Nearly three months after it was launched by the National Youth Agency (NYA), the IYW has attracted just 300 members, including volunteers, lecturers of youth work and youth support workers.
Howard Williamson, professor of European youth policy at the University of South Wales, believes that the broadening of the sector has made it difficult for professionals working with young people to identify themselves as youth workers.
He cites the moving of the youth portfolio to the Cabinet Office in July and the renaming of traditional youth worker job titles over recent years as contributing to confusion over the role and purpose of youth work, which in turn could be to blame for the low take-up of IYW membership.
He said: “There is plenty of youth work going on but it’s not generally under a youth service and these people’s identities, by and large, are less to do with youth work and more with the sector in which they work.”
Williamson also believes there is uncertainty over what registering with the IYW means for members and feels there is a need for clarification.
He said: “I have never been sure what it is about except a professional code of conduct for practitioners.
“There are two drivers for making the IYW work. One would be professional, so it is recognised as a platform for professionals.
“Also political – to say you can’t practice as a youth worker unless you’re a member.
“We don’t have either with this and we know that local authorities, youth offending teams and other organisations have found many other ways of employing people who want to work with young people.”
However Fiona Blacke, NYA chief executive, is pleased with the body’s progress and hopes its membership will continue to grow.
She said: “We are delighted that membership is steadily increasing and we now also have a significant number of organisational supporters.
“The widespread support is great and I’d encourage members to get involved – the institute will be as active as its members and supporters are, so discuss your opinions on the forums. Contribute to the resources and help shape the institute into the future.”
The institute, which operates only through its website, enables members to network, develop best practice and keep abreast of policy developments.
Youth workers who join the IYW are also required to join the body’s code of ethics.