From The Frontline - Right on versus right off youth work

Andy Upson
Thursday, March 6, 2008

There are some excellent youth professionals working with young people but are they wasting their time working with the "wrong" type of young people?

My colleagues have just returned from a training event where their contribution was devalued because it was discovered that they do not work exclusively with young people from the extreme end of the needs spectrum.

Sadly, this is a view we are hearing more and more. Unless you're working with young people from single-parent families, or who have antisocial behaviour orders, drug problems and the like, then you're not considered to be doing youth work.

Recently I heard this from someone who is running an excellent youth club where the work with young people is planned, delivered and reviewed, and where young people are enabled to make informed life choices. The youth club has no idea what indices of deprivation are applicable to individual young people but it does know the individual needs of the young people.

I am not arguing one case against another but surely our commitment to equal opportunities means that all young people should get a fair deal.

Funders are equally concerned about the level of deprivation suffered by the client group rather than the outcomes for the individual young people. Consequently, we are increasingly seeing more finely focused youth work, sometimes at the expense of open-access youth provision.

If this state of affairs is allowed to continue, we will be guilty of allowing two separate professions to develop, each with their own associated values. It will be a shame if we allow open-access youth work - where the young people attend simply because they are young people and where their individual needs are catered for - to become sidelined in favour of targeted youth support.

From a funding aspect it feels like open-access youth work has become the poor relation, and I worry just how long it will be before it becomes the dead relation. Too few resources are being directed at youth work as it is without one section of the profession prospering at the expense of another.

There should be an inclusive approach to youth work - one that takes the attitude that it is a privilege to work with young people whatever their journey to our doors.

Andy Upson is chief executive of Youth Clubs Hampshire and Isle of Wight.

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