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Professional relationships with young people
Professional relationships with young people

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1.2 Young people’s needs, interests and concerns

The purpose of youth work is to allow young people to participate, to empower young people, to promote equality of opportunity and to challenge oppression. Although this was proposed by the Second Ministerial Conference on the Youth Service, which took place in 1990, all of these purposes are still relevant to the building of effective relationships because good relations enable you to help and guide young people to make their own decisions and choices. You might have specific ideas about how you will do this, but in this next activity we want you to reflect both on your ability to see things from young people’s perspectives and your use of their perspectives in your conscious planning around relationship building.

Activity 2 Understanding young people

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

Now think about one or more of the young people you know or work with. Jot down your responses to the following questions about them:

  1. Which three things do they most like about themselves, and what three things do they most dislike about themselves? (For example, their personal appearance, personality and confidence, perceived talents and weak spots, ability to attract and keep friends or lovers, their good character or their ‘wild side’.)
  2. Which identities are most important to them? How important, for example, is their religion, ethnic origin, gender, age, sexuality, group of friends, the youth culture or lifestyle they espouse (music, dress, club affiliations)?
  3. Which topics are guaranteed to spark a lively conversation? For example, what are their favourite football teams, television programmes, leisure interests, etc.? Which political issues do they feel strongly about?
  4. How would they define their needs? And how might you distinguish those ‘needs’ from ‘wants’?
  5. How are they getting on at school (academically, socially and with staff) or at work? Are they coping or struggling with their academic work at school, or their social relations with fellow students or work colleagues, with teachers or managers? Are they respected or bullied?
  6. What resources do they have? What are their main sources of support, financially and emotionally, and how reliable are these supports?
  7. What are their main ambitions in life, and what are the main obstacles standing in their way?


As Reid and Fielding suggest, ‘Identifying the individual needs of a young person may involve formal or informal processes’ (2013, p. 90). In considering what evidence you have for your views of young people, you should always think about the extent to which you can trust the source of your information. The questions above are very demanding and a reminder of just how much there is to know about every one of the young people you work with. Now you’ve responded to these questions, stop and think about your responses. Firstly, were all the questions relevant for young people? Where there any which weren’t represented (e.g. sexual orientation, religion, faith or language)?

How do you know what you know? Are your responses based on intuition, or do you have evidence to support your views? Maybe you weren’t able to make detailed notes, but it’s worth considering:

  • the extent to which you base your understanding of young people on your own intuition, your personal preferences and assumptions
  • whether or not you base your perspective on evidence of any kind, especially young people’s own views
  • how much you need to know about a young person’s background before you start to build a relationship with them?

Ultimately, you will want to make sure that, in making decisions about how to help or support young people, you have listened and understand what they want help or support with. We also need to consider what to do with this information. How are you expected to collect young people’s information? Where and how is this stored? Making sure you are familiar with your organisation’s procedures can ensure that what you collect is ethical and will not have negative implications for you or a young person. This is part of understanding your role in helping young people and developing relationships with them. Let’s now look further into your roles in relationship building.