A quick update

16 April 2012 — 3 Comments

Posts have been a little erratic on this site for a while, so my apologies for not being as consistent as usual. I generally try to post at least once a week, normally two or three times when I can, so the last month has been a pretty poor show!

There’s no single reason for this other than a need to focus on other things a bit more – particularly my wonderful family (including feeding asix month old). I’m also writing a couple of chapters for different youth work publications while holding down a full-time job and volunteering in different roles too. It’s all good, but blogging had to take a back seat for a while.

Feel free to prompt me every once in a while, but there should be some new posts coming soon!

One Step Forward

2 April 2012 — 2 Comments

Although not strictly a youth work event, this weekend of personal development is well worth a look!

My church, Arun Community Church, is hosting One Step Forward, A weekend of personal development on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th June 2012. It’s being facilitated by Jim McNeish and the team from Cantle, a Leadership Development Consultancy working predominantly with the boards of multinational organisations. Cantle is based in the Highlands of Scotland on the beautiful banks of Loch Tay.

I’ve been to a number of events led by Jim and his team, and the they never cease to astound me with their humble and incredible knowledge of people and inter-personal relationships. I’ve learnt so much about how I function, and how I can better relate to others through the work that Cantle have done. Using a variety of psychological techniques, but based in natural, everyday interactions from a Christian worldview, Cantle have a way of engaging people and bringing out their best.

Even better, the church is hosting this event for only £20 per person! This is world class personal development coaching for a fraction of the usual price, so if you’re in the South East and can spare the time, I highly recommend coming along. Here’s the info on the content:

Character growth can feel elusive. Bouncing out of the latest conference, we are full of determination for fresh discipline and better relationships. Then Monday comes with its mundane requirements, difficult boss, grey skies and enforced compromises, and before we know it we’ve not only failed in some of our promises but we seem to have taken a step back with some added cynicism or resignation.

The issue here is not what happens – that’s life, but rather how we think about it. We do not develop ourselves in the same way we develop a business plan or a project. It’s not linear. Character growth is seasonal with winters and summers where bits of us die away and then burst into life again with new strength.

ONE STEP FORWARD is about learning how to take ground steadily in our development as we push toward a vision for our lives. Using psychology and creative exercises, you will learn some other ways to think about how you grow as a person.

So what are you waiting for? Book in now as places are limited.

Eventbrite - One Step Forward

The Young Foundation, part of the Catalyst consortium has published the final draft of their ‘Outcomes Framework for Young People’s Services‘ and are looking for feedback. Could this be a useful tool for your work with young people?

The last 10 years of government policy has pushed towards targeted outcomes in work with young people, but measuring the right outcomes has been problematic simply because it’s hard to capture the personal ‘soft’ changes that occur in young people as a result of our work. It was the focus of my undergraduate dissertation and last year the youth sector was criticised by the education select committee for not being able to show evidence of the difference we make. As a result of Department for Education funding, the Catalyst consortium (a partnership of the National Youth Agency, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Young Foundation) have now created the Outcomes Framework for Young People’s Services.

Essentially, it is a comprehensive document (based on strong evidence from a range of research and literature) that helps understand and measure the connections between intrinsic personal and social development outcomes and longer-term extrinsic outcomes. It uses this relationship to create the outcomes model below (click to enlarge):

Workers can use the framework to identify the sort of outcomes they should be measuring in their work, and then use the matrix of tools to find the best way to actually measure it. The matrix is basically a catalogue of third party tools and resources designed to capture evidence on personal and social development. Many of the tools are well known (such as Soul Record or Outcomes Stars) while some are more obscure, but they have all been assessed and compared with key criteria so you can identify the ones that best fit your work.

The full framework process is shown in the diagram below (click to enlarge), and explained in detail within the document.

The framework as a whole may be too in-depth for most practitioners doing face to face work, but it should be a very useful tool for managers and organisations that need to show the difference they make. And that is the point. I imagine as a result of this work that we will start seeing more funders looking for useful evidence of social development in young people to justify the money they invest in organisations and projects.

The version available on The Young Foundation site is a final draft and they are looking for feedback to shape the final document (due in April). The writers are particularly interested to hear responses to the following questions:

  • Do the key messages of the Framework resonate with you?
  • Who do you feel would be the key audience for the framework? (Commissioners, providers, managers?) Who would you recommend reads it?
  • How do you think the framework might be used?
  • Does the approach set out in the Framework represent a significant change to your current way of working? In what way?
  • What do you feel are the main opportunities and challenges of such an approach?
  • Do you feel clear about the practical steps in taking forward the approach set out in the Framework?
  • Do you feel that you or your service would benefit from (additional) support around impact and outcomes? What types(s) of support is/are needed?
  • What else is needed to make the Framework ‘useful’, going forward?

View and download the Outcomes Framework for Young People’s Services here. You should email any feedback to Bethia McNeil by March 31st 2012.

What are your thoughts on this? Do we need to prove what we do or is it a waste of time?

Yesterday I spent a fun and thought-provoking day at YMCA George Williams College for the Youth & Policy ‘Thinking Seriously About Youth Work and Policy’ Conference!

The focus of the Conference was to look at youth work in the light of government policy and the implications for the sector. There was a good range of speakers presenting on a variety of subjects and I actually really enjoyed myself (while trying to tweet all the sound bites)! I’ll try and summarise each of the speakers briefly below.

Ian Maerns, Labour MP for Gateshead and member of the government Select Committee on Children & Young People’s Services spent some time explaining the role of the committee and his experiences last year when evidence was being submitted for youth services. He reminded us that the role of the committee is not to set policy but to report to government and make recommendations for them to respond to. He quipped that the current government make a big deal about schooling (free schools, baccalaureate, etc) but know nothing of education. He also questioned the notion that “We’re all in this together” by highlighting the numerous policy changes that have disproportionately effected young people and the vulnerable. He claimed that the language of current government policy is telling: young people themselves are seen as problems. Therefore he concluded that our challenge is to enable young people to reach their maximum potential by breaking down barriers and seeking inclusion.

Garath Symonds, Director of young people’s services for Surrey County Council outlined how Surrey had adapted to funding cuts and policy changes. With a background in youth work, Gareth presented a compelling picture of youth work in the county showing the model they had moved to and the commitment made to front line youth workers. He said they have 36 youth centres with a full-time worker in each as well as another full-time equivalent post of part-timers. The line management of these staff (but not payroll, pension, etc) has been commissioned out to other organisations such as voluntary agencies and a housing association. To cut costs, they made 1 in 3 managers and 1 in 2 admin staff redundant becoming more efficient with software Apps for workers on laptops, tablets, etc. He made an important statement that based on current policy, traditional youth work had no place in the statutory sector, but that Surrey were making it work anyway.
While Garath was applauded for his efforts, there was a sense of concern from people which resonated in the questions to him. He was asked about longevity and sustainability of this model with further policy changes and cuts in future – which i don’t believe he really answered. I came away with a sense that he was committed, but perhaps naive or misguided about the impact he was having locally and nationally. Then again, I’m not in charge of a county youth service so what do I know?!

Fiona Blacke, Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency was a last minute addition to the programme. As I understand it, she couldn’t make the whole day but asked to attend a section and present a short talk regarding the NYA’s role. She took the opportunity to suggest that things for the youth sector were very bleak and because there had been no huge outcry, maybe we like it that way. She criticised the same old people chiming into youth work debates and called for new voices (which I think is happening anyway). Then she explained how the NYA had seen a tough few years which they had inherited due to mismanagement by her predecessor, but the organisation was moving forwards again. This was a particularly astounding thing to say in public as Tom Wylie the previous CEO at the NYA was not only in the room, but had been sitting next to her and helped organise the conference as part of Youth & Policy. It is also not true. While I don’t really know Tom, he was always well regarded at NYA and left the organisation with a healthy bank balance. Since he left, cuts and loss of contracts have dealt the NYA some heavy blows, but to publicly and unsubtly blame him for this was shocking!
Overall the talk was negative and personally motivated. At the end, Bernard Davies stood up and defended Tom, deploring the way Fiona had attacked him. This led to much discussion and debate as the conference broke for lunch. Fiona left during the break and so we were not able to question her.

After lunch Paul Oginsky, advisor to the government on youth, Spoke about the importance of personal and social development for young people. He explained there were far too many terms and approaches for this type of work and there is a need for a common language to help policy makers and managers who are commissioning these services. He went on to talk about the model he has developed for personal and social development, and how the National Citizen Service (NCS) is part of this. His goal is to get young people empowered as active citizens.

I’m pretty sceptical of the National Citizen Service as an idea, and Paul didn’t convince me on it. But he was far more engaging and passionate on his ideas than I was expecting, and I found myself admiring his positivity towards engaging young people. He was questioned quite a lot and it was clear that many in the room are against the NCS, but generally he took the criticism well and tried to respond to points raised.

The next session was broken into workshops. I went to one on the role of faith hosted by Nigel Pimlott. While there was good discussion, the session was too short to really get into anything.

Finally, there was a panel discussion with Bernard Davies (IDYW), Lesley Buckland (YMCA George Williams College), and myself. We each presented a few thoughts on the day before opening up to the audience. Bernard spoke on the values of the In Defence campaign and the need to critically scrutinise government policy. He outlined the dangerous trends occurring with our Coalition government and urged action from practitioners – a theme that had come up a number of times during the day. I found myself agreeing with Bernard on many points (at the risk of being called a grumpy old man) and talked about policy implication for practice. At least I think I did! Lesley made a stand for professional values and called out the occasions during the day when ‘professionals’ had taken verbal swipes at others. She also echoed Bernard on asking for the field of youth work to stand up for itself and others.

In all it was a good day and a quiet triumph for the In Defence of Youth Work Campaign. Although IDYW was mentioned a few times, it was the not a big focus of the day. However, their description of youth work and the general values they stand seemed to come through in much of the discussions.

I came away with a greater sense of urgency to stand up for young people and positive work with young people in the light of policy direction.

Did you go? What did you make of it?

This week I’ve been talking with Youthforce, a national training provider, about accessing their accredited youth work courses for free!

I get asked a lot about training and qualifications in youth work, particularly from those in the voluntary sector who are looking to develop or enhance their skills. I’ve also got a number of long-term volunteers who are now looking to maybe get into working with young people as a profession. Although it may be a bad time for youth work in the UK, there are still opportunities out there and I’m really excited about working with Youthforce to get people trained.

Youthforce are based down the road from me in Hove, but are dedicated to developing people in the UK and globally. They provide accredited and non-accredited courses for professionals in the public sector, and also train and mentor leaders and employees in the private sector too. Crucially for me, many of their trainers come from a youth work background and the whole organisation understands the youth work sector well. From their website:

If you are interested in undertaking an apprenticeship or a qualification in the field of Youth Work, Mentoring or Sports & Active Leisure then Youthforce can provide a valuable training experience. Many courses are fully funded.Youthforce is able to take on individual students as well as full cohorts of learners nationally. With professional and dedicated trainers based in all areas of England, this opportunity is truly great value! With this opportunity Youthforce is also pleased to launch the Level 1 qualifications, an exciting addition to our eclectic qualification portfolio.

They are currently recruiting people for the Level 1 Certificate: Introduction to Youth Work Level 2 Certificate: Youth Work Practice, and Level 3 Diploma: Youth Work Practice among others. The criteria for each course is different, so click through to see which is most appropriate for your needs. For those employed to do youth work (even an hour a week), and who don’t have any previous Level 2 qualifications (e.g. VRQ/NVQ, etc), the Level 2 or 3 training may be totally FREE! (It looks like I might be able to get three volunteers qualified at Level 3 at no cost.)

If you’re interested, each level involves building a portfolio of work/evidence through an online access point and meeting together either regular evenings or weekends (e.g. the Level 3 Diploma is around 16 days or 32 evenings over a 9 month period).

Level 2 is designed to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills required to competently fulfil the role of Assistant Youth Support Worker. It’s suitable for participants looking to develop their skills and practice in working with young people enabling participants to link theory with practice whilst providing a dynamic and enriching learning experience. It has been designed to develop the skills and knowledge needed to work with young people in a Youth Work setting. Participants should have already completed an introductory level qualification in a relevant field and/or gained relevant experience of working with young people. Participants must be working directly with young people between the ages of 11 – 25 regularly with at least 50% of the practise being with 13 – 19 year olds. Learners who achieve the ABC Level 2 Certificate in Youth Work Practice may wish to progress onto ABC Level 3 Awards/Certificates/Diploma. Click for Course Outline

Level 3 is designed to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills that are needed to competently fulfil the role of Youth Support Worker. This diploma is recognised as a pre-professional qualification that qualifies workers to supervise small teams of sessional staff. It is essential that participants are regularly working directly with young people between the ages of 11 – 25 with at least 50% of the practise with 13 – 19 year olds. Learners should ideally have completed a level 2 qualification in youth work and/or have significant experience in a youth work setting. Learners need to have access to the real work environment.  Click for Course Outline

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and sign yourself or your staff and volunteers up for the training. The deadline for some of the funding is March the 31st so you’d better be quick!

Youthwork Summit 2012

5 March 2012 — 3 Comments

The Youthwork Summit is now into its third year and back in London. It’s well worth a day trip for Christian youth workers (both paid and voluntary). Read on to find out why!

First of all, the basic info:

Dates: Saturday 19th May 2012 (and Early Day on Friday 18th May 2012)
Venue: Jesus House, Brent Cross, London (and London School of Theology for the Early Day and ‘Big Chill’ activities)
Cost: £30 for just the Summit on Saturday, £30 for the Early Day, or £50 for both.

Now I must confess I’ve not actually made it to the previous two Summits (although I had a ticket for last year our second daughter arrived early), so can’t endorse the event from first-hand experience. I can tell you though that I’ve heard nothing but good things about it from those that have been, and you can see some of the presentations from last year on the website. As an aside, the website is very cool, but not very practical for finding info quickly.

The previous two years the Summit has been in the late Autumn and pretty close to Youthwork The Conference, so I’m pleased to see it has moved to May to give both events some breathing space (I’ve got tickets for both). It’s also migrated south again which is great for me, but not so amazing for everyone above London (it was in Manchester last year). However I hear it will be moving north again for 2013 – maybe this alternation is deliberate.

But what is the Summit and what makes it different and worth going to than other Christian youth work events? Really it’s because of the way the programme is structured. From the website:

Since 2010, we’ve been organising a unique annual one-day convention for every kind of Christian involved in every kind of work with young people. Why unique? Because over the course of just one day, you’ll hear more than 20 diverse voices presenting their big ideas about Christian youth work. For 5, 10… 15 minutes at the most, we ask a mix of world-leading experts and grass roots practitioners to take to the stage for a series of high-impact presentations – then create an atmosphere of interaction and engagement to ensure their ideas are accessed and developed by our delegates.

It’s this TED-style approach that makes the Summit different to other conferences. Not better, but it serves a different purpose. Whereas I go to  Youthwork The Conference to meet other youth workers, worship, go to longer seminars and get recharged, I’ll go to the Summit to hear new perspectives, be challenged and spark ideas.

Now that the programme has been released, I’m even more excited and looking forward to going. The theme is ” Visions & Dreams” but there’s so many contributors during the day on a huge variety of topics, it’s difficult to pick anything out to list here. You’re best bet is to download a copy of the programme here.

Early Day:

Last year, the Early Day speaker was Mark Yaconelli. I was gutted about missing that day so plan to make the most of this one! This year the guest keynote speaker is Mark Oestreicher, the former president of Youth Specialties (in the US), founder of The Youth Cartel, and prolific blogger. I’ve followed many of Marko’s adventures over the years, so am keen to meet the man face to face. His focus for the Summit is:

exploring together what it means to create a vision for our youth ministry that takes a wide-angled, long-term transformational view. We’ll look at at how adolescence is rapidly changing, how every context is different, and how to craft values that both allow for great practice and create space for God to move. A practical day that gives you a chance to take stock, learn, and dream for the future.

Sounds great, so go get yourself a ticket!



New Opportunities

20 February 2012 — 10 Comments

If you’re involved in youth work in the UK, you can’t fail to have noticed the systematic destruction of statutory youth services over the past few years. Government spending cuts have hit youth services particularly hard as they are not protected by law. Across the country brilliant youth programmes have closed, and some areas now have no coordinated youth provision so young people have no support or places to go. But there may be the beginnings of a small silver lining to this huge rain cloud…

Back in October 2009, I posted about a talk Tony Jeffs gave where he likened statutory youth work to a tree dying from the inside out. I wrote:

Given the current economic crisis and the postponement of public spending cuts until after the election, Tony predicted that over the next few years Government funded youth work would bare the brunt of these soaring costs and would see most of their budgets gone. He suggests that this will decimate the statutory youth sector and leave youth work in difficult position nationally.

The hope, he suggests, is that voluntary agencies will once again have the space to grow and flourish in local settings as they once did. These organisations will become the ‘youth service’ for the majority of the UK, running creative and localised activities that meet the needs of their communities.

Just over two years later and it seems Tony’s predictions were spot on regarding the death of state-funded youth work. I am now also seeing signs that voluntary agencies may be beginning to flourish. I wrote about the potential for this in November’s Youthwork Magazine:

…the Big Society agenda is pushing youth provision back to the third sector. For the first time in decades, voluntary youth services and charities are being asked to lead the way forward on their own terms rather than jump through the convoluted hoops of ‘targeted and accredited outcomes’ to justify their existence.

As a tangible example of this very thing, this week we’re reopening Rustington Youth Centre to young people. The Youth Centre, which is owned by Rustington Parish Council, has been closed for teenagers since May 2011 when cuts at West Sussex County Council meant the Youth Service had to withdraw from running activities there. Since then, the Parish Council have been working hard to get the Centre open again and we’re now working alongside them one night a week as a trial until the summer. It is very unlikely this would have happened a year ago because the youth service held the monopoly on delivering youth work (that’s not a criticism, but an observation).

To their immense credit, the Parish Council have been very bold to step forward and make something happen with a church, and they have also been surprisingly positive and forward thinking. I’m genuinely excited about this partnership as it has a lot of synergy with what we’re already doing in our local community. As a result, the partnership has raised a great deal of interest elsewhere and I’ve since had meetings and conversations with numerous councils and churches about ways in which they might go about working together. I’m hoping the lessons we learn here can be applied more widely to allow other organisations to do similar things and start to allow more creative and locally-focused youth work to thrive.

What do you think? Is this a trend you are seeing in your area? Do voluntary orgs have capacity to become a new ‘youth service’? Let us know in the comments!

Youth & Policy are running a conference in March to explore current youth policy and consider its implications for the youth work field. In the similar vein of previous conferences, it’s titled “Thinking Seriously About Youth Work and Policy”.

‘Policy’ is not a word that excites the average youth worker, yet understanding what is going on around us and how these changes affect youth work practice is important. This conference aims to bring together political, academic, managerial and practice perspectives for open dialogue about policy affecting young people and youth work. There’s a lot to talk about:

Over recent months, many events have taken place with subsequent policy implications for youth work organisation and practice. Following the implementation of Coalition spending cuts, the Select Committee on Services for Young People, and the riots of summer 2011, a conference to reflect on these events and their consequences in early 2012 is timely and useful. We hope that the conference will present a challenge to practitioners, managers and academics to consider the new landscape, and how policy and practice might be better shaped in the light of evidence and experience.

Paul Oginsky, influencer of the Conservative party’s youth policy and architect of the National Citizen Service will be attending the day and doing a Q&A session about the rationale of current and imminent youth policy. Tony Taylor has already made a few suggestions about what to quiz him on! You can read some more here!

Other highlights on the day will include a reflection on the Select Committee by Ian Maerns (MP), a youth work panel session to be led by Bernard Davies, and workshops on the NCS, teenage pregnancy, the PREVENT agenda, and the role of faith-based and voluntary organisations in the Big Society.

I’m planning to try and get along, so maybe I’ll see you there!

Booking forms can be requested by contacting conferences@youthandpolicy.org or visit the website www.youthandpolicy.org.


30 January 2012 — 8 Comments

Back in November, I wrote a post titled ‘Motives for Youth Ministry‘ where I asked Christians working with young people to explain why they did it. I had some great responses in the comments, but I’m now looking to develop that research with a simple survey.

I’m writing a chapter for an upcoming Youth & Policy publication on the theme of Christian youth work and want to ask a very simple question of Christian youth workers (of which I am one). It doesn’t matter what sort of setting you work in, whether you are paid or voluntary. All I would like to know is:

What is your primary reason for working with young people?

To make things interesting, I’m only giving you two possible answers;

  • to do something positive for others/serve/love others/make a difference/etc. (social action), or
  • to tell people about Jesus (evangelism).

I know this is very simplistic and people have a whole host of reasons for doing youth work, but go with me on this. Many people will also say it’s about both sharing the Good News and doing good for others, but I want to push you to pick one or the other based on your personal motivation!

If you really disagree with this either/or question, then please leave a comment explaining why. Your thoughts would be helpful.

So here’s the poll:

Thanks for your help!

I received the following from the National Youth Agency. Feel free to contact them directly if you’re interested!

Dear Colleague,

Opportunities to be involved in education training standards activity

The National Youth Agency is seeking suitably experienced and qualified youth work professionals to get involved in its education training standards (ETS) work through joining professional validation panels. These panels provide peer scrutiny and recommendations to ETS on the professional validation of higher education youth and community work programmes. The role will involve participation on a two-day visit, alongside three colleagues, to a higher education institution seeking validation. The frequency of involvement is flexible.

This opportunity is a voluntary post and validation panel members often find that their involvement brings additional perspectives and learning for their own work. All expenses will be covered. For more information please email Debbie Simms – debbiesi@nya.org.uk