Youth Work : Not so much an Identity Crisis, more a blurring of Identity

A couple of people have suggested that I transfer this post to the site from Facebook, where it first appeared.  It was an immediate response to a piece in Children and Young People Now –

Youth work ‘identity crisis’ behind low take-up of institute membership


Howard Williamson suggests the low take-up in terms of the fledgling Institute for Youth Work is to do with an identity crisis within youth work. One central dilemma is certainly that there has been a conscious effort by such as the NYA to blur the definition of youth work so that it can be applied to all manner of work with young people- from youth social work to surveillance to recreation. As Bernard notes in his comment on the CYPN site, if anything Howard adds to this blurring of the boundaries. We have proposed to NYA/IYW that they reconsider seriously the title if the IYW is to reach out to the diversity of settings within which youth workers find themselves. As Bernard hints an Institute for Work with Young People could be a pluralist organisation, within which youth workers doing youth work retain their identity, whilst rubbing shoulders and being in dialogue with youth workers and others delivering targeted casework, youth justice, school inclusion work etc….. In this context we could overcome some of the tensions related to the supposed superiority or otherwise of different forms of work with young people. What our Campaign continues to defend is youth work as a distinctive practice, which takes place in a specific setting founded on the voluntary relationship and the unfolding of a creative process, which does not impose outcomes from above. Obviously this draws in a host of workers in the voluntary sector and poses issues around professionalisation, which have still to be teased out seriously. The IYW don’t seem to be listening though.


Since I posted these thoughts there have been a couple of passionate responses from volunteer workers, which deserve to be taken very seriously.


  1. Having responded to the original piece in CYPN and not revived any response from the ‘professional’ sector I feel complied to ask the question again.

    Why should anyone from the voluntary sector join a campaign to defend Youth Work when Youth Work as we know it is not under any threat ?

    I am a group scout leader working with a team consisting of retired civil servants, fork lift truck drivers, builders, sales personnel, students and young people not in employment or education to deliver youth work to young people in our vibrant multi cultural community.

    None of of us expect payment for this activity and our engagement with young people is therefore truly voluntary, in that neither they nor us have to engage unless we want to. This principle of voluntary engagement also prevents any coercion from on high as our mortgages car loans etc do not depend on the approval of line managers..

    Our group consists of 60 young people between the ages of 6 and 18 of which 30 are over the age of 13. We deliver a minimum of 48 weeks youth work and three residentials a year raising the £3000 needed from the local community.

    None of this is under threat what appears to be in danger is the ‘Professional Youth Services’ and the supporting university infrastructure.

    Given that support for our young people from our local youth service consists of a half hour visit once every ten years and that people appear to able to gain an MA in Youth Work and still think that the entire voluntary sector contributes nothing more to young peoples lives than ‘playing a few games’ Why on earth would anyone want to defend it?

    Tony Ransley

  2. Tony

    Thanks for this provocative and challenging opening to the New Year! Rather than get into a reply under Comments, which tends to get missed and ignored I’d like to do a new post drawing attention to your argument. Is that OK?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.