There is a lot to commend in the NYA “A Vision for Youth Work” document . . . and some gaping holes.
First, the commendable stuff ::
- Young people need a viable local offer – and this needs to be a collaborative effort, with all potential stakeholders (especially young people) drawing up plans and strategy that will work locally.
- As a national agency, the NYA has highlighted the value and significance of youth work – in essence informal education, at a time when many others are focusing on schools and formal education establishments as being the places where investment needs to happen for the future of young people.
This is all good. However, there are some challenges as I read the document as a whole . . .
Firstly, the “providers of youth work” . . . it is great that a broad spectrum is mentioned, but – my niggle here is that if you are going to mention a bunch of different types of providers (such as uniformed organisations), is it too much to mention faith based providers? In parts of the country the faith sector is the major provider of youth work. See the following extract from a report by the Rank Foundation,
The most recent figures suggest that there are around 5,500 fte youth workers employed by churches and Christian agencies, more than the statutory youth service (Centre for Youth Ministry 2006). There are also said to be around 100,000 volunteers. Churches have become the largest employer of youth workers in the country.
The Church is not always great at highlighting the good work it is doing, nor keeping national track of that (with denominations and different streams within the church “counting” and assessing stuff in different ways – so, it is hard to give more recent figures than those above – but, the trend, if anything has been towards greater employment over the last 5 – 8 years . . . and, the Church is just a part of the faith sector . . . yet, it doesn’t get a mention in this list of providers. The largest provider doesn’t get a mention. This is a gap, whether intentional or not, that skews the conclusions and the NYA statements about what should happen to make their vision a reality.
Secondly, “the role of local government will be” . . . now, i have nothing wrong with local government being involved along with other providers, but, increasingly – local government is finding itself being held responsible for work it either is no longer doing, no longer has statutory responsibility for or is simply under resourced and cannot make stuff happen. The level of funding now available for youth work – unless it meets very stringent requirements associated with targeted support – through local councils and districts is negligible; the number of workers that councils and districts have is diminishing by the day. Local Government itself needs to be re-invested in, re-capitalised, if it is to play any meaningful role in youth service provision when we hit the year 2020!
Thirdly, and this where the holes open up in the vision from NYA – the “workforce”. what will it look like, well in the vision document there are four elements highlighted, of those four the first three emphasise “qualified”. Nothing wrong with that, except for who is going to determine what “qualified” means. NYA want, and have it as a strain of thought throughout the organisation and hold it as a key value, recognition of youth work as a profession. Again, nothing wrong with that – up to a point. the fourth element of the workforce though, unlike any other profession i can think of absolutely DWARFS the other three in terms of numbers . . . just taking that 100,000 volunteers as mentioned above in the Rank document . . . in many places, if volunteers were not running youth work – there would BE no youth work. They need support and training, agreed – but do they need to be “professionals” or “qualified” to be taking the lead in a small rural village with the youth club? Infrastructure support is vanishing . . . that is a continuing trend, it is not going to be reversed by this vision document – and, appropriate training and support and ongoing supervision are essential elements for effective youth work. A number of agencies over the last decade have been working on “workforce development” within Youthwork – across vast swathes of rural England, if not also in our urban areas – this support is left to the voluntary sector, Universities are continuing to close down their degree courses in youth work as the take up is poor . . . there is a big difference between having a vision and that vision being rooted in any kind of reality that can make it happen. This, unfortunately, leads us to “what needs to happen to make our vision a reality.” This is the biggest problem with the vision . . .
If I have a vision, generally i accept it is something that I need to do. Me, I need to be a contributor in making that vision a reality . . . it might be that the NYA consider writing this vision document is their contribution, but – the problem is not with what needs to happen, the problem is with who . . .
The following statements in the document cause me concern, “Government must . . . “; “Government must . . . “; Government should . . . “; Local Government must . . . “; . . . . let me just say – Government HASN’T, and DOESN’T . . . I do not believe – unless there is a wholesale ethos change across the political parties – that anything will change here. There are lots of expectations on others to make this vision a reality, others for whom it is not what primarily gets them up in the morning . . . they may pay lip service to investing in the next generation, but it is youth workers who live and breath “youth work” and making a difference in the lives of young people . . .
finally, my biggest gripe with the vision . . . and this stems from having sat in meetings with NCVYS and with NYA there too – and it is this final statement,
“Employers must require all youth workers to undertake JNC approved qualifications relevant to roles and responsibilities.”
and this one,
“A register of youth workers.”
JNC is fine, but it is not a panacea for those involved in youth work. I have been doing youth work for 28 years, I have led large programmes at national events, i have (and do) run training and support and supervision for youth workers, I have line managed and supervised people who are on degree courses to obtain JNC recognised qualifications, from 2008 and to 2011 I studied for a MA in “Reflective Practice” and my youth work is done, primarily in a youth ministry context – where faith nurture and discipleship are the main areas of work. IF we continue to head down this road then far more needs to be recognised as “qualifying” someone for being a youth worker or being engaged in youth ministry than what is JNC.
And, finally, right at the core of NYA philosophy is to have a system in place where you cannot call yourself or “be” a youth worker if you are not qualified in a certain way, and thus approved for a “register of youth workers.”
We could find ourselves in the laughable situation where a majority of actual, genuine – yes folks it is youth work and youth ministry is being delivered by volunteers who cannot call themselves youth workers.
My own suggestion?
A decent round-table discussion with all the national representatives of NYA, NCVYS, Uniformed Organisations, YFC, Urban Saints, Scripture Union, Church of England and other national bodies + CYM, OASIS and awarding bodies to agree some criteria for recognising what IS BEING DONE, not create a system where those who already have the skills and are delivering youth work have to “prove it” . . . Oh, and if you look at other areas of national stuff where it used to be provided by the state – NHS and Education, private bodies are flocking around the dying bodies of those national institutions because there is money to be made and “where is the profit” is their bottom line. Youth Work provision via local authorities has fallen apart, there is not such thing as universal provision anymore . . . where are all the private bodies and businesses and organisations . . . there isn’t any money in youth work, it isn’t why we do it.
There is a vision for youth work and youth ministry provision that cannot be articulated in a way that a society built around a capitalist model can grasp. It is right to invest in this generation of young people, it is vital to invest in this generation of young people . . . it is its own reward.