The challenges facing young people and youth organisations
Five chief executives of youth organisations met over a meal to consider the growing challenges young people face as well as the pressures of running youth organisations. We thought we’d try to write up our thoughts in this short post
Youth work, far too often, is posed as a way to prevent crime, self-harm, violence, teenage pregnancy, poor health. And whilst it is important for all these reasons, for us that’s the wrong discussion. Why? Three reasons to start…
One, good youth work builds all round character and confidence. It doesn’t ‘just’ tackle presenting symptoms.
Two, and as such, youth work isn’t solely ‘remedial’ – we should see it as essential not preventative. Everybody needs a good youth worker.
And three, it’s intuitive. Why do those parents who can afford it pay for their sons and daughters to go on adventure camps, take music and sports lessons and competitions, residential weeks away from home during school holidays? It’s because they can be transformative and wonderfully beneficial. Learning new skills, collaborating with other young people, all supported by expert youth work can build young people’ confidence, their emotional intelligence and help them build excellent relationships that will serve them well as they reach adulthood. But why shouldn’t young people, whose parents can’t afford courses and residential adventures, also have that experience?
But isn’t it morally just that all young people, regardless of their parents’ ability to afford courses and residential adventures, also have that experience? Youth work is essential. And it is preventative.
In some ways this is the aspiration of the National Citizenship Service. We think this is a thoroughly good thing. But we’re anxious that its political need for success may lead to a summer programme being seen as a cure-all. We think the alumni element is key.
So where now for youth work? Already we have seen that we are losing both expertise and capacity as people lose their jobs. How can we develop higher professional standards to match or exceed those that we expect of other professions?
A key area that good youth work facilitates is the development positive relationships between young men and young women. Amongst a whole raft of cultural and gendered expectations we are witnessing in different ways the ever-increasing availability of pornography and understand increasingly how this will pervade more and more aspects of society and influence the way young women and young men learn about sex and relationships – this ‘pornification’ of our modern life is likely to further frustrate the relationships between young men and women and create an ever wider gap in understanding of how to build healthy and rewarding relationships. Generic and specialist youth work plays a vital role here too.
We recognise that we must measure the outcomes of the inputs of our work. However, again in isolation this is potentially the wrong discussion. It is obvious and intuitive that, done well, youth work does good and delivers the impact we want it to. We don’t need to spend big chunks of our hard-won income on measuring some work – because you can easily see the positive impact of it. If we are not careful the tendency to measure things and claim outcomes as the result of an intervention will become more pervasive when there is very little chance that we can draw a confident line between an intervention and an increase in happiness or a reduction in violent crime. But we’ll measure and claim our impact with science that doesn’t hold water anyway because it’ll get the money in or we will have report after report that cannot draw conclusions and so the pursuit of science undermines people’s confidence that the work does make an impact. This isn’t right and potentially destructive.
The need for good management information took up a lot of our discussion – we need it to make the right decisions about where to focus our efforts. Yet, it’s really hard to find comparable data between ages, areas, themes. What we need is a basic set of management data that all of us can find universally useful.
There is more and more data and evidence that suggests that the biggest impact on people’s futures is made when they are children. We don’t’ want to argue with that, but it would be a mistake to focus efforts at the early years alone – children’s development is a process that continues through adolescence and into adulthood and investment is needed at all stops along that developmental journey. We must reduce the imaginary barrier that is, at least in part, created by the transition between primary and secondary schools and support people seamlessly from their childhood to their adulthood.
Written by :
Simon Blake, Brook
Charlotte Hill, UK Youth
Thomas Lawson, Leap Confronting Conflict
Susanne Rauprich, NCVYS
Nick Wilkie, London Youth