Easter Sustenance for the Senses 2 – Community Education, Mental Health, Military Schools, Queensland and Civil Society


As ever a stimulating array of pieces from our friends at CONCEPT.


Vol 9 No 1 (2018): Spring




This article poses more than a few questions with regard to youth work’s growing infatuation with a skewed and individualised notion of mental health, well-being and indeed happiness – see the reference to NCS.


Jennie Bristow argues that government plans for ‘Mental Health First Aid’ risk pathologising ordinary childhood while doing little for those with more serious difficulties.

For a brief moment, I thought this was an April Fools’ story.

Government to consider plans for ‘military schools’

The government is considering the introduction of a ‘military ethos’ in schools across the UK to help children from deprived backgrounds. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has commissioned MP Robert Goodwill to review the benefits of an education inspired by the ‘values and disciplines’ of the Armed Forces.

Across the oceans, our friends at Youth Affairs Network Queensland [YANQ] have published the findings of a 2017 Youth Sector survey. The following brief excerpt is likely to ring a bell or two.

                  Sivayash Doostkhah, YANQ

Findings of Queensland Youth Sector Survey 2017

Survey responses repeatedly identified that services are under-funded and under-resourced
to meet the level of service demand (both in terms of intensity of service provision and numerical demand). Funding agreements are overly prescriptive and restrictive, dictating short-term, output-focused service delivery models. As such, services are hamstrung from achieving their full potential to be innovative and respond effectively to the real needs of young people within the context of their individual circumstances.

The combination of funding criteria and competition-based tendering were seen as creating a sector culture that encourages ‘siloed’ service delivery. Organisations become inward focused and are increasingly operating independently of other services. Service delivery becomes focused on narrow, specified outcomes at the expense of addressing the inter-related needs affecting young people’s long-term outcomes. Funding criteria also effectively preference funding to large NGO’s at the expense of experienced, specialist local agencies that typically have a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of local community and youth needs.

Respondents also described the constant change imposed by the lack of funding security inherent in short-term contracts and defunding of programs. This impacts support relationships with young people and inhibits services’ capacity to offer ongoing support over time for young people with multiple complex needs. It also
fosters a sector culture plagued with uncertainty that makes it difficult for organisations to undertake long term agency-level planning and offer job security to staff.

Staying in Australia a searching article, Whatever happened to civil society by Vern Hughes echoes the findings of the NCIA Inquiry into the Future of the Voluntary Services. to which IDYW contributed.

In the last 40 years the architecture of voluntary citizen action has been transformed. Why aren’t we fighting back?

He begins:

At the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, ‘civil society’ is referenced in virtually every presentation and fireside conversation. The world, it seems, no longer consists of two sectors—public and private, state and market—there is a third: NGOs and INGOs, charities and philanthropists, human rights watchdogs, aid and development agencies and global environmental campaigns to name but a few. The ‘Third Sector’ has arrived, and Its CEOs now mingle seamlessly with those from banks, energy companies, media giants and government agencies.

The problem with this embrace of ‘civil society’ is that it bears little resemblance to what civil society actually is or means. Most of civil society is not constituted formally or headed up by a CEO. Just 40 years ago, very few not-for-profits or charities had CEOs at all: that term was associated with the corporate sector, and few community groups or charities had even contemplated mimicking the language and culture of such a different sphere. But in just four decades all this has changed, and it has changed at an extraordinarily rapid rate, with very little public discussion or scrutiny of the enormity of the organizational transformation involved and its social and political impact.

He suggests in a provocation to many of us:

The principal factor, however, in driving both the transformation of the social sector and the relatively low level of critical public debate about it has been the global rise of the managerial class and its capture of much of the not-for-profit world. In the wake of the 1960s/1970s social movements, governments invested heavily in a plethora of welfare state programs and services, and universities churned out an army of social science practitioners with an insatiable demand for things to manage.

Not-for-profits and charities were easy pickings, so voluntary associations of all kinds were transformed into instruments of service delivery, ‘community representation’ and ‘therapeutic welfare’ in the public interest. Traditional bodies such as the Red Cross, the YMCA, church missions and voluntary health societies fell like dominos to ‘management capture’ and quickly became unrecognisable to those who knew them a generation before.




Defending Youth Work in Queensland – different yet the same!

QLD conf 1


I flew to Australia in some trepidation. Would my contribution on behalf of our Campaign to the Queensland State of Youth Affairs conference in Brisbane strike a chord amongst its participants? My misgiving was misplaced. Whilst I don’t want to pretend all was harmony and light, far from it, our definition of youth work and our critique of the Outcomes agenda did resonate strongly with the conference’s diverse audience of workers, managers, researchers and academics. Our reflections were welcomed with an appropriate mix of enthusiasm and caution. In the coming days and weeks we will post a variety of material from the proceedings, including the conference summaries being prepared by Suzi Quixley, who womanfully overcame an exhausting virus to fulfil her coordinating role. Without doubt there is a positive desire to continue and strengthen a critical dialogue between ourselves and the organisation, Youth Affairs Network Queensland [YANQ], of which more as our relationship unfolds. I flew back energised by the experience.

For now I’ll content myself with some preliminary observations to set the ball rolling.

QLD conf 2

1. The event opened dramatically with a prologue of Murri dances, symbolic of YANQ’s commitment to engaging directly and respectfully with the Indigenous peoples and cultures of the State. For a critical overview of the relationship of Australian society to its Indigenous peoples, published this very week, see John Pilger’s ‘Australia is a land of excuses, not the land of the fair go’.

Sivayash Doostkhah

Sivayash Doostkhah

2. Siyavash Doostkhah, the director of YANQ, outlined its radical history as a critical voice in the arenas of youth policy and practice. Sadly, but inevitably in the present climate this tradition was threatened by the loss of many workers and projects in recent years, the withdrawal of funding to the organisation and the state government’s attempt to gag advocacy and dissent. He challenged the conference to debate the future of YANQ, stressing that it could no longer do things on other groups’ behalf.  If YANQ was to survive as a campaigning mouthpiece its members had to step up to the mark and take responsibility for its future.

Taylor in full flow!

Taylor in full flow!

3. Reassuringly my two keynote contributions on our Campaign itself and on Outcomes, the latter based on Threatening Youth Work : The Illusion of Outcomes did connect with the participants, even amongst those who disagreed with my analysis.  My Lancashire drawl and sense of humour seemed to be well-received!

Liz Archer and Tony Taylor

Liz Archer and Tony Taylor

4. Frustratingly I was only able to attend one workshop from the rich variety of choices, ranging from ‘Alternative Education’ to ‘Youth Work in a Globalised Society’ to the groundbreaking ‘Sisters Inside’. As presentations become available I’ll do fresh posts as much is relevant to our own situation in the UK. However, in conjunction with my effort to capture the spirit of our Story-Telling project, I was captivated by the Sunshine Narratives presentation made by three student researchers under the guidance of Howard Buckley. Using a narrative approach they had captured the stories of 20 young people involved in youth provision in the Moreton Bay area of Queensland. In this context the Sunshine project is a step ahead of us in collecting young people’s stories. Again I’ll be doing a separate post on this development and there’s a chance we’ll be meeting Howard in person later this year when he’s over in Europe. In addition I was involved in a workshop exploring the Queensland definition of youth work led by Liz Archer, whose imaginative role plays led to passionate debate, illustrating yet again the contested nature of our work. Fascinatingly, given yesterday’s post on the Rotherham Sexual Abuse Scandal, one of the animated disagreements focused on trust, confidentiality and relationships with other agencies.

QLD conf 7


5. The succession of plenaries led expertly by Suzi Quixley  concentrated on drawing out practically future plans of action for both individual agencies and for YANQ. I’ll post the proposals as soon as they become available.

In the continuing conversations in bars and restaurants we began to explore whether YANQ might reach out beyond Queensland and into the Australian scene as a whole. Indeed the idea was floated as to whether there might be an Australian version of the IDYW Open Letter. We’ll follow this tentative proposal with great interest.

In closing this initial report it would be remiss not to thank in particular Siyavash, Greta, Suzi, Liz, Debbie and Phil for the generosity of their hospitality and the sharpness of their thinking. Not forgetting too that I had the great pleasure of going with Phil to watch his team, Newcastle Knights play the Brisbane Broncos. What more could a lad from Wigan desire – a game of rugby league and craft beers by the crate? Sadly Phil’s team got thrashed 48 points to 6. However in true style he accepted defeat philosophically with the classic line, ‘there’s always next year!’ Certainly this won’t be the last time we are involved with our fellow travellers from Down Under.