By twist of circumstance a number of revealing and challenging posts on the issue of professionalisation have appeared on our Facebook page. All of them are worthy of close attention, even if many within British youth work might find them troubling. Emanating from Australia, Canada and the USA the authors raise questions about the appropriateness of the concept of professionalisation when considering the intent and content of youth work. Of course the historical and even the contemporary contexts are not exactly the same. It can be argued that the journey towards being recognised as a profession is most advanced in the United Kingdom. Although Doug Nicholls, a committed advocate of ‘youth workers as professionals’ – see his chapter of the same name in ‘For Youth Workers and Youth Work’ – points out that youth workers are still categorised as a sub-profession or para-professional occupation. The present situation is riddled with contradiction. Indeed most strikingly the ‘para-profession’ itself is under severe assault as its natural home, the Youth Service, is decimated. With this in mind some might argue it is the wrong time to discuss what we mean by ‘professional’, ‘professionalism’ and professionalisation’. However the creation of an Institute of Youth Work, membership of which requires signing up to a Code of Ethics has already placed these issues squarely on a round table. Whatever our opinions we should not be afraid of a critical dialogue. After all it is what we claim youth work is all about.
Three pieces from Aaron Garth from Australia:
One of the reasons we have found professionalism so hard to implement is the difficulty of centrality. We don’t have a central definition and code of ethics in Australia and we have a number of different approaches and frameworks which guide our field. It is this vitality which we should be looking to develop in our quest for professionalism not just aiming to become another cookie cutter “profession.”
Hans Skott-Myhre writing passionately from Canada,
Finally, I would argue that our field of practice has a long history of resisting and opposing the ways s in which our society has dealt with young people. We have posited our selves as offering young people a different set of relations where they might be met as fellow travelers rather than social pariahs. I might refer to this aspect of our field as the tradition of revolutionary love. Love, I would define as an encounter that maximizes the capacities of all parties involved. Such love is revolutionary, because the social norm of the current regime of capitalist domination does anything but maximize our capacities. To jointly work together to see how we might creatively maximize what each of our bodies and minds has the capacity to do is to resist and revolt against the constraints of global capitalism. This is not the work of a professional trained to think and practice within the confines of standards, common beliefs and restricted practice. It is an open field of experimentation unconstrained by common adherence to an abstract common definition of who we are. Instead, who we are is defined by our day-to-day encounters and our rewards are sought in the work itself.
Dana Fusco writing from the States draws our attention to a specific edition of the journal Child and Youth Services, Professionalization Deconstructed: Implications for the Field of Youth Work, which she has edited together with Michael Baizerman.
Here, we hope to deconstruct the underlying beliefs and narratives on professionalization in youth work and in related human service fields by examining the arguments for and against professionalization, by looking at the historically situated evidence within and outside of the field of youth work, and by exploring alternate conceptions of professionalization. It is always our goal to have young people and youth workers in the forefront of our mind; thus, our framing of the issues always rests on the questions: Is this good for young people and youth workers? Who decides and why?
Dana’s own eloquent final chapter,Is Youth Work Being Courted by the Appropriate Suitor, examines a range of understandings of the professional.
Specifically, the privileging of science and epistemic culture as the foundation for profession is questioned as the best suitor for a practice of working with young people that values meaning over truth, dialogue over evidence, and reflexivity over certainty