IDYW 9th Conference – ‘buzzy’, critical and collaborative

 

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Bernard Davies had sent this report on Friday’s conference in Birmingham, bashed out in his own words to give a flavour of what one Facebook message called a ‘buzzy’ experience.

 

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Matthew Hill, Centre for Youth Impact in full flow

 

Though it mostly it felt a good news day, the bad news was that not only could Tony Taylor not be with us at the conference because of his broken foot. Even the advanced tech skills of two of our most ‘tecky’ Steering Group members couldn’t quite connect him to us via Skype. A great disappointment given how much work he’d put into the 16-point draft position paper, which acted as the main focus for the day and the other preparation he’d done.

 

Quite a lot of more positive news did seem to come out of the day, however – attended by 50+ people. As a much-needed reminder that youth work can and does have a future, these included a group of ‘Young Ambassadors’ from the Wakefield Youth Association and a number of current youth and community work students, together with their tutors.

 

The day began with a minute’s silence to honour three highly respected colleagues who have died recently, namely Peter Duke, John Parr and Kevin Morris. Poignantly Kevin’s funeral was taking place at the very same moment.  The conference proceeded with a brief input setting out the background and development so far of the IDYW ‘Is the Tide Turning?’ initiative since it was launched in the aftermath of last year’s General Election. Work throughout the day took place then in five groups, chosen initially by people for its focus in the first session on one of five more specific issues running through the position paper’s 16 bullet points: outcomes; practice; purposes and values; structuring and funding provision; and training and employment. The lively and indeed often clearly passionate discussions generated many sheets of paper recording key points for IDYW to take away and use in any future work on the paper.

 

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Leigh Middleton, NYA, responds to the debate

 

The two panel sessions which followed allowed brief inputs from organisations which are pretty key at this point in the youth work struggle – the Centre for Youth Impact, the Institute for Youth Work, NYA, the Training Agencies Group, Unison and Unite. These again prompted exchanges within the groups as well as with some of the speakers directly. A final session in groups and plenary gave people a chance to give voice to some of the main messages to IDYW from the groups – some strongly supportive of points on the draft paper, others pointing to need for further thinking, such as the need not to be defensive in our struggle for youth work but to make the case positively on the basis of its strengths and potential.

 

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Paul Fenton, PALYCW,  puts in his pennyworth

 

Amidst all this hard work, the café-style arrangement, the availability throughout the day of drinks and bits to snack on and the regular brief breaks clearly opened the way not just for many other searching (if unrecorded) informal discussion and exchanges but also for much personal catching-up and for new encounters.

 

One individual feedback comment at the end of the day: ‘This is my first time at an IDYW event and I found it really interesting and stimulating’. And on Facebook: ‘an…excellent conference … both informative and inspiring and great to catch up with people that I don’t bump into very often’ – prompting a ‘Hear, hear’ response from someone else.

 

All very gratifying, though still leaving lots of thinking to do about where next to take all the day’s interest, debates and energy – so further reactions and comments certainly welcome.

Thanks to Kevin Jones for the photos.

 

Is the tide turning? UK Youth certainly doesn’t think so. Bernard Davies responds.

 

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Ta to transcripts.org

 

The CYPN headline says it all, UK Youth sets out plans to attract investment in sector. Neoliberal to the core UK Youth, positioning itself to be the voice of the youth sector, argues in its State of the membership 2018 that ‘the sector needs to diversify how it is funded and work more closely with the private sector to ensure it can provide a long-term sustainable service amid cuts in local authority spending’. The report goes on to express its desire ‘to see social entrepreneurial approaches, including social investment, embedded in the sector and is particularly keen to see the formation of long-term partnerships between youth groups and businesses’.

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In the first of our responses, ahead of this Friday’s In Defence of Youth Work conference, Bernard Davies expresses sharply his concern about UK Youth’s direction of travel.

The future for youth work – as seen by UK Youth

 

In only two or three years the world of the ‘traditional’ national voluntary youth organisation has changed beyond recognition. It was in November 2012 that a senior DfE official told a conference whose organisers included UK Youth and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) that, at a time when the sector was expected increasingly ‘to do more with less’, it needed to consider mergers as a way of protecting itself. Whether as a direct response or not, in 2015 Ambition – once the National Association of Boys Clubs – merged with the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services. Then in March 2016, after absorbing NCVYS, in September last year Ambition itself became a ‘subsidiary’ of – that is, it merged into – UK Youth. whose own many previous titles had included the National Association of Youth Clubs.

 

These high level decisions were not always welcomed by these organisations’ grassroots. In part as a reaction to the 2012 decision by Ambition – by then known as Clubs for Young People – to adopt its new PR-friendly title, a new and independent National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs emerged. This is now providing a range of national sporting, arts and other events as well as infrastructure support for ‘1000 youth clubs in the most deprived communities’ and for over twenty county associations. To fill a perceived gap left by NCVYS’s disappearance, moves are also now detectable to create a new national network for the many local and regional councils of voluntary youth service which are still operating.

 

UK Youth has now published ‘an overview of its membership data as a merged organisation’, based on a careful sampling of the 230 organisations now directly affiliated to it. When partners’ figures in Scotland, Ireland and Wales are added, these cater for approximately four million young people across the UK. Drawing on the government’s own returns and on two Unison reports, its analysis is set starkly in the wider, especially financial, national contexts: the 41 per cent reduction in ‘universal spending’ between 2010-15 and 2017-18; the loss between 2012 and 2016 of over 3600 post, mostly part-timers; and evidence that ‘at local authority level, the most deprived areas have seen the greatest cuts’. With provision now increasingly dependent on volunteers, UK Youth’s conclusion is that ‘the youth sector has transitioned from a largely statutory provision to a largely voluntary sector-led service’.

 

In response to this devastation, in its penultimate paragraph, the report slips in a suggestion that, in order ‘to take full advantage of existing finance’, one possibility to be ‘explored’ is ‘redirecting reduced NCS funding (circa £400 million). Overall, however, such expectations of the state are noticeable mainly by their absence. So too is any analysis of the deeper structural causes of the current crisis for open access youth work, and indeed even more importantly for today’s younger generation. That ‘ideologies’ are shaping these policies is mentioned, as part of ‘the political make-up … of councils’ which has driven ‘the restructuring of statutory youth services’. The comment, however, appears in passing and without any critical explanation of what those ideologies are or how and why they have been so damaging both for a practice like youth work and for young people.

This uncritical stance on the dominant ideas of our times and the power relations underpinning them is signalled on the first page of the UK Youth paper by the inclusion. without comment, of a boxed quote from the minister currently holding the ‘youth’ brief as part of her role as Minister for Sport and Civil Society. In this, as at points elsewhere in the report, youth work in the shape of the youth club – ‘for many young people … their only safe place’ – is immediately conflated with the ‘youth services’ through which they get ‘access (to) mental health services, citizenship education, social mixing and training’. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that another of the factors driving that ‘re-structuring of statutory youth services’ – what are evasively called ‘overall financial challenges in local authorities’ – are never explained as stemming from the minister’s own and previous governments’ policies which, under the cloak of ‘austerity’, have been designed to get the state out of as many public services as possible. Indeed the government seems to garner at least implied praise for what I can only call forms of ‘gesture’ funding in support of the character-building, resilience-developing outcomes on which it insists: £50 million here for cadet forces, £40 million there for young people’s ‘social action’, another £16 million for a Youth Engagement Fund based on ‘social investment funds’ and ‘payment by results’.  

 

Nor does the UK Youth paper address in any direct way how such policies have affected the lives of young people. It notes for example that ‘only 13 per cent of young people in former industrial areas and 14 per cent in remote rural coldspots progress to university compared with 27 per cent in hotspots’. These blockages, however, conceived in the report as ‘challenges of adolescence’, apparently result simply from the ‘lack of aspiration to peer pressures or issues at home’. None of these, of course, are insignificant matters for young people themselves. What they do not do, however, is explain the glaring educational inequalities spelt out earlier. As a result, for tackling the problems of its members, the youth club, as well as providing that safe space, ends up confined it to ‘enabling young people to lead happier, more fulfilling lives’ and ‘empowering young people to make a positive contribution to their community’.

 

So how, positively, is UK Youth planning to deal with this ‘new context’? Certainly not, it seems, by starting from the proposition that the up to one million young people who have used or tried youth work facilities in the past are citizens now and so entitled to a fair slice of the collective cake. For UK Youth, the answer largely remains ‘to embed social entrepreneurial approaches and secure additional income for the sector, for example through supporting access to social investment opportunities’. (Though these are to include ‘collaborative work with … the private sector’, UK Youth gives no indication of what ethical risks tests it thinks should be applied here).

 

Even as – post-Carillion and the rest – the neo-liberal shibboleths come under renewed searching scrutiny, this paper makes clear that these remain deeply and uncritically embedded in the thinking of our youth sector ‘leaders’. Still not apparently worth any serious consideration, therefore, is an alternative possibility: that the state – albeit in re-imagined more bottom-up forms – might and indeed should again find and allocate resources for open access, informal educational facilities which its young citizens can use by choice in their leisure time.  

Bernard Davies

 

Is the tide turning? Agreeing an IDYW position paper for the political arena?

Further to our series of ‘is the tide turning?’ events and, by twist of fate, fast on the heels of John McDonnell’s pledge to support a statutory Youth Service, you will find below a draft of a possible IDYW position paper to be used in discussions with political parties ahead of a General Election, which may not be long in coming.

Obviously the proposals in the paper are little more than bullet points, which will be backed by supplementary explanation and material if dialogue is forthcoming.

At the beginning of next week’s conference this set of proposals will be presented for debate, agreement/disagreement, amendment or indeed rejection.

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TOWARDS AN IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK POSITION PAPER

  1. The neoliberal competitive desire to marketise and individualise is utterly at odds with youth work dedicated to cooperation and the common good.
  2. The rejuvenation of a distinctive, state-supported youth work focused on inclusive, open access provision ought to be based on a radical and complementary relationship between the Local Authority [LA] and a pluralist, independent voluntary sector.
  3. The renewed practice should be sustained by statutory funding, the purpose and allocation of which ought to be determined locally via a democratic youth work ‘council’ made up of young people, workers, voluntary sector representatives, officers and politicians.
  4. Inter-agency work is vital, but youth workers should retain their identity and autonomy rather than be absorbed into multi-disciplinary teams.
  5. Youth Work as an integral element in education from cradle to grave should be situated in the Department for Education.
  6. Youth Work should be associational and conversational, opposed to oppression and exploitation, collective rather than individual in its intent, unfolding at a pace consonant with the building of authentic relationships.
  7. Cornerstones of practice should include the primacy of the voluntary relationship; a critical dialogue starting from young people’s agendas; support for young people’s autonomous activity, for example, work with young women, BAME and LGBTQ+ young people; an engagement with the ‘here and now’; the nurturing of young people-led democracy; and the significance of the skilled, improvisatory worker.
  8. Open access, universal provision is more effective than imposed, targeted work in reaching vulnerable and disadvantaged young people.
  9. Youth Work outcomes, not being prescribed in advance, are complex and often longitudinal. Practice ought to be judged and evaluated, but not subject to the measurement of what is immeasurable.
  10. Training and continuous professional development through the HE institutions and local providers is essential for full-time, part-time and volunteer workers in ensuring the quality of practice.
  11. The National Citizen Service ought to be closed or curtailed, its funding transferred into all-year round provision, of which summer activities will be a part.
  12. JNC terms and conditions ought to be the basis for LA employed staff. However, youth work is not the property of a profession and recognition has to be given to other players, such as Faith groups, in the arena.
  13. Closer links ought to be revived and created between the youth work training agencies, regional youth work units and research centres, such as the Centre for Youth Impact.
  14. Youth Work ought to have advocates at a national level and key organisations such as the NYA and UK Youth ought to develop as critical and independent voices.
  15. Irrespective of Brexit, Youth Work ought to embrace the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention [2015] and be internationalist in outlook.
  16. Youth Work is not a soft-policing instrument of social control. Its fundamental aspiration is profoundly educational and political, ’for the many, not the few’. It seeks to nurture the questioning, compassionate young citizen committed to the creation of a socially just and democratic society.

TOWARDS AN IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK POSITION PAPER– Word version

IS THE TIDE TURNING? A SUMMARY OF CONSENSUS AND CONCERN

 

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Tania, Bernard, Tony and Kev present the summary in Leeds. It has been revised as below in the light of the debate

 

You will find below our summary of the diverse discussion that has taken place around the question of whether the youth work tide is turning. Events were held in Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Cumbria, Derby, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Lancaster, London Manchester, Northampton and Warwickshire. We hope you will find it stimulating and useful.  In particular, we hope it will encourage you to be with us at our national conference on Friday, March 9 in Birmingham. If this is not possible, we would still welcome your critical thoughts.

 

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ta to repeatingislands.com

 

IS THE TIDE TURNING? A DRAFT SUMMARY OF CONSENSUS AND CONCERN

‘No More Hot Dogs! We deserve better food!’ [Young People’s group, Northampton]

In and around Youth Work Week 2017, In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] organised in partnership with a range of other organisations and institutions a series of events entitled, ‘Is the tide turning?’ These gatherings, comprising differing numbers of volunteers, workers, managers, students, academics and young people, sought to grapple with the question of whether a new political climate, perhaps more favourable to youth work, was emerging. Over 250 people were involved in the process.

Inevitably the discussions were haunted by the past and continued dismembering of Local Authority [LA] youth services, accompanied by widespread accommodation to government diktat, whilst at one and the same time being informed by innovative efforts to keep informal youth work alive.

Against this rich backcloth of commentary on the present state of play, this paper marks another stage in the attempt to identify a set of proposals for the future, which could be used in dialogue with what we term the progressive wing of British politics, those parties indicating a willingness to ditch neoliberalism and austerity – the Labour Party, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and increasingly the Liberal Democrats. By neoliberalism, we mean the forcible imposition of market relations upon public services, an unswerving belief in the imperative of competition and self-centred individualism, underpinned by a deep-seated hostility to social solidarity. In our opinion these fundamentals of neoliberalism are utterly at odds with a young person-centred, process-led, cooperative and collective youth work.

The following is a second draft, following further exploration at a February Youth&Policy conference in Leeds, which will be taken to the ninth IDYW national conference at the beginning of March. The responses to the key questions posed are divided into those of possible consensus and those of potential contradiction.

It is important to emphasise that this summary is our best effort at capturing in a concise form the main elements of the debate. It does not represent in some way an In Defence of Youth Work position. It represents the material that has to be taken into account if IDYW is to formulate a clear and cutting perspective of its own. Indeed our national conference will be asked directly to grapple with the question of whether IDYW is capable of doing so.

 

Should Local Authority youth services be reopened, or are there different ways that state-supported youth work can be organised?

We should note that several groups felt that the question ought to have been ‘Should Local Authority youth services be reopened and are there different ways that state-supported youth work can be organised?’

Points of consensus:

  • There is significant support for the reawakening of youth work within Local Authorities, which is not necessarily the same as the reopening of the Local Authority youth service. The rejuvenation of a distinctive, state-supported youth work focused on inclusive, open access provision in centres and on the streets, together with targeted interventions emerging from this provision, is seen as flowing from a radical and complementary partnership between the local authority and a diverse and pluralist voluntary sector. There is no question of returning to what went before.
  • The specific character of the provision should be decided at a local level via ways of organising that eschew the hierarchy and bureaucracy often associated with LA Youth Services, insisting on the democratic involvement of young people and the community, alongside politicians, officers, workers and, very importantly, representatives from the voluntary youth sector with status and ‘clout’.
  • Inter-agency working is seen as vital. However youth workers should retain their independence rather than being absorbed into inter-agency teams/schools/youth justice with a subsequent loss of identity. A community development approach is seen as important.
  • It is recognised that we need to explore the success or otherwise of alternative models of provision born out of the demolition of LA Youth Services, such as mutuals, foundations and youth boards, the role of Town and Parish councils, not forgetting the reasons for survival of some Youth Services, such as Nottinghamshire. IDYW is at present collecting a range of case studies to inform this exploration.
  • Youth Work as informal education should return to its home in the Department of Education.
  • Even as Brexit looms youth work should increasingly have an international and global dimension.
  • More action research needs to be done on the emergence of digital youth work.

Points of concern and contradiction:

  • There is concern that there is no turning back, the shifts and changes, the loss of buildings precluding a renaissance.
  • There is anxiety and suspicion about a possible return to Local Authority regulation and dominance. For example the growth in recent years of a vibrant LBTQ network owes much to its independence from the stifling ‘new managerialism’, often dominant in LA’s.
  • There is a feeling that youth work’s identity has been eroded to the extent that we now describe in our anxiety more or less any form of work with young people as youth work. The case for youth work as a distinctive practice is being weakened by the understandable shift in recent years to ‘blurring the boundaries’ between it and, for example, youth social work, youth justice, pastoral care and youth counselling.

 

What principles should underpin the revival of open youth work?

Points of consensus:

  • The IDYW cornerstones of practice are seen as a sound basis, namely the primacy of the voluntary relationship; a critical dialogue starting from young people’s agendas; support for young people’s autonomous activity; engaging with the ‘here and now’; the nurturing of young people-led democracy; and the significance of the skilled, improvisatory worker.
  • Open youth work should be universal, accessible and inclusive, which does not mean that, for example, specific work with young women, BME and LGBTQ young people is at odds with this principle. It should be associational, conversational and relational, opposed to oppression and exploitation, collective rather than individual in its intent.
  • Ironically it needs to be understood that open access, universal provision is more effective than imposed, targeted work in reaching young people, suffering from the consequences of social policies antagonistic to their needs.
  • It needs to be recognised that youth work outcomes are complex and longitudinal as well as simple and immediate. This is the context, within which questions of impact, measurement and judgement need to be debated.
  • Youth Work’s fundamental aspiration is profoundly educational and political – to play its part in the nurturing of the questioning, compassionate young citizen, whose existence is essential to democracy and the common good.

Points of concern and contradiction:

  • Today’s emphasis on ‘safe spaces’ is in tension with ‘taking risks’, threatening to sanitise practice.
  • The dominant tendency to claim that youth work is preventative, for example, reducing anti-social behaviour, together with the attempted monetisation of its interventions, undermines the educational ethos of practice.
  • The standards for youth workers recently circulated by the NYA with their emphasis on behaviours, structured programmes and activities lacks any recognition of the improvised, conversational practice at the heart of open youth work.
  • A significant number of workers have embraced rather than resisted both a behavioural, individualised practice and been seduced by the attraction of structured day-time employment. Is the tradition of improvisatory youth work being fatally undermined?
  • Given limited resources, some voices within the debate argue for prioritising the needs of the vulnerable rather than reasserting the universal.

 

How can these changes be made feasible in terms of funding, infrastructure and staffing?

Points of consensus:

  • There is strong support for a statutory and sustained stream of central and local government funding, informed by a formula based on a specified age range with weightings for disadvantage/deprivation. However both the age range and the character of the weightings needs further debate. In terms of the former, arguments are made to reduce the lower age to 9/10 years old, the upper age to 25.
  • However, the purpose and allocation of this funding should be decided at a local level through democratic mechanisms, which favour cooperation rather than competition in terms of distribution and which identify processes of accountability, which value the qualitative above the quantitative.
  • The National Citizen Service should be cut or even closed and its funding ploughed into all-year round youth work, which might well include summer activities and residentials.
  • Dedicated young people’s spaces are vital, within which dissent is valued. Street work should be expanded. Mobile resources should be developed, particularly in rural areas.
  • JNC terms and conditions should return to being the foundation for workers employed by local authorities. Youth Work should be reasserted as a profession in its own right.
  • Training and continuous professional development at a Local Authority level is essential and again should be open to significant local influence. Level One to Three training course with flexibility in terms of the curriculum should be available to both paid and voluntary workers from all youth organisations in an authority. Confident, skilled workers are crucial.
  • Supervision of workers should be prioritised as the creative means through which practice is interpreted, enhanced and judged.
  • The revival of staff meetings as a collective and supportive reference point is vital.
  • Much closer links should be built with the youth work training agencies, regional youth work units and research centres, including the Centre for Youth Impact, whilst the NYA should reassert its role as a national, critical youth work voice.
  • The renewed local authority youth service in its plurality and totality should have a public relations strategy aimed at the wider community and politicians.

Points of concern and contradiction:

  • There is a real danger of underestimating the damage done to the infrastructure and morale of workers by the prolonged assault on youth services across the country. In some areas workers are reduced to ’fire-fighting and crisis intervention’.
  • The ‘ metric’ world of commissioning, outsourcing and competition, the insidious presence of the market within the work, is seen as simply normal.
  • The insistence on JNC as the reference for qualification, pay and conditions, together with the notion of a closed profession [the license to practice] sit uneasily with the past and present situation, whereby in reality a range of pay scales and qualifications are to be found, together with a host of experienced and capable voluntary and paid workers from other backgrounds.
  • Insufficient attention has been given to the role of supposed philanthropy in the creation of provision, witness the Onside Youth Zones initiative, funded by a mix of private and state finance, which advocates for open youth work, even though it emerges on the back of closures and cuts.

 

There are no conclusions to this summary as it remains the subject of continued debate. Indeed, separate from how it might be used within IDYW, we think it has merit as a catalyst for discussion in all manner of youth work situations, from team meetings to training courses.

However, from an IDYW point of view, we hope that it will stimulate the reader to attend our national conference or failing that to send any thoughts/ criticisms to Tony Taylor at tonymtaylor@gmail.com

 

The IDYW tide turning Y&P 2nd draft in Word for printing/circulating. Thanks.

 

Is the tide turning? IDYW 9th national conference, March 9 – book your place

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THE NINTH IDYW NATIONAL CONFERENCE
FRIDAY, MARCH 9 at THE BIRMINGHAM SETTLEMENT, ASTON

‘Swimming with or against a turning tide? Where should youth work be heading?’

Towards the end of last year a series of regional ‘Is the tide turning?’ events were held around the country. As a result, we are attempting to draw out of these diverse discussions a coherent set of proposals and demands that might be put to what we see as the progressive wing of British politics, those parties willing to ditch the damaging legacy of neoliberalism – namely Labour, the Greens, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru and increasingly the Liberal Democrats. The conference will be our collective opportunity to debate and revise both the purpose and content of such a policy paper. As last year we are organising on the basis that the starting time will help those travelling longer distances and that you will have consumed your lunch in advance.

PROGRAMME
12.00 Arrivals, socialising – drinks available. Participants responsible for own lunch.
12.30 Welcome, housekeeping
12.45 – 1.05 Presentation of the major themes in our draft set of proposals. These will have been circulated in advance.
1.05 – 2.00 Small group discussion about and responses to the proposals
2.00 – 2.15 Break
2.15 – 3.00 Implications for the workforce with UNISON, UNITE and the Institute for Youth Work
3.00 – 4.00 Implications for the purpose and culture of youth work practice with Centre for Youth Impact, Training Agencies Group and National Youth Agency
4.00 – 4.15 Break
4.15 – 5.00 Final session, initially in small groups: ‘What might we do next?’

Cost will be £10 minimum waged, £5 student/unwaged – payable on the day
To book a place contact Rachel at info.IDYW@gmail.com

We hope you will join us in the supportive and reflective atmosphere, which over the years has characterised IDYW debates.

 

 

IDYW National Conference, Friday, March 9 in Birmingham – put the date in the diary

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ADVANCE NOTICE

THE NINTH IDYW NATIONAL CONFERENCE 

FRIDAY, MARCH 9 at THE BIRMINGHAM SETTLEMENT

‘Swimming with or against a turning tide? Where should youth work be heading?’

from 12.30 – 4.30 p.m.

Towards the end of last year a series of regional ‘Is the tide turning?’ events were held around the country. As a result, we are attempting to draw out of these diverse discussions a coherent set of proposals and demands that might be put to what we see as the progressive wing of British politics, those parties willing to ditch the damaging legacy of neoliberalism – namely Labour, the Greens, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru and increasingly the Liberal Democrats. The conference will be our collective opportunity to debate and revise both the purpose and content of such a policy paper.

As last year we are organising on the basis that the starting time will help those travelling longer distances and that you will have consumed your lunch in advance.

PROVISIONAL PROGRAMME

12.00 Arrivals, socialising – drinks available. Participants responsible for own lunch.

12.30 Welcome, housekeeping 

12.45 – 1.05 Presentation of the major themes in our draft set of proposals. These will have been circulated in advance. 

1.05 – 2.00 Small group discussion about and responses to the proposals

2.00 – 2.15 Break

2.15 – 3.00 Responses to the proposals from invited representatives from the wider youth sector, such as the National Youth Agency, UK Youth, the Training Agencies Group, UNITE/UNISON and the Centre for Youth Impact

3.00 – 4.00 Further small group exploration of how our proposals might be taken forward

4.00 – 4.30 Taking a collective breath as to what we might do next?

 

More information soon. In the meantime please spread the word, knowing the conference as ever will take place in the supportive and reflective atmosphere, that characterises IDYW debate and is deeply appreciated by participants. And that the conference fee will definitely not break the bank!

 

 

The LGA vision for Youth Services – Bernard Davies asks, ‘where is the youth work?’

Further to our earlier post re the LGA/NYA conference in London on Wednesday, we can now direct you to the LGA publication, Bright Futures: our vision for youth services. In its words – helping children and young people to fulfil their potential is a key ambition of all councils, but our children’s services are under increasing pressure. This resource forms part of the LGA’s Bright Futures campaign – our call for fully funded children’s services.

 

Responding immediately Bernard Davies sounds a welcoming note of caution.

A Local Government Association vision – for Youth Services but not for youth work

 

Any kind of forward thinking for ‘Youth Services’ is rare enough these days, as the present government has again demonstrated by apparently binning its plans to lay out a youth policy. A new ‘vision’ for these Services is therefore more than welcome, not least perhaps when it comes from an organisation with the potential clout of the Local Government Association (LGA). To be even more optimistic, its new paper could even be taken as validation for IDYW posing the question: ‘So – is the tide turning?’

 

What’s more, this one has some proposals which resonate strongly with some parts of our own current discussion paper:

  • It starts from a view of young people as citizens now – as ‘a valued and respected part of the community whose needs and wishes are considered equally with those of other groups’.
  • It describes young people’s voices as ‘central’ to any offer to be made to them, including their role in service design and operation.
  • It gives unqualified endorsement to their ‘choos(ing) to attend many services on a voluntary basis’ – and to ‘provision structured around their needs locally’, including ‘universal. open access provision’.
  • It argues for services to ‘focus on developing the skills and attributes of young people, rather than attempting to “fix a problem”’.

 

It also takes up some specific policy positions which for the present and indeed all recent governments will sound like heresy. On the NCS for example, also echoing a proposal in our own paper, it suggests

… the devolution of a portion of NCS funding to local authorities to support local provision for young people, expanding the reach of NCS funding from a time-limited programme to ongoing support and an enhanced local offer.

It also wants to see the Government explicitly include responsibility for young people within a Ministerial portfolio, to champion young people within government. And, though it continues to take as a given that local councils should remain the body with overall statutory responsibility for these services, it nonetheless explicitly encourages a search for ‘alternative delivery models’ including ‘Young People’s Foundations (to) bring together the public, private, voluntary and community sector…’

 

And yet, and yet – in no particular order:

  • Why must a paper like this just assume that commissioning is the only way of sharing out public money?
  • Why does it not challenge the statutory limit placed on local authorities’ responsibilities as extending ‘only as far as possible’ given how this has been used repeatedly as an excuse for cutting local Youth Services’ funding?
  • Why in the whole of the document is staff training considered only in relation to ‘safeguarding’?
  • Why, in its wholly uncritical treatment of ‘outcomes’, does the paper never raise the need to develop different methods for assessing these for different practices – and especially of course for an open access, young people-led practice like youth work?

 

Which brings me finally to the most blatant and damaging absence in the paper: where in fact is the youth work? As such, it gets two passing references in a 3.600-word paper, when for example, alongside ‘youth offending team officers and mental health workers’, youth workers are listed as ‘skilled practitioners’. However, even here, what is highlighted is these practitioners’ purportedly ‘expert knowledge’ for ‘identify(ing) potential issues that require further investigation’ and not the distinctive features of their face-to-face practice. Yet it these which, for so many young people, turn out to be crucial to their actually getting engaged in the first place and ultimately often therefore to their willingness to open themselves up to some striking, personally developmental experiences.     

 

Even amongst policy-makers with such positive intentions and commitments, it seems, turning the tide for that practice has clearly still some way to go.