A July Pot-Pourri of Youth Work News and Opinion

Perhaps our favourite youth work blogger, James Ballantyne asks, ‘When was the last time you had reflective supervision for your youth work? never?

The_Four_Steps_in_Kolb_Cycle.svg

Yet good supervision can do a number of things (and supervision is different from management, or at least management can also include supervision, see my other posts on this topic for more) but good supervision as Joan Tash described in ‘Working with the unattached’ deems supervision to be an ‘experimental relationship’ in which the dreams and ideas of the worker have a space to circulate, fester and be talked through.


 

CYPN features a number of developments.

DCMS logo

Give youth work remit back to DfE, children’s services leaders urge

Children’s services leaders have called for the Department for Education (DfE) to be handed back responsibility for youth work policy.

As part of an evidence submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Youth Affairs inquiry into youth work, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said youth policy has been “cast adrift” from the rest of children’s services since moving to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

 

Guides and Scouts unite for £2.4m expansion push

It would be interesting to see the funding bid and the accompanying definitions of ‘deprived’ and ‘diverse’.

Girlguiding and the Scout Association are seeking to open 200 new units in deprived areas of England by 2020 as part of a £2.4m joint project between the UK’s two largest youth organisations.

 

Council drops plan for youth services mutual

It would be revealing to hear more from the grass-roots about the Young Foundation model developed by the Lyon’s Charity.

A plan to create a mutual to run youth services at a local authority in the north east of England have been dropped.

Hartlepool Council has confirmed that it had been considering setting up a mutual to deliver youth services but decided not to proceed.

“There had been previous proposals to look at a youth service mutual as part of a review of youth service provision, however, the council has since decided to continue with the existing in-house youth service arrangement,” a spokesman said.

As part of its in-house provision, the council has set up a new partnership organisation, called the Hartlepool Young People’s Foundation, which brings the local authority together with local youth services providers to better co-ordinate support for young people.


 

Y&P

YOUTH & POLICY carries a new article,

How does an international student influence youth work policy in Wales and England?

Ken Ebihara is an international youth and community student studying in Wales. He offers his perspective on youth work policies in Wales and England and suggests ways in which international students can influence both policy and practice.

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The cold, hard truth is that many of us cheat to meet targets, to achieve outcomes – teachers and youth workers alike?

fabrication

In a revealing blog the Secret Teacher in the Guardian issues a deeply uncomfortable challenge to the teaching profession –

The cold, hard truth is that many of us cheat to meet targets

He or she begins:

There’s something rotten festering in our schools. It’s the elephant in the room, a skeleton in our closet and the clothes on the emperor. It has afflicted, tarnished and debased our once respected profession. Cheating. The cold, hard truth which we wilfully try to ignore is that, to some degree, almost all of us do it.

In our own critique of the Young Foundation’s Framework for Outcomes with Young People drafted over two years ago we ventured the following points and concerns in terms of youth work..

All of which [ the outcomes agenda]  places the present-day youth worker in an invidious position. Asked to deliver outcomes the inclination, indeed the pressure, is to overlook the potential for debate thrown up bythe possible differing meanings of a young person’s responses to an inventory. The priority is to translate the results into the easily absorbed data, favoured by managers, funders and politicians. The computer’s programme beckons. Its thirst for data is insatiable.

The world of of desired outcomes and desired data cannot bear failure. For a worker to admit that a residential went pear-shaped would be professional suicide. It would be defined as incompetence rather than a sober opportunity to explore with young people what went awry. This fear of getting things wrong reveals itself in an excess of self-congratulatory feedback about events and happenings. Everything seems to be so inspiring, to go so swimmingly well.

Increasingly it is clear that the collecting of the data is proving to be a means of monitoring a worker’s performance, seductive in its simplicity for the manager. As the worker feeds into the computer the score from an initial base-line assessment, the inevitable pressure is for later scores to illustrate improvement. If this is not the case the worker is seen as falling below standard.

 

In the interview, which carried our critique, the question was asked.

I’m sure some people will be deeply offended by the implication that results, the need to compete is undermining the integrity of practice.

My answer was,

Without doubt it is happening.  To put it bluntly the need to meet targets and outcomes leads managers and workers into manipulating and fabricating the data. This this is not about maverick individuals, bad apples. ‘Gaming’, falsifying the figures, is a systemic dilemma. It is the consequence of a flawed approach to evaluating the purpose and quality of practice. As things stand youth work has invested its very soul into the Outcomes project. Whilst workers will talk off the record about malpractice the cost of blowing the whistle would be enormous. It would be perceived as an act of treason.

As it was I hoped to write a fuller response, but I’m away this week. But what do you reckon?

Meanwhile without a backward glance of reflection the leaders of the youth sector press on in a state of determined arrogance and wilful ignorance.

Achieving Outcomes for Children Conference: Evaluation, Evidence and Impact

If you’re involved in the commissioning and delivery of services for children, young people and families, our unrivalled line-up of expert speakers and workshops make this a crucial event to attend. 

 

 

FRAMEWORK OF OUTCOMES : HISTORY, POLITICS, EVEN YOUTH WORK FORGOTTEN?

 FRAMEWORK OF OUTCOMES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE : CONTINUING THE CRITIQUE

Following on from Bernard’s initial comments on Young Foundation’s Framework I would add the following general observations.

1. The Framework is in no sense neutral. Its underpinning assumptions are at one with the dominant neo-liberal ideology of the last three decades. This is so, even as this way of explaining the world is in profound crisis. Within its pages financial austerity is a taken-for-granted. This is so, even as many in the mainstream economic journals call for growth. There are references to the public purse, but none to the private purse, which siphons trillions of pounds into tax havens. Tellingly, in the Framework’s Outcomes model, the benefits to society accruing from the emergence of its ’empowered, resilient young people’ will be ‘less need for health services’, ‘ less dependence on welfare’, ‘not subject to the criminal justice system’ and in a tortuous construction, ‘contribute to the economy through labour market participation’. The latter, I presume, means that the Framework’s ‘mentally tough’ young person will work without complaint for whatever pay and under whatever conditions the employer deems appropriate? Or indeed work for nothing , volunteering in the service of the Big Society? It’s not too difficult to sniff a synchrony here between the these ‘extrinsic outcomes’ and the Coalition’s agenda.

2. History gets rewritten to suit the argument. Thus Beitha McNeil tells us that “historically, services for young people have been regarded as ‘self-evidently good’.” As is increasingly the case nowadays we are faced with immediate uncertainty about what we mean by ‘services for young people’. Looking to the past the youth service equalled informal educational work with young people founded on voluntary association. Alongside could be found the Careers Service, the Leisure Service, Social Services and Probation with differing emphases on the needs of young people. Now I’ll speak only about my experience within youth work, but the idea we got the money come what may does not fit. Over the years we’ve struggled to improve local authority budgets, been decimated by massive cuts and forced increasingly to bid for short-term funding. In terms of the latter Beitha is correct to say this caused a shift to the supply of facts and figures – see the emphasis on accreditation. However throughout my career the dominant argument with managers, politicians and funders has hinged around our belief that we contribute to the development of the personal and social awareness of young people – read social and emotional capabilities if you so wish. In fact, given the Young Foundation’s reference to the post-riot return to ‘building character’, I shall be content historically with noting that the overwhelming majority of youth work has been rooted in the ‘character-building’ tradition. Immerse yourself in ‘Scouting for Boys’ and you will find references to leadership, discipline, communication, problem solving etc. in abundance. Spend time with post-Albemarle young person-centred ideas and practice and you will discover similar references abound. Now, let me allow that Beitha might be right in saying we didn’t get our message across, but it wasn’t because we were smug about our ‘do-goodery’ and it wasn’t because we were ignorant about personal and social capital.

Indeed we collided internally across youth work precisely because we didn’t think things were ‘self-evidently good’. Thus women workers in Wigan in the late 1970’s fought against a male-dominated Service for separate provision for young women. In winning this space they were under great pressure to justify to committees of all kinds the efficacy of their endeavours. Their reports were necessarily creative and rigorous with significantly an emphasis on the development hand in hand of both individual and collective consciousness. And, of course, this challenge to the prevailing status quo around gender was mirrored in the parallel struggles around race, sexuality and disability. What is remarkable is that a Framework for Outcomes in 2012 has no sense of youth work [and indeed services for young people] as a contested site of practice, within which what is good is up for argument and interpretation.

3. In his comments Bernard notes that ‘young people emerge as a monolithic undifferentiated group’ in deficit. This is a crucial insight. The Framework’s notion of a general young person, stripped of their class, gender, race and sexuality, takes us back fifty years. In the IDYW’s founding Open Letter we insist on the continuing necessity of recognising that young people are not a homogeneous group and that issues of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith remain central. With the best will in the world it is difficult to take seriously a Framework for Outcomes that ignores utterly the structural inequality at the heart of contemporary society.

4. As Bernard notes the word ‘power’ itself never appears in the document. To talk of ’empowering’ without an acknowledgement of the relations of power in society is mere cosmetics. The notion of empowerment has been much abused. A dictionary definition suggests it is the giving of authority or power from above to those below. In bureaucratic and business circles management talks endlessly of empowering its employees, all the better to exploit them. Within the Framework we are told that its contents will empower commissioners and providers to deliver what government policy demands. Wouldn’t ‘enable’ be a more accurate verb? A political definition based on the struggles of the oppressed argues that empowerment is the process of taking power in your own name. It is a collective and ever continuing effort to wrest power from the powerful.  Thus it is necessary to question the proposal that young people are being empowered as individuals. Certainly they might well improve their confidence, exert more influence on their situations. But if we are to claim that as individuals they are challenging the distribution of power in society, this can only make sense if intimately related to their self-organisation as the young unemployed , as young women, as young black people, as young LGBT people and so on. The Framework has nothing to say about the umbilical relationship between personal, social and political identities. In my opinion this is a fatal flaw.

Hopefully, in a further post, I will look more closely at the cluster of seven social and emotional capabilities and ask if they are useful to an open-ended, necessarily improvised practice, within which there is never a captive audience. As always we would welcome criticism, comments.

TT

Framing Outcomes for Young People : An Initial Critical Response from Bernard Davies

CYPN in a piece, Tool to help youth sector prove its worth reports that,

Moves to boost investment in youth work have taken a step forward with the publication of a guide to help the sector measure outcomes.

Think-tank The Young Foundation has created the document to help providers demonstrate evidence of their impact, by creating standardised measurements across young people’s services.

It forms part of the work of the government-funded Catalyst consortium, which is charged with helping the youth sector adapt to the changing policy environment.

Over on the Young Foundation site itself Bethia McNeil, co-author of the research, in a blog, When is self-evidently good not good enough? outlines the rationale for the focus on outcomes related to social and emotional capabilities and challenges us to take ‘ a collective breath and blink’.

Whatever our failings we never fight shy of ‘collective breath taking’. Thus several of us in the Campaign have immersed ourselves in the research and come up blinking with deep reservations. As a starter for debate we are pleased to post Bernard Davies’s initial critical thoughts.

A framework of outcomes for young people

The Young Foundation

Some comments

The Young Foundation framework

The Executive Summary sets out the paper’s purposes and approach for the Framework of Outcomes for Young People it is proposing. It sees this as:

designed to highlight the fundamental importance of social and emotional capabilities to the achievement of all other outcomes for all young people. It:

  • proposes a model of seven interlinked clusters of social and emotional capabilities that are of value to all young people, supported by a strong evidence base demonstrating their link to outcomes such as educational attainment, employment, and health
  • sets out a matrix of available tools to measure these capabilities, outlining which capabilities each tool covers, and key criteria that might be considered in selecting an appropriate tool – such as cost or the number of users
  • outlines a step by step approach to measuring these capabilities in practice, that is illustrated in four case studies that exemplify how the Framework might be used by providers, commissioners and funders.

 

The Framework describes itself as aiming ‘to address the key challenges in measuring impact on the lives of young people’. It seeks to do this in order to ‘support progress towards a future in which providers are confident and able to evidence their impact, and commissioners are confident to supplement their focus on reducing negative outcomes with an equal or stronger focus on commissioning for positive and sustained personal and social development’

 

Positives

  1. These comments on the proposed Framework start from the overall proposition that this is important work; that is, that we do need to be trying to develop credible ways on gathering and presenting evidence of youth work’s value to young people.
  1. The paper is a careful and thoughtful attempt to do this – e.g:
  • It makes clear that it does not see its approach as ‘stand alone’ (21).
  • It acknowledges the difficulties and constraints of any exercise seeking to get beyond the ‘easy’ measures of numbers etc and to capture ‘soft’ outcomes. (7)
  • It also acknowledges the difficulty of distinguishing cause and effect in these kinds of human processes. (14)
  • It attempts to see how ‘intrinsic’ (personal) and ‘extrinsic’ (‘societal’) outcomes connect. (14-15)
  • It stresses the need for any evaluation scheme to stay proportionate (eg to the size and aims of the piece of work) and to ‘fit’ the people and the tasks involved. (27)
  • In seeking outcomes for young people, it recognises the need to focus on groups and group work and to get beyond targeted categories. (19-20, 27)
  1. It gives some recognition to the role of youth work in the services and provision it is considering with references to significant sources going back to the 1970’s (the Manchester Wincroft Project – 7) and including the Occupational Standards for Youth Work (6), the Merton et al ‘Impact’ study (11) and the recent London Youth ‘Hunch’ report (14). (This has to be seen however in the context of a later apparent conflation of youth work with youth development – 34).

 

Queries and cautions

  1. In some (key) ways this is a document of its time – for example:
  • It offers only selective and uncritical quotes from Positive for Youth (6) which miss its constant refocusing on targeted work rooted in deficit models of young people.
  • The audience addressed is repeatedly that of ‘providers’ – especially funders, commissioners and investors’ (7) – so that, intentionally or not, definitions of what is needed emerge as primarily top-down. Though at one point the paper acknowledges that ‘the young people you work with, and how you work with them, will influence your practical approach to measurement, (27)it is therefore hard to see most of the time where and how young people’s own starting points for the work – or indeed the strongly affirmed broader ‘youth voice’ – are going to influence its precise shape and direction.
  1. Despite the reference to the need for group work and a denial that the framework is seeking to ‘decontextualise work with young people’ (20), the only constraints on ‘empowerment’ explicitly recognised in the paper are the interpersonal (families, peers) or the institutional (schools) (14). (The word ‘power’ itself never appears in the document). Young people emerge as a monolithic undifferentiated group: indeed, tellingly, a reference to the effects of social class in a quote from the research by Feinstein (which so influenced New Labour youth policies) is completely ignored in the follow-up comment which again focuses on ‘personal and social development’. (32) No reference is made to the current ‘youth crisis’ in employment, income, housing or transport. The perspective adopted is overwhelmingly individualistic and psychological, repeatedly envisaging ‘empowered, resilient young people, who play an active role in navigating (their transitions)’, without any reference to the wider structural obstacles to such ‘navigation’. (4)
  1. Such ‘transitions’ are another of the paper’s repeating themes. Young people, it seems, cannot exist as people,now, for their own sake but only as individuals in the making for some future broadly pre-defined roles – efficient worker, good parent, law-abiding and contributing citizen. (38, 49). Moreover though the paper’s aspiration is for them to end up with a wide and fulfilling set of ‘capabilities’, these (even the ‘creative’ ones) emerge ultimately as largely conformist, offering no explicit encouragement to young people to play socially critical or social change roles in their society. (19, 21).
  1. Despite its stated commitment to viewing young people’s personal and social development in positive ways, it is striking how often the paper falls back on examples about and references to avoiding the undesirable (anti-social behaviour, poor employment outcomes). As I read them, three of the paper’s four case studies assume targeted work.
  1. The paper is concerned not to present itself as the only way of identifying and presenting outcomes, suggesting for example that it is implemented ‘alongside other approaches such as case studies and witness testimonies’ (21). Nonetheless, in these circumstances the risk exists that hard-pressed managers and practitioners will use it in simplistic and uncritical ways and as the way of demonstrating to ‘funders, commissioners and investors’ that they deserve their money. A critical and continuing commentary and debate on the paper, including on its limitations, therefore seems vital.

 

Perhaps understandably Susanne Rauprich, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, which leads the Catalyst consortium is less cautious than Bernard.  CYPN reports that she believes the framework “will succeed in its aim of underpinning social investment work by enabling providers and commissioners to demonstrate the difference they make”.

She added that the youth sector often struggles to provide quantitative evidence of its effectiveness. “By addressing this problem, the framework will open the gateway for new finance and entrepreneurial capacity,” she said.

 

An outcomes framework for young people's services | The Young Foundation

I’m posting this link in some haste and with some frustration. The Young Foundation on behalf of Catalyst has issued the final draft of an outcomes framework.

An outcomes framework for young people’s services

Services for young people are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the difference that they make, and articulate the value that they produce for young people and for society more broadly. The youth sector has powerful examples of the impact of its work on individual young people, but struggles to provide ‘harder’ quantitative evidence.

The Outcomes Framework seeks to address the key challenges in measuring the impact of services for young people.

The Framework is designed to support understanding and measurement of the connections between intrinsic personal and social development outcomes and longer-term extrinsic outcomes. The Framework:

  • Proposes a model of seven interlinked clusters of social and emotional capabilities that are of value to all young people, supported by a strong evidence base demonstrating the links to longer-term outcomes.
  • Sets out a matrix of available tools to measure these capabilities, outlining which capabilities they cover, and key criteria such as their cost and the number of users.

The Framework is being made available as a final draft, and we are keen to receive feedback to shape the final document, which will be published in April. We would be particularly interested to hear responses to the following questions:

  • Do the key messages of the Framework resonate with you?
  • Who do you feel would be the key audience for the framework? (Commissioners, providers, managers?) Who would you recommend reads it?
  • How do you think the framework might be used?
  • Does the approach set out in the Framework represent a significant change to your current way of working? In what way?
  • What do you feel are the main opportunities and challenges of such an approach?
  • Do you feel clear about the practical steps in taking forward the approach set out in the Framework?
  • Do you feel that you or your service would benefit from (additional) support around impact and outcomes? What types(s) of support is/are needed?
  • What else is needed to make the Framework ‘useful’, going forward?

 

However in order to respond by March 31 you will have to find time to engage with the 52 pages of the framework itself and a matrix of tools. Given that the most important target group are practitioners, who are up to their necks in the mire, how realistic, indeed serious is a deadline of March 31!

An outcomes framework for young people’s services | The Young Foundation.