Bernard Davies responds to the latest sanitised attempt by Children and Young People Now [CYPN] to offer an overview of what’s going on in the world of youth work.
Children and Young People Now covers the cracks in open access youth work
My 13 Oct email issue of CYPN carried a link to a ‘12-page Special Report on youth work and youth services’ entitled ‘The evolution of youth work’ which, it explained, ‘looks at the latest policy, research and practice across the sector’. The paper on the ‘Policy context’ does have some brief history such as the significant recent facts that ‘there has been no specific youth work policy paper in England’ since the Coalition published ‘Positive for Youth’ in 2011; and that when Michael Gove moved responsibility for youth services out of his Education Department in 2013 he did so because in his view ‘youth work was “a priority for local not central government”’. The CYPN papers also give due acknowledgement to the evidence from both the government’s own returns and research done by Unison of the huge impacts on Youth Services since 2010 of cuts in the government’s financial support for local authorities.
However the paper also does a good job in both covering up the direct effects of all this on the availability of open access youth work as a state provision and at recasting youth work as any form of work with young people. Even assuming that ‘youth work values’ and ‘youth work skills’ independent of the open access settings in which they have been developed – a claim which within IDYW is emerging as in need of some serious debate – using them to support teachers, FE staff and youth justice, health and social workers apparently provides sufficient rationale for, since 2011-12 reducing Youth Services spending by over 50%, closing 603 youth centres, losing 139,000 youth places and eliminating 3,652 youth work jobs. The devastation of the last few years is OK too, it seems, now that eight OnSide youth zones across the country are up and running, eight others ‘are in various stages of development’ and a total of 100 envisaged ‘within the next generation’; and now we have the Office of Civil Society’s ‘small amounts of funding for authorities to assess and test new models of youth work provision through the Delivering Differently for Young People … programme’.
Where the CYPN Report stretches understandings of the work furthest, however, is in its inclusion in its ‘Research evidence’ paper on ‘Youth Work and Youth Service’ of the findings of a study of 4Results Mentoring. This clearly is a very impressive programme. How in the long run, though, does labelling the project as ‘youth work’ help it – or youth workers struggling to safeguard spaces to which young people come with friends by choice and where the informal educational opportunities developed are prompted above all by the interests and concerns they bring with them?
Worry not, however. Because in a commentary on the ‘Policy context’ paper Matt Lent, director of partnerships and policy at UK Youth, has some highly reassuring words for us. ‘There is no doubt’, he admits, ‘that austerity has been painfully felt by the sector and the young people we service’. But all that apparently will ultimately be for the best because ‘exciting things are now happening in local youth delivery’ including ‘the liberation of progressive and innovative local and regional youth services’.
To which the most polite way I can find of wording my response is: Go tell that to the young people who no longer have a dedicated local space to go to in their leisure time.