Four years on – The Open Letter and Pink Elephants!

Fair enough we know the elephant isn’t pink, but it is in the room!

It’s four years since our founding Open Letter hit the streets. However its message seems to retain all its pertinence and resonance. Indeed it is revealing to read the following comments made by students over the past few days.

Di26 reflects:

At present I’m on my first year study in Youth and Community Work (JNC) and have recently experienced my first tangible evidence of how much youth work principles are being targeted and redeployed from their own values and tenacity of returning something back to the young people and communities who they value.
I was disheartened at the recommendations and meanings I heard from Central Government policies and how they are going to employ them into practice. This was fundamentally flawed and presented a lack of any reassurance for the young people and where they were emerging from. In continuing to act as an “agency of behavioural modification” I started to question who actually determines what behaviour is appropriate and what rationale is behind actually endeavouring to modify young people’s behaviour.
Young people are losing their rights to cultivate and to develop who they want to be, and are constantly being regulated, converted and amended to encompass a “One size fits all” .
One size does not fit all and all the variances should be esteemed, revelled in and not diminished to a communal image, where peoples own identity and ethos is being disorientated due to this modification.

Sophina comments:

I am also a first year student studying youth and community work (JNC). Upon reading all previous comments, I feel enlightened about the current climate youth work is in. Within the compound of university I felt that I understood, but since becoming part of my placement I have become more empathetic and not just sympathetic towards the passion and ideology of what youth work truly stands for. First hand I have already experienced the conflicting motives that are occurring between the LA and the youth service.
Although I am relatively new to youth work my past experience is within schools, I felt restricted inside the boundaries of formality and felt that an invisible barrier was being produced due to the focus being solely on academic performance and conformance. Targets and curriculum took over the wants and needs of each individual child, and for those whom may have needed a different approach, were put on an IBP or EBP then passed on to others who can be bothered.
I have come to find that the ‘others’ meant youth workers. I feel that the amount of psychological, sociological and philosophical experience that youth workers have, let’s not forget the passion for each individual young person, has been underrated by the dominant discourse of the majority of society. Thus discrediting the skills of a youth worker and furthermore demonizing specific young people. Youth workers at present are between a rock and a hard place. deadlines and targets defeat the values of what youth work is really about.
I totally agree with Tony’s open letter and can see the frustration that seems to be falling on deaf ears unless more youth workers come forward and point out the pink elephant in the room the methodology will be lost.

Catherine opines:

I have recently started my degree in Youth and Community and find very sad the state of youth provision at the moment. I already work with young people and obviously experienced cuts to budgets etc. Since starting this course it has emphasised even more the need and importance that something needs to be done and quickly. This week I visited a local youth centre and with it being half term I expected to see some young people. I did not see one young person which really surprised me and left me wondering where and what are all the young people doing. I do feel that the service has turned into a target driven service with deadlines and bums on seats attitude which is not what effective youth work is. What happened to the humanistic approach, detached youth work, working with young people and building positive relationships to help both youth workers and young people move forward. I couldn’t agree more with the open letter  – a true reflection on what it has become.

Daryl worries:

I am a first year student studying Youth & Community Work at Newman University in Birmingham. I also work as a Project Worker and have been in my current post for several years. In that time I have experienced first hand the dramatic shift in the state of modern day youth work.

Youth Work is no longer about the voluntary relationship between the worker or young person and is evermore less about the individual needs of the young people we are supposed to informally educate. Instead Youth Work finds itself and its core principles and values caught up in bureaucratic red tape where outcomes models, targeted work and the monitoring and labelling of young people such as NEET’S is becoming increasingly more standard practice. The needs of the young people as individuals is at a loss within the whole process.

Youth Work is fast becoming everything it is not meant to be, governed by Politicians, outcomes, statistics and Policy initiatives. In my opinion It seems that our profession is at a critical point, where those who govern will furthermore aim to formalise it with regulation and policy so it is looked upon as some form of alternative education to school, with the emphasis being on the social inclusion of the young people they demonise and label in the first place.

Tony’s open letter is spot on and a true testimony of the state of youth work today. If things do not change dramatically, the core principles and values which youth work is based upon will be a distant memory.

And finally Hannah underlines the reality she is experiencing:

I have only been engaged in Youth Work for the past 3 years, and have worked for a Local Authority and a third sector organisation commissioned by the LA for the duration. As such I have never experienced the type of open, un-targeted and needs-led service which Tony and my mentors recall fondly. However, I believe that until policies change, it is down to individual youth workers to maintain democratic and anti-oppressive practice within the confines of outcomes and funding restrictions. I have worked with youth workers within the LA who clearly emanate this ethos, and youth workers who clearly do not.

At the centre of youth work has always been the relationship between youth worker and young person. Youth workers are the driving force of youth work and we must not compromise our integrity.

Sincere thanks to these students for taking the trouble to express both their commitment and anxiety in these troubled times.

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