Blurring the Boundaries or Re-imagining Youth Work? A discussion write-up from the IDYW 2016 Conference

 

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Where ‘In Defence’ are up to…

In Defence of Youth Work (IDYW) hosted the conference for what is clearly a large supporter base; 70+ of us were welcomed by Tony Taylor, who opened by updating on recent activities, thoughts and considerations of the IDYW group:

  • The numbers of supporters engaging online remain very good
  • There is a need for greater capacity and fresh blood on the steering group – plurality is welcomed
  • IDYW is transitioning from being a campaign group towards being a force for critical engagement with youth work theory and practice
  • Storytelling work is going strong and has now been translated into several languages
  • There is scope to increase the number and variety of posts made to the website, Facebook, Twitter etc

‘Voluntary’ vs ‘meaningfully engaged’

Bernard Davies introduced a presentation from Annette Coburn and Sinead Gormally that had been developed from ideas  that came out of a chapter titled ‘Youth Work in Schools’ in the recent Graham Bright book .  It challenges the ‘voluntary participation’ principle that, over the years, has become somewhat enshrined in youth work lore.  The argument centred around the notion that young people may be within a non-voluntary space (such as a school, prison or hospital) and still be engaged in youth work if the focus of the work is young person centred, emancipatory, the relationship with the youth worker is able to be negotiated and if there is capacity to meaningfully engage.

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Annette Coburn presenting at the IDYW National Conference, 30th September 2016

Annette and Sinead argued that should this new paradigm be accepted it may represent a ‘threshold concept’ for youth work that allows us, with a new perspective, to move forwards with youth work representing ‘an educational methodology’ rather than a profession per se, that could help us to explore new theoretical landscapes.

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Tania de St. Croix offered a contrasting response that the voluntary component is fundamental to our practice, especially in settings where sanctions can be imposed for non-compliance or non-attendance.  The point was made that there remain so few spaces for young people to choose to come and go and youth work represents a bastion of the principle that this is absolutely necessary.

There was a helpful acknowledgement that power and choice are complicated issues – the ‘choice’ to be at a youth club may be because your mum kicks you out of the house each night and you have nowhere else to go.  The power presents itself in different guises, for example, the Hitler Youth espoused principles of voluntary engagement…

The discussion

The presentations precipitated some interesting reflections from the group at large; deliberately avoiding naming people I have tried to capture some below:

  • Student placements can’t be refused to those working in non-voluntary settings.
  • Reassuringly, graduates are going into non-voluntary settings and, with an appreciation for youth work ethics and values, are subverting the practices and creating ‘spaces for youth work’.
  • There are ‘open-access’ youth clubs that don’t look like they are doing youth work – the power imbalances are left completely unchecked (between genders for example). Conversely some excellent practice exists in school/college settings.
  • Youth workers have colluded with the “give us a job, I can do that” mentality to keep funding. Has this been corrupting?
  • Is it helpful to consider youth work as separate from youth work skills so that we can ‘set out our stall’ with clarity?
  • An interesting Chinese perspective was added by one delegate who told of how youth work does not exist in and of itself in China. Those that work with teens outside of school are also known as teachers and the practice of gathering young people in their leisure time bears little significance/meaning in the ways we consider it does – until, that is, individuals take it upon themselves to apply youth work theory.  But it’s certainly not permeated social policy at any level in this delegate’s experience.
  • Others felt that these discussions were quite self-centred on us as professionals; Young people must remain the focus of the discussion as the subject and the object of our work.
  • Starting where young people are at is key. Back in the day there was nothing else to do but go to the youth club.  In this, workers actually had quite a lot of power.  We now have to go where young people are at – it represents a new, necessary nature of youth work.
  • Many new youth workers have their own instincts about being a force for regulation and control and often, only after studying, bring a new emancipatory angle to their work – at the same time as their management try to enforce more control and regulation.
  • Changing the definition of youth work is the wrong starting place – we have to consider what we feel and know to be good practice (whilst recognising constraints).
  • We want to train a community of ‘critical pedagogues’ – we then practice youth work in a distinctive setting – after all, a teacher tries to ‘meaningfully engage’ young people…
  • The critical spaces to iron out these ideas have been in decline.
  • The setting is less important. Perhaps ‘voluntary’ relationships is a misnomer and an umbrella term should be found to encompass the complexities and multi-faceted nature of this notion?
  • Yes, youth workers have been guilty of hitting targets or acquiring funding by moving into schools etc – but isn’t it better that youth workers do this than PCSOs or Counsellors?
  • An interesting exercise may be to conduct an examination of how settings do influence practice.
  • Are these values shared across the UK? Other countries didn’t have an Albemarle watershed…

Sue Atkins shared a funny anecdote about a cleaner at an art college she once knew.  One student’s installation had been quite ‘casual’ and this cleaner lady had accidentally cleaned it away overnight.  Once, she’d been informed of what she’d done she would go around pointing at rubbish asking ‘is this art?’, ‘is this art?’.  There may be parallels now with us wandering confused, asking ‘is this youth work?’

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So, perhaps more questions than answers, but I would reflect that delegates seemed to very much value the space provided on the day to thrash these ideas about together – I certainly did.

Thanks to the IDYW team, in my opinion no one creates these spaces better.  I look forward to cultivating cooperation with the Institute for Youth Work as we move forwards in solving some of our puzzles!

Notes from the rest of the day may inform a forthcoming post.

Disclaimer – written in this post is my interpretation of people’s meaning and inference at this conference.  Please contact me if you would like to challenge any points you recognise as your own that I have misinterpreted. 

What does it mean to be professional in 2016?

I was honoured to be invited to speak at an event hosted by IDYW to discuss what it means to be professional in 2016. Given the wealth of experience and knowledge in the room I was expecting a thorough and informed discussion and I wasn’t disappointed.

What was…

Bernard Daviesbernard-davies

The day kicked off with Bernard Davies and Sue Atkins discussing the history of the seminar’s subject.  Bernard usefully started by distinguishing practicing professionally from being a professional. Having himself been involved in the post-Albemarle struggles to get a JNC for workers’ terms and conditions with the trade union he talked about seeing the arguments for the case of constructing ‘the profession’ but rightly worries about the power dynamics between the inherent structures and the practitioners.  In particular youth work is a profession that relies heavily on volunteers as a large part of the workforce and how structures can exist that are exclusive of them and their needs.

There is a real strength in the voluntary foundations of our work and we should take pride in the way services capture the enthusiasm of youth work volunteers whilst maximising value for money by doing so.  But the tensions have been recurrent as far as situating them congruently in the structures of the profession.  The example that was talked about was that of the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders when it began, again post-Albemarle; once people had started to gain their qualifications from the College, youth leaders would return to their work places ‘outranking’ the rest of the extremely dedicated workforce who had previously been at the heart of services.

Bernard did posit an important question that had been offered up by a supporter in early 2014 on the In Defence of Youth Work Facebook page: Where is the evidence that professionalisation has brought improved outcomes for young people?

Back on the history, 1972 in ‘Youth Review’ the then quarterly journal, an article pleaded “Don’t join the professionals! That would kill youth work”.  It was believed that workers would start siding with the powerful and abandon the weak in exchange for money and power.  It was suggested that prescribing to a uniform set of ‘professional’ values would narrow the view and scope of youth work as this had happened in other professions.

In 1983 the workers’ professional association (the CYSA) turned into a union (the CYWU).  Many were against becoming a trade union and hostile to the radical politics emerging e.g. the feminism of the Women’s Caucus. Bernard was elected as President to try to smooth the waters.

My feeling on the back of the discussion is that a commitment to practicing professionally is entirely welcome.  When these things develop into professional frameworks and structures they inherently create hierarchical power dynamics – of this we need to be very careful.  People are right to be cautious.

Susan Atkins

Sue-AtkinsSue brought incredible stories of being amongst the first cohorts at the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders.  A prerequisite of joining was that you had to be at least 23 years old and, if it was targeted or otherwise, the courses attracted mainly working class men – famously dubbed ‘Albemarle’s boys’.  In fact, in Sue’s cohort, out of 147 students only 17 were women.  The yearlong residential training was a massive commitment and strain with lots of burn out.  This naturally gave those who did complete it a strong sense of achievement and they felt a significant change through gaining heir professional status.  Yet it still wasn’t on a par with teachers whose two year course carried more kudos.

Interestingly (albeit unsurprisingly), the body of knowledge on youth work at the time was extremely thin on the ground – “a page from this book and a chapter from that” as Sue put it.  It wasn’t really until the 70’s that the written knowledge started to be created in greater volume, and mostly as a result of the debates and discussions that were happening at the time.  The feminist voice was added to this and continued throughout the 80’s.  By the sounds of it this was a marked improvement on the old ‘stale, male and pale’ set up of the preceding years as far as make-up of overseeing bodies in youth work went.

Throughout, it would seem, the external perception of youth work has been that it exists to tackle the problem of youth crime, or of youth delinquency, for example.  Whilst they can be outcomes, Sue notes, those things are never the purpose of youth work.

Contradictions…

Nigel PimlottFYT-Nigel-Pimlott

Nigel’s Christian youth work background offered an extremely useful view of the professionalisation agenda in light of the fact that the majority of people doing youth work in the faith sector are volunteers or unqualified; a workforce that is “proud, but rarely described as professional”.

It’s within this context that we heard, not dissimilar to Bernard’s points, the faith sector is suspicious of professional frameworks.  In part this may be because they have largely been excluded from the discussions regarding professionalisation.

The phrase popularised by the eponymous 1985 book “Voluntary But Not Amateur” seems to resonate here although people’s understanding of work in the voluntary and faith sectors didn’t preclude the popular discourse surrounding the Statutory sector being ‘the professional sector’.  Seemingly, ‘professional’ has been more about who you work for and with.  This certainly runs contrary to messages in Nigel’s own book, ‘Embracing the Passion: Christian Youthwork and Politics’.

We were given a very interesting anecdote from Nigel’s own experience of a young man who wouldn’t use the local authority-run youth centre, instead choosing to only frequent the volunteer-run service further down the road.  His reasoning being that “those youth workers are paid to like young people, these ones are here because they actually care”.

To conclude it was discussed how often faith priorities can actually be quite different to other youth workers, which has in some cases led to active resistance against and deviation from professionalisation.  After all, professionalism doesn’t equal increased funding…

Helen Gatenby

Helen GatenbyFor Helen, being professional means being the best youth worker she can but she also recognised how one’s sense of professionalism is often tied up with others’ perceptions of you.

She also astutely noted that youth work is a highly political activity and as such will jar with professionalisation.  Her observation of the current state of play attests to this in that youth work has proved to be safest outside of the bureaucratic, ‘professionalised’ spaces.

On another level, Helen recognised that the personal values she lives by that inform her vocational experience of her youth work can’t be divorced from the work.  A practical example that I felt it interesting to capture was when Helen was approached by an organisation working with an isolated, pregnant young woman who had no birthing partner.  The service the young woman had been working with wasn’t in a position to support her; their working hours were proving prohibitive.  What did Helen do?  Bent the rules and made it happen.  Does that make her more or less professional than the other service?  The challenge put to the group was that we have to choose where we stand as professionals; it’s our duty to ensure that remains with young people.

Helen concluded by highlighting where there have been warnings around investing too much stock in education and professionalisation, notably with Mark Smith’s quote from ‘Developing Youth Work‘ (1988) below:

A particular danger here is that people may be encouraged to take on ways of working that serve neither their interests, nor those they work with.  This can happen as people adopt what are apparently the technical concerns of the profession without directly addressing what the cultural and political implications of these may be.

Helen’s parting argument was for education, and not necessarily formal education of the youth workforce. What may be required is the development of ‘organic intellectuals’, to borrow a term from Gramsci.

Discussion

On the back of the discussion about contradictions, some interesting points were raised to add a little flavour to what had come before:

Tony Taylor offered values such as a commitment to Social Justice, Equality,Diversity etc.. or pedagogical or communication skills are in no sense the property of youth work. He argued that we pursue those values and practice those skills in a distinctive setting. It is the setting, the voluntary encounter that makes us qualitatively different. I would be interested in exploring this further.

Mark Price from the University of Brighton offered an interesting parallel with professionalism and being paid, in so much as that he himself took the paid positions because it allowed him to do more of what he loved.  Amusingly, the switch for him from teaching to youth work (going back a few years) saw his salary jump from £6,000 a year to £9,000!

Mark also offered the term ‘professionality’ as a useful way to posit the discussions about people’s own sense of professionalism.  He suggested that a large part of a person being deemed professional, for him, was linked to their ability to be autonomous.

I asked a question about where the ‘Four Cornerstones of Youth Work’ had originally come from seeing as I’d found it difficult to hunt down their origins.  The conversation led us in a few directions but ultimately to acknowledging that often the body of work relating to our profession trickles into common knowledge and practice rather that finding explicit footing at the behest of the majority.

The state of things…

Adam MuirheadAdam-Muirhead

Representing the Institute for Youth Work (IYW) and acknowledging parts of its raison d’etre were around professionalisation I had the job of talking to how the Institute has been linked with the license to practice and qualifications amongst other things, such as the Code of Ethics ‘housed’ within the IYW.  Following a potted history of the Institute’s inception I offered up the pro’s and the cons surrounding a license to practice for youth workers.  In spite of a 2014 Children and Young People Now survey reporting that the majority of the workforce was in favour, recent experience with similar strategies, such as the ill-fated Youth Professional Status, showed that actually there just isn’t the appetite for such a thing; not least when the bill would be footed by individuals. There are interested parties out there but their arguments will need to be much better articulated to convince the current IYW membership, who seem to afford it a quite a low priority.

What now happens with the JNC was one of the issues that precipitated the seminar today.  Speaking on behalf of those members who responded to the IYW’s quick consultation on the subject, I recounted feelings of disappointment but resignation.  I will be very surprised (and happy!) should we win the battle to retain the JNC’s terms and conditions, but I don’t hold out huge hope.  Either way I would be up for a fight – there are ways to lose fights – that shouldn’t be overlooked.

I discussed the fact that we still have our professionally qualified status and that there are ways to develop this in collaboration to ensure, going forwards, it is fit for purpose.

On another point, public perception and the perception of our non-youth work colleagues has an understandable impact on our own perceived value and self-worth as professionals.  Maybe being professional is more tied up with the recognition from others than our egos would care to admit sometimes.

My parting thoughts were for the ability of the IYW to be a home for youth work and youth workers. The home that the NYA was never mandated to be.  We can run public-facing campaigns that address the above point – altering the public perception of youth work might assist us in our quest;

Youth workers as the teachers at the school of hard knocks and the professors at the University of Life.

If the public could relate to those messages, the profession and the professionals within it might be more resilient.

More discussion…

The general feeling in the room seemed to be that the building of professional structures including codes of ethics can have the effect of constricting and girding and narrowing the focus of youth work.  Our abilities to be autonomous and responsive can be limited and the inherent accountability to some higher authority feels at odds with our political/radical sensibilities.  I tend to agree with the sentiment and will commit now to vigilance around the IYW assuming power and maintaining accountability.

The future…

Janet Batsleer

Janet-BatsleerJanet offered some concise points in order to promote discussion on what we need to consider for the future.  Many concepts linked with ‘how to affirm a practice’.

To mention these succinctly I’ve bullet pointed them:

* We need alliances and we need active young people

* It would be beneficial to enlist digital industries, film, social media etc that help us to create new narratives

* We’ve already handed over too much to the funders who would lead us away from the core tenets of our practice and towards the common misconceptions that youth work’s purpose is to counter gangs/drugs/etc.

* We need to develop a language about our practice that is worth shouting about and fighting for.

* Janet was keen to promote the theatres where theory of practice can be played out with an acknowledgement that the IDYW storytelling workshops do provide this.  We’d like to see more.

Tony Taylor suggested that a significant number within youth work – but far from all – have welcomed the imposition of order upon the unruly world of informal practice with things like Every Child Matters.

* Janet continued by explaining her theory that workers need to be secure in themselves and have a solid experience of being loved in order to actually be disruptive.  It’s a much more secure platform to launch radicalist activity from.

We ended on the point that in education settings, current available placements aren’t reflecting the types of work that is being lectured on.  We had examples of where one worker was not allowed to do 1:2:1 work in their placement as it was “a child protection risk”…

 

All in all a very interesting and insightful day.  Thanks to In Defence for hosting and I look forward to the annual conference on 8th April.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In light of what has happened at Kids Company, does the sector need to change and if so, in what ways?

I attended the national youth sector event on the 16th October, hosted by NCVYS, which was a Question-Time style event, debating the title question.  It’s taken me a while to find the time to write up some of what happened on the day but looking over my notes it is all just as relevant now so I’ll go ahead and commit it to some sort of post.

The panel consisted of:

Susanne Rauprich – Chief Exective, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Rosie Ferguson – Chief Executive, London Youth

Asha Ali – An Innovation Specialist currently working for Dartington Social Research Unit and a former service user of Kids Company

Pauline Adams, Head of Service, Young Hackney

Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy, National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

…and the event was chaired by Natalie Campbell, Chair of NCVYS

National Youth Sector Debate

Rather than track conversations verbatim, what I’d rather do is lay out the points made on the day in a way that could help prompt future discussion.  In doing this I’ve tried to attribute certain points to certain people in the case of the panellists but I’ll have to apologise for where quotes or points haven’t been attributed to people, these are likely to have been contributed by the audience.

I’ve decided that a tabular format based on the classic SWOT analysis seems to fit nicely, so here goes:

Strengths
  • The voluntary youth sector remains adaptable AA
  • We share the same values as the statutory sector – there is scope for greater collaboration PA
  • The next generation are ‘sector agnostic’ – the public, private and charity sectors are blurred to them and they will join the charity sector now where generations ago there may have been greater scepticism KW
  • We are an independent sector – we can act like one
  • Youth Work is early intervention and cost-saving engagement, especially around safeguarding
  • We now have a Centre for Youth Impact – the sector should embrace and use it
  • We have strong democratic grounding through Trusteeship
  • Young Trustees joining boards
  • We must “dance the dance” and use positivity in moving forwards, rejecting the deficit paradigm
Weaknesses
  • The Charity Commission does not encourage enough transparency AA
  • Young people were meant to be at the centre of Kids Company (KC) – where was the accountability to them? AA
  • Competition (from within the sector) makes us lose sight of the beneficiaries AA
  • It is incentivised (by funders) that we over-claim what works and play down what doesn’t RF
  • We feel we have a monopoly on ‘doing good’ when this is not true KW
  • Trustees are “stale, male and pale” KW
  • We are not so good at articulating our service offer SR
  • No one goes around checking safeguarding (or other service) standards – it was an assumption of the KC inquiry that this was happening SR
  • It is unclear what constitutes quality management and governance – having 3 months’ reserves, for example, may be unrealistic SR
  • There can exist a ‘values/action gap’ where, for example, poverty charities pay very high salaries
  • Considering we are an independent sector, we have left ourselves open to too much collusion in state ideology and letting the ‘tail wag the body’
  • Kids Company had a ‘saviour complex’ – is this shared?
  • (In the case of Kids Company) Young people had been forgotten about until they were needed to be held up and paraded in front of the media
  • KC’s model was based on an assertion that the state was failing – then their model failed
  • Until young people can vote at 16 politicians are still less likely to hear them
  • “Evidence is not the plural of anecdotes” KW
  • We don’t have a strong platform to share best practice
  • Is Trusteeship as a form of management holding us back?  Could the board model be re-structured or redesigned altogether?
  • Trustee development is rarely seen as a core cost
  • There may be a cultural issue for Trustees (especially perhaps from the business sector) who believe they have all the skills they need to run a charity
  • There can be too great a gap between Trustees and beneficiaries – although this is seen as necessary by many
  • Is there too little investment in young trustees?
  • The primary concern for too many trustees is keeping their organisation going, instead of thinking about what would be best for the beneficiaries (and considering mergers or closures etc)
  • An acknowledgement that potential corporate partners were not in the room today – however they can be scared when surrounded by a room full of people vying for their funds – need collective vision
Opportunities
  • We need to harness intervention-based evidence as opposed to approach-based RF
  • Collaboration – we can become a movement, not merely a set of institutions. We need to let go of institutional ego and look to potential mergers RF
  • We need to call out poor quality Youth Work and ‘big up’ the best work RF
  • We need to take a longer term view – plan for/think 5 years ahead rather than spend our time catching up from 5 years behind RF
  • National projects could be funded instead of local ones to gain an economy of scale PA
  • Intelligence and evidencing impact is key, it will help strengthen commissioning and  develop unity on what we are delivering PA
  • A voice is required for Youth Work PA
  • Collaboration and merger may be necessary PA
  • We require strong leadership, ethics and behaviour KW
  • Look down to the grass-roots of your work and understand what you do and for whom KW
  • We must look around for different types of money – not just public money KW
  • Technology is the space for innovations – leaders need to embrace it KW
  • We need to tell our story – not for private gain but for public benefit KW
  • We need a clearer narrative on what we do SR
  • The conversations we have with funders need to be consistent and transparent SR
  • We must use young people’s stories, tapping into their strong narratives
  • Parents put £1.5 billion into extra-curricular activities per year – could parents be sked to pay for youth services?
  • We must invest in developmental, catalysing projects
  • Use technology to evaluate youth work – most young people have smartphones, we should capitalise on the easiness of access to young people’s space
  • Could we capitalise on the work of Children England’s Declaration of Interdependence and drive down competition
  • We may see greater asset transfer towards our sector from Local Authorities
  • Trusteeship requires investment in training and communication – for example, schools and programmes such as ‘Step Up To Serve’ should be discussing it with young people
  • Should the Charities Commission pay for Trustee skills development?
  • It is possible to develop other models in the voluntary sector such as workers’ co-operatives and mutual with beneficiaries.  Should we be exploring these models in more depth?
  • We need to educate the philanthropists – the voluntary sector needs innovative and targeted spending
  • We need a collective vision
  • Can we help sell to young people?
  • 50% of Britain’s Muslims are under 24 years of age – they need to be nurtured.
  • There will be a ‘Creative Collisions’ conference again in 2016 – aiming for 15th/16th May – venue may be Hackney
  • We must learn how to have challenging conversations within the not-for-profit sector and convince each other to believe in ourselves KW
  • Could we run an ‘understanding charities’ campaign? KW
  • We need collaborative leadership skills and a culture of skills sharing PA
  • Young people must have a platform to share their opinions, valued on par with others AA

 

Threats
  • If we do not evolve we will perish KW
  • We are conditioned to a ‘scarcity mind-set’ KW
  • Kids Company shows us we must have glass pockets – lack of transparency will damage the sector KW
  • Youth Work has little evidence framework and no longer gets inspected. This puts us on a weaker footing
  • The government don’t know what to do or what society will look like in the absence of state
  • What should citizens do in the absence of state?
  • Price-driven competition between organisations within the sector promotes a race to the bottom
  • Although only 1 in 4 charities currently receives statutory funding the sector has become over-dependent on it.
  • We are currently in a competition crisis – an interesting example of this being the Government’s £1million Social Action Fund: Only 10 organisations were funded out of 600 applications.  If we assume that each unsuccessful org spent 3 days working on their bids then a total of over 5 years’ worth of work was wasted from within the sector!

NCVYS were good enough to capture the event through a Storify which can be accessed here.

I’m also heartened to see further national-level open discussion tabled over the coming months, fronted by NCVYS, UK Youth and Ambition.  For more info, click here.

Youth Work Week 2015

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE INSTITUTE FOR YOUTH WORK SITE HERE

This year, Youth Work Week has given me a chance to reflect and take stock on our profession, on its past, present and future.

Youth Work has a rich history, dating back well over 100 years and its endurance is not only testament to those people who have kept the torch burning over the years but also to its necessity as an educational practice.  Often misunderstood and misrepresented, Youth Work only gained solid professional footing following the Albemarle Report in 1960 which led to new youth club buildings, mass professional training programmes and the foundation for local authority-run Youth Services up and down the land.

Successive neglectful social policy decisions and a lack of purchase to statutory duties is what many would agree has meant that through this drastic programme of austerity Youth Work has suffered. However, some amazing developments have come out of this adversity; publications on Valuing Youth Work from the NYA, the Benefits of Youth Work from Unite the Union, the Youth Manifesto from Choose Youth and ‘This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice’ by In Defence of Youth Work, and more recently, ‘A Real and Present Danger: The Youth Service Crisis’ by Pete Sims, to name a few.  We’ve also seen huge lobbies of parliament and London Rallies organised through Choose Youth.  We’ve attempted to make the necessary changes to legislation through the tabling of an Early Day Motion that was supported by 66 MPs, an online petition that gathered over 6 and a half thousand signatures and even proposed a Youth Services Bill.  We now also have a Centre for Youth Impact, initially funded by the Cabinet Office in order to help the youth sector shout loud and proud about who we are and what we do.

In the middle of these difficult times we also started a national Institute for Youth Work, a membership body for those who use Youth Work in their work or volunteering or simply support Youth Work and want to contribute their knowledge and experience to the professional discussions surrounding the profession.  Some said this would be the worst time to start such a body because so many youth workers are losing their jobs.  Others said this is exactly why it’s the best time to launch an Institute for Youth Work – to show solidarity, galvanise our identity and organise!

As a membership body the IYW needs its members to be the driving force behind discussions and action – it is currently run by an elected Council from the membership who are all volunteering their time and energy for the benefit of the wider members.  It is in this spirit that we ask Youth Workers around the country (and indeed the world!) to take up the challenge that is spreading the word about who we are and what we are doing in spite of our challenges.  It is using the #YWW15 hashtag, posting films and writing blogs that help us to assert our worth to the rest of the world.  We can’t forget the desperate needs of those in our society that are underdogs and need our support to achieve all that they can with their lives.  We need to remember the first youth workers we may have met as youths ourselves and talk about what they did for us; we need to hold up best practice and shout about successes.

It is a time to remember that youth work was born out of social action and that inside of all great Youth Workers is a rebel that is ready to get radical if needs be in order to protect a profession that they know is needed.  We need to create the future for ourselves.

With that, do enjoy your Youth Work Week 2015 but please, please use your Youth Work Week 2015!

 

Adam Muirhead

Vice Chair

Institute for Youth Work

100 Years of Youth and Community Work Education – 8th October 2015

I recently attended the ‘100 Years of Youth and Community Work Education’ event hosted by the YMCA George Williams College and supported by Youth & Policy, UKYouth and TAG/PALYCW. The event came about off the back of Tony Jeffs recognising that on the 8th October 100 years ago, what he (and others) recognise as the first proper youth & community training programme came into being. For someone like me who enjoys a bit of Youth Work celebrity spotting this was a star-studded event! The great and the good of our profession and people I’ve been reading and quoting for years were present and ready to divulge their experience.

What was, back when

Tony Jeffs at 100 years event

Tony gave a great account of the roots of Youth and Community education, taking us on a journey from the formation of the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1884 when men were required to be trained to meet a need for ‘superintendents’; through incredibly popular courses for ‘play projects’ in 1895 run by Luther and Charlotte Gulick. Then to the London School of Economics’ (LSE’s) short courses that came about from the needs of the ‘National Organization of Girls Clubs’ (now ‘UK Youth’) and then the more formalised 20 day training for them when the organisation needed structural fortification. At the time, we’re told, days started with prayer at 9.30am and finished at around 10pm after the evening club had finished – that’s a working day that probably resonates with people today!

At last on 8th October in 1915 the full 5 term course entitled ‘Education of Girls Club Workers’ (I think I caught that properly…) was formed with the assistance the formidable Louise Creighton.

The various courses stopped and started over subsequent years but eventually, from 1935, became a consistent feature of the educational landscape in its various guises.

The Albemarle Years

Alan Gibson and Tom Wylie, through a bit of a backwards and forwards discussion gave us workforce development post-1960 following the social revolution of the ‘teenager’. Lady Albemarle’s report (1960) gave us a formalised platform to start seriously training professionals into the youth workforce.

Oversubscribed by 3 applications to each place, a brand new course based at the ‘National College for the Training of Youth Leaders’ in Leicester, produced over 600 qualified youth workers over the subsequent 5 years.

One of the things I found interesting on the back of this discussion was one of the views at the time (coming from the Albemarle Report) that a primary need of this new generation of teens was “to see and be seen”. This meant, pragmatically, that youth centres being built at the time were very much open plan, for this reason. It helps to explain the layout of my local youth club building – the 67 Centre in Brighton, named for the year it was built. Anyway, I digress.

By 1982 there were 11 full time course producing 350 graduates per annum. By 1991 there were 60 routes to qualification with 1000 graduates per annum. More recently we have seen graduate numbers in decline as illustrated by the chart below, published by Children & Young People Now in October 2015.

student numbers

In 2011, the Education Select Committee’s Review of Services for Young People said:

The low priority afforded to continuing professional development of the youth workforce is concerning, in particular the fact that, according to the last audit conducted by the National Youth Agency in 2008, some 33% of local authorities spent nothing at all on it (p.48).

Indicative of this decline are the figures on the uptake of JNC courses in Youth Work that the National Youth Agency (NYA) has recently shared. In 2008 (a recent high) 1,470 people were recruited onto JNC Youth Work courses – today that number stands at just 674, representing a 55% drop from its lofty heights – or an average of 12% fewer students enrolling per year, each year since 2008. Between 2012/13 and 2013/14 the number of JNC courses on offer has dropped from 57 to 51, representing a loss of just over 10% of our courses.

Don’t forget the ‘Community’ bit…

Marg Mayo (Goldsmiths’ College) was able to take us through the evolution of Community Work and particularly its development since the 60s alongside post-war social upheaval and spurred on by Gulbenkian Reports in ’68 and ’73. The professionalisation of Community Development Work has been contentious though, in particular the UK Association of Community Workers saw it more as promoting elitism that would be at odds with its values – not totally dissimilar to discussions the youth sector has had recently about its own professional status.

The social action component of Community Work seems to be as relevant as ever, borrowing from Gramsci, Alinsky and Freire. Its evolution with the use of the internet means a greater numbers of people have easy access to the necessary information and communication media to spark revolutions from the comfort of their own home.

We were implored to consider how we place community work within Youth Work courses, in particular being asked to:

  • Set it in the wider context
  • Promote the social action component
  • Engage with critical social, political sciences e.g. the neoliberal agenda

Parting wisdom from Marg asked us to think in particular about:

  • Critical reflection on the changing concept of ‘community’ itself – for instance the importance of diaspora communities
  • How to work with formal structures and social movements in solidarity
  • Taking account of changing relationships between state, the market and civil society
  • Supporting communities to learn and research for themselves, then reflect on the research.

It was also observed that “students need digital competencies” in this day and age, with the advent of social media and its ability to communicate causes and mobilise campaigns at the click of a button.

Youth Work is dead

Mark Smith was invited to answer the question “Does Youth and Community Work Training have a future”. His short answer was “no”. The way he arrived at that had a few people feeling deflated by the end. His presentation, to me, felt as though he was delivering the proverbial ‘shit sandwich’ (AKA ‘the feedback sandwich’) but without the crusts.

His argument was asserted via three crises:

  • Economic – the neoliberal, globalised economy has no psychology or accountability – it’s a chaotic science but his predictions saw a personal debt and housing ‘bust’ so, according to Mark, we cannot rely on any increase in spending any time soon plus general doom and gloom.
  • Political – the failing nation state oligarchy, centralisation and the hollowing out of democracy, more power to fewer people, target driven work = more doom and gloom.
  • Ecological – We’ve seen massive population growth twinned with an ageing population alongside global warming = even more doom and gloom.

General outlook = loads of doom and plenty of gloom

Smith recognised and promoted the changes from traditional ‘Youth Work’ and ‘Youth & Community Work’ course names to those that are more marketable, such as ‘Social Pedagogy’. The idea being that people will see it in ACAS searches and associate it with the popular ‘Social Work’ courses to join in larger numbers. It is also the prevailing catch-all term in European research around what us Youth Workers do. A criticism levelled at ‘Youth Work’ as a term is that it doesn’t describe the process in the same way that ‘Community Development’ or ‘Community Organisation’ does. He went as far as to say that the key texts he developed for the profession under the umbrella of ‘Youth Work’ had been the equivalent of flogging a dead horse. So you can see why some people felt peeved!

Lastly

100 years image

The day was rounded off with a panel discussion on the future of Youth and Community Work Education where we expanded into the future of the profession generally – including some input from myself on the Institute for Youth Work. Panellists were Shelley Marsh, Jon Ord, Keith Popple, Sue Robertson and Jane Melvin. Another interesting part to the conversations held were about the impact measurement question – its links with the youth education sector I’ve previously discussed here.

Then onto the wine and nibble reception hosted by TAG/PALCYW, a lovely chance to catch up with people and chat on the topics of the day – and of course toast to the next 100 years of Youth and Community Work Education!

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Community Development with Young People

Recently I have been challenged to come up with a definition for/explanation of ‘community development with young people’ that helps people involved in ‘straight-up’ youth work how it differs as a practice, if indeed it does.

There is quite a lot of theory out there on community development and just as much on youth work but finding something that explicitly talks to both things was a bit of a challenge.  I didn’t immediately think that the terms ‘community development worker’ and ‘youth worker’ were entirely interchangeable, but perhaps they are when the ‘community’ is ‘young people’.

I ended up writing something new and wanted to see whether it resonated with others; so here it is:

Community Development with Young People

Fundamentally, community development uses an asset-based approach to support communities around issues they identify for themselves with value bases in equality and justice.

It does this by:

  • Bringing people together to address issues of common concern and to develop the skills, confidence and resources to tackle their problems.
  • Changing the relationships between people in communities and the institutions that shape their lives through participatory and emancipatory practices.

Often the issues being presented by communities of young people necessitate the kinds of interventions that youth work traditionally supplies, such as:

  • youth clubs
  • activities work
  • social action projects

A community development youth work approach asserts that the young people make it happen for themselves; activities should be co-produced with workers.   In doing this young people develop the skills, confidence and resources to tackle their current and future problems.

It is the role of a community development youth worker to network themselves within a given community in order to catalyse project development through linking volunteers, groups and services to produce more sustainable, community-owned, partnership projects.

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Data with Soul: Story-telling in Youth Work

Just a few months ago a new website was launched by the team at ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ which seeks to support the “capturing of our practice through a thought-out methodical approach” called ‘Storytelling in Youth Work’.

logo-idywThe initial idea of promoting storytelling for youth work came from a national IDYW conference in 2010 where the storytelling workshops prompted the book, ‘This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice’.  The website has now been primarily developed as a resource for sharing the experience that has come from the workshops that the IDYW team have run.

The site gives a strong account of the benefits of using storytelling and for anyone interested in using their tried and tested workshops it offers support to replicate sessions, or indeed translate them for use in the work setting.  They suggest it could be used in:

  • direct work with young people, including with young volunteers;
  • organisational development through staff training, supervision and monitoring;
  • the teaching and assessment of youth and community work students in higher education;
  • and project evaluation.

It is great to see the extolling of the benefits that come with developing strong narratives around youth work.  It surely has a role to play in making the profession more robust in the face of the testing times that the austerity agenda has forced upon us.

Stories from our practice book

There is an admission that the term ‘storytelling’ lends itself to a more quaint notion of fun anecdotes or to only capturing the best bits, to “uncritically embellish a worker’s or an organisation’s credentials” as they put it.  In fact, the team have provided a good account of the limitations and caveats that come with the use of this methodology and hold it up for us to play with and find out about for ourselves.  If you still have doubts then you will find it also provides solid case studies where youth work practice has been unpicked in order to highlight the skills involved and the unique nature of the educational processes at play.

I, for one, am very welcoming of this new site and the angle it offers on the impact measurement agenda.  It’s my feeling that the idea of communicating youth work’s benefits through a narrative sits better at ease with workers than generating stats and figures and does more credit to youth work processes.  And after all, when you consider that evidence is given to courts in the form of cross-examined stories – why wouldn’t this methodology be robust enough for youth work’s funders?  Perhaps the bigger question here is: would funders and governments care to listen to our stories?

Find the site at http://story-tellinginyouthwork.com/

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THIS BLOG WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON THE CENTRE FOR YOUTH IMPACT BLOG HERE. THANKS TO THE CYI FOR YOUR SUPPORT.