‘Charting a new course for Youth Services: some questions about the trajectory’?
If ever youth workers and the organisations that support and serve them needed to pull together, then now is that time. I for one have therefore welcomed the Youth Sector Collaboration Consultation initiated last October by NCVYS, UK Youth and Ambition and was pleased that IDYW was able to have two representatives at the open consultation event in London in November.
However the paper released by the three organisations outlining the consultations’ findings and a proposed set of actions for me raises a number of difficult questions. Some are about the final stages of the process – a two-day by-invitation event with the title ‘Changing the Trajectory – Charting a New Course for Youth Services’. This brought together thirty people from all the high profile national and some local voluntary youth organisations plus government and local authority representatives, academics, funders and the Centre for Youth Impact, with young people’s ‘voice’ represented by BYC and NUS. Significantly however no-one was invited from the somewhat maverick Woodcraft Folk, nor from the Institute of Youth Work, nor indeed from the youth work trade unions.
Questions also now need to be asked, I believe, about the actual proposals, starting with the paper’s bold opening statement: ‘Government and the youth sector are united in their aim to improve outcomes for young people’. United 100%? On all possible, even likely, outcomes? Such as under-25s’ threatened loss of housing benefit? And the votelessness of 16 and 17 year olds in the coming European referendum? To say nothing of, between 2012 and 2014, the ‘outcome’ of 41,000 fewer youth club places – and rising? Is there nowhere within this claimed consensus for some of these ‘leadership organisations’ at least to take on the role of critical friend to ‘government’ – to advocate openly on behalf of all those young people now living very precarious lives, whose futures look no less precarious and who already been labelled ‘the lost generation’?
And then, for so many organisations whose history is inseparable from the history of youth work, there is the question: so where in this statement is the youth work? The paper manages two passing mentions. One, in a throw-back to the Victorian origins of many of the organisations involved, is to youth workers (together with ‘commission trainers’ and teachers) to ‘share and create character related materials for every school in the country’; the other to ‘youth work training for new forms of delivery organisation’.
What we get instead are frequent and often unexplained references to ‘non-formal education’; to ‘social development’; to the government’s failing apprenticeships scheme; to ‘social action’ (exemplified at one point as ‘working as a team to refurbish a Nursing Home’); and, as if this is or could be a substitute for all those lost local and open access youth club places, to the National Citizens Service. All underpinned by assumptions about the need for ‘new business models’ to shape those new delivery organisations and for ‘metrics’ which demonstrate outcomes overwhelmingly starting from the presumption that, within an environment taken overall to be benign, it is just the individual young person who needs to be ‘developed’.
At this stage I pose these questions on the premise that the query which headed the UK Youth blog on the findings paper: ‘Where Next for the Youth Sector?’ is a genuinely open one intended to prompt further debate on the crucial issues the consultation has raised. In this spirit I also look forward to IDYW collectively contributing further by offering its own positive vision for ‘charting a new course for youth services’ and in particular for that distinctive and, by young people, much needed practice we know as youth work.
Bernard Davies, January 2016