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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Is youth work being watered down?

This opinion piece is about 8 years old
 

Vanessa Rogers is a qualified teacher and youth worker with over ten years’ experience both at practitioner and management levels, she says it's time for youth workers to stand up and reclaim youth work

Today I realised that I have been a youth worker for most of my working life, yet I still struggle to explain exactly what that means, especially to someone outside of the profession.

Then it dawned on me that the sinking feeling I get whenever someone asks me what I do for a living is not merely personal apathy, but because I have had the conversation too many times. The sense of justifying what youth work is, why it matters and the unique place it has in supporting young people through adolescence - not only to friends, family and funders but also to other professionals – has become habitual.

It hasn’t always been so difficult, although I am in no way harping back to some mythical golden age of youth work. I am simply pointing out that if you had asked me back in the day what I did my answer would have been pretty easy – an area youth worker for the Youth & Community Service responsible for developing girls work, work with young parents and managing a large and busy youth centre in an area described as deprived. So far, so clear.

Fast forward and my role, but not my professional title, has changed so many times that writing a CV can be a daunting thing. What constitutes youth work has changed so many times that it can now be tagged on to virtually any service that works with young people. But is this a good or bad thing? Is the increase in those using traditional youth work skills to engage with young people something to celebrate or lament?

Vanessa Rogers

Good youth work may look as if it just happens but trust me, there is much more to it than just turning up and looking approachable

Vanessa Rogers

One issue for me is that so many people now describe themselves as doing youth work, whilst working in areas more traditionally associated with social work or youth justice. I have even spoken with police officers that say they do youth work. Really? Have the professions become so completely enmeshed that they are now interchangeable? Please note this isn’t about professional qualifications, or the lack of them, more a questioning of how the core ethos of voluntary participation and the gradual process of building positive relationships with young people to support their personal, political and social education fits within a law enforcement or social care framework.

Good youth work may look as if it just happens but trust me, there is much more to it than just turning up and looking approachable. Effective youth work offers young people the opportunity to meet, socialise and have fun, but it also supports them in developing new skills, exploring the world around them and understanding their role in it. I want young people to question and challenge what they see and to believe that they can (and do) achieve their goals.

Young people can be innovative and visionary, with energy and enthusiasm to shape and change the world. To do this they need to find ways to get their voices heard and be able to see that their participation in things like youth councils, forums and consultations actually makes a difference. Too often I think young people are let down because although they are told that their opinions count, when it comes to money and budgets, they don’t. True empowerment is more than a paper exercise or a way to tick boxes.

So I think it is time for youth workers to stand up and reclaim youth work by celebrating how different it is to other work with young people. It should be seen as a whole, not as a useful pick’n’mix to compliment other services. We need to define youth work in our own terms – before someone else does it for us.

I don’t want to keep ducking the question, "what do you do for a living?" – I want to be able to say (with pride), "I am a youth worker", and for that to mean something.

This blog originally appeared on YouthLink Scotland's blog site.

 

Comments

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Paul McIlvenny
almost 8 years ago
I find Vanessa's article interesting, youth work has a very defined and common set of principles and values especially here in Scotland with our national standards it's very clear what kind if project constitutes a youth work approach! She is right to highlight that not all services that engage with young people are Youth Work just because they are working with young people! I have worked with young people for over 15yrs in both paid, voluntary, sports based, outdoors based, street work and uniformed approaches, I am proud to call myself a Youth Worker, I believe it is a privledged position where we can support, guide, mentor and provide life changing interventions, opportunities and experiences for young people in today's ever changing society but all organisations that work with young people must both understand and respect young people's participation and involvement to become not only the leaders of tommorow, but the leaders of today!
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Arkle Bell
over 7 years ago
Remember very long discussions at the NYA, late80s/early90s. Are we youth workers or workers with young people. We came up with a core of youth work training document. Some of the highlights then worked through in their work programme, like Participation, Spiritual Development. We were clear that the informal education process was key to our professional understanding. Current claims by churches that they are the biggest employers of youth workers, begs the question about voluntary involvement, participation in governance and programme development. Same is true of many other agencies.
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Dean
over 7 years ago
The connections service and the youth work agenda being high jacked by careers effectively put an end to youth work that was responsive, whilst meeting the needs of young people.Back in the 70's and 80 when I was a youth club member, I attended a club that had over a hundred members and had a wide range of social recreational facilities.If I wanted to complete youth awards and do more education I'd go to a college or sixth form.there was nothing wrong with pool and ping pong and discos and being able to make and keep friends,that gave me more skills than being forced to complete a youth achievement award , giving the staff a tick in the box
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Karen Harper
over 7 years ago
Love this and Thank You Venessa for standing up and saying what so many if us are thinking and believing but due to working for council are not allowed to voice as we are constantly told we can not go against councillors are employers as it's misconduct . I met You at detached youth conference a few years ago Vanessa I lived You then n live you now you are one great role model and tutor keep up Your amazing work we need ppl like You to keep us Youth and play workers goingKaren x
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Kevin Mullins
over 7 years ago
Vanessa has some amazing resources available via her website. I work in a busy centre with a variety of groups and programmes and the subscription to her massive range of activities, exercises and worksheets is proving invaluable for new and experienced staff. Simply a must
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Jane Melvin
over 7 years ago
My students are keen to explore this with you when you come to us in November. We'll also be holding a 'What is the Future of Youth Work' day through TAG PALYCW - maybe you'd like to speak at that - no date yet but we can speak in November.
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Jean Jones
over 7 years ago
What a fantastic piece of writing about youth work! I truly believe that as a youth worker myself for many years you have hit the nail on the head with your article.We I believe as youth workers have partly let ourselves down by not promoting the fantastic rewarding work we have done and still hopefully will do with our future adults!Take careJean
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Laura scott
about 7 years ago
I will be at your seminar this Tuesday and am very much looking forward to hearing you speak. I came from the voluntary sector originally and felt confident in what my role meant. I now work for what was known as the youth service and as you said, feel dread when I am asked to explain what I do. Sadly even people under the same corporal umbrella as my team seem confused as to what being a youth worker is. See you Tuesday