In the last of the first four pieces on the revamped Y&P website, with a new youth policy evidently in the offing, Pat Kielty subjects the past Coalition’s ‘Positive for Youth’ rhetoric to critical scrutiny.
As we await the release of a new youth policy, this article considers Positive for Youth and explores how political rhetoric relates to practice. This is done by considering three key policy concepts; respect, empowerment and belonging. These notions are complex, contested and clearly not restricted to the field of youth work. As such, a complete analysis is beyond the scope of the piece but there will be a commitment to view them from the paradigm of youth work and young people.
All quotes within this article are taken directly from current youth policy or from young people. Focus group research was conducted with members of the Thurrock Youth Cabinet (TYC) and Riverside Youth Club (RYC) in Tilbury. Research participants were asked to consider the identified notions in the context of their lives and the youth work provision they attend.
This article aims to give some critical consideration to a selection of values contained within youth policy. It was suggested earlier, there is a discourse in Positive for Youth around the young person undergoing individual transformation. As such, they are to become ‘empowered’, to develop and receive ‘respect’ and obtain a ‘sense of belonging’. The fundamental concern here is the lack of attention given to these complex notions. Policy does also not take account of the wider political and social factors, the environment of the young person and the understated role of association.
From a practical perspective, I would support the view that respect, empowerment and belonging do have relevance to youth work. However, I believe these need careful deliberation, exploration and application both from the worker and the young person. Claims without dialogue and rhetoric based on assumption need to be avoided. Freire (1972) states that dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting on another, but rather people working with each other. Youth policy appears to place a number of requests on young people, but perhaps policy makers should reflect on a simple but powerful message:
They should listen to us more. (Member RYC)