In Tuesday’s Guardian [March 9] there is a sympathetic and measured piece on the dilemmas facing students training to be youth workers.
The future looks bleak for would-be youth workers – and the colleges that teach them.
What makes me despair, though, is the number of (mostly older-generation) youth workers signing up to Tony Taylor’s ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ campaign, which is completely unconstructive. Taylor wants to defend traditional youth work, but does so by foot-stamping and complaint rather than by offering solutions. Youth work – as with any public service – has a duty to demonstrate to the taxpayer the worth of money spent on it. The IDOYW campaign seems to show that many youth workers do not understand this point. Youth work needs to figure out how it can demonstrate its value if it is to survive.
One of our supporters responds:
Your criticism of the “In Defence….” campaign highlights one of the difficulties faced by youth workers (many of whom, across the generations, support the campaign) trying to operate in the current climate. Nobody is denying that youth work should be accountable to the taxpayer / funding body / society in general, but what form that accountability takes is, and must be, open to debate. The campaign aims to defend youth work as an open ended, exploratory and democratic practice where the terms of the engagement and any “outcomes” are negotiated, on equal terms, with the participants. The difficulty arises when workers are tasked with working to prescribed (written previously) agendas such as increasing young people’s participation in employment and training, or reducing crime and ASB. While these may well be outcomes of the youth work process, the prescription of and measuring against these targets necessarily compromises the “democratic and emancipatory” nature of the work.
Forget the personal references – it has kicked off a debate, to which you might want to contribute. Hopefully the discussion is reaching a wider audience than normal.