Local Youth Work (Part 6)

31 March 2010 — 1 Comment

The following is an excerpt from my opening chapter in Journeying Together. Growing youth work and youth workers in local communities. The book is a 144 page collection of writings looking at the practical issues effecting locally-based youth work. Although it is based around the experiences of The Rank Foundation, it will be of great interest to anyone working with local youth projects and agencies.

You can order a copy from Amazon here.

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Local Youth Work (Part 6)

Workers recognise that it can be harder to build trust and relationships, when you are perceived as ‘outside’ of the local. This causes a potential dilemma for youth workers who do not live in the community where they work, as they must try to understand the complex issues of a community from the ‘outside’. Larry Parsons commented on this issue, noting that ‘to be a credible role model to whom others can relate, it is necessary to share the conditions in which members of the group have to live’ (Parsons, 2002: 10).

There are also issues for ‘local’ workers. Home-grown youth workers will ‘still have the task of gaining acceptance as workers, rather than as neighbours, as family or as friends’ (Smith, 1994: 15). They have to overcome how they are already perceived by the community, in order to gain respect in their role. This process of gaining acceptance and developing relationships can be a long one:

When I first started at the youth project, there was a particular young man who I knew had been through very difficult family circumstances. My manager had told me a little bit of information about the situation, yet this lad had never mentioned it to me directly. Although I worked with him every week on various activities, it was only after four years that he decided to tell me about his past. I never asked him a question or prompted the discussion, he just felt finally able to trust me.

In the example above, it took four years for the worker to become fully accepted by that young person. But acceptance is not the only issue facing workers who come from their own neighbourhoods. It is also possible that locally-grown workers may not have either the experience or a wider perspective that will help them develop both themselves and their work with young people.

It can be very easy to get caught up in the customs and habits of a community without critically reflecting upon the reasons for doing so. These individuals may unintentionally limit their possibilities for ‘emancipation and enlargement of experience’ (Dewey, 1933: 340).

When I started studying youth work, I was amazed at the wealth of theory around. For the first time, I could see that I wasn’t alone in what I was doing – people had done it, thought about it and come to some useful conclusions. It really helped to put my work in perspective.

There is a benefit to having a common experience of the community in which you work. Yet, it is still possible for a worker to be successful in their role if they come from outside a community. There are many examples of workers who have been ‘adopted’ by the area in which they work. The real importance is whether they are accepted and respected within the community. As we have seen, much of this depends upon their personality and ability to engage others.

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Part 7 will be published next week. Click here for the full series of posts.


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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.

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