Developing Youth Work in Europe : Do we want to be part of it?

One sobering question coming out of our participation in the second European Youth Work Convention is:

Does the UK, but particularly perhaps England, want to be part of a European dialogue about Youth Work, its purpose and practices?

This needs exploring more, but just a few initial points:

– There was no sense of a collective UK presence. Other countries had delegations. We were fragmented.

– Thus word on the floor of the conference was that the UK was cautious about the forthcoming declaration, but no one was clear from whence this view was coming.

– There was a feeling that the neo-liberal grip on youth work was perhaps strongest in England, symbolised by the assault on open, voluntary provision.

– Countries, which had previously looked to the UK as the home of youth work, were looking elsewhere for stimulus and support. The UK, especially England, was perceived as falling behind. This caveat in regard to England is pertinent as Scotland, represented at the Convention by Jim Sweeney, the CEO of YouthLink and Northern Ireland are not necessarily in the same boat.

The Convention produced a Declaration, Making a World of Difference. It is easy to be cynical about such grand statements of intent and we will scrutinise its contents more closely in other posts. Yet I must confess to a feeling of unexpected optimism about its potential. For the moment two extracts :

Youth work engages with young people on their terms and on their ‘turf’, in response to their expressed and identified needs, in their own space or in spaces created for youth work practice. Youth work can also take place in others contexts (such as schools or prisons) but engagement with it needs to remain on a voluntary basis.

There is pressure to specify and measure these and other outcomes of youth work. Attention should be given to outcomes and impact where they can be measured, but youth work should continue to focus on the processes and the needs of young people, remaining outcomes informed and not outcomes led. The Convention emphasised that youth work contributes to the development of attitudes and values in young people as much as more tangible skills and competences.[my emphasis]

In a small way I think IDYW’s work in recent years has contributed to the underlining of these sentiments.

The three Belgian communities at the heart of organising the Convention write,

You can be proud of having been part of this meaningful outcome: a strong political messageand a firm commitment from the main institutions during the closing plenary to strengthen youth work in Europe.

We will continue the work initiated at the Convention towards an agreement at Council of Europe level on the main recommendations of the Declaration. We will keep you updated on progress made in relations to the Committee of Ministers. 

We also count on you to ‘make a world of difference’ by promoting the Declaration towards your peers, your membership as well as political structures concerned with young people at national, regional and local level in your country!

In this context what might be our next step in the UK? How do we open a serious engagement with the European Declaration in seeking to defend and extend our commitment to youth work in these troubled times, whatever the result of the General Election.

PS Choose Youth is circulating a draft Youth Service and Young People Bill, which we will address in a separate post.


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