Protecting Youth Work : The Surrey Commission findings

Getting on for a year ago IDYW was invited to give evidence to the Surrey County Council’s scrutiny of the following hypothesis:

Youth work’s funding, commissioning and delivery has no place in local government services for children and young people.

Sue Atkins and Naomi Thompson attended on our behalf, making the case for youth work as first and foremost an open distinctive process-led educational practice, They felt listened to and taken seriously. The full report of the Commission’s research and findings is now in the public arena. I forwarded this personal reaction to Nicki Parkhill, the author and Commissioning Officer [Early Help] with the Council.

Sue Atkins has circulated your exceptional report around the IDYW Steering Group.  And, indeed, remarkably, it is a good read. Across forty years in the work I have rarely met such a thoughtful, well-researched and accessible contribution to the making of policy.

As you might expect, given I am an ageing romantic, my initial reaction is that the report gives too much ground to the outcomes agenda, to the fashionable, but, in my opinion, banal theory of change and the notion of youth work as first and foremost a preventative service.

However it’s easy for me to criticise from the sidelines. The task of writing something that balanced up all the conflicting pressures upon the Council, that weighed up the tactical and strategic possibilities within the continuing neoliberal climate must have been formidable. You have managed this astutely and with some verve.

With great respect for your effort and hoping the report gets the serious attention it deserves.

Multiracial College Students

Find the pdf  here –  youth-work-commission-report-2016

Members of the Commission are keen that the report is circulated widely as a contribution to the national debate about the state of youth work and indeed the government’s claim to be offering us a ‘narrative and vision’ for the future.

At the launch of the report Chris Hickford gave the following presentation, which is an eloquent summary of its findings and recommendations and its conclusion that the above hypothesis is not proven.


To whet your appetite here are some snippets, that are inevitably not without their contradictions.

Amongst its 15 key findings:

 – There is no doubt that local authorities have a key role in the funding and commissioning of outcomes for young people. Evidence heard by the Youth Work Commission has demonstrated that the delivery of quality youth work, underpinned by the principle of voluntary participation, makes a significant contribution to the most important outcomes for young people in the 21st Century.

– Investment in preventative activity, which includes youth work, achieves better outcomes for young people and generates significant savings when compared with the financial costs incurred should young people need to access specialist health or social care services, welfare benefits or if they enter the criminal justice system at a later stage.

– Open access youth work supports young people’s development through non-formal and informal education. Youth work is especially effective in helping young people explore the wider questions of life such as purpose, fulfilment and well –being and their personal values, all of which are fundamental for ongoing and future success. 

– Quality youth work can happen in a range of different settings. Dedicated safe spaces for young people support improved outcomes through fostering ownership, belonging and a sense of community. Equally, however, youth work delivery in formal institutions such as schools, colleges, children’s services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), enables young people to take up the opportunities available to them and for those institutions to adapt their practices in order to increase accessibility, especially for the most vulnerable young people. The benefit of combining these different methods and styles and the blending of that intelligence will help to constantly improve services and encourage further innovation.

– A coherent and credible approach to measuring outcomes is vital and needs to be invested in. Measuring the impact of youth work is still a developing art but current evidence does show that a pluralistic approach, where young people participate in the research methods, whilst also includes qualitative analysis, is most successful in capturing the impact of youth work.

– An increased role for staff and young people in decision making is important within a commitment to co-production. A youth work service with clarity of purpose and a distinct identity is a significant component of the system needed to enable young people to achieve the best outcomes. 

As for the Commission’s 11 policy recommendations I urge you to read either the full report or the launch presentation and let us know your reactions. Of course it would be invaluable to hear from workers in Surrey about how all this is panning out on the ground.


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