A Better Way – improving services and building communities

insights for a better way

A new publication from the ‘A Better Way’ network deserves our serious and critical attention. Entitled, Insights for A Better Way: improving services and building strong communities it is a thought-provoking mix of stories, ideas and case studies.

The group explains:

Communities could be so much stronger, services so much better and this collection of insights lights the way. Individually, the contributions flesh out our Better Way propositions (see below). Collectively, they develop four themes that take us a further step toward our ultimate ‘call to action’, providing rich ideas, practical experience and inspiration.

First, we’ve started to demonstrate the value of stories that move hearts as well as minds, bringing the propositions alive and giving ‘ideas friends’. Take this story by Julia Unwin, one of many that will inspire you. Second, these essays tell us what we mean by ‘shared leadership’, a concept that lies at the heart of our belief in collaboration rather than competition. Sue Tibballs invites us to be bold in taking social power and Cate Newnes-Smith calls on us to become ‘systems leaders – two of many powerful essays on this theme.  Third, the rich potential of communities, people and organisations is really brought home here, with writers such as Karin Woodley advocating organisations that practice ‘radical listening’ and Sona Mahtani and Olli Batchelor, to name just a few, writing about places and institutions that give people power, voice and agency.  Finally, there’s ideas and experience in this volume for putting all of the Better Way propositions into practice, avoiding lip-service, from Rich Wilson’s Good Help, David Robinson’s Warm Web, to Matt Kepple‘s Wikipedia for the social sector – just three examples out of very many thought-provoking pieces.

If you’d like to read the whole collection, it’s available here, including an introduction which gives more details about these themes and how they are brought out in the essays.

Some individual pieces can be found on our blog page, including contributions by Polly NeateJulia UnwinGraeme DuncanKathy EvansAlicia MooreSona Mahtani and Colin Falconer.  A number are being featured by Civil Society news: essays by Caroline SlocockChris WrightMatt Kepple, Karin Woodley, Mark JohnsonSue TibballsSo Jung Rim and Steve Wyler.

Or if you’d like to focus on the essays that shed light on a particular Better Way proposition, you can find them here:

 

IDYW response to the APPG Inquiry – What are the training and workforce development needs to secure and sustain youth work?

YWalive

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

What are the training and workforce development needs to secure and sustain youth work?

Recent evidence has indicated that the number of courses leading to JNC-recognised youth and community work qualifications has fallen substantially since 2012, with only 36 undergraduate degree courses still operating in 2014-15. Structures for training and qualifying part-time and volunteer youth workers have also become much more fragmented and indeed privatised, leaving participants often having to fund themselves on the routes that are available.

The main route now for ‘professional qualification’ is a degree course although there are still courses up to Level 3 that are delivered ‘locally’ through various training providers. In the past workers would often start working either as a paid worker or volunteer in their local youth centre/project. However the significant change in funding arrangements for delivering part-time training (now the NVQ), together with the severe cuts in Local Authority Youth Services, the dominance of the outsourcing and commissioning culture,, means that we have lost an underpinning foundation for the planning and delivery of professional development for the workforce. In particular, we have lost an authentically local character to training and staff development. Training isn’t commissioned to meet need, but is ‘provided’ by organisations that can procure funding to offer a Level 2 qualification.  Those going through training frequently have no work or volunteer experience.

The collapse of Local Authority Youth Services and the demise of open access youth work has posed enormous problems for universities offering youth work degrees. Inevitably they have had to adjust to a fast-changing workscape, within which many of their graduates find employment in Schools, Youth Social Work, Youth Justice and beyond. The pressure is to produce students, who are employable in a diversity of settings, which in itself is no bad thing. However, from our perspective, the casualty in this blurring of the boundaries is the improvisatory and autonomous youth work we sacrifice at our peril. Addressing this concern is far from easy. Clearly, a renewal of open youth work on the ground is vital, alongside revisiting alternative routes to qualification, the extension of a reimagined NVQ qualification beyond Level 3 and the reinvigoration of Level 1/2 part-time training.

If open access, process-led youth work is, in any substantial and effective form, to again be made available to those thousands of young people who no longer have any access to it, dedicated and state funded action will be needed to provide sufficient and appropriate training opportunities for both full-time and part-time paid and volunteer youth workers, not forgetting students in Higher Education.

 

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 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.

James Ballantyne asks, ‘what is the point of youth work?’

I’ll resist being among the first to respond.

james ballantyne

What’s the point of youth work?

A pretty easy to answer question- isnt it? However, I was asked to do a 5 minute presentation on this question and could have probably expanded it to a 150 credit module length of study. I imagine, knowing what the point of youthwork is worth knowing so we know how to justify it and plead for its continuation. Here is what I think the point of youthwork is:

Youthwork is about young people, first and foremost, it makes it different from school, from social services and other institutions as young people are and should be placed first and foremost as the point for and at which the activity exists.

As a definition I would say that youthwork is a professional relationship with a young person who is the primary contributor in their social context.

Youthwork as a philosophy is geared towards and biased towards young people, being with them, not just for them, and has young peoples education, welfare and community as its core. Youthwork is about developing positive purposeful relationships between young people and adults, and learn, and create opportunities through these relationships.

Youthwork exists within the local community as it is affected by it, as young people learn to use, accept or reject the resources in their community, as youthworkers our role is to help young people navigate through these choices and also remove barriers that prevent them from participation.

The point of youthwork is to believe in young people and to work with them to use their gifts and accomplish dreams they may have for themselves and their local community.

  1. Youthwork is about values – empowerment, inclusion, participation, valuing young people
  2. Builds on what is already – turning open activity sessions in young person led and developed spaces of participation and empowerment
  3. Youthwork opens the opportunities for young people and their participation, from attenders and deciders to creators (and challenging the barriers that prevent this)
  4. Youthwork trusts young people and raises their game to take risks
  5. Youthwork is a place of fun, social relationships and creativity.
  6. Youthwork creates a safe space, a home for young people, where they can belong.
  7. Youthwork values young people individuals and groups in their community
  8. Youthwork challenges the narratives about young people and is inherently political
  9. Youthwork recognises that young people have needs, but focus on their gifts and positives in order to overcome them
  10. Youthwork creates a space for innovation and improvisation
  11. Youthwork is a space to help young people reflect on their place in the world and contribute within it
  12. Youthwork is also what people who do youthwork say that it is, it is an ongoing conversation. It continues and is future orientated.

The point of youthwork is that it strategises from the point of contact, it involves young people and believes in them to be better than what they may have been told about themselves. Youthwork changes young people, it changes all of us in the encounters we have.

You will notice a variety of influences here, from Howard Sercombe, Kerry Young, Jeffs and Smith, Goetchius and Tash, all deep thinkers and practitioners who have shaped the conversation so far and it’s our job to keep the conversation going. And help the conversation about young people be integral to other agencies and institutions.

What do you think – what’s the point of youth work?

See much more at James’s blog – Learning from the Streets