Thinking seriously about youth work. And how to prepare people to do it – views from across Europe

Following on from our recent reference to Youth Work in the Commonwealth: A Growth Profession news from Europe of a challenging publication, ‘Thinking Seriously about Youth Work’, which houses over 37 thought-provoking chapters plus a compelling introduction and conclusion. As someone, who over the years has lost some of his faith in the power of the written word, a major concern is that this flood of diverse analysis will drown the potential reader’s interest before they even dip their toe into its contents. I hope my pessimism is misplaced. For now my favourite piece is ‘Youth work in Flanders – Playful usefulness and useful playfulness’ by Guy Redig and Filip Coussée, who, in suggesting that youth work is a necessary kind of wild zone and free space in society, crucial to democracy itself, note that,

Flanders youth work operates on the front line. The vast majority of (local) youth work can be described as intuitively hostile to demands for utility or instrumentalisation. At the same time, it has to survive the dominant discourse of using all resources – including youth work – for economic activation and adaptation in a neoliberal system. For the more pessimistic prophets, Flemish youth work can be classified as an anachronism close to extinction, soon to be replaced by professional, efficient and smooth concepts suited to multiple purposes. For other observers, the authenticity, autonomy and joie de vivre of Flemish youth work are unbeatable and will survive con brio. Youth work will survive, stubborn and petulant, peevish and cross, generation after generation.

The complete publication is available online via the following link.

 

Thinking seriously about youth work. And how to prepare people to do it

Hanjo Schild, Nuala Connolly, Francine Labadie, Jan Vanhee, Howard Williamson (eds.)                                                                                                                                                      

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If we consider the 50 states having ratified the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe or the member states of the European Union, the multiple and divergent nature of the realities, theories, concepts and strategies underlying the expression “youth work” becomes evident. Across Europe, youth work takes place in circumstances presenting enormous differences with regard to opportunities, support, structures, recognition and realities, and how it performs reflects the social, cultural, political and economic context and the value systems in which it is undertaken.

By analysing theories and concepts of youth work and by providing insight from various perspectives and geographical and professional backgrounds, the authors hope to further contribute to finding common ground for – and thus assure the quality of – youth work in general. Presenting its purified and essential concept is not the objective here. The focus rather is on describing how to “provide opportunities for all young people to shape their own futures”, as Peter Lauritzen described the fundamental mission of youth work.

The best way to do this remains an open question. This Youth Knowledge book tries to find some answers and strives to communicate the strengths, capacities and impact of youth work to those within the youth sector and those beyond, to those familiar with its concepts and those new to this field, all the while sharing practices and insights and encouraging further reflection.

 

Section I – Theories and concepts in selected European regions and countries includes:

Winning space, building bridges – What youth work is all about by Howard Williamson

Youth work and youth social work in Germany by Andreas Thimmel

Thinking about youth work in Ireland by Maurice Devlin

Influential theories and concepts in UK youth work – What’s going on in England? by Pauline Grace and Tony   Taylor

 

Section II – Key challenges of youth work today includes:

 Youth work and an internationally agreed definition of youth work – More than a tough job by Guy Redig

Keep calm and repeat – Youth work is not (unfortunately) just fun and games by Özgehan Şenyuva and Tomi   Kiilakoski

Young people, youth work and the digital world by Nuala Connolly

Youth radicalisation and the role of youth work in times of (in)security by Dora Giannaki

 

Section III – Reflections on the recommendations made in the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention includes:

 Further exploring the common ground – Some introductory remarks by Hanjo Schild

Towards knowledge-based youth work by Helmut Fennes

Funding sustainable youth work by Claudius Siebel

Youth work, cross-sectoral youth policy, and co-operation: critical reflections on a puzzling relationship by Magda Nico

 

 

 

 

European Conference – Enter!: from Policy to Practice. Colin Brent reports

The media headlines continue to be dominated by the issue of Brexit. As IDYW we’ve yet to get our heads around its possible consequences. In a piece some of us have been scribbling we made a brief and provisional last minute addition to the text.

Our effort to be outgoing is now suffused with complication, the consequence of the BREXIT decision to leave the European Union. On the ground, as youth workers, we must engage afresh with both alienated young people from working class communities ‘left behind’, who voted to leave and young people, frustrated with the prospect of diminishing opportunities abroad, who wished to remain. Both groups will be disadvantaged if the ERASMUS+ programme, combining the EU’s schemes for education, training, youth and sport, disappears. Uncertainty prevails.

Meanwhile much continues to happen on the European scene and Colin Brent reports from a recent Council of Europe event.

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Unfortunately, I could not make the IDYW Conference the other week, as I was sat on the Eurostar, accompanied by Tania de St Croix’s fascinating new book on grass roots youth work, trying to digest the past three days. I was on my way home from a Council of Europe seminar on “Enter! Policy to Practice, a seminar on the implementation of the Recommendation on the access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights [CM/Rec(2015)3] through youth work and youth policy practitioners” taking place at the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg. The seminar brought together around 40 youth workers, local authority representatives and NGOs to discuss the implementation of the above recommendation.

The recommendation, which was adopted by the Council of Europe last year, is as wide-ranging as the Council itself(which stretches from Greenland to Vladivostok), and is full of measures to support young people from “disadvantaged neighbourhoods” to access health, housing, sports, leisure and culture, employment, education and training, and information and counselling. The recognition of youth work and youth workers is highlighted, although the definition of both is vague. You can read more about it here. Whilst some of these measures are very welcome (the adequate remuneration of apprenticeships, special attention to the health needs of young people suffering from poor mental health, etc.), as with documents of this size and nature it is naturally rife for criticism. It starts with the assumption that change must be from within institutions, without questioning the nature of these institutions themselves – they must provide opportunities for young people to include themselves, rather than look for wider societal change. The focus on education and employment is meant to support young people’s insertion into the labour market, without question whether the current system has any role in their initial “disadvantage”. As one of the speakers made clear, young people must “accept” society. Our role, it seems, is to help them towards that.

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Away from the inevitable fudge of a document agreed by 47 nations, the connections and shared frustrations of the participants of the seminar was what made it worthwhile. After the first day several people, who would usually be working face-to-face with young people, told me that they weren’t quite sure what they were doing there. This wasn’t meant for them. In the lunch-breaks and evenings, as well as in working groups, the complex realities of people’s work on the ground started to come to the fore. Several times in the seminar people’s impatience wore thin, and for me these frustrations confirmed that the importance of youth work across Europe is not found in a document, but in people’s diverse experiences on the ground.

The people attending were from a fascinating range of projects (well sought out by the organisers), with democratic educators from Portugal, street workers from France, workers on projects for young people with disabilities in Croatia,… We shared the challenges of work in our areas, from setting up youth work under the repressive regime in Chechnya to working with isolated young people in Finland. The reaction as I spoke about IYSS (our monitoring database) was incomprehension from Bosnia and verging on disgust from Germany. We looked to share ways that we work, better communicate that work and ensure its relevance to young people’s lives. In short, I’m moving to Finland. I had the opportunity to present IDYW’s story-telling resource and to underline the importance of the cornerstones.

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So as I arrived back in London I had mixed feelings. Had our presence in Strasbourg done anything to shape future policy from Europe’s institutions? Probably not. Had I met some wonderful people who I hope will work together with me in the future to develop our practice? Definitely. One thing I know, I’m looking forward to seeing the young people after a week away.