Roy Smith from Medway offers the first contribution to our Is Youth Work Dead series. IDYW ran a story-telling workshop with Roy and his colleagues a few years ago, and it is great to see that they are still running a wide-ranging provision for young people. Roy has also added to our map of open-access youth projects – please do put up your own local ones.
I am currently working as the Operations Manager for Medway Youth Service, where I have worked for the past 16 years, as everything from Part-time Youth Worker to Detached Youth Worker and Area Manager. That time has seen a great deal of change, some good and some less so. After a bumpy few years, where the service was considered for commissioning out on a much-reduced budget, our local authority decided to keep the Youth Service in house within the Early Help Service. In November 2017, we developed a new structure which has involved an increase in targeted work but has also enabled us to protect and in some circumstances grow our open access provision. We have aligned to Social Care’s four hubs, putting the same level of staff into each area, matching resource to need. Our targeted work mainly takes the form of mentoring and targeted support and is mainly accessed by referral through Early Help, as well as through Fostering Mentor posts, which were created to support young people in care. The targeted work supports young people for a wide variety of reasons, working with them to identify their goals and how they would like to achieve them. This work is usually short term, and promotes our open access work to offer a wider range of opportunities, creating a bridge between young people open to Early Help and a more traditional Youth Work environment. All our full-time teams (a Senior Youth Worker, a Youth Development Worker, an Assistant Youth Development Worker and a Fostering Mentor in each area) do a portion of both targeted and open access work and are supported by a full-time equivalent of part time staff in open access provision. I think this duel involvement is important in our service, as it helps ground targeted work in the community, retaining the skills that can only be developed in open access provision. Elsewhere, the separation of targeted and universal youth work seems to have led to the devaluing of universal work, especially when pressure to measure and quantify its benefits have made the relatively easier to measure targeted work seem more attractive. Working in both targeted and open access enables a greater fluidity of relationships for young people who might move between both provisions. We are currently delivering 35 sessions a week, with a mixture of centre based, detached work, community provision and project work. Where possible we work in partnership with the voluntary sector, schools and other partners to expand delivery and make the most of the resources we have available to us. On top of the Youth Service has been joined by an IAG team, who deliver targeted support around education and employment to young people who are looked after, known to the Youth Offending Team or who are disabled. We also support Medway Youth Council who are both involved in running campaigns, a youth conference, an awards night, as well as working with the local authority around youth voice.
Maintaining the balance between targeted and open access provision can be tough and I am very conscious of the demands this puts on the team as well as how the change of focus can impact on the nature of youth work. Because of this, I think it is important that we are always examining our work and values and finding ways to enable bottom up processes to shape what we do. One part of this has been running action research projects in each area, aiming to continuously improve practice though engagement with young people and reflective practice. An unexpected change has been to how our profession is seen locally. Historically, we were often seen as second-class professionals, often over-looked or not invited to the table for important conversations. Our new position within Early Help and Children’s Services has led to a greater acknowledgement of our skills and professionalism, particularly the value placed on the relational aspects of our work, the benefits of which are well understood in Social Work, but often hard to achieve due to the position and pressures of the job.
I know our situation looks different to many local authorities, where in many cases targeted work has taken over from open access or youth work has been abandoned all together. Our position in Early Help and the nature of our targeted provision has moved us some distance from what might be described as traditional youth work. However, the history of youth work has hardly ever been plain sailing and rarely been one where things have stayed the same for long. I am constantly aware our situation could very easily change with budget pressures and changes in the local policy. However, for now a form of Youth Work that includes both targeted and open access provision is still very much alive and well in Medway.
If you would like to tell us about the situation in your area, whether an overview like Roy’s, a snapshot of a piece of work, or a lament for a service that has been closed, please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.