Careers: Detached youth worker

Detached workers need a thick skin to engage young people on the streets, writes Charlotte Goddard

What is a detached youth worker?

Detached workers try to build relationships with young people who might ordinarily avoid youth centres and clubs. They tend to target vulnerable groups, such as young people living in the most deprived communities, and work with them on their own territory - be that on a street corner or a local shopping centre.

Before starting a project, it is important for workers to explore the area where they will be working, and build contacts with other agencies and young people. According to the Federation for Detached Youth Work, detached workers should challenge young people's negative attitudes and behaviour through negotiation and dialogue, support the participation of young people in the political decision-making processes and help young people's personal development. 

What are the challenges and rewards of detached youth work?

Graeme Tiffany, vice-chair at the Federation for Detached Youth Work, says that detached youth workers need to be thick skinned. "There are times when young people's behaviour is going to be upsetting," says Tiffany. "In a centre they would be asked to leave but a detached youth worker has to take it on the chin a bit more."

There is nothing to stop the young person from just walking away. Workers therefore must be able to be fast-thinking, flexible and not easily rebuffed.

Personal safety can be an issue in street-based work, so in some parts of the country detached workers work in pairs and carry equipment such as a personal alarm. But the rewards can be great. Seeing the progress made by young people, especially the most vulnerable, and knowing that you have made a difference to young lives can be hugely satisfying.

Is the work full-time or part-time?

Detached youth workers are generally employed by local authorities or voluntary organisations. Both full-time and part-time posts exist as well as volunteering opportunities. Evening work is usually required. Some employers pay an hourly rate per youth work session and offer a set number of hours per week.

But Tiffany says workers really need to work more than a few hours a week: "You can't deliver detached youth work just one session a week, it is important to spend time reflecting on practice, learning and getting extra training."

Some positions are offered on a fixed-term contract as many projects are only funded for a limited period.

What kind of training and qualifications are required?

The title of youth worker is not protected, so in theory you don't require any set qualifications or training to become one. But many organisations will favour staff who have a recognised qualification.

To qualify as a youth and community support worker, individuals need to hold a Level 2 Certificate or Level 3 Diploma in Youth Work Practice. To become a professionally qualified youth worker, you need to undertake a JNC-approved BA (Hons) degree or postgraduate youth work qualification. The theory and practice of detached work is covered in general youth work training but there are also specific courses available.

How is detached youth work being affected by current policy?

A focus on youth work as a form of prevention has led to detached youth work to be viewed as a tool to get young people off the streets rather than engage them in informal learning on their territory. Tiffany adds: "There is a security agenda in which detached youth workers end up providing diversionary activities."

Cuts are also an issue. The Confederation of Heads of Young People's Services survey of local authorities at the start of 2011 found planned cuts of 10 per cent in the workforce in the coming year, equating to around 3,000 local authority youth workers.



  • Community and Youth Workers' Union. The trade union for youth workers provides information on training, pay, health and safety and campaigns on behalf of youth workers.
  • Federation for Detached Youth Work. Set up in 1996, the organisation aims to improve the quality of detached youth work practice, advance the education and training of detached youth workers, and improve the understanding of detached youth work and its values.
  • National Council for Voluntary Youth Services. A national independent body that represents voluntary and community youth organisations in England.
  • National Youth Agency. An independent charity that advises government on youth policy, validates youth work qualifications and provides resources and research.

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £170 /year


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £136 /year