Archives For Articles

Articles I have written that have been published or presented publicly in some form.

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Break down the youth work divide Continue Reading…

ywn-logo
The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) this week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Leave the hidden agendas behind Continue Reading…

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Youth clubs do not foster risk takers Continue Reading…

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Cannabis row leaves us all in a blur Continue Reading…

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

It’s fair to charge for youth clubs
I’ve been following the debate on the cypnow.co.uk forum about whether young people should be charged for access to youth clubs. It’s an excellent question and one that has prompted a range of responses.

The most compelling reason I read for not charging a fee is that it has the potential to frustrate the process of youth engagement by turning away those who do not have the funds. In this way, charging even a nominal amount can be seen as a barrier that can and should be removed. By charging, we are excluding the most vulnerable, so is it even ethical to charge at all?

Although money can be a huge barrier for young people accessing a club or service, for a creative worker charging a fee does not have to exclude anyone. Often those at the door with no money have chosen to spend it elsewhere, but even those who genuinely can’t afford it can still be granted access on a free trial, by volunteering in some way, simply waiving the fee, or by many other appropriate solutions.

The obvious response to this is that if we are just going to work around the fee whenever it suits us, then why bother charging at all? From experience, I’ve found that when something is consistently free, it doesn’t always hold as much value for those who use it. Think about a glass of water versus a can of Coca-Cola.

I used to run a project that took young people on weekly trips after school. The project was in a deprived area and for a time we ran it for free. Because we used a minibus and had limited spaces, we were always fully booked with people on the waiting list. But when we came to pick people up they often weren’t there, leaving us with empty seats.

In response, we started charging 50p a session. If someone couldn’t afford it, we would let it carry over to another week and often simply write it off. As a result, there was a sudden uptake in attendance as the young people started to realise they might miss out on something worthwhile. If they had to pay for it, then they would make use of it.

When charging an entry fee, it is important for young people to see where the money goes. It’s also a great opportunity for some participation work by setting up a committee or group that decides how and where to spend the income.

But I hasten to add that the group I currently run is totally free to attend. Like many other clubs, we run a small tuck shop to raise income that can be put back into the centre.

Essentially, what it boils down to is participation and belonging. If a young person feels an affiliation to a club, worker or group, then they will probably be willing to make some small sacrifice to be part of it. Yet there is no one-size-fits-all in youth work. There needs to be a variety of models and approaches that cater for the widely diverse young people we serve. Sometimes that will involve charging them.

You can view all my Youth Work Now articles here.

ywn-logoThe following is an article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine last week (A supplement of Children & Young People Now). As of October 2009, I have taken over the Last Word column on the back page. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

It can be better to text than to talk
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) research on positive activities released at the end of August made for interesting reading. Continue Reading…

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

The Young Volunteer Army Saving Us Millions
Over the summer holidays I’ve had the privilege of working alongside more than 50 enthusiastic teenagers. These young people, who gave up their own time voluntarily, were helping to provide fun and memorable activities for hundreds of younger children. They sang, played sports, danced, did art and craft activities and even got voted into a gunge tank on some occasions!

These summer activities have become a regular feature for us locally and we always have a large number of young people wanting to volunteer because they know it is worthwhile.

Sometimes though it can be a risk to accept certain young people in a voluntary capacity as they may not be suitable for the role. I remember a few years ago, a particular young person wanted to join the team and volunteer at a play scheme we were running. Due to his ongoing offending behaviour and reputation in the community we were unable to accept him. We dangled the carrot that he could be involved when there was a significant change in his attitude.

It actually took another two years until he was able to help us and work with the children. That summer he was determined to prove himself and put everything he had into the activity. As a result, the other volunteers voted for him to receive an award for his efforts. That was a powerful motivator.

Back in June, the Evangelical Alliance published a report titled Young People Matter, which highlighted the positive impact of young people volunteering. After surveying 700 young people aged between 14 and 18, it found that 45 per cent regularly volunteered in some capacity, with an average of 3.57 hours a month. Staggeringly, this equates to 33,000 full-time workers at an economic value of £210 million each year (based on minimum wage). Combined with the findings that 80 per cent of young people donate money to charity, they estimate that English 14-18 year-olds contribute £300 million each year to the economy.

Whether or not you accept the maths, the voluntary aspect is exciting and has implications for our work. How many young people do we know that volunteer in some capacity outside of our work with them? How might we find out and endorse their voluntary activities? How can we thank and reward them for what they do? We all know that young people have a lot to offer, and it seems that they are finding ways of doing just that!

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last month. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Is the concept of youth work hard to grasp?
Over the past month, I have experienced two incidents where I have had to question my role and how people perceive me as a youth worker.

First, I had a call from a parent whose son attends our youth club. They were having difficulties with him at home and wanted me to spend some time chatting with him about those problems. I assumed this meant some informal work over a period of months, however, after two group sessions the parents cancelled because his behaviour hadn’t significantly changed.

Second, I accompanied a young person to the child and adolescent mental health service for an appointment. This individual was taking their aggression out on close family and wanted to see if their medication might be changed to help them control themselves better. While the doctor did not change the medication, he suggested that as a youth worker I should be doing various “behaviour modification” activities such as anger management to help support this young person. “After all”, he commented, “that is the domain of services like youth work.”

While specific support work like anger management can be very useful, both of these scenarios have given me cause for concern. It seems there is a general perception from people outside our discipline that youth workers are there to make young people conform, behave or toe the line. Of course, this has never been the purpose of youth work.

The suggestion that I should be actively working to modify the behaviour of young people deeply worries me. Any change that occurs out of a relationship between a worker and young person is a by-product of the relationship itself, not the end result. Besides, as workers shouldn’t we be encouraging young people to test the boundaries, question the status quo and make up their own minds rather than being told what to do?

Some have used this ambiguity around our work as a chance to put a stake in the ground for traditional youth work values and practices. There have been increasing calls to defend our craft and compelling arguments have been expressed in the pages of this very magazine. Meanwhile, others have used it as justification to tighten up on an ill-defined profession and prove the value of our work through targets and outcomes. Whichever opinion you may hold on this current debate, it is clear there is considerable work to be done in helping others understand the nature of the work that we do.

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) this week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

The old rules still apply in the online world
Like many youth workers, I use online social networks. A while back I took the decision to use these networks as a “work profile”, that is, to treat any interactions that occur online as part of my job.
While I may sometimes comment on things that happen in my personal life, I am careful to be transparent in my dealings online and be thoughtful over what I post.

As I have a work profile, many young people have added me to be their “friend” online and I have accepted. It has become a useful tool where young people can contact me to find out about events, and I can broadcast messages to them. Of course, you also get to see a lot of personal information about the young people and this can be problematic.

A few weeks back, I saw a status update from a young person that concerned me. It read: “gunna bash Billy n hiz windows r gunna be egged hardcore”, meaning he was going to beat up Billy and throw eggs at his house.

Now I know Billy quite well, he’s a small lad who gets picked on. I also know that the young person who wrote that statement has been picking on him for some time.

I reasoned that the individual who wrote the statement had added me as a friend and had therefore given me permission to read what he posted. I also felt that as a worker I couldn’t ignore a direct threat against another person, so I tried to do what I would have done in a face-to-face environment. My response was to write a comment in reply to the statement saying: “Hi Sam. This could be classed as threatening and bullying. I’m really unhappy to see that on here and suggest you remove it.”

I’m not sure Sam took much notice, but my comment did serve to remind the young people that I could see what was written on their profiles. I got messages back saying “I liked Sam’s statement” and “He does wot he does innit”.

So what should we do as workers in an online space? Should we challenge “unacceptable” behaviour even if it means alienating ourselves? Should we have young people as our “friends” or even be there in the first place?

A good general principle seems to be to treat online work as you would detached work. First, you need to be upfront about who you are and what you do. Second, it’s the young people’s space and you are there with their permission. We may well all come to different conclusions about how we treat online work, but it’s vital that we think through our response and set clear boundaries for our interactions.

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Sometimes it’s best not to get involved
Workers need to be available to young people, even if they are not needed.

Sitting on the train on my way home recently, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between three teenage girls aged around 16. One of them was loudly telling her friends about her recent experiences, much to the dismay of the rest of the carriage.

It transpired that she had recently fallen pregnant and had spent the past few months sofa surfing after being kicked out by her mum. In addition, she had taken the blame for an assault her friend committed and was ordered to do some community service with the youth offending team. Apparently, she had finally been given a flat by the council and had just attended the hospital for her first ultrasound. Having seen the baby scan, she had cried with joy and was excited about being a mother.

I don’t know if that particular young lady was difficult, troublesome or involved in antisocial behaviour. I have no idea if she attended any youth groups or if a youth worker was ever there to support her. My observation was that she was an articulate young woman who had been forced to cope with situations that many responsible adults struggle to deal with – and she was actually doing well for herself.

As I sat on the train trying not to listen, I was reminded of how important it is for us to simply be there for young people when they need us. For all of our positive activities, planned interventions and curriculum plans, some young people just need a safe space and a listening ear as they struggle to make sense of their circumstances.

Of course, we are all of aware of young people with similar, or worse, stories. You can’t be a youth worker for long without being affected by some of the tragic circumstances you hear about. For many of us, being able to help, support or guide young people was the reason we got into this work in the first place. The thing is, young people are often capable of working things out on their own and are generally quite resilient and resourceful, despite an assumption to the contrary.

One of the core values of youth work has always been the voluntary principle: that young people are free to enter into, and out of, relationships with workers as they see fit. But let’s celebrate those young people who achieve without our support and simply be ready to help if we’re ever needed.