Covering over the cracks continued – from Youth Work to Family Well-Being

Following upon Bernard’s criticism of the CYPN ‘evolution of youth work’article, its shallow attempt to suggest that somehow the assault on youth work is not so bad really, I’m copying a revealing exchange from our Facebook page. This conversation was sparked by the following question:


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I have asked this question before, but I would like to hear again, as Lancashire moves it’s Young People’s Service and SureStart into a combined ‘Well-being, Prevention and Early Help [WBPEH] Service’. We will be case workers working with families who will be put through he Common Assessment Framework [CAF] as a condition of accessing the service. A caseload of 20 per full time post with 12 weeks to work with each family. All outcomes must meet Troubled Families Unit [TFU] criteria to pull down funding. Plus targeted group work with young people and parents in the evenings. this is what the Level 1 workers ( soon to be Grade 4 NJC) will be doing if on evening posts.
Are you working this way already?
What is the reality?
What is it like to manage workers doing this role?
What are the positives if any?
Have you been able to manage in a democratic way, given the inherently target based approach?
Can you retain the values and empathy of the youth work role?

Oh yes, and did I mention that open youth work would be minimal or non-existent? No? sorry, just assumed everyone took that as read…..

These are but some of the responses, which reflect the shifting priorities and dilemmas on the ground and the continuing integration, even disappearance of youth services/youth work. These scenarios are skated over in much of the debate about whether boundaries should or should not be blurred.

Check out Leicestershire County Council’s model. Sounds exactly the same but did this over 4/5 years ago. The merge was depressing, the youth work became very diluted. Ultimately it is social work but on a very low wage.  I now work in the voluntary sector

I’m Leicester City. We parted company with the CAF process about two years ago and moved towards an integrated early help/targeted youth support model at around the same time. Our full time workers and senior youth support workers are expected to carry a case load of Targeted Youth Support work as well as maintain delivery of open access youth provision or street based work. We’re about to enter into another ‘remodelling’ exercise which is likely to move us further along the road towards a social work lite approach to work with young people. We’re also part way through a process of closing down significant numbers of our youth centres and children centres. Indications are that the focus will be on more generic family support in the future. Crock of proverbial shit and precious little recognition of or support for any kind of critical pedagogy.

Qualification is an issue. As a Community & Youth Worker who has worked closely with Social Workers, I know enough to know that I am not a Social Worker. As mentioned above – deprofessionalisation. I have also worked with generic ‘children’s services’ – and Social Work training is not a suitable background for Informal Education or a group/community approach to intervention. Even superficial similarities can be misleading, with terminology having different assumptions & professional models behind them. I would hope to see ‘conversion’ courses – at PGC to Masters level – for people who already have appropriate Professional qualifications; but I suspect that this will not happen.

I’m in that camp, might as well get a Social Work degree and get paid 5k more. I don’t agree that youth work cannot do same job. I believe our training is better able to tackle social problems inside and outside the home. There are just different forms and approaches!! The danger is the criticism the Youth Work heard about Social Work not being present, available, being human – is that the pressure will turn our services into the same quick fix programme.

There’s no ‘community’ in our practice in Leicester City now. The community development element of our role has been sacrificed in order to free up more capacity to carry ever increasing case loads of Targeted Youth interventions! Since we moved to an early help model, we have no senior management who come from an educational background, informal or otherwise.

Sadly that mirrors the reality of many parts of the country. The first head of the combined ‘Children’s Services’ in one County seemed to enjoy going round meetings telling people the there was no such thing as a ‘Youth Service’.

Caseload of 20! That’ll last about a month. I don’t know anyone in children’s services with less than 35 and most working 40-50. The ideology is corrupt at its base and the methodology employed crap. The reason young people in these programmes and in care for that matter continue to have poorer outcomes is that those working with them are manacled to Key Performance Indicators that have a higher priority than furthering the education and options of the individual they are working with. Following procedure is the mantra, doing what is right for that young people in that place at that time has no credence whatsoever, even if it is agreed, if it’s not in the playbook it’s not allowed to happen, if it is allowed to happen it has to go through 19 layers of bureaucracy by which time the moment is lost and circumstances changed so it becomes irrelevant.

We’ve both worked for the same service for a long time – we are professionally qualified & anything under grade 7 NJC isn’t – we all have transferable skills to do the job – the question is do you want to? Caseloads, line management as a senior practitioner at grade 8 should be you target if you feel you can go forward with the WPEHS – for me it’s not just about paying the bills it vocational as I volunteered for 7 years – I love my job as a youth worker & agree with the above I never wanted to be a social worker & clearly the path to integrated social care is pending –

We still have the semblance of voluntary engagement in our service but this is becoming increasingly tenuous and I would be surprised if this survives the next round of remodelling and reviews and once this has gone, it just ain’t youth work in my view!

The only way to stop Youth Work from disintegrating is to forget informal education and go into desistance theory models. With academization the Education route is over. Youth Work is going to be a useful arm to any service, as we are the profession who knows young people best. The best chance of keeping open access Youth Work is through cosying up to the Youth Justice Board model.

Youth Justice Board don’t do it for me, rather cut loose if that’s all that’s on offer! We are still putting up a fight through my union in Leicester😉

Quick note to say we need a post on desistance theory, which crudely is about the how young people, in this case, might be encouraged to cease being criminal or more broadly anti-social.




An exercise in covering up the cracks – CYPN’s evolution of youth work

Bernard Davies responds to the latest sanitised attempt by Children and Young People Now [CYPN] to offer an overview of what’s going on in the world of youth work.


Children and Young People Now covers the cracks in open access youth work

My 13 Oct email issue of CYPN carried a link to a ‘12-page Special Report on youth work and youth services’ entitled ‘The evolution of youth work’ which, it explained, ‘looks at the latest policy, research and practice across the sector’. The paper on the ‘Policy context’ does have some brief history such as the significant recent facts that ‘there has been no specific youth work policy paper in England’ since the Coalition published ‘Positive for Youth’ in 2011; and that when Michael Gove moved responsibility for youth services out of his Education Department in 2013 he did so because in his view ‘youth work was “a priority for local not central government”’. The CYPN papers also give due acknowledgement to the evidence from both the government’s own returns and research done by Unison of the huge impacts on Youth Services since 2010 of cuts in the government’s financial support for local authorities.

However the paper also does a good job in both covering up the direct effects of all this on the availability of open access youth work as a state provision and at recasting youth work as any form of work with young people. Even assuming that ‘youth work values’ and ‘youth work skills’ independent of the open access settings in which they have been developed – a claim which within IDYW is emerging as in need of some serious debate – using them to support teachers, FE staff and youth justice, health and social workers apparently provides sufficient rationale for, since 2011-12 reducing Youth Services spending by over 50%, closing 603 youth centres, losing 139,000 youth places and eliminating 3,652 youth work jobs. The devastation of the last few years is OK too, it seems, now that eight OnSide youth zones across the country are up and running, eight others ‘are in various stages of development’ and a total of 100 envisaged ‘within the next generation’; and now we have the Office of Civil Society’s ‘small amounts of funding for authorities to assess and test new models of youth work provision through the Delivering Differently for Young People … programme’.

Where the CYPN Report stretches understandings of the work furthest, however, is in its inclusion in its ‘Research evidence’ paper on ‘Youth Work and Youth Service’ of the findings of a study of 4Results Mentoring. This clearly is a very impressive programme. How in the long run, though, does labelling the project as ‘youth work’ help it – or youth workers struggling to safeguard spaces to which young people come with friends by choice and where the informal educational opportunities developed are prompted above all by the interests and concerns they bring with them?

Worry not, however. Because in a commentary on the ‘Policy context’ paper Matt Lent, director of partnerships and policy at UK Youth, has some highly reassuring words for us. ‘There is no doubt’, he admits, ‘that austerity has been painfully felt by the sector and the young people we service’. But all that apparently will ultimately be for the best because ‘exciting things are now happening in local youth delivery’ including ‘the liberation of progressive and innovative local and regional youth services’.

To which the most polite way I can find of wording my response is: Go tell that to the young people who no longer have a dedicated local space to go to in their leisure time.

Bernard Davies
Oct 2016

Spare Rib, Women and Innovative Youth Work


The appearance of Spare Rib in the Briarcroft Training centre of the Wigan Youth Service back in 1978 was symbolic. Whether organised on the shelves or strewn amidst the cushions in our ‘trendy’ groupwork room it reflected a major shift in the youth work outlook of that northern Metropolitan Borough.  Even getting the agreement of the education bureaucracy to subscribe to this dangerous magazine was greeted with dismissive opposition. However  the sheer energy and passion brought into the Service by women involved in the Women’s Movement, the force of their arguments, won over key men in the Education Department hierarchy. ‘Boys Rule not OK!’ events were organised. A Youth Service Women’s Group, bringing together part and full-time workers, secured support and funding. The very first full-time Girls’ Worker was appointed. Girls’ Nights flourished. Male workers and young men were challenged. The local CYSA branch was to be transformed, playing its part in the creation of CYWU with its radical constitution, the Women’s Caucus to the fore. It was a time, dare we use words exhausted by their relentless and inappropriate invocation nowadays, of creativity and innovation. This Wigan experience was replicated in Youth Services across the country.

Hence, in reminding us of this history, of a challenging youth work practice that had to make its case against the odds, it’s brilliant to see that all 239 editions of the landmark feminist magazine, Spare Rib are to be published online for the first time.

Spare Rib enters the digital age

Few titles sum up an era and a movement like Spare Rib. With its commitment to challenging the status quo, Spare Rib battled oppression and gave a voice to the struggles, discussions and debates of diverse groups of women over the 21 years it was in print (1972-1993)

Noam Chomsky on the Perils of Market-Driven Education

In posting this interview with Noam Chomsky as a possible weekend read I’m underlining my steadfast belief that the defence of youth work is rooted deeply in the wider struggle to renew  critical and democratic forms of education. It’s one of the reasons I remain anxious about the continued slide to seeing youth work as the preventative arm of social work rather than an informal wing of life-long education.


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Noam Chomsky on the Perils of Market-Driven Education

An educated public is surely a prerequisite for a functioning democracy — where “educated” means not just informed but enabled to inquire freely and productively, the primary end of education.

It is worth remembering the early years of the industrial revolution. The working-class culture of the time was alive and flourishing. There’s a great book about the topic by Jonathan Rose, called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. It’s a monumental study of the reading habits of the working class of the day. He contrasts “the passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts” with the “pervasive philistinism of the British aristocracy.” Pretty much the same was true in the new working-class towns in the United States, like eastern Massachusetts, where an Irish blacksmith might hire a young boy to read the classics to him while he was working. Factory girls were reading the best contemporary literature of the day, what we study as classics. They condemned the industrial system for depriving them of their freedom and culture. This went on for a long time.

What do we mean by voluntary? Jon Ord propels the debate

If you’ve followed any of the 2016 post-conference posts on this site you will know that we scratched the surface of the continuing debate about the significance or otherwise of the voluntary relationship in defining what we mean by youth work. As things stand the very first of IDYW’s cornerstones of practice reads:

  • the primacy of the voluntary relationship, from which the young person can withdraw without compulsion or sanction.

Yet this interpretation is increasingly contested, so much so that we intend to organise a series of seminars this winter to explore further, given the present climate, the vexed question of ‘what we mean by voluntary’? In the run up to these gatherings we will post differing responses to the question. Hence we are pleased to hear from Jon Ord, who writes:


At the recent IDYW conference, in the debate on Voluntary Participation, Bernard Davies made reference to a chapter in my latest book, which looks in some detail at the concept. Afterwards someone did ask me: ‘what book’? So I thought it might be a good idea to share a little bit from it, which may go some way to publicise it…

The following is adapted from chapter 10, ‘On Voluntary Participation and Choice’:

‘Voluntary participation is perhaps one of the most controversial issues in contemporary youth work. Workers are increasingly finding themselves being asked to work in situations where the young people have not accessed the provision voluntarily. However despite the ease with which some youth workers are embracing these new environments we need to have a critical understanding of the concept of voluntary participation. For example: there is actually no opposite to voluntary participation. One cannot participate ‘involuntarily’. Neither is this mere semantics. Participation is an intentional act. One can be physically present but not actually participate. What this shows is that there are two important and distinctly different aspects to voluntary participation – attendance and participation…Ultimately it is the quality of the relationship which forms out of the engagement, the degree of choice at the disposal of the participants, and the participative practices of the workers, not simply whether the project was based on the participants being able to choose to attend, that defines the potential of youth work practice. Ultimately it is the ability to ‘enable young people to engage’ which is important. Choosing to attend is one of the factors which would assist this engagement but it is not the only one and in itself it is no guarantee. I would argue therefore it is possible to do youth work in settings where young people have not chosen to attend but of course success is not guaranteed. Youth work practice should be underpinned by a critical awareness of ‘power and authority’ whatever the context and such issues are of particular importance in settings where young people cannot leave of their own volition’. In such settings of course the possibilities for genuine participation may well be severely hampered and this should not be glossed over…

The above provides a brief insight into some of the arguments in the debate about voluntary participation but more can be found in chapter 10 of the 2nd edition of Youth Work Process Product and Practice. A flyer is attached which provides you with a 20% discount on your order should you wish to explore this further.

It is good stuff, so Jon, we forgive you for this flagrant act of publicity!

ord_process, product and practice authorflyer-iii

The Ethics of Banning : IDYW Regional Seminars, London and Liverpool, November 18

Since our emergence we have sought to encourage the development of IDYW meetings at a local and regional level. By and large this has not come to pass. Thus we are more than pleased to publicise this joint initiative taken by Colin Brent and Tracy Ramsey Lhu. Please support if at all possible. And why not think about taking a similar step in your locality or region?


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The Ethics of Banning
How do we decide who can and can’t access youth work

Dual open seminars to discuss issues at the core of youth work
on the ground

Friday 18th November 2016, 11am-2pm

UNISON Centre,
130 Euston Road,
Contact Colin – 07988085112
Liverpool Hope University
Hope Park Campus,
Taggart Avenue,
L16 9JD
Contact Tracy – 0151 2913461

Thanks to UNISON and Liverpool Hope University for their support.

banning-flyer Please print out and circulate.

If Young people exist in community – should youth workers develop positive community approaches?

Given yesterday’s notice of the Federation of Detached Youth Work conference and its theme of ‘community’, James Ballantyne, who is going to be one of the contributors, offers some advance thoughts, adding that you deserve a medal if you make it to the end of his piece. Obviously I’ve already put in for my reward.

Detached Youthwork - Learning from the Street

In  a few weeks time im delivering a workshop at the Federation of Detached youthwork conference, the title of which I am yet to finalise, but in readiness of the conference and its theme, i have asked around a few places to get a few definitions of ‘Youth work’ as well as gather some from the resources i have to hand on my bookshelf, or recent articles.

One of the themes of the Conference is – ‘Is community back on the Agenda?’ for detached youthwork, with the brief that aspects of partnership and community work seem to be more common place in detached youthwork at present, with the reason being that it might be other agencies, such as the police, that are in effect funding it, and so there has to be a community, or at least a community agency partnership focus to the work. The question i want to ask is

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