Don’t Talk to… Youth Workers?

1 November 2008 — 7 Comments

I’ve been aware for some time of various government incentives to try and track young people through their involvement in statutory agencies. I know of colleagues in Westminster who carry around barcode scanners to record and identify each young person they come into contact with so they can track their progress. This drive towards accreditation and outcomes in ‘professional’ youth work is a personal lament of mine as it goes against the very values inherent in the discipline.

Yet chatting with my uni colleagues on Thursday, I was shocked to hear a youth work professional admitting that they actively dissuade their own children from giving any information to youth workers! This is because in their particular borough, all interactions from various agencies are recorded onto a single database and over time build up a raft of information, creating a profile of that particular individual.

While there may be legitimate uses for this data, what is happening is that the records are never removed and so any interaction with the police, social services, schools etc. are permanently visible to the professionals who access the system regardless of whether a young person has reformed, changed, grown, or otherwise developed from when those interactions occurred.

A young person who is stopped by the police for being drunk one friday night, or who popped into an information shop to get advice on contraception, may find that information available to their doctor or teacher or social worker years later!

This is one of the reasons that I am grateful to be working for a voluntary agency: I am not required to work towards targets, figures and recorded outcomes.

So be careful out there… don’t talk to youth workers!

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

7 responses to Don’t Talk to… Youth Workers?

  1. Does that seriously happen and why?? who's
    involved etc? im kind of horrified!

  2. Hi Rosie, Yes this kind of thing does happen, although it's not intended to be a controlling or evil initiative.

    After the tragic death of Victoira Climbie back in 2000, the inquiry found that a number of agencies and services had been involved but none had fully done their job which may have saved her life. The subsequent idea is that by sharing appropriate information, agencies will be better equipped to recognise and deal with the difficult issues that arise within the social and caring professions. So far, so good!

    The obvious way to share that information is through electronic means and this has led to the development of eCAF and ContactPoint.

    ContactPoint will be the quick way for a practitioner to find out who else is working with the same child or young person, making it easier to deliver more coordinated support.

    ContactPoint particularly has come under a lot of criticism around data security (especially with the Government losing data in lots of high profile cases), and the legality of storing such detailed information on individuals. The database is due to be rolled out nationally early next year, but may yet get postponed. Individual councils usually run their own internal databases for monitoring their own effectiveness in reaching and supporting young people.

    Because of their relational approach with young people, Youth Workers will often know helpful and sensitive information that could be vital in providing the right support for a family. As such, statutory-based youth workers are being drawn into the electronic systems and required to make notes and logs to justify their work.

    Now there is some kind of safeguarding around identifying individuals within these systems. ContactPoint claims:

    Those providing a sensitive service (those in the fields of sexual health, mental health and substance abuse) will be required to seek informed, explicit consent before recording their contact details on ContactPoint. Where they are recorded, only an indication of an unspecified service would be visible.

    While this may be true, in some cases youth workers end up recording generic information that gets mis-interpreted by other professionals!

    As you can see, this whole area is a minefield! While it has good intentions and could be a potentially useful system, in practice it actually takes the focus away from 'being with' young people and ends up becoming a monstrous monitoring activity to justify the service.

  3. Personally i think it's really invasive, and youth workers will end up loosing the trust that young people have in them, if a young person knew you were keeping tabs on them would they really want to talk to you about something they are struggling with? Plus the amount of people who will have access to it is crazy! It's seems open to misuse and a whole number of issues if you ask me…

  4. Does that seriously happen and why?? who's
    involved etc? im kind of horrified!

  5. Hi Rosie, Yes this kind of thing does happen, although it's not intended to be a controlling or evil initiative.

    After the tragic death of Victoira Climbie back in 2000, the inquiry found that a number of agencies and services had been involved but none had fully done their job which may have saved her life. The subsequent idea is that by sharing appropriate information, agencies will be better equipped to recognise and deal with the difficult issues that arise within the social and caring professions. So far, so good!

    The obvious way to share that information is through electronic means and this has led to the development of eCAF and ContactPoint.

    ContactPoint will be the quick way for a practitioner to find out who else is working with the same child or young person, making it easier to deliver more coordinated support.

    ContactPoint particularly has come under a lot of criticism around data security (especially with the Government losing data in lots of high profile cases), and the legality of storing such detailed information on individuals. The database is due to be rolled out nationally early next year, but may yet get postponed. Individual councils usually run their own internal databases for monitoring their own effectiveness in reaching and supporting young people.

    Because of their relational approach with young people, Youth Workers will often know helpful and sensitive information that could be vital in providing the right support for a family. As such, statutory-based youth workers are being drawn into the electronic systems and required to make notes and logs to justify their work.

    Now there is some kind of safeguarding around identifying individuals within these systems. ContactPoint claims:

    Those providing a sensitive service (those in the fields of sexual health, mental health and substance abuse) will be required to seek informed, explicit consent before recording their contact details on ContactPoint. Where they are recorded, only an indication of an unspecified service would be visible.

    While this may be true, in some cases youth workers end up recording generic information that gets mis-interpreted by other professionals!

    As you can see, this whole area is a minefield! While it has good intentions and could be a potentially useful system, in practice it actually takes the focus away from 'being with' young people and ends up becoming a monstrous monitoring activity to justify the service.

  6. Personally i think it's really invasive, and youth workers will end up loosing the trust that young people have in them, if a young person knew you were keeping tabs on them would they really want to talk to you about something they are struggling with? Plus the amount of people who will have access to it is crazy! It's seems open to misuse and a whole number of issues if you ask me…

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    […] and young people Mar.23, 2009 in Ping.fm, Schools Work, Technology, Youth Work Back in November I wrote about the development of Government databases (such as ContactPoint) that collect information on young […]

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