The body has been given the provisional title of the Institute for Youth Work and would champion the role of a broad range of professionals and volunteers working with young people.
The proposal has been put forward by Catalyst, a consortium comprising the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS), the National Youth Agency (NYA), the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Young Foundation. Youth work training provider FPM is also supporting the concept.
The consortium was awarded £2.6m by the Department for Education (DfE) for the next two years in February as part of its voluntary and community grant scheme. While it is not clear how much is being spent on investigating setting up the institute, the money will come from this DfE grant.
A Catalyst spokesman said: "As part of Catalyst’s workforce development strand, there will be an opportunity to explore the possibilities for developing an Institute for Youth Work. This opportunity has been discussed in the sector for years and would be intended to provide a strong voice for the sector and those individuals within it. The establishment of an institute would develop a much-needed infrastructure at a time when other structures are rapidly changing or being dismantled."
Discussions about the body’s exact remit are at an early stage, but it could include a register of youth workers and set standards and ethics. It could also lead to a licence to practice where workers could be struck off for malpractice.
The institute would rely on individual workers paying an annual membership fee, which would give it the freedom to be openly critical. Membership would potentially be open not only to professionally qualified youth workers and youth work volunteers, but also to staff in the field of information, advice and guidance, youth justice and others working with young people.
A positive step
David Wright, chief executive of the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services, described the move as a positive step. "The formation of an institute has arisen out of the work of the youth work stakeholder group and is a good example of the sector coming together to respond to demands."
Martin Lightfoot, outgoing chair of the National Association of Youth and Community Education Officers, said he hoped it would lead to the protection of the title of youth worker. "At the moment, anyone can claim to be a youth worker – trained or not," he said. "Youth workers don’t even have a nationally agreed code of conduct."
But Doug Nicholls, national officer for community, youth workers and not-for-profit sector at Unite, was critical. "It appears that organisations with vested interests in the privatisation of public services have taken an initiative without the support of the profession or any consultation with youth workers," he said. "It is likely that this could well be yet another money-spinner for cash-strapped organisations. The registration of workers and setting of standards is far too important to be left to unrepresentative bodies."
Fiona Blacke, chief executive of the NYA, said: "The NYA has worked with Unite and others in the early planning of this initiative. Now that the DfE has confirmed funding we look forward to moving this idea forward and we will certainly be consulting widely with the sector."