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Staff attitude should always be open and friendly. The roles of both paid staff and volunteers are crucial in adopting an intercultural approach to youth work. Staff must have access to training and support services. 'Buy-in' and willingness from all is fundamental, as well as leadership from management in promoting intercultural youth work. It is important that paid staff and volunteers are also representative of minority ethnic backgrounds. When working with young people from diverse cultural backgrounds, it may be necessary that a trusted, known adult from a minority ethnic community is present, at least initially. It is also important that staff members are clear on appropriate terminology when talking about young people from a minority ethnic background, but that there are no 'taboos'. Young people may perceive the relationship with staff as personal rather than professional. Youth work staff should establish clear boundaries in youth work, in terms of relationships with the young people, language used, explaining clearly what youth work is and what your organisation provides.


Good Practice with staff and volunteers…


Many youth workers and volunteers already have the skills required to work with young people from a minority ethnic background. Good intercultural practice involves good youth work practice.Many youth workers and volunteers will have experience of working with young people from different backgrounds and cultures, with specific identities and individual needs. These skills should be encouraged and promoted to work with young people from minority ethnic backgrounds in your community. For instance, the Castlebar Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP), Foróige, had experience of working with young Travellers, and the youth worker saw that many similar issues arose when working with young people and their parents from other minority cultural groups in Ireland.


young people receiving award

Buy-in from the staff and volunteersin your organisation is very important, and all must be encouraged and willing to work with young people from a variety of national and cultural backgrounds. Reluctance of staff could be due to a lack of training or confidence in working with those who they perceive to be ‘different’. Be sure to talk through issues regularly at staff meetings; record details of what works and what doesn’t; make sure everyone has the opportunity to voice concerns and learn from colleagues.

“When people get training…such as intercultural training…it empowers them a lot. It makes them feel more equipped to handle situations. People are very afraid of doing the wrong thing.. Using the wrong words.. Being ‘politically incorrect’…. If you don’t understand somebody, just ask. Just be honest in saying ‘I don’t know a lot about where you’re from. Would you like to tell me something about it?
(SPARK youth worker)

Just as staff willingness is important, leadership from the organisation and management is crucial when adopting an intercultural approach to youth work. All projects interviewed highlighted the importance of internal leadership. Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative (Foróige) spoke of the efforts made by Blanchardstown Youth Service in promoting intercultural youth work, and the development of an Intercultural Strategy by Foróigewhich backed up their work on the ground.

Many staff and volunteers can participate in and have already received specific training, in addition to the skills learned through their youth work experience and through working in communities overseas and locally. Specific training on intercultural issues is also available on issues of tackling racism, cultural competency and intercultural awareness. Details of NYCI training courses are available on For information on other intercultural courses please contact us directly. You can also ask other organisations working locally in your area. YMCA Cork received training from minority ethnic associations in Cork city which was a great opportunity to ‘ask the experts’.

Staff may also fear ‘saying the wrong thing’ or offending people unintentionally. It is important to address the issue of terminology in staff meetings and with the young people themselves, for example, in the group contract. However, don’t worry that you always have to be ‘politically correct’. Language changes constantly and it is better to ask someone directly rather than never at all. When in doubt, ask someone in a sensitive and polite manner.

Involving adult leaders and parents from minority ethnic communities in your organisation is extremely useful.There are different approaches to doing this. Bishopstown Youth Project (Ógra Chorcaí) had a strong relationship with other agencies working with young Travellers such as the Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) in Cork; Castlebar NYP Foróige, asked parents of minority ethnic young people to supervise on excursions during the year; the SPARK project in Youth Work Ireland, Galway had some adult asylum seekers as volunteers; and the VSI (Voluntary Service International) Teenage Programme have a number of volunteers through the European Voluntary Service who represented different cultures and languages.  According to VSI it is crucial for minority ethnic young people in Ireland to have role-models from different backgrounds in their lives. It gives the young people hope and inspiration for their own future in Ireland. Young men in particular benefitted greatly from having a ‘non-Irish male leader’ in their group.

“I think it’s very important to the young people to have role models that are from other countries.. Otherwise it’s a case of ‘we know and you don’t’ or ‘we’re in charge’… it becomes a hierarchy”.. “Using peer leaders is a good way. When someone reaches 19 or 20 they could be peer leaders… It’s important to show that people can come here as asylum seekers and be successful and have fulfilling lives and move forward.”
- SPARK Youth Worker

If you do recruit volunteers from a minority ethnic background it is very important to support them in understanding their role and the role of your organisation. Many people do not understand the meaning of ‘youth work’. Explain all youth work processes clearly. Refer to NYCI’s flyer on intercultural youth work which explains what youth work and interculturalism mean in 8 different languages (available on All volunteers should receive training covering the work of the organisation, intercultural issues and Child Protection. Garda Vetting is also a process which must be explained in detail to all volunteers. The Localise project recruited volunteers from many backgrounds and were assisted in Garda Vetting by a larger youth work organisation. Furthermore, many groupsfind that while a volunteer is awaiting Garda Clearance they can still be involved; either working alongside another vetted staff member, or in tasks other than working directly with young people.

“We had people dropping in asking about volunteering and we could spend ages talking to them. We found all our time was being eaten up by this and we weren’t getting our work done. So we became quite rigid in our approach and told interested people when the next volunteer information night would be and we would contact them beforehand. We have also given volunteers more roles and responsibilities.“
- YMCA youth worker

Volunteers must be supported throughout their work with your organisation.Do not take on volunteers if you do not have sufficient time or resources to support them in their role. Regular meetings with the volunteers are important – the SPARK project organised meetings for the volunteer team every 5-6 weeks to address any issues and hear feedback of their experience. The Ninos Club, YMCA Cork, found that, rather than taking on new volunteers on an ad-hoc basis, it worked best to organise induction meetings for volunteers, to maximise the time they had for recruitment. Volunteers were also recruited through University College Cork (UCC), again at scheduled meetings. Volunteers are important but should be recruited based on the needs of your group. No. 4 drop-in centre (Galway Diocesan Youth Service (GDYS)) looked for volunteers with specific skills they could pass on to the young people. Castlebar NYP, Foróige, recruited two artists as volunteers for the ‘Talking Heads’ puppetry project. The Localise project and SPARK also involved volunteers based on the needs of the project.

“Volunteers are recruited on a needs basis. We generally advertise for volunteers for specific tasks or activities, for example, guitar lessons”.
- GDYS Youth Worker

Additional Resources/Training for Staff and Volunteers:

How would you rate?/How is your organisation doing?

  • Have your staff members received training on intercultural issues? YES   NO
  • Have your volunteers received training on intercultural issues?  YES   NO
  • Does your organisation provide training for volunteers? YES   NO
  • Does your volunteer training cover topics such as understanding youth work, your
  • organisation and the role of the volunteer? YES   NO
  • Does your volunteer training cover Child Protection and Garda vetting? YES   NO
  • Does your youth group have (or plan to recruit) volunteers from minority ethnic backgrounds? YES   NO
  • Does your management committee/board include members from diverse communities? YES   NO
  • Are minority ethnic communities and parents involved in your youth organisation? YES   NO
  • Do job descriptions require staff to have an awareness of interculturalism and diversity? YES   NO

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