Taylorakis [Tony Taylor in Cretan garb] and Bernard Davies have responded to Dana Fusco’s thoughts on the future for critical youth work posted here and to be found in full on the Australian Ultimate Youth Worker web site. Further contributions would be most welcome. In addition there is a new post on the Australian site re Youth Work in 2013 furnished by Sam Ross, known also as the Teenage Whisperer. Hers is new voice to us and sounds on first impressions to be coming from a youth social work perspective. Given our desire to engage across the differing settings, within which we work with young people, this is a blog to be visited.
Back to the responses to Dana Fusco:
A fascinating piece, which gives much food for thought. Despite the differing continents and differing circumstances there are significant parallels between the picture depicted by Dana in the US and that of the UK. Here though the threat to critical youth work is not on the horizon, it is firmly in the foreground. Hence in 2009 we formed the In Defence of Youth Work campaign to resist the shift from youth work as a critical conversation uncertain of its destination to diverse forms of work with young people premised on the imposition of prescribed outcomes. Interestingly the notions of youth work, youth services, work with young people are conflated so that the distinctiveness of youth work practice disappears. At a recent meeting of students discussing placements 18 out of 20 would-be youth workers opted for youth offending with hardly a dilemma in sight. In the UK that looks to be where the jobs will be. We refuse though to be downhearted and central to our activity is building alliances. For example in January we are contributing to a first European Open Youth Work conference in Vienna. Next stop, perhaps, the international community of Dana’s dreams!
Whilst Bernard Davies continued…
I agree: Dana’s piece has many echoes of what’s happening to youth work in the UK. Though that certainly includes youth workers being drafted into schools, even starker evidence is provided by their widespread re-deployment into programmes with required attendance and targeted at the ‘at risk’ and the ‘risky.
The resultant damage to the kinds of emancipatory and democratic forms of practice which Dana is advocating is all around us, and not only, as she points out, in the closure of professional courses. Evidence of the even more immediate and direct effects are the boarded-up youth club buildings and the growing number of full- and part-time paid workers being (sometimes) replaced by (at best) minimally trained volunteers.
Values and a concern for purpose have undeniably been deeply embedded in the UK struggles against these policies. However, though Dana argues for defining these more clearly and more positively, they have not for me been a primary focus – not least because many other youth practitioners seem to share them at least in the broad terms in which they are usually articulated. What have increasingly needed explanation and defence have been the defining features of the face-to-face practice – what the open letter which launched the UK In Defence of Youth Work campaign identified as its cornerstones. (See http://www.indefenceofyouthwork.org.uk/wordpress/?page_id=90)
Recently, I have particularly found myself defending the settings in which this practice takes place – what Dana calls its ‘co-created spaces’. This has often involved a bottom-line struggle with the question: how far can these still be self-chosen by young people? However, especially in the context of what Taylorakis describes as the conflation of youth work with other forms of work with young people, a reoccurring focus has also been on how far the culture of these spaces enables young people to feel some (significant) ownership of them. In part, of course, this will be shaped by their physical make-up, by the activities that go on in them and by their location. However, also crucial to nurturing this culture will be the processes of negotiation and relationship-building through which co-creation is constructed – processes which, rooted in a search for more equal power balances, extend from the initiation of the very first contact with an unknown group through to delivering on offers of trustworthy personal support and stretching educational activity.
As Dana emphasises, a key concern in all this is what will happen in the future to the training of youth workers. The challenges here certainly include where – in which institutions – this will take place and who the trainers will be. Others loom however, especially given students’ changing understandings of youth work highlighted in Taylorakis’s comment. A key one is going to be whether training agencies can find practice arenas – above all open access settings which young people choose to attend – where those negotiation and relationship-building processes are often particularly most testing and where therefore students need opportunities and support for affirming and internalising the necessary skills. Currently however, at least in the UK, all this contains a double irony: that on the one hand these settings are increasingly being replaced by pre-structured and targeted programmes of group work; while on the other the advocates for these very programmes are repeatedly asserting their need for the well developed ‘youth work skills’ of experienced youth workers.
In trying to deal with issues like these, especially in a globalised neo-liberal world which puts profit before people and individual achievement and competition before collective sharing and caring, I can see how exchanges within and through what Dana calls ‘an international community of youth workers and youth work educators’ could have valuable pay-offs. Echoing Taylorakis, could perhaps the Professional Open Youth Work in Europe initiative being launched in Vienna next month be one prompt for such a development?