We are delighted to share news of Bernard Davies’ latest critical reflection on youth voice and participation: ‘Youth voice: the possibilities and constraints‘. Published over on Bernard’s ‘Youth Work’s Living Histories‘ site, this is an excellent piece that engages in what Bernard calls some ‘critical digging’ into ‘Involved‘, an Instagram-based platform for youth consultation, run by the British Youth Council.
Bernard’s post starts by acknowledging the importance of young people using technologies to tell government what they think – but raises ‘the complexities and contradictions built into a practice which, to be effective, needs to challenge some of our society’s entrenched power balances’. Bernard takes his typically rigorous and analytical historical approach to discuss how we came to the present moment in which ‘youth voice’ is a fashionable catchphrase. He then interrogates three of the terms most frequently used to describe and explain formal and informal ‘youth voice’ practice – ‘consultation’, ‘participation’ and ‘empowerment’.
Readers may particularly recognise Bernard’s analysis of some of the contradictions of government claims to listen to young people:
“This on-going rhetoric on the role of ‘youth voice’ has, however, to be seen in the context of the harder realities of some major youth policies over this decade and how they have been developed and implemented:
- Immediately it came to power in 2010 – without consultation, least of all with young people – the government cut the Youth Capital Fund’s budget by half. 
- Against the background of huge reductions in the Treasury’s financial support for local authorities, it subsequently removed the ringfencing of the Youth Capital and the Youth Opportunity Funds, leading within months to both programmes being wound up. 
- Despite young people’s opposition, in 2013 Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted that responsibility for youth policy be moved out of his department.
- More widely – and again without any consultation – Gove also pushed through radical reforms of the content and format of the GCSE and A level examinations which have had such stressful consequences for so many young people. 
- And then in August this year came the exam-grading fiasco …
‘Youth voice’, it seems, is fine – as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the dominant ideological and political priorities determining government policies.”
The article is highly recommended for all youth workers, and anyone involved in working in youth participation and youth voice. Get yourself a cuppa or a beer and read more over at Youth Work’s Living Histories (and do subscribe to that site if you haven’t already). What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page!