5 Key Terms Every Youth Services Worker Should Know

Youth services workers perform one of the most dynamic and meaningful roles in the social services industry. As youth workers, these individuals assist in the rehabilitation, mentoring, and advocacy of at-risk children and adolescents. According to the U.S. Children’s Bureau and Youth.Gov, these professionals work to promote positive youth development so that children and teens can go on to become productive citizens. Given the multifaceted roles that youth workers undertake, it is essential to master key concepts in order to perform these jobs at an optimal level of success. A look at five key terms for youth workers can help these skilled individuals make a difference in the lives of young people.

Mental Health Promotion

Mental health promotion involves equipping youth with skills needed to function successfully in society. These life skills include thoughts and personal well-being, ability to form meaningful relationships, and ability to realize personal goals and live productively in society at large. Mental health promotion also encourages children, adolescents, and young adults to better cope with change, adjustment, or personal challenges. Youth workers may engage in mental health promotion through one-on-one mentoring, social outlets, or targeting group activities. Mental health promotion may also include preventative activities to ensure the natural development of positive mental health, as well as treatment programs such as counseling to restore mental well-being.

Behavioral Health

Behavioral health refers to decisions that individuals make that affect their productiveness, happiness, or mental health on a daily basis. This term refers to patterns of behavior or choices that may have long-term consequences for an individual and related social circle. According to the U.S. Mental Health Services Administration, identifying behavior health problems during youth is critical for early treatment and prevention of problems later in life. Youth workers may promote positive behavioral health by providing education and counseling on at-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, violence, and addiction. They may also train youth on seeking positive outlets and more productive alternatives to risky behavior.

Serious Emotional Disorders (SEDs)

Serious emotional disorders (SEDs) are mental health or psychological conditions that disrupt a child’s ability to function in standard social settings. These disorders cover a wide range of problematic areas, including emotional disturbances, mood disorders, depression, stress disorders, and developmental disabilities. Since many at-risk youth engage in behavior that stems from these disorders, it is important for youth workers to understand the care involved in working with the social or emotionally impaired. In working with children or adolescents with serious emotional disorders, youth workers may undertake responsibilities that include one-on-one mentoring, private counseling, and group outings or sessions. They may also work in conjunction with other mental health professionals to help youth cope with pre-existing disorders.


Interventions involve direct action to curb or eliminate the effects of mental or behavioral problems. In many social services settings, interventions represent some of the most common responsibilities or youth workers or counselors. As a result, it is an asset for any youth services worker to acquire training or certification in intervention or mediation. Typically, interventions involve both group counseling and individual counseling sessions. In addition to a youth worker, these counseling sessions may involve the help of a peer specialist and a licensed therapist. Intervention also includes sub-categories, such as early intervention to prevent a downward spiral into more serious problems, or immediate and ongoing intervention to help older teens and young adults.

Systems of Care

Systems of care refers to the groundwork or treatment philosophy that helps youth services workers improve the lives of children and adolescent. Typically, systems of care refers to a collaborative treatment philosophy, meaning that support for youth should involve not only social services, but families, schools, and the community at large. As a result, the systems of care model or framework usually involves partnership with other organizations. Youth workers should familiarize themselves with this term to prepare for collaborations with other social service groups.

While challenging, the role of a youth worker can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the social services field. This job title allows talented individuals to make a direct impact on young people. With the right terminology and preparation, youth workers can feel better prepared for any form of outreach throughout their social services careers.

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