The Future of Youth Work in Australia? Telling its compelling story

Next week we will be launching a discussion paper, ‘Is the tide turning?’, which seeks to reimagine a youth work freed from the shackles of neoliberal dogma. Looking ahead we hope to organise a number of regional meetings to coincide with the National Youth Agency’s Youth Work Week, the theme of which is ‘Youth Services: youth work for today and tomorrow’.

Meanwhile, across the oceans in Australia, the Youth Affairs Council Victoria is staging a major conference, grappling with much the same questions and dilemmas.

Victoria conference

Front + Centre
The role and future of youth work 

18 – 20 October 2017
The Pullman Hotel, East Melbourne

The conference will explore themes around the changing nature of youth work, the complexities of our practice and how we tell the compelling story of youth work and its positive impacts.

Front + Centre will bring together youth workers from community, government and for-purpose agencies to shape the future of the youth sector.

We’ll explore the hot topics, tackle the big questions and discuss new research and good practice.

We’re talking three days jam-packed with inspiring presentations, thought-provoking conversations and hands-on workshops from some of the most renowned thinkers and doers in youth work.

A snapshot of key topics in our program:

Day 1 – Our Practice: today and beyond

The big picture — youth work now and in the future
Ending family violence and promoting respectful relationships
Youth justice is everybody’s business

 
Day 2 – Using data and telling stories

Studying young Australians’ lives to help shape the future
Telling powerful stories of youth work
Sparking change through collaborative arts

 
Day 3 – Inclusive engagement

Young people, gender and sexuality
Are you ready for the NDIS?
Meaningful youth engagement and participation

 
Each day will provide interactive workshops on a range of topics, across research, policy and advocacy, youth work 101 and practice masterclasses. You will learn from ground-breaking researchers, thought-leaders and practitioners; share ideas for navigating the ever-changing challenges and complexities of our practice; develop ways to articulate and communicate the value and impact of youth work and, build meaningful connections with passionate peers

 

I think you will find the packed conference programme full of resonance.

 

And, amidst its diversity of workshops, given our long-standing advocacy of Story-telling as a vital way of understanding our practice, you will find the following:

Telling powerful stories
Powerful stories help us articulate the value of youth work and make us better advocates. Storytelling skills help connect and engage us with young people, influence decision-makers and make sense of our own lives. Learn fundamental principles of storytelling and campaigning: how to tell stories of youth work that are authentic, compelling and impactful.

We’ll keep an eye out for a conference report.

 

 

Prospects for 2016 : Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci

Prospects for a distinctive youth work practice in 2016 are not immediately promising. The slide to dubbing as youth work any and every form of work with young people continues. Youth workers become increasingly resourceful Jack and Jills of all trades. Contributors to discussions on our Facebook page use the term social work-lite to describe their practice, dealing as they do with referred case-loads of labeled individuals.  A youth development model, a structured and planned, time-limited intervention into young people’s lives with identified and intended outcomes, threatens to engulf an improvisatory, unpredictable, process-led youth work approach. Indeed in a recent e-mail an outstanding youth worker of my acquaintance was moved to conclude, “youth work, as I understood it, was educated by it, and educated others by it no longer exists.”

This is not to be dismissed as an isolated cry of despair. Whilst they might see matters differently the key stakeholders in the so-called youth sector are also anxious about the future. This is hardly surprising, given the message conveyed by the Employers’ abandonment of the Pink Book and the JNC, namely, that they are not interested in youth work as an entity with its own identity. At present we are witnessing two consultative exercises. The one initiated by NCVYS/Ambition/UK Youth ran up to the end of 2015. Its final  invite-only event, of which we were critical, was entitled, ‘Changing the Trajectory – Charting a New Course for Youth Services’. We presume its conclusions will appear in the near future. Meanwhile TAG [ The Professional Association for Lecturers in Youth and Community Work ] is entering the fray with an ambitious series of conferences in March under the banner of ‘Shaping our Future – Where Next for Youth and Community Work?‘ complemented by a wider gathering of evidence from the field. In the next few days we will be encouraging IDYW supporters to be involved in this dialogue. Watch this space.

It remains to be seen what arguments are brought to bear supporting the implication that the past has run its course  and that a new direction needs to be found. From the perspective outlined in our founding Open Letter we believe it’s impossible to shape the future without an informed understanding of both the past and the present. Specifically this means facing frontally the impact of neo-liberal ideology over the past three decades upon youth work practice. It means facing up to the cymbalic clash between a commitment to an anti-capitalist critical pedagogy founded on the common good and an incorporation into a neo-liberal pedagogy, within which the mass of people know their individualist place. This is not going to be easy. Understandably, given the pressures, many will prefer to be pragmatic, adding on later a reference to principle. The great danger is that talk of the new becomes but a smokescreen for accommodation to the status quo.  Let’s remember neo-liberalism has preached incessantly that there is no alternative.

In this light the well-known quote attributed to Antonio Gramsci, ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’ comes into its own. This said the advice is not without its contradictions, not least that thinking and doing are not separate, but inextricably intertwined. However my own reading of the exhortation is that we must confront soberly the constraints of the present circumstances, whilst at one and the same time refusing to be handcuffed by them. For example, if we are serious about youth work’s rhetoric of social justice in a world, which becomes evermore unequal, a renewed, radical praxis has to work within and against the dominant discourse. With its feet on the ground it has to blend common-sense with a critical sense. Yet it will be utterly compromised, if it is not optimistically involved, at one and the same time, in the creation anew of  social movements, from which it will derive its strength and integrity. The struggle for Social Justice is collective or it is mere posturing.

Of course we might not be seeing the wall for the bricks and therefore look forward to a challenging dialogue in the coming months about what the future might hold.

 

 

 

Innovation in Youth Work : Tony Jeffs asks ‘What sort of future for our work?’

As  observed in yesterday’s post over the coming weeks we will be posting links to particular chapters from the new and challenging book, ‘Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking in Practice’, edited by Naomi Stanton. We are doing this as part of the YMCA College’s commitment to spreading the word as widely as possible. Amidst the hurly-burly we hope you will find time to peruse and reflect upon its contents.

YMCA

In a typically forthright piece Tony Jeffs sets the scene for an exploration of innovative youth work in ‘What sort of future? It begins:

Innovation is woven into the very fabric of youth
work. From its outset, youth work was obliged to
remake itself each time the social context and young
people’s needs changed. Inflexibility was, therefore,
never a viable option as youth work always risked
being overtaken by technological and social change.
During a two hundred year history, this occurred
infrequently. Club leaders and youth workers, as a
consequence of their recurring contact with young
people and communities, most being part-time
workers or volunteers functioning in their own
neighbourhoods, have rarely been caught unawares by
these transformations. They may, at times, have been
one step behind. However, rarely has it been more
than one step. The dialogical basis of their practice
ensured club leaders and youth workers were
incessantly engaged in conversation with young
people. Therefore, those practitioners who listened and
were embedded within the local community acquired a
distinctive insight into the lived experiences of young
people and the places wherein they grew up. Rightly,
such practitioners were listened to by local and
national politicians, many of whom in the past
emerged from the ranks of youth work. It needs to be
recalled that, until relatively recently, youth work was a
‘mass movement’. Made up of thousands of clubs and
units; hundreds of thousands of leaders freely giving of
their time and energy; and a million-plus voluntary
members. From this potpourri of talents, youthful zest
and commitment to public service emerged a constant
flow of innovation. Nearly always these innovations
came from the grass roots, in response to pressure from
an active membership of young people and workers.
National youth organisations were themselves
products of this dynamic; which meant initially they
were controlled from below by local branches.
Innovation therefore tended to occur as part of the
natural order of things, driven by the desire of
practitioners to better serve the changing needs of
members. Almost without exception, every innovation
in relation to practice – be it the concept of the club
itself; the idea of a youth centre; detached and
outreach work; youth cafes; residential centres;
outdoor and adventure provision; specialist work –
with girls and young women, the disabled, ethnic
minorities and gay, lesbian and transgender young
people; or mobile provision – originally surfaced at the
local level.

 

Years of retrenchment mean the once vibrant grass
roots have withered away. Youth work is no longer a
mass movement but a remnant – sustained, where it
survives, by a rapidly decreasing number of paid full
and part-time workers. There are exceptions. Notably
some uniformed youth organisations, which have
enjoyed a revival, and the faith-based sector which
thrives thanks to a pool of voluntary leaders and an
increasing number of often poorly remunerated staff.
Therefore, whenever discussion of ‘a youth work crisis’
occurs, it is important to recall that the ‘crisis’ relates
almost exclusively to secular units and typically those
either fully or partially funded by local authorities.

To read in full, hover your cursor on This is Youth Work : The Book  in the brown header at the top of this page and click on Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking in Practice. This will take you to a designated page, where the full pdf of the book can be viewed. Tony’s chapter is contained within pages 10 – 17. As ever responses welcomed.

The Future of Youth Work? The Future of the Campaign? National Conference, April 10

Find below the initial information re our national conference on Thursday, April 10 in Leeds. It is attached too as a Word document so please copy and circulate as you think fit. Hope to see you there!

For an Emancipatory and Democratic Education

Logo IDYW

IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK – NATIONAL CONFERENCE 2014

THE FUTURE OF YOUTH WORK? THE FUTURE OF THE CAMPAIGN?

THURSDAY, APRIL 10 in the Lewis Jones Room, Carnegie Suite, Headingley, Leeds

[Thanks to the Leeds Metropolitan University for their support]

Five years on from the emergence of our Campaign we will be taking a breath. Where are we up to? What are the prospects for youth work in the coming period?

Starting at 11.00 a.m. the morning will comprise an initial session in small groups sharing a sense of what we think is going on in our own situations and our thoughts about what lies down the road. This will be followed by two keynote contributions on the ‘Future of Youth Work’ from Janet Batsleer, author of ‘Informal Learning in Youth Work’ and Howard Sercombe, author of ‘Youth Work Ethics’.

In the afternoon we will be taking a range of contributions from the grass-roots, which will explore the hopes and fears of students and workers on the ground. Thence via animated [!] discussion we will seek to clarify with one another the way forward and the priorities for the Campaign.

Prior to the conference we will be circulating a provisional statement on behalf of the steering group, which attempts to sum up ‘where we are up to’ and ‘where we might be going’. Throughout the conference itself we will be recording the opinions of participants, particularly with regard to this draft. In the final session to close at 4.15 p.m. we will be feeding back to the conference a summary of how the day’s debate has impacted on the statement and in what ways therefore it needs to be revised. Through this process we hope to strengthen our collective sense of purpose, whilst still encouraging critical dialogue within our disparate ranks.

As usual we will be asking participants to bring their own lunches, but tea, coffee, water etc will be available.

The cost will be £10 waged, £5 students/unwaged – additional donations always welcome.

More information to follow.

To book a place contact Tony Taylor at tonymtaylor@gmail.com

April 2014 National Conference flyer

ARE WE TO BE CONDEMned?

THE NEW POLITICS : LED BY CLONED, CONSENSUAL AND CIVILISED, PRIVATELY SCHOOLED, PROFESSIONAL POLITICIANS – ALL WEALTH, STYLE AND NO SUBSTANCE?  AND IN TRUTH NO VISION?

Thanks to Kev Henman and Sue Atkins for drawing our attention to the notion of the CONDEMN pact!

1. THE END OF THE RAINBOW Jasmine Ali of the Local Government Unit reports from inside the corridors of influence. She begins: This morning my colleague and I met with civil servants in Sanctuary Buildings. During the meeting an army of people in overalls descended and started pulling down the animations of children on ladders and vehicles. The civil servants looked on as they started dismantling the famous DCSF rainbow. It had been ripped down before, shortly after the launch of the Children’s Plan. Ed Balls liked it so much, he demanded its re-installation.

She notes the following early policy proposals:

  • Promoting the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over curriculum; and that all schools are held properly accountable
  • A ‘significant premium’ for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget funded by reductions in spending elsewhere
  • Scrapping the Contact Point Database
  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission
  • Ending the detention of children for immigration purposes
  • Reductions to the Child Trust Fund
  • Referring Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged under 25 to a new welfare to work programme after a maximum of six months
  • Higher education proposals will await Lord Browne’s final report into funding

Is the list of compromises made thus far quite the reactionary fare some might have predicted?

2. As for Youth Work  and Youth Services, Ravi Chandiramani notes the following tensions between the partners.

Joint working

Here, the Tories want some degree of retreat, while the Lib Dems want to go the other way and bring in plans to deepen integrated working.

The Conservatives regard Labour’s Every Child Matters reforms as fine in principle but they regard the joint working arrangements that it has brought about as overly bureaucratic in practice. So they want to repeal the obligations on local areas to have children’s trusts in place and for local authorities to publish children and young people’s plans.

The Lib Dems by contrast want to strengthen joint working arrangements so that housing authorities have a duty to co-operate in children’s trusts, which would compel housing professionals and planners to consider the interests and welfare of children in their decision making. They also propose that practitioners have secondments in other areas of children’s services, so that for example, a children’s social worker gains experience of the challenges of being a youth worker and vice versa.

Youth services

The Conservatives’ flagship policy for young people is the National Citizen Service for 16-year-olds, a two-month outward bound and residential scheme. Apart from that, the Tories have little to say about supporting young people through positive activities. They have expressed deep scepticism about the effectiveness of local authority youth services and want more youth programmes to be run by the voluntary sector.

The Lib Dems’ commitment to young people might lack a showy policy but does appear more comprehensive. They adopted a youth policy document, Free to be Young as official party policy in the spring. They want to merge funding for out-of-school activities for young people into one easy-to-access fund and guarantee youth projects their money; set up a cross-departmental young people’s committee to inform youth issues in government; and make youth services a statutory responsibility of local authorities.

3. Perhaps inevitably the first pronouncements from the NYA and CHYPS stress the preventative rather than educational character of Youth Work.

Prevention still makes economic sense, say youth service leaders

4. I don’t know how many people have spotted that Julie Hilling,  a former President of CYWU and a youth worker in Wigan for twenty years,  has made it finally into Parliament.

“Labour held on to Bolton West with a wafer-thin majority of 92 following a recount. Jubilant Labour supporters cheered as Julie Hilling was declared winner with 18,327 votes in the seat formerly held by Cabinet Minister Ruth Kelly, who stood down.”

Our paths first crossed in around 1980 when I was External Examiner to a post-graduate qualifying course at Manchester Polytechnic, where Julie was a challenging and questioning student. She spent much of her career in Wigan working at the pioneering Twist Lane Young People’s Cooperative,- in the early years alongside Roy Ratcliffe [see below].  She became a major figure in the CYWU, being its elected President from 1991-1999. By the end of this period she was out of step with the Doug Nicholls, the General Secretary and his Executive, particularly over her staunch advocacy of the caucus structure created and adopted in the early 80’s. Increasingly her thoughts turned to the prospect of entering Parliament, but she was frustrated at many a turn. Across this period her socialist feminist principles seemed to be increasingly at odds with the New Labour project. We met last about five years ago in a Wigan pub, where I was presenting a  savage critique of the Green Paper,Youth Matters. She appeared sympathetic to my argument, but continued to defend Labour, pinning her hopes on what she saw as Gordon Brown’s socialist commitment. I am not sure where she stands now. However a sobered party, claiming that it wishes to put behind it the mistakes of New Labour in a desire to become Next Labour, ought to be willing to listen to the insights of a former leading figure within Youth Work. With this in mind I am approaching Julie to see if she is willing to be interviewed by the IDYW Campaign. Watch this space.

5. Roy Ratcliffe, former Treasurer of CYWU and, in Doug Nicholl’s words, one of the few dedicated individuals, [who] saved the union from a bitter end in 1985, has sent the following sweeping analysis of the post-election situation.  Writing from a classical Marxist perspective, which rejects the distortions of Stalinist and Leninist orthodoxy, Roy challenges us to look beyond the immediate considerations of which management team is in power. He ends by observing, that, despite the depth of the crisis facing humanity:

Meanwhile the self-serving politicians of our ‘hung’ parliament will continue to become comfortably well-off as they negotiate, this or that perk, protect this or that privilege, accept this or that ministerial post, respectfully doff their caps to the international financial  usurers and also ‘hope’ that they can convince working people to continue to believe – that we just couldn’t manage without them.

On Trojan Horses and Elephants: Roy Ratcliffe

In his final paragraph Roy refers to the refreshing possibility opened up by the Chavez project. Many of our supporters might well have little sense of this proposal.  Addressing delegates at the International Encounter of Left Parties held in Caracas, November 19-21, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez stated “the time has come for us to convoke the Fifth International.” Faced with the capitalist crisis and the threat of war that is putting at risk the future of humanity, “the people are clamouring for” greater unity of left and revolutionary parties willing to fight for socialism, he said.  I have a lot of problems with this call, not least that yet again it comes from above, from a self-styled vanguard leadership. Nevertheless the extent of the crisis facing us does demand global cooperation and organisation across all  those of us, who wish to control our lives in concert with one another. Such questions may seem too big for the world of youth work.  Yet this is not the case. Youth workers cannot talk of combating oppression, of  protecting the environment without being involved in the wider struggles to challenge injustice and exploitation. It is in this sense that some of us see the IN DEFENCE campaign as being more than a defence of a type of work,  more a contribution to the recreation of a  vibrant social movement focused on youth.

6. To return to the post-Election situation more specifically, there is as ever renewed talk of democracy. In this short video Tony Benn, the veteran campaigner and a Labour MP for more than half a century, and the newly elected Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, answer questions from young people about the state of democracy today.