In the aftermath of Rotherham voices are being raised in praise of a young person-centred, process-led youth work, free from compulsion or sanction. Alexis Jay in her independent inquiry noted of the specific youth project, Risky Business.
Risky Business adopted an outreach approach based on community development principles. That is, it started where the young person was; it concerned itself with the whole person and addressed any issues that the young person brought to the relationship; it did not prescribe or direct. Its methods were complementary to thoseof the statutory services. Its success depended upon the skills of the individual worker and the level of trust which young people were willing to commit to it. Its operations could be volatile, unpredictable, and even ‘risky’. Nevertheless, it was performing a function which services with statutory responsibilities could not fully replicate.Any semblance of the statutory worker had to be set aside in order to create and retain trust.
Now Angela McRobbie, presently Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths and an influential figure in the flowering of feminist analysis four decades ago, recalls both the impact and significance of autonomous work with young women and detached youth work during this period.
Some past models of good practice, especially those which were associated with feminist youth work projects from the mid 1970s are in fact well worth remembering and even reviving in the Rotherham case. Care workers in Rotherham currently report that the girls were hanging about amusement arcades or fish and chip shops at night. In past times where there was a functioning Youth Service street work or outreach work had a valuable role to play, well-trained graduate youth workers would be given designated areas or neighbourhoods where they would be expected to build trust with girls such as these and provide informal counselling services.
Often they would even have the resources to set up self-run drop-in cafés where a range of services would also be provided. Young feminist social workers would focus on girls and young women and their male counterparts would hang about with and build up relationships of trust with boys and young men. In the UK most of this range of professional services is either gone or tragically depleted. Jobs working with disadvantaged young women no longer have any status, never mind glamour, in the modern work economy.
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Hopefully these insightful comments are heard far and wide across a so-called youth sector, obsessed with the predictable and the measurable.