Expert Comment: National Youth Work Week – a time for reflection and celebrationThursday 12 November 2015
National Youth Work Week, organised by the National Youth Agency (NYA), has for this year just been and gone – last week in fact. This themed week provides an opportunity for practitioners, young people, supporters and friends of the profession to join in celebration and reflection of all that is great and good within the field. This year it was encouraging us to ‘Have Your Voice Heard’.
Youth and Community Work is, I believe, a calling, a passion and a profession unlike, in my opinion, many others that involve working with young people and the wider community. The essence of the practice lies in its recognition and defence of the voluntary relationship, of the centrality of young people and working to shift power imbalances. All of which within the contemporary landscape are fast becoming increasingly controversial and malleable, non-existent in some settings where young people face the sharp consequences from not attending or conforming.
At the very heart of youth work are young people; they decide, they lead and they grow from the connectivity and collaboration with youth workers and the opportunities generated through interest and curiosity. Building trust and understanding, to explore and challenge, raising confidence and voice. Kerry Young (2006) powerfully presents youth work as an exercise in ‘moral philosophy’ - where else are the spaces and places for young people to freely reflect on the kind of person they are and consider the nature of the world they want to live in?
I, like many of my colleagues have worked with young people over the years who have been ignited by the opportunities offered through youth work and for many this has been significant in supporting them to take that next step, knowing that support is theirs for as long as they wish.
However, as with much that takes place at a community level these days, under the current political administration, the lines for youth and community work are being re-drawn and re-shaped to suit the governors of the day. The National Citizenship Service (NCS) Cameron’s flagship of 2010 which provides 15 – 17 year olds only, with three weeks of challenge, adventure and social action is unveiled as a new invention, when for years youth workers across the UK and beyond have been doing just that and more with 6-25 year olds, week in and week out. The difference now is that the £350m or so used to support youth work has shifted to NCS, leaving a legacy of club closures and job losses in its wake.
Unison’s recent report - The Damage (2014) highlights the destruction of the profession in real terms. Since 2010 £259m has been cut from the sector through the imposed austerity measures of the Coalition and now Conservative UK Government. Unnecessary and discriminatory, targeting those most vulnerable and most in need of such provision. Youth work has always been mindful, throughout its history, of supporting the education and welfare of the most vulnerable young people, however, alongside this maintained a commitment to the universal – encouraging inclusion for all young people purely on the basis that they are young, not ‘at risk’, not ‘broken’, not ‘deficit’ as they are often portrayed.
So at a time when so much within our profession is challenged, changing and complex we have to find moments to celebrate and National Youth Work Week provides one. Within our own city, even with the removal of nearly 50% of the council budget, you will find committed youth workers and volunteers working with and for young people, making things work on scarce resources, joining forces with others in positive partnerships and creating change in their own communities. The innovation created in troubled times is astounding and worthy of celebration. At a juncture where evidence and outcomes are the precious commodities for demonstrating worth, I have enjoyed the stories this week– from young people, wider community members, students and practitioners about why youth work works and the impact it has and continues to have. These are the voices that need to be heard, if anyone is listening?