The Case for Universal Youth Work : A Scottish Perspective

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YouthLink Scotland, the national agency for youth work north of the border, continues to grapple openly with the dilemmas and tensions faced by youth work in the neo-liberal era. Its latest contribution to critical discussion comes in the form of a research study, UNIVERSAL YOUTH WORK :A CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE. which it has partially funded. In the foreword Simon Jaquet observes:

This original piece of joint research by the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Youth Work Consortium is both timely and challenging.
Its focus on universal youth work comes at a time of genuine concern about the future of youth work in Scotland. It is timely because the new National Youth Work Strategy 2014 – 19 focuses the attention of young people, practitioners, and policy makers on the importance of youth work to our life as a nation and as local communities. The strategy explicitly includes the ambition to ‘explore the potential for commissioning research to demonstrate the role and value of youth work’. Timely – because Community Learning & Development is under the spotlight, with local authority CLD strategies being developed, even as local CLD services face severe cutbacks. Timely – because the recent referendum has generated an unprecedented engagement amongst young people with the political process and the reality of democratic participation. Youth work has always dreamt of this.

At the same time, this research makes slightly uneasy reading as it presents a number of challenges to us. How do we continue to celebrate the best of youth work practice in an environment where public services are subject to radical surgery? How can we draw on real evidence about the way we work, rather than what we would like to hear? How can we invest time, energy, and resources to help us better understand the long term impact of youth work? Where does universal youth work sit within the National Youth Work Strategy?

He ends a touch poetically:

This research is a small (but beautifully shaped) pebble in a large pool. We believe that the ripples will be felt by many, and there’s a chance that they create a wave that will shape the way young people experience and benefit from youth work in the years to come.

For the time being we will await the appearance of the full research report before commenting in detail. Whatever our emerging criticisms it is refreshing to see a national youth agency facilitating genuine argument and debate.

The pressure to evidence outcomes in order to secure funding to maintain or develop services can be overwhelming, especially for the many small youth work agencies. The findings presented in this report go some way to creating a common understanding of the potential that universal youth work holds. We hope that the evidence presented here can be used as the starting point for a more local, contextualised account of universal youth work practice and the benefits it provides for the young people who participate and the community in which it was located.

Read the Summary – Universal-Youth-Work-Summary-2015 –

A similar process of consultation, discussion and analysis wouldn’t come amiss south of the border.

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