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.



On being heard in your own country, on being heard in Europe

There’s a famous passage in the New Testament, in which Jesus reflects that a prophet might well find it difficult to be heard on their own patch. This observation sprang to mind on hearing that both the IDYW cornerstones and our Story-Telling approach to unravelling the character of practice are at the heart of a new European publication looking at impact and evaluation. I’ll hand over to Bernard Davies, who coordinates our work on Story-Telling, to continue the tale.


Studying the Impact of International Youth Work – Towards developing an evaluation tool for youth centres reports on a research project funded by the European Erasmus + programme and carried out in Finland, Estonia and Slovenia. Written by Anu Gretschel, the senior researcher, in co-operation with academic and practitioner colleagues from all three of the participating countries, it has been published by the Helsinki: Finnish Youth Centres Association, the Finnish Youth Research Society and the Finnish Youth Research Network.

Particularly significant – and encouraging – for IDYW is the project’s development of the IDYW youth work story-telling process as one of its main research methods. To analyse the evidence coming out of the stories this generated, it then used a version of the IDYW Cornerstones of youth work practice which we subsequently revised to highlight the importance of giving attention to young people’s class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith. The report also includes references to our This is Youth Work stories book (now supplemented by the booklet of youth work stories produced by Warwickshire youth workers) and to the IDYW story-telling web resource.

For demonstrating open access youth work’s ‘impacts’ and ‘outcomes’, this international recognition of a qualitative ‘methodology’ like youth work story-telling and ‘measures’ such as the IDYW Cornerstones is welcome and indeed overdue. Statistical ‘tick boxing’, certainly in England, continues to obsess politicians, policy-makers and also many academics to the point where not only have their demands distorted how the practice is understood, but also how it is actually implemented. Those controlling the purse strings have ended up concluding that this practice cannot be supported because, against their narrowly defined criteria, it can’t prove its effectiveness.

Indeed, by using youth work story-telling in these ways, our European colleagues have done something which in IDYW we have talked about from time to time but not actually followed through in a systematic way. My experience has been that our primary focus in workshop groups has been to ‘unpack’ a story and the youth work process it exemplifies in order to prompt practitioners and students to identify what is distinctive about their practice. This, we hope, will help strengthen their identity as youth workers and enable them to become clearer and more robust in communicating its defining (and effective) features to significant audiences – not least those sceptical policy-makers. Though story-telling’s potential for demonstrating how the practice touches young people’s lives often becomes clear as a by-product, this has not been our priority – which for us gives this new report even greater significance.

Given how the researchers defined and applied some of the IDYW Cornerstones, the report also offers some challenging prompts for further discussion and debate within IDYW networks and indeed beyond on how we have been understanding and explaining these crucial signifiers of our practice.

Bernard Davies

The research is available as an e-book at

I’m sure both our Finnish friends and ourselves would welcome comments and criticism.

The use of story-telling to look at responses to sexual abuse in Argentina


We’ve been taken aback by the global interest in our advocacy of story-telling as a  subjective, qualitative and comparable attempt to illustrate the distinctiveness of informal youth work. Indeed partial translations of our web resource, Story-Telling in Youth Work  have appeared in Russian, Kazakh and Finnish with a Japanese version in the offing.

And now Colin Brent has posted a fascinating translation of a piece by Alejandro Capriati, Researcher at CONICET/University of Buenos Aires entitled, ‘The use of story-telling to look at responses to sexual abuse in Argentina.’

Alejandro begins:

Story-telling in Youth Work is a process used by workers, tutors and students that work with young people. In England many of them are government-employed youth workers specially trained for working with young people that are not part of formal education or health services and work in open-access spaces for young people. These have few restrictions on young people’s engagement and are spaces where young people can hang out, take part in a great range of activities (radio, music, art, courses, cooking, etc.), or just do nothing. Each youth centre works in its own way, but is based on the principal of voluntary engagement, and has a focus on relationships, the building of trust between young people and workers, and personal development. From that starting point, some young people may reengage with formal education, report abuse, get support with substance misuse, etc.

There are similarities and differences in the work with young people in English youth centres and in certain projects in Argentina carried out by charities or as part of some social programmes. Looking at these comparisons has been the focus point of a collaboration with Colin Brent, a manager of a youth centre in London, with the aim of adapting our practice and sharing experiences. As part of this exchange of ideas I have taken up using the story-telling technique.

This technique can be used face-to-face in work with young people; as a resource for organisation change through staff training, supervision and monitoring; to communicate the value of youth work; and to evaluate projects. The general aim is for youth workers and their colleagues to have a clear idea of what is distinct in their practise and how this is important for the young people, using critical reflexion about methods of intervention to identify successes, challenges and inconclusive processes.

The objective is for participants to be able to critically reflect on the uniqueness of youth work through describing and analysing an example of practice, exploring the meaning of it for themselves and for the young people. Of course, the idea is to adapt the technique to each situation and context, and below I share our experience.

Continue here

The web resource also includes the Spanish original at El uso del relato de caso (story-telling) para pensar las respuestas a casos de abuso sexual en Argentina

IDYW Storytelling in Brighton


3-groups Brighton

Thanks to Sophie Holgate for the photo and report on the IDYW Storytelling Workshop held at the Brighton Youth Centre as part of Brighton’s Youth Arts Festival. It begins:

On Thursday 2nd June the In Defence of Youth Work team including Sue, Tanya and Adam came to BYC to do a storytelling workshop with young people and youth workers to discuss Youth Work and what it means.

The first talking point was the group discussing in twos and threes “What Makes Good Youth Work?” and below are some of the key points that came up:

  • Friendly youth workers
  • Adaptable to different people and age groups
  • Respectful of acknowledging young peoples individuality and skills
  • Reliable and trustworthy
  • Fun
  • Important for young people to be able to have freedom of speech at a youth centre and feel safe to discuss things with the youth workers there.
  • Young people led rather than youth workers pushing young people towards an activity that is already there.
  • General and more specific youth work to be able to include everyone and cater to everyone’s needs.

Read and see more at


Story-Telling at the Brighton Youth Arts Festival



JUNE 2 @ 1:00 PM4:00 PM

| Free

Youth work: Share your stories! The story-telling workshop, facilitated by In Defence of Youth Work, will bring youth workers and young people together to explore what youth work means, how it works, and how it can be sustained and developed.


Brighton Youth Centre
64 Edward Street
Brighton, BN2 0JR United Kingdom
+ Google Map
01273 681368

Story-Telling in Russian, Kazakh and Finnish

story telling 2

I’m reminded of the biblical saying about prophets not being recognised in their own backyard, but I know I pompously exaggerate. Our attempt to offer an alternative qualitative way of evaluating youth work via our Story-Telling book, web resource and workshops, that focuses on the process of practice, the ‘how’, rather than its alleged impact, has been met with enthusiasm by a goodly number of workers, managers and academics. Yet we remain on the margins of the continuing debate about youth work [or should that be, the youth sector?] and its impact.

Hence it’s a boost to our spirits to find that sections of our original ‘This is Youth Work’ book have been translated into both Russian and Kazakh – see our web resource, Story-Telling in Youth Work. A Japanese translation is also in the offing. And in the latest expression of an international interest in our endeavours Jon Ord ran a bilingual Story-Telling workshop at a major youth conference in Finland last week. Here are the IDYW cornerstones of practice in Finnish.


Nuorisotyötä puolustamassa (IDYW, Iso-Britannia) nuorisotyön ’kulmakivet’


  • tapahtuu avoimesti saavutettavissa olevassa paikassa ja puitteissa, joissa mukana olemisesta nuoret ovat itse päättäneet;
  • tarjoaa mahdollisuuksia informaaliseen oppimiseen lähtien liikkeelle asioista, joille nuorten mielestä voisi tehdä jotain, ja heidän kiinnostuksensa kohteista;
  • työskentelee nuorten vertaisverkostojen ja niitäkin laajempien identiteettitason samaistumiskohteiden kanssa ja niiden kautta;
  • antaa arvoa ja huomiota nuorten olemiselle tässä ja nyt, kuten myös heidän siirtymilleen;
  • pyrkii keikauttamaan valta-asemat nuoren eduksi;
  • pyrkii edistämään luottamusta ja molemminpuolisesti arvostavien henkilökohtaisten suhteiden syntymistä sekä nuorten keskuudessa että nuorten ja aikuisten välillä;
  • huomioi nuorisotyöntekijöiden itsensä merkityksen, antaa tilaa itsenäiseen harkintaan ja valmiuteen toimia improvisoidulla mutta kuitenkin varmalla tavalla


Talking about Impact : Story-Telling does the Business

Paula Connaughton from the University of Bolton  and the IDYW Steering Group  explores once more the positive impact of our Story Telling Workshop initiative, in this particular case facilitated by her, Bernard Davies and Paul Hogan in Athlone, Ireland, an event arranged by Youth Officers from the Education and Training Board (ETB).

Athlone 1


Over two days there were three programmes with each one consisting of introductions, workshops and debriefings with over 50 participants, including Youth Officers, paid youth workers, and volunteers; the first day scheduled for paid workers and the second day for volunteers. Over the course of these two days, it emerged that a number of the Youth Officers were aware of IDYW storytelling workshops held by Bernard Davies in Limerick, and some participants were familiar with the web-resource on storytelling. Organiser, Michael Kelly, Youth Officer for Galway Roscommon ETB, contacted Bernard Davies to arrange an IDYW visit to Athlone. During initial conversations, it was clear there were challenges to youth work similar to that in the UK, and that IDYW storytelling workshops would help Youth Officers in supporting youth workers to not only understand the process of the work they do, but would also provide them with an alternative means of evidencing work. This was particularly evident when we received the National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) document s – one for paid workers and for voluntary leaders – so that we could gain a sense of what participants might refer to during the workshops. Indeed, from day one participants, paid and unpaid workers, discussed the strain of evidencing core NQSF principles.


At the request of Youth Officers, we had prepared our own personal youth work stories as introductions to both days, as Michael Kelly explained, participants would be interested in facilitators own backgrounds and their feelings about youth work. This proved to be a worthy addition to the IDYW usual programme, as Youth Officers commented.

‘The training was excellent, facilitators related very well to participants by sharing their own stories so openly and truthfully’

‘I thought the introductions and stories from the three facilitators were excellent – very informative, honest and set the scene for the training workshop’


On the morning of day one, participants were placed in one of three groups, as facilitators were running workshops simultaneously. The storytelling followed the usual IDYW format with participants reading through the IDYW ‘cornerstones’, before going onto describe an example of their practice which represented them practising as a youth worker, and subsequently ‘unpicking’ a chosen story. As is not unusual in these sessions, group members at times needed to be encouraged to go beyond seeking background information or linking the practice example to wider youth work issues and concentrate on digging deep into its processes in order to clarify how and why it was distinctively youth work.


During the debriefing session, all participants from the three groups discussed ways to use the storytelling technique in their workplaces with an agreement that the ‘who, why, where, what and how’ questions would support workers in their reflective practice, and that the cornerstones would help them to identify the process of their work.Youth Officers also discussed how using the storytelling technique would help them to support youth workers in exploring and demonstrating outcomes, and provide a means of evidencing good youth work with plenty of scope to document indicators and evidence of NQSF.

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