Bernard Davies responds to Labour’s skewed youth work vision

Further to our post questioning the direction of the recent Labour Party commitment to youth services, Reviving Youth Work as Soft-Policing: Labour Party Policy? you will find below a letter to the Guardian from Bernard Davies, which was sadly not published.

 

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Bernard listens attentively to Jon Ord – ta to Justin Wylie for the photo

TO THE GUARDIAN

A commitment by one of the main political parties to require councils to provide a minimum level of local youth provision (‘Labour vows to rebuild youth services’, 31 July) is to be welcomed after the way those services have been devastated under ‘austerity’. As a sign that it is taking this seriously, it is good to know, too, that it has commissioned its own research to support other findings that council spending on these services has fallen by at least 50% since 2012.

For those of us who were involved in youth work before all this started, however, Labour’s rationale for its policy in very depressing. Without in any way denying the importance of tackling youth crime, and in particular knife crime, it is surely worth restating that most of the up to nearly 30% of the 10-15 age group who were using or sampling youth work facilities in 2013 were not actual or even potential criminals. Whether they engaged as a member of a now abandoned club or through a now closed-down detached work project, the work started from the interests and concerns they brought with them and had unashamedly educational and developmental goals. It thus assumed their potential and sought to encourage and support them to go, not just to where they’d never been before, but to where, individually and with their peers, they might never have dreamed of going. Along the way, of course, the practice might also often turn out to be ‘preventative’ of all sorts of less positive outcomes.

Why is a party which claims to be breaking out of the dominant neo-liberal ways of making policy adopting such unimaginative, conformist and indeed negative aspirations in its approach to this, for young people, crucial area of public services?

Sincerely,

Bernard Davies

Clearly, it is incumbent on us to respond to the Labour Party [LP] consultation led by Cat Smith, the party’s shadow youth minister. We’ll do a separate post this week explaining how to make a submission. It’s not necessary to be an LP member to be involved.

 

REVIVING YOUTH WORK AND REIMAGINING A YOUTH SERVICE : IDYW STARTING POINTS

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Find below the 16 Starting Points, which reflect our IDYW interpretation of the rich debates held both under the ‘Is the tide turning?’ banner and at our March national conference. We hope that you will find them useful as a reference point, as an aide-memoire, in the diversity of meetings you’ll find yourself in during the coming, perhaps turbulent months. The Starting Points leaflet, available in Word, was well received at Monday’s Chooseyouth event. Obviously, given the pluralist character of IDYW, we’re not expecting anyone to slavishly follow these to the letter. Indeed initial critical reaction focused on point 11 and the issue of appropriate pay and conditions.

 

IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK – STARTING POINTS*

REVIVING YOUTH WORK AND REIMAGINING A YOUTH SERVICE

  1. Youth Work’s fundamental aspiration is profoundly educational, political and universal. It seeks to nurture the questioning, compassionate young citizen committed to the development of a socially just and democratic society. It is not a soft-policing instrument of social control.
  2. YouthWork as an integral element in education from cradle to grave should be situated in the Department for Education.
  3. The rejuvenation of a distinctive, state-supported Youth Work focused on inclusive, open access provision needs to be based on a radically different and complementary relationship between the Local Authority and a pluralist, independent voluntary sector.
  4. The renewed practice needs to be sustained by statutory and consistent funding, the purpose and allocation of which ought to be determined locally via accountable mechanisms, such as a democratic Youth Work ‘council’ made up of young people, youth workers, voluntary sector representatives, managers and politicians.
  5. Collaborative work across agencies is vital, but youth workers need to retain their identity and autonomy rather than be absorbed into multi-disciplinary teams.
  6. Youth Work should be associational and conversational, opposed to oppression and exploitation, collective rather than just individual in its intent, unfolding at a pace in tune with the forging of authentic and trusting relationships with young people.
  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, Black and Minority Ethnic 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. The informed focus on young people’s needs flowing from open access provision is more effective than imposed, targeted work in reaching ‘vulnerable’ youth.
  9. Youth Work does not write a script of prescribed outcomes in advance of meeting a young person. It trusts in a person-centred, process-led practice that is positive and unique, producing outcomes that are sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often unexpected and often longitudinal. Practice must be evaluated and accountable, but not distorted by the drive for data, the desire to measure the intangible.
  10. Training and continuous professional development, particularly through the discipline of supervision, via the HE institutions and local providers is essential for full-time, part-time and volunteer workers in ensuring the quality of practice.
  11. JNC and other nationally agreed pay scales and conditions need to be defended and extended. However, a respectful engagement with the differing cultures and employment practices of voluntary and faith organisations, with the contradictions of professionalisation, is required. The emergence of independent social enterprise initiatives cannot be ignored.
  12. Closer links need to be renewed and created between the Youth Work training agencies, regional Youth Work units and research centres.
  13. Youth Work needs advocates at a national level, such as the NYA and Institute for Youth Work, but these must be prepared to be voices of criticism and dissent.
  14. Irrespective of Brexit, Youth Work ought to embrace the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention [2015] and be internationalist in outlook.
  15. 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.
  16. The renaissance we urge hinges on a break from the competitive market and the self-centred individualism of neoliberalism and the [re]creation of a Youth Work dedicated to cooperation and the common good.

*These starting points are developed from the themes of the extensive Is the Tide Turning consultation IDYW engaged in over the last year, and discussions at our Annual Conference in March 2018

REVIVING YOUTH WORK AND REIMAGINING A YOUTH SERVICE2 – Word version.

Please photocopy and circulate as you think fit. Thanks.