On Being Committed to Youth Work : An Open Letter to Jason Pandya-Wood
In a recent piece in Children and Young People Now, expert challenges youth workforce’s commitment to protecting services, Jason Pandya-Wood, Head of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University and a former youth worker, “fears that youth workers are partly to blame for the widespread streamlining of services”. Being he says self-critical he goes on to argue, “I don’t think youth workers have done nearly enough to stand up for what youth work can be about, what it does for young people and why it should be protected.”
Sociologically speaking this seems simplistic. Politically speaking it seems to be missing a thing or two. Hence I’ve dropped the following note to Jason in the hope he might join us at our conference and explore the issues in more depth.
Having read your expert analysis of the situation facing youth work and youth services on CYPN I must beg to differ. Of course there is a question mark over how youth workers have responded to the assault on youth work as a distinctive practice. However at the very least the predicament is suffused with contradiction. It is difficult ‘to promote the importance’ of your service – to take but a few examples – when you have been made redundant or you are being intimidated for raising your voice or indeed when you have been transformed against your wishes into a youth social worker.
Nevertheless there have been significant efforts to resist the neo-liberal onslaught. Although it appears the existence and efforts of the Choose Youth Alliance or the In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] campaign have passed you by. As it happens the IDYW is holding its fifth national conference in Leeds this coming Thursday, April 10, its theme ‘The Future of Youth Work? The Future of the Campaign’. As coordinator of this campaign I’d like to invite you to join us in critical debate and collective commitment along with our keynote speakers Janet Batsleer and Howard Sercombe plus a rich diversity of practitioners.
Hi Tony, thanks so much for taking the time to write after reading the piece. As you’ll all appreciate the media (and I include CYPN in this) will pick up on a particular comment and decide to frame an article around it. My initial piece was published on The Conversation (http://theconversation.com/british-children-are-unhappy-enough-without-cuts-to-youth-services-25100) and that attracted CYPN to get in touch. The central problem for me is not with individual practitioners by any stretch of the imagination and I am acutely aware of the horrific impacts of austerity on dear friends and colleagues who are under serious threat- it is with central government’s failure to provide adequate statutory protection for youth service provision. My frustrations with demonstrating impact are secondary but important nonetheless. I’ll make sure I get a blog up in the next few days to clarify my position.
Some people responded to your letter questioning to my ‘passion for youth work’ – it is unabated and even more urgent than before!! Although I have left the DMU youth and community division, I still volunteer, write and research on youth work issues and am lobbying hard where I can to promote the distinctiveness of the work.
The efforts of Choose Youth has not passed me by at all. In fact, I participated in their recent week of action trying to promote petition sign ups, twitter and facebook campaigns etc. Even with those efforts, the output was very muted in my view – I kept an eye on engagement and it was far too low in my view. I am afraid I’ve not had the chance to be engaged with IDYW beyond my initial participation in a workshop. I really wish you well on Thursday and regret I can’t attend. I guess a question for the IDYW campaign is whether it should (and if so how) seek to influence policy developments, particularly with a Labour manifesto prep underway?
Thanks again for writing. I’m a bit struck by the ‘open letter’ – I’m not sure I like being referred to as sociologically simplistic and missing a thing or two!
Best wishes, Jason
I find myself more, rather than less, concerned with the philosophy you state now having read both your original piece and your reply to Tony Taylor.
It seems to be a damning and defeatist attitude to accept, let alone perpetuate from a position of relative influence, that statutory protection is the keystone of our vocation. You imply that state doctrine in the form of statutory protection for services would have protected much of provision; in doing so you essentially denigrate the virtues of what Youth Work ‘is’. You have allowed the founding tenets to be ignored; democracy, voluntaryism and rights of withdrawal.
The implication that Youth Work exists because of statutory racketeering is at best a naive and detached view whilst, at worst, dangerously simplistic and offensive. You state the during the last Labour Government “various reforms led to a greater focus on addressing the problems presented or faced by Young People”; I suggest it was in fact the “problems” faced by the State due to an ignorant and unwilling comprehension of Young People. How many of these reforms led to open access Youth Clubs and not ‘Youth Hubs’, how many voluntary organisations were promoted where Young People could withdraw as a basic right?
For reliance on the supposed quality of the “qualified” Youth Workers you mention; I can refer you only to think of the GSCC/HCPC to see the ‘wonders’ that statutory regulation facilitates. Youth Work exists in a colourful plethora of forms and is not limited to statutory provision. Implying that Youth Work is the preserve of the State is a direct act of attrition against the very concept of Youth Work.
The proposition that Youth Workers must somehow lobby to defend our existence is, I suggest, a relatively shameful one. That parliamentarians across the political spectrum inflict devastating cuts in the absence of understanding is a damning indictment of our political system; it is a sad country where a journalist can become the Secretary for Education; a PR man can become Prime Minister and the appointment of grossly ignorant Social Workers and failed Head Teachers to the inspectorate body is endorsed with passion. It is not, nor should it ever be, a reflection of the professional body of Youth Work. The responsibility of Youth Workers to defend the influence is non-existent; a Minister or Councillor need only step foot in a service or, dare I say it, pick up a book or five to get an estimation of the usefulness of services.
Proposing that we must rely on overworked, stretched and subjugated Youth Workers to, in addition, promote the value of their work to ears that are unwilling to listen is ridiculous. The absence of a value of Youth Work is the fault of the politician, not the manager, not the ‘worker’, nor that of the volunteer – to suggest otherwise is almost incomprehensible.
We must not rely on legislative protection nor on “legal expectations” and it would be a further act of naivety to fully accept such expectations. Rather, the wilful attention paid to the passion, creativity and purpose of Youth Work is the step in the right direction – not the decimation of our existential principles.