In a recent letter to CYP Now, Janet Batsleer, chair of the Professional Association of Lecturers In Youth and Community Work, rightly draws attention to the damaging impact the changes in university funding and the austerity measures in public finance will have on youth and community work courses. It is particularly unfair that social workers in training receive funded bursaries, but youth and community workers do not.
My first youth work post was at Luton Youth House and one of my greatest sources of pride was seeing how many of our young people went on to train as youth workers. Only recently my daughter met one of them, who when he worked out who she was told her, "Your mum changed my life". My fear is particularly for young people like that, huge assets to the youth service, but now potentially excluded from an achievable route into the service. The closure of courses up and down the country is potentially devastating, particularly to those potential students who want to, or can only, study near home.
An issue, it seems to me, is that the term "youth worker" is one that does not have a professional connotation. For example, I may tend to my child when she falls over and cuts her knee - but I wouldn't describe myself as a nurse. I may sit and listen to her read, or help her with her homework - but that wouldn't be enough to call myself a teacher. I may support a family that is under pressure - but that wouldn't make me a social worker. Anyone and everyone can call themselves a youth worker, even if the extent of their youth work is to help in a youth club one night a week. This has led to the idea that "anyone can do it" and has, in my view, contributed to the demise of the professional service and the belief of local authorities up and down the country that they can do without their qualified workforce.
Positive for Youth observes that "a high-quality workforce is central to improving young people's outcomes" and expresses concern about the loss of key skills to the youth service - and then demonstrates what for me is the key flaw throughout the policy - there is no follow through. It is sound in terms of analysis but found seriously wanting in terms of action.
In a time of "austerity" when we are allegedly "all in this together" there is a real danger we will throw out a lot of babies with the bath water. As a recent comment on CYP Now perceptively observed, how long before the need for a new Albermarle?
In the meantime, how much damage will have been done to the youth service, but more importantly, the young people and communities it serves?