Code of Ethics

A Code of Ethics is an important document that clearly lays out rules of behaviour and provides a foundation for your values to align to when working with young people.


The Code of Ethics was originally developed by Dr Howard Sercombe in conjunction with the youth sector in Western Australia in 1997. It has been through a range of revisions and updates and has been the basis of youth work codes of ethics in WA, Tasmania, the ACT, Victoria and NSW, and in Scotland, South Africa, Zambia, and England. Youth Action adopted the Code on behalf of the youth sector in 2004 and it has been the official standard in NSW ever since.

Youth Work NSW is now responsible for curating the Code in NSW and we thought it was probably time, after nearly twenty years, for a revision and refresh. The Code as it appears here is the revised version accepted by the Association for consultation with the sector in February 2023. We will be working with the sector around the Code and consulting about this new version over the next twelve months. If you would like to offer an opinion or suggestion, or if you or your organisation would like to workshop the Code (or broader/deeper training in professional ethics in youth work), please contact us using the contact form.

A Code of Ethics for Youth Work


Youth work is a professional practice with a primary commitment to young people, to promoting their place as citizens and full participants in economic, cultural and political life, to the full exercise of their human rights, and to their development as agents in their own lives and in the life of their families and communities. The youth work relationship is protected and shaped by the following principles.

1. Primary client

Youth workers’ primary duty is to the young people they work with. Where conflict exists in their obligations between young people, we work to find solutions that minimise harm, and continue to support the young people involved.

2. Social context

Youth workers work alongside young people in their social context. Our work engages the social and structural conditions under which young people live as well as their individual circumstances.

3. Equality

Youth workers’ practice is inclusive and promotes equality for young people.

4. Empowerment

Youth workers presume that young people are competent in assessing and acting on their interests. The youth worker promotes their agency by making power relations open and clear; by holding accountable those in a position of power over the young person; by avoiding dependency; and by supporting young people in the pursuit of their legitimate goals, interests and rights.

5. Duty of Care

Youth workers avoid exposing young people to the likelihood of harm or injury.

6. Corruption

Youth workers and youth work agencies will not advance themselves and their interests at the expense of young people.

7. Transparency

The role and expectations established between the youth worker and the young person, and the resulting relationship, will be respectful, open and truthful. The interests of other stakeholders will not be hidden from the young person.

8. Confidentiality

Information provided by young people will not be used against them, nor will it be shared with others who may use it against them. Young people should be made aware of the limits to confidentiality, and consulted if their information is to be shared. Until this happens, the presumption of confidentiality applies.

9. Cooperation

Youth workers will seek to cooperate with others in order to secure the best possible outcomes with and for young people. Youth workers respect the strengths and diversity of roles other than youth work.

10. Knowledge

Youth workers work reflectively, identifying, using, and keeping up to date with the information, resources, skills, knowledge and practices needed to meet their obligations to young people.

11. Self-awareness

Youth workers are conscious of their own values and interests, and approach cultural and other difference with humility and respect. While the need to challenge may arise, the first obligation is to understand.

12. Boundaries

The youth work relationship is a professional relationship, intentionally limited to protect the young person. Youth workers will maintain the integrity of the limitations of their role in young people’s lives. The relationship is not available for sexual engagement.

13. Self-care

Ethical youth work practice is consistent with preserving the health and wellbeing of youth workers.