walk away
  • September 7: Building your programs from the ground up
  • October 5: Finishing strongly
  • November 2: Research roundup
  • December 7: How to get started in youth work

The best way to stay up to date with webinar events and other free professional development opportunities is to join my Facebook group. The Tweens2teen practice group is all about improving practice in community. If you’re not already a member, pop over to Facebook and ask to join.

  • Cost: Free
  • How and when: The live events take place on the first Thursday of the month, but you can access the archives at anytime.

Professional development doesn’t have to cost a lot or take up a lot of time. The important thing is to identify areas of weakness that you could develop to become a more skilled practitioner. Then set about finding quality training that can help you get there and still makes life work for you.

Do you have some good ideas for free professional development? Share them below!

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