IDYW response to the APPG Inquiry – Are there sufficient youth workers to support youth services and other delivery models for good quality youth work?

YWalive

The third question asked by the NYA on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group.

Are there sufficient youth workers to support youth services and other delivery models for good quality youth work?

Our starting point is necessarily young people, their interests and concerns, For instance, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services [2013] research found that up to 35% of 10-15 year olds were then using a youth club either most days or at least one day a week. Yet, as the Committee will know, some of the Cabinet Office’s own returns, together with research carried out by Unison and more recently by the YMCA all reveal that state funding for youth work facilities has been cut so heavily since 2010 that many local authority Youth Services have disappeared completely and others decimated. As a result across the country up to one million young people have lost their easily accessible, ‘safe place’, all-year-round leisure-time facilities – open access youth clubs and centres, detached work projects and provision for groups such as LGBT young people.

Hence the straightforward response to the question posed is negative. There is also a tension in that phrase “good quality youth work’.  The drive or requirements for evidence and impact assessment to demonstrate value for money are not the only ways to gauge ‘quality’. In many cases, it could be said that they lead to a distortion in the work in order to fulfil the requirements to provide the figures and the audit trails. However, that apart, because of the cuts in services there is a marked change in the number of workers delivering open access services on the ground.  One significant, oft-hidden, result of this is the diminishing number of workers, lost through redundancy and retirement, able to meet the supervision requirements specified by the NYA and JNC. The circle is vicious as both open access provision and staff experienced in this field disappear.

Weighing up the number of youth workers available is rendered all the more difficult as the breakdown of the local authority youth service has led to the fragmentation of what are recognised as appropriate qualifications. Many national and local voluntary organisations, including faith groups and uniformed organisations, the police, private companies, sports clubs and associations and even the military now seek to deliver their own versions of work with young people.  There is little in the way of collaboration and no clear picture of exactly what is being provided, and what the qualifications are of the people employed. For example, many NCS programmes recruit both volunteers and paid workers who are university students following all manner of degrees from languages to science . Other organisations recognise military service as appropriate experience or, less controversially, the completion of an NVQ certificate or diploma.

Certainly, it seems indisputable that, compared with 2010, there are now far too few youth workers (paid or voluntary) and far too few open access youth work  facilities within which those workers can practice in their distinctive ways.

IDYW Response to the APPG Inquiry – What are the key issues and challenges faced by young people being addressed by current youth service provisions?

YWalive

The second question asked by the NYA on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group.

What are the key issues and challenges faced by young people being addressed by current youth service provisions?

‘Have we got a vision of the future that is optimistic and democratic?’ This fundamental question facing society at large is one most keenly felt by young people, for whom life is increasingly precarious. After four decades of the neoliberal emphasis on the self-sufficient individual and the rule of the market young people are to be found in the mire of its contradictions, not least the the consequences of the policy of austerity upon families and communities. The impact of cuts in Public Services have been particularly disproportionate on what we once knew as the Youth Service, The figures of these cuts are now well known, so we don’t need to repeat them here, suffice to say there is a dearth of places for the free association of young people, of spaces to explore and create for themselves collectively visions of their future, to struggle with the issues they experience whether this be lack of meaningful employment, concerns about climate change, dilemmas in their personal and home life, sexual choices, opportunities for arts, music or sport or needing somewhere to live. In short there is a lack of provision, wherein young people explore self-critically the purpose and direction of their lives

Currently, we are all aware of the increase in concern over the mental health of young people – their anxiety,, their loneliness, their failure to be happy or well. The overwhelming political and professional response is to individualise, making the young person responsible for their alleged condition. If the isolation and fragmentation of young people’s lives are not seen as a collective or community issue, the tendency is to move to a case-work deficit model at odds with a young people-centred, process-led youth work. In this context we would argue that present youth services provision is losing its identity, shifting towards behavioural modification programmes, which focus on compliance with rather than criticism of the status quo. Young people need spaces, which are not experienced as being about regulation and surveillance.

The emphasis on conformity is at odds with a commitment to the nurturing of the questioning and informed young citizen, essential to the defence and extension of democracy in these increasingly authoritarian times. We believe that youth work can play a significant part in this struggle for democracy, provided it is granted a level of autonomy, which allows it to be responsive and improvisatory. To take the classic question of young people’s participation impressive work has been done through the mediums of youth councils and parliaments but in many ways these only scratch the surface. As the important PARTiSPACE research argues there is a fundamental flaw in many efforts to get young people to participate – ‘young people are being seen as not knowing or not wanting to participate and therefore needing education. There is little attention paid to structures of inequality and dominance or to young people’s competences and ideas. Rather than through teaching and training, participation is learned by ‘doing’. In our view, youth workers, operating outside of the formal structures of schooling, training, social services and youth justice, can support young people’s self-determination in a distinctive manner and thus enhance the democratic character of society as a whole.

IDYW Response to the APPG Inquiry – What is the role of youth work in addressing the needs and opportunities for young people?

 

 

YWalive

Ta to andyclow.com

The first question asked by the NYA on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group.

nya-logo-new

What is the role of youth work in addressing the needs and opportunities for young people?

There are many different versions of youth work and it is highly likely the Committee will hear about many of them.  It is a term much used and much abused, reduced in recent times to mean more or less any form of work with young people. In contrast ‘In Defence of Youth Work’  argues that youth work takes place in a distinctive, open and free setting outside of the formal and imposed institutions of society, for example, schools, social services and youth justice. It starts from young people’s identification of their needs. It is holistic in intent, rooted in meaningful association and challenging conversation. Above all, it is based on the building of relationships with young people, which can be neither prescribed nor imposed. So often now, youth workers are directed to work with young people because they are perceived by others to have a problem, or to be causing a problem, or to be deficient in some way. This work demands predetermined outcomes, to be achieved within a set timescale. It may well be appropriate in other settings, but it contravenes an essential ingredient in the youth work process.  The rhythm and pace of our interaction with young people are under their control.

 

Thus we reaffirm our belief in an emancipatory and democratic Youth Work, founded on cornerstones of a practice, which:

  • works in non-stigmatising  with young people as young people who choose to be involved;
  • takes place in open-access settings – physical, social and cultural spaces which young people can ‘own’ and experience as safe;
  • is rooted in mutually respectful and trusting relationships amongst young people and between young person and adults;
  • offers young people informal educational opportunities and challenges which recognise their strengths and potential and start from their concerns and interests;
  • within boundaries of consistency and reliability, responds flexibly and creatively to young people in their here-and-now  as well as to their ‘transitions’;
  • works with and through their peer networks and wider shared identities, in the process identifying and responding as appropriate to individual needs and concerns;
  • at times deliberately blurs personal and professional boundaries  in order to communicate as openly and honestly as possible with young people;
  • uses activities both as vehicles for young people’s personal development and as opportunities in their own right for individual and group achievement and affirmation.

If youth work is to be renewed in the interests of young people and the common good, it is essential that state and voluntary sector policy-makers and providers start from this kind of positive definition of the practice, its purpose and role – as an educational and developmental provision for a wide range of young people who choose to engage in their own leisure time. On the other hand, if in the present political, media and funding climate the Committee makes the case primarily on the grounds that youth work could help reduce knife crime or drug-taking or school drop-outs, important as these issues are, what will almost certainly get ‘revived’ are ‘youth services’ that once again are ‘targeted’. As a result, most of those up-to-a-million young people who have been most directly affected by the systematic deconstruction of local Youth Services will get little if any benefit.

Issues in Youth Work: Intersectionality and Identity Politics

no singleissues

Ta to pinklarkin.com

Further to my recent post on the return of patriarchy I’ve had a couple of conversations about the how far the concept of intersectionality is influencing youth work practice. A  thread in these chats was the relationship between intersectionality and the notion of identity politics. Were they the same, different, even at odds with one another? Of course, much depended on our definitions of these ideas. For what it’s worth our rough and ready understandings were that intersectionality speaks to the crucial interconnectedness of who you are in terms of relations of power – your class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith, whereas identity politics focused on a specific sense of who you are can fail to speak to the connections. Perhaps it needs to be said that we weren’t talking about identity politics as caricatured in a Daily Mail editorial.

intersect

Our tentative conclusion was that youth work practice, where it does engage with relations of power, leans towards identity politics rather than intersectionality. We presumed this tension is present in discussions about power on  Youth Work and allied courses in Higher Education and wondered if any lecturers and students might chip in their thoughts. Then, lo and behold, I tripped over a challenging piece by Sincere Kirabo on Open Democracy, entitled, Why criticisms of identity politics sound ridiculous to me.

Naysayers associate intersectionality with their favorite bogey monster: “identity politics.”

The phrase “identity politics” is merely a pejorative blanket term that invokes a variety of ambiguous, cherry-picked ideas of political failings.

Declaring something is “identity politics” is often a measure taken to trivialize identity-based issues that make many members of dominant social groups uncomfortable (e.g., Black Lives Matter critiquing anti-black racism, feminists critiquing sexism, LGBTQ activists critiquing cis-heteronormativity, etc.).

Basically, “identity politics” is used as an expression to identify political deviance — to describe political actions defying imbalanced political structures we’ve been conditioned to accept.

I hope you might read the piece in full as it poses many important questions and offers a useful historical backcloth to the emergence of intersectionality as an analytic tool.

Writer, educator, and social activist Sikivu Hutchinson explains it this way:

Intersectionality is the human condition. It addresses the multiple positions of privilege and disadvantage that human beings occupy and experience in a global context shaped by white supremacy, capitalism, neoliberalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, segregation and state violence.

Intersectionality upends the single variable politics of being “left” or “right.” It speaks to the very nature of positionality in a world in which it’s impossible to stake a claim on a solitary fixed identity that isn’t informed by one’s relationship to social, political and economic structures of power, authority and control that are themselves rooted in specific histories.

 

The return of patriarchy – implications for youth work?

From time to time as worker, trainer, manager and lecturer I’ve had cause to bemoan what I’ve experienced as the anti-intellectual and anti-theoretical face of youth work. By and large, often understandably as much social theory seeks to impose its template on reality, workers lean to being pragmatic, drawing on what they see as their common-sense. Leave aside that the common-sense of today is neoliberal in its content I’m reminded of an argument I had years ago with a group of workers about my use of the notion of racially structured, patriarchal capitalism. Something of a mouthful, I grant you. However, as best I remember it, the discussion about the relationship between, class, gender, sexuality and race was lively, even if the critical consensus was that I should write like I spoke. In the intervening period, the concept of intersectionality has taken centre stage in explaining relations of oppression.

patriarchy

Ta to mercator.net

And, yet patriarchy is evidently on its way back and I would recommend this week’s Guardian Long Read by Charlotte Higgins, ‘The age of patriarchy: how an unfashionable idea became a rallying cry for feminism today‘. If nothing else it’s a well-written introduction to the history of patriarchy, offering a glimpse too of the 1970’s feminism, which inspired the rise of work with Girls and Young Women. Sensitive to contradiction it feeds more than a few questions into the essential, everyday dialogue between youth workers and young people about the world we live in and how it might be changed for the better.

Gus John responds to Teresa May’s ‘Windrush’ invitation

Gus John arrived in the UK in August 1964, aged 19, to study for the priesthood. But almost from the moment he arrived, he became involved in what was to become his life’s calling – education, youth work and the struggle for social justice and human rights for embattled communities as an activist and an academic.

gusjohn

Ta to Gusjohn.com

Open Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May

Dear Prime Minister

 Re:   Invitation to a reception for the 70th anniversary of Windrush at 10 Downing Street

It was with both surprise and utter bemusement that I received your invitation to the above.

We in this country have become used to foreign heads of state and leaders of movements being made international pariahs and being refused entry to the UK.   Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Louis Farrakhan, among others.   In my book, Prime Minister, the policies of your government, the incitement to racial hatred that they undoubtedly represent and the denial of fundamental human rights and the right to life itself to citizens of the Windrush generation who devoted all of their adult years to the development of Britain are enough to make you no less a pariah in the eyes of the Commonwealth and of the freedom-loving world than those whom your government over time has sought to ostracise.

 

In July 2013, with you as Home Secretary,  your government’s own vans were running around London boroughs with a large ‘immigrant’ population and displaying huge billboards targeted at ‘illegal’ immigrants and telling them to ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’.  What is worse is that your government lied not just to ‘illegal immigrants’ whom it wished to flush out, but to the public whom it wished to impress with its ‘zero tolerance’ stance on illegal immigration: ‘106 Arrests Last Week In Your Area’.  It turns out that 106 was the total number of arrests across the 6 pilot boroughs in which the vans had operated over a period of two days.  Arrests, not prosecutions or deportations. In your attempts to create ‘a hostile environment’ for ‘illegal’ immigrants, you placed 4 generations of Windrush arrivants and their descendants in the sight of any would be defender of white Britain and its borders, including racists and neo-fascists who felt they had a patriotic duty to help prevent Britain from being ‘swamped’ by any means necessary, including murder and mayhem.

On 16 June 2016, Jo Cox MP was brutally murdered in a street in her constituency of Batley & Spen in West Yorkshire by the white supremacist, Thomas Mair.  Cox was unequivocal in her support for refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants escaping armed conflict, genocide and hunger and risking their lives in rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.  She was doing this in a country where the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was focusing the two main parliamentary parties on the anger of the white British population at their failure to control immigration and reclaim ‘Little England’ from the clutches and the legal strictures of the European Union, its Schengen Treaty, free movement of labour and human rights protocols.

Despite that horrific murder and all it said about Britain and its relentless conflation of immigration and race, the British electorate voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union and ‘claim our country back’.  What is worse, both as Home Secretary and as the post-Cameron Prime Minister, you redoubled your efforts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants, condemning long retired workers of the Windrush generation to uncertainty, misery, physical hardship and denial of the same life saving health services for which they had paid throughout their working lives.

It may well be, Prime Minister, that you would have the good grace to take the opportunity to tell your invited guests how sorry you are for your part in all of that brutal, inhumane and racist treatment of former colonised Africans who have and had no interest other than to serve this nation and do their best by their communities and families.  But, one of the uglier manifestations of whiteness in this society is an unassailable sense of in-your-face entitlement.  I do not believe that you are entitled to the magnanimity of those misguided folk who might well be happy to receive your invitation and to attend your Windrush anniversary celebration.  As far as I am concerned, I stand with those who suffered detention, deportation and mental ill health, some of whom even now face an earlier death as a result of being denied access to health services on account of your ‘hostile environment’ regime.

It would be a shameful betrayal to them all to accept your invitation and join you in Downing Street to mark the arrival of the Windrush 70 years ago and the contribution to British society of those whom it brought and their descendants.

Invite me again, please, when you meet with civil society to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Reparations for African Enslavement which you would no doubt waste no more time in establishing on the back of your government’s Windrush scandal.

Yours, with sadness

 Professor Gus John

Equality and Human Rights Campaigner

Also see Gus John’s powerful critique of the Windrush Project itself.

windrush1-696x522

70th Anniversary of Windrush 1948

PARTISPACE – Spaces and Styles of Participation: challenging, must-read research

If heaven forbid, I was Youth Work’s Overlord I would issue an edict requiring all youth workers of a reflective persuasion to immerse themselves in this thought-provoking research. 

PARTISPACE – Spaces and Styles of Participation: Formal, non-formal and informal possibilities of young people’s participation in European cities

logo-trasp-colorpartispace

To whet your appetite,

Summary of PARTISPACE outcomes

There is widespread concern across Europe about the future of democracy, and in particular about young people’s apparent failure to participate, often attributed to lack of motivation or capability. The PARTISPACE project shares the concern, but questions the diagnosis. It starts instead from an assumption that the dominant understanding of youth participation in research, policy and practice is too narrow, often limited to institutionalised forms of participation, and ignores much of what young people do in public space. This bias is related to structures of social inequality, and thus is itself a part of the problem of democracy.

PARTISPACE aims at a rethinking of youth participation by analysing what young people do in public space, what it means to them and to what extent this can be understood as political, civic and social. The research question is: How and where do young people participate, across social milieus and youth cultural scenes? What styles of participation do they prefer and develop – and in what spaces?

The project has undertaken a comparative mixed-method study in 8 cities across Europe: Bologna (IT), Frankfurt (DE), Gothenburg (SE), Eskisehir (TK), Manchester (UK), Plovdiv (BG), Rennes (FR), Zurich (CH). The design included reviews of national youth policies, a secondary analysis of survey data, and a critical discourse analysis of European policy documents. Then, qualitative local studies were conducted consisting of 188 expert interviews, 100 group discussions and 96 biographical interviews with young people as well as 48 ethnographic case studies of formal, non-formal and informal participatory settings. Additionally, 18 participatory action research projects have been conducted by and with young people.

Policy reviews, discourse analysis, secondary analysis of surveys and expert interviews confirm the dominance of a narrow understanding of participation. Group discussions with young people in contrast revealed that they are highly active in public spaces, yet in most cases in informal ways. They are busy with coping with their lives which are structured by pressure to succeed, precariousness and discrimination. In so much as these practices of coping involve public space, they include claims of being a part of, and taking part in, society. Therefore, they are referred to as everyday life participation and thus as political (as distinct from politics).

PARTISPACE has studied a diversity of practices, some of which are recognised as participation whilst others are not. We have analysed their relationships with local contexts, spaces, styles, biographies, and learning:

  • Local contexts differ according to socio-economic factors, discourses about youth, youth policy infrastructure and responsiveness, and youth discourses. Influence of national welfare systems is less direct, although regulation of access to education, welfare and good jobs affects social inclusion and citizenship. Where youth policies are most developed, forms of formal youth representation tend to be established. However, take-up tends to be low, they are criticised for tokenism and paternalism – aimed at forming ‘good’ citizens.
  • Social space structures young people’s practices, and young people’s practices structure social space. A key finding is that young people are active in appropriating public spaces, turning them into places that are meaningful for them, where they belong and feel they have control, which fit with their youth cultural styles, and where they feel safe. Appropriation involves exploration, conquering and defending spaces as well as ‘boundary’ work: inclusion/exclusion, insider/outsider, and relevance/irrelevance are constantly questioned, contested or confirmed.
  • Analysing young people’s styles of participation means asking not if and why young people participate, but how they participate in different ways, and noting the different and unequal recognition which different styles receive. Analysing differences in terms of (youth cultural) styles shows that not only forms but also issues matter. Young people participate only in ways that enable exploration of their individual and collective identities. However, there are also differences and distinctions reflecting social inequalities of life chances, risks, resources and recognition.
  • Young people’s participation biographies reveal that searching for recognition and belonging seems to be the most important motive to engage. In some cases, this is linked to coping with critical life events, problems with peers, experiences of injustice or lack of self-efficacy. Where and how young people participate depends on a complex interplay of factors in individual biographies. Positive experiences with formal institutions, especially school, seem to be a condition for involvement in formal participation, whilst most young people prefer informal settings.
  • The question of how young people learn to participate cannot be separated from the observation that across different contexts there is strong evidence of a ‘pedagogisation’ of youth participation: young people are being seen as not knowing or not wanting to participate and therefore needing education. There is little attention paid to structures of inequality and dominance or to young people’s competences and ideas. Rather than through teaching and training, participation is learned by doing. Adults can support this by recognising and offering young people dialogic reflection of their own activities in public space.

In sum, PARTISPACE findings point to the need to understand youth participation as relational (not individualised), based on experiences and relationships of recognition, as political (but not politics) and as often conflictual. Participation  is rooted in everyday life practices structured by social inequalities and dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion. It evolves in public spaces and thus includes claims to be a part of, and attempts to take part in, society.

Taking this into account, policy and practice can support youth participation by:

  • Shifting from inviting young people into formal participation to recognition of a diversity of practices in public space
  • Making youth policies responsive and reflexive while increasing and diversifying funding making it accessible for young people directly
  • Accepting and allowing for the enactment of conflicts as constitutive for participatory democracy
  • Democracy is learned by doing, adults and professionals can support this by recognition and dialogue but power and rights should not be made conditional on prior learning.Democratising school to turn it into a place of experience and recognition of participation rather than of mere citizenship teaching
  • Opening up public spaces for young people by providing additional spaces, accepting diverse use and appropriation of public spaces and giving access to abandoned spaces
  • Developing and securing a reliable and diverse youth work infrastructure providing open spaces which are not instrumentalised for school, employability and entrepreneurship
  • Addressing discrimination, inequality and precariousness by unconditional access to welfare, education and employment
  • Developing a (European) Charter of Youth Rights – understood as living document – as a platform both for the conflict and the recognition aspects of youth participation.

 

Late next year a book based on the research will be published, entitled, Contested Practices, Power and Pedagogies of Young People in Public Spaces: The Struggle for Participation
edited by Andreas Walther, Janet Batsleer, Patricia Loncle and Axel Pohl (Routledge)