IN DEFENCE – Defending the Profession rather than the Work?


work with them

In the last few days we’ve received a couple of challenging comments from workers in the voluntary sector. Youthworkerpete in questioning whether we need a separate category of post for the ‘voluntary and community sector’ wondered,

I suppose I’m asking whether the ‘powers that be’ in IDYW think that the voluntary sector are under-represented or at risk of marginalisation in the movement? Are their specific and different needs compared to the statutory sector? Does this imply the movement is (or has been) particularly focussing on statutory youth work or consider it the ‘default’?

My sensitivity with this comes purely from some recent personal experiences when statutory workers (currently facing redundancy – so understandably disgruntled) talk as if the voluntary sector are the ‘bad guys’, somehow ‘the enemy’, when we’ve been working alongside the statutory sector for many years. I’m just concerned we may be accidentally walking into a ‘divide and conquer’ tactic by creating false dichotomies.

Whilst Tony Ransley, frustrated by the lack of response to his concerns on Children and Young People Now about the Institute of Youth Work and a supposed identity crisis amongst professionals,  has turned his attention to our Campaign, asking,

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?

What do supporters think? Has the campaign failed to recognise seriously the significance of the voluntary youth sector? Is the JNC qualified worker dismissive of the contribution made by a voluntary sector, which is rich in its diversity? Has the Coalition’s ‘Big Society’ rhetoric, coupled with relentless cuts, soured relations on the ground?

Your thoughts welcomed.


  1. Well, I have a few comments. Firstly, I wish I’d proof read my original comment properly – misuse of the word ‘their’ 🙂

    At the moment I’m at university, desperately trying to finish by this year, so it’s the first time in my adult life I haven’t been actively engaged in regular youth work (something I hope to change very soon!). When I return to youth work it will likely be as a volunteer (though I’m JNC qualified). I find the constraints on paid youth work to be, well, off-putting. I also look at some of the volunteers I worked with in the past awe that I am simply not as good as they are.

    I also hope that my comments come across as being positive and supportive (it’s so hard to tell with the written word, isn’t it?) because I feel we are stonger together. The statutory sector seem to have taught the voluntary sector a great deal around ‘professionalism’ and in creating spaces to think about theory, policy and practice. However the voluntary sector feels like it’s the protector of the ‘heart’ of youth work, particularly in these difficult times.

    I’d just like us to be one nice big happy youth work family. I genuinely feel for workers who face redundancy, just as many statutory workers feel for those in the voluntary sector fighting for funding every three years. I don’t think “my sector’s better than your sector” is helping anyone.

    Except, maybe, the government.

    Imagine if every voluntary sector organisation said “we aren’t going to bid for those services, because we don’t believe we can do them as well as the local authority”…. that’d put it up ’em (as they say).

  2. I think this is a great point to raise, I have worked in both sectors and I have experienced the good an bad in both. I think that the voice of the voluntary sector is marginalised at this time and I agree that their is the risk of dismissing some of the great work of the voluntary sector . I believe that there should be many more services and provision for young people available and I believe that all good youth work should be defended equally. I do think those in statutory sector have much more power and resource to fight what is going on, and should perhaps give mention and consider the voluntary sector, as a friend and partner, who will be equally effected in the long run but perhaps is in a better place to adapt in the current climate. But eventually I think there are no winners if the 2 sectors fight between each other as if the statuary goes, the voluntary will continue to be squeezed and carry out the task of the statuary sector with less and less resources and with workers with less and less rights, So I agree, I think we are being led in to a war of sectors, and its time to be reflective and consider each other mindfully.

  3. For myself I am more interested in reforming Youth Work than defending past models.

    I do not accept the artificial distinction between professional youth workers and volunteer youth workers for two reasons.

    Firstly it encourages a form of apartheid where some young people get a disproportionate share of resources merely for attending certain projects. whilst their brothers and sisters attending voluntary projects not in the professional funding loop are totally neglected.

    Secondly because unaware of any credible evidence that the last fifty years of government spending on the professional youth services have produced any measurable improvements in young peoples life chances or well being.

    That having been said the present trend of having more and more resources taken up by ever more micro managers standing over fewer and fewer front line staff is clearly not in young peoples interests either.

    So the question is; Are their enough youth workers out there who want to fight for a youth work model which treats organisations like the Scouts not as ‘incredibly well meaning people’ ‘playing a few games’ but as a vital part of the mix of activities which a professional youth service should be providing to all young people in their area?

  4. I agree with what you say to a point. Sometimes there has an ignorance amongst youth workers and management of the work undertaken by organisations like the Scouts. I would also argue that in the case of the Scouts, partiuclaly at a local level, they can be very insular themselves and reluctant to be seen as part of a wider picture.

    i think also to dismiss statutory funded youth work as non-effective is very unfair. As with Scouts organisations the quality does vary from area to area and project to project, but many young people will point to thier youth worker as one of the key people in their life.

    As you point out there will always be youth work as long as there are people willing to give up there free time. Indeed most professional youth workers started out as volunteers or perhaps earning a few pounds as a part time worker.

    IMBY is not about defending old models, at least in my eyes, it is about acknowledging that there are certain primciples and values which are important.

  5. Thank you Paul,

    I have to agree that some Scout groups can be infuriating insular and even tribal on occasions however we do have regional development advisers who are only too willing to build bridges.investing the resources now could well pay dividends in the future.

    i was not trying to be unfair I was trying to encourage a debate if there is any credible evidence that the statutory sectors chosen delivery method,youth clubs, have produced measurable improvements in young peoples life chances and well being then I would be happy to read it,

  6. This is a debate that maybe should have raised its head sooner. However, I have grappled with the relationship between voluntary and statutory. I started, like many, in the voluntary sector and progressed, through qualifying, to the statutory sector. Over the last 12 years I have volunteered in the voluntary sector as well, currently a triathlon coach alongside another coach who also runs a scout group.
    Ideally I would like to think Youth Work practised in both sectors is `on a voluntary basis with young people`, addresses the politics of their, and our, lives and doesn`t just focus on `the activity`. To use an old idea – Youth Work is about the interaction in a wider context not just the activity and its outcomes.
    But in both sectors various barriers exist to my version of youth work. Currently, and for at least the last 20 years, Youth Work has been marginalised – not a big player – funding, policy, etc. compared to other services.
    In a climate of austerity (perceived/needed or otherwise) and not for the first time in my living memory all areas of the state are having to `shrink`. At the same time the state is using the opportunity of austerity to change our roles with young people. They will be taken through a linear process with less room to develop their real identity. Eg. born(unless living in deprived area), brought up properly (whatever that means), attend school (no choice), get a job (real or otherwise). All of these things = good citizen, well-behaved (because YOU should be), CONFORM ! We are all in this together, statutory and voluntary, get used to it ! However, some young people will be `free` of this because their guardians have sufficient income to send them to voluntary groups to develop their minds. Due to my relatively long standing, 20 years, professional income working in the statutory sector my daughters have had more opportunities. Meanwhile back in the real world young people living in poverty, financial or other, continue to be corralled into the capitalist vision of born, forced slave labour (school, dead end job), die. If Youth Work is an alternative to this bleak existence, an escape, safe haven, then unless we can all afford to live without an income there will be compromise.
    Maybe The Rich can only deliver a true Youth Service – they don`t need to work, they are free to think as they wish maybe we should all aspire and exist to achieve that status.
    Why has the statutory youth service taken a greater hit than other services during the recent austerity ? Some of us represent an alternative to the established order. Others, in the statutory and voluntary sectors, represent the status quo- capitalism is great, it is the only way forward, lets encourage young people to conform, etc. etc.
    Yes I do even more of that than I have ever done but I need an income to live.

  7. Thank You Stevemon

    Can I be clear on what you are saying both in and out of the brackets,.are you saying;

    As a state controlled youth worker you believe that state controlled youth work has been marginalised over the past twenty years ?

    You see those who advocate Good Citizenship as arch conformists who unquestioningly advocate acceptance of a bleak life of low expectations and little personal achievement?

    Only rich people send their children to voluntary provision ?

    All voluntary youth workers are rich ?

    That the only solution to this imbalance is for the state to use the communities money to compete with the voluntary sector provision ?

    And that the state controlled youth services have taken a greater hit than other services because some of the state controlled youth workers represent an alternative to the established order rather than no one knows what they do or can prove that it actually helps young people ?

  8. It is about time that the voluntary, paid but charitable and statutory sectors started working together instead of against each other.

    Many times in my position as a volunteer (scout leader) I have been hindered by the statutory sector for no other reason than I’m not paid to do what I’m doing and must therefore be incompetent.

    Even to the extent of not being able to put up posters for events on a so called community notice board when it’s full of statutory youth project posters.

    Prehaps it’s fear from the paid sector that their jobs would be at risk If they even admit that voluntary youth work is a good thing.

    We should be complimentary to each other not competing (well except in events such as 5 a side 🙂 )

  9. Mr Taylor,

    Tony am I breaking some form of IDYW etiquette by asking direct questions and expecting direct answers backed by accessible research ect ?

  10. Tony – a brief reply as I’m trying to create a new mailing list, which is revealing my shortcomings. IDYW etiquette – no such thing. IDYW is in the end a loose network of followers/supporters/critics. As I understand it your immediate questions were to Steve. It’s up to him whether he responds. As coordinator I welcome the debate and am drafting a broader response to it as a whole. Indeed my growing feeling is that the question of the statutory/voluntary relationship ought to be a major theme at our April conference. Will post something when I’ve cracked the database. Cheers.

  11. Thank you Tony

    I was actually referring to every question I have asked so far including the original ones you were kind enough to include at the start of this section, not just Steve’s who I expect is busy working and looking after his family and will answer when he has time.

    I am aware that sometimes my written communications can seem more aggressive than I intend and did not wish to cause offence..

    The other question I have not directly asked is; whether there is any evidence that the state controlled youth work methods youth clubs, sofas, pool tables social education is more effective at helping young people than say the scouts, group games, residential, peer leadership model ?

    • Now I am a lover of uniformed organisations. I think they do an awful lot of good. My daughter is well involved in the Brownies.


      I have no evidence on which to base this assertion, but I would imagine the statutory sector and scouts will be quite hard to compare because uniformed organisations have more middle class families involved, and that statutory clubs are normally built in places of deprivation (not least because I’ve actually found Brownies quite expensive – uniform, residentials, termly fees, etc, etc).

      I’m sure you can come back at me and say that you know lots of third-generation unemployed young people who are regular members – but as a generalisation, across the country, do you think that the issues of the young people in uniformed orgs are the same as those in the statutory services?

      What I’d hate, though, is to fall into the fetishization of the poor we have in much of sociology – assuming that working class families, or young people from deprived backgrounds, are somehow worthy of greater study than other young people.

  12. Thanks Pete

    Of course state subsidise activities Youth Clubs, Military Cadets etc. are going to be more accessible to young people from low income families than voluntary organisations which are excluded from or have rejected state controlled funding,

    But in my experience scouting activities appeal to some young people regardless of their background. The biggest problem I have encountered in providing scouting to young people in disadvantaged areas is not a lack of enthusiasm from them or their families but the way funding for youth activities is rigged against voluntary organisations, I would be interested to see what the true cost of any youth project would be per head and suspect the brownies would prove reasonable value if you removed all state subsidies.

  13. Sorry Pete

    Just realised that I did not answer your question, I would not have engaged with the state sector if it wasn’t for young people from my scout group presenting me with issues such as poverty, parental abuse, rejection of school, expulsion from school, attempted suicide, actually suicide, grief, criminalty racial abuse, substance abuse and gang violence. Normal upper working class issues.

    Contrary to what appears to be taught at university putting on a scout shirt doesn’t make a young persons issues disappear it merely removes them from the youth services field of vision and leaves them to a volunteer to struggle with.

  14. Interesting discussion…I would like to add a Scottish perspective. My impression north of the border is that statutory and voluntary youth work has never really been brought or organised together in my 13 years here. It has been funded very differently with local authority funding streams, particularly in time of austerity, creating divides as they make choices as to what they can afford. On the one hand they can chose to prefer their in house services and annoy the voluntary sector. On the other statutory youth work has been subject to cuts that the voluntary sector has been better protected from. Either way it is not helping.

    The way we organise services doesnt help. In Scotland the education system includes formal school education and informal youth work education yet its ‘never the twain shall meet’ rather than a recognition that we are best working closely together to achieve the same goal for children and young people. Within our national youth agency we separate our statutory and voluntary youth work to meet apart again losing the potential for us to work together.

    For me the one saving grace is that the lack of money out there is driving us inexorably towards seeking early intervention and prevention services that as we develop policy in these areas is looking uncannily like youth work. Perhaps the silver lining on austerity will be confirmation that youth work provides amazing value for money, achieves many of the outcomes government seeks and does it in a way that enhances other services and builds community.

    The secret for us is to influence this approach to make sure it is grounded in youth work principles about voluntary engagement, about equality in the relationship and about enabling potential. For all the uniforms out there we are arguing up here for greater investment in universal services and places for young people to gather as the first important preventative step of other integrated policies on health, justice and employment.

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