On Saturday, 16 Year Old Laura Dekker completed her solo round-the-world sailing adventure. The Dutch teenager started her record breaking voyage at just 14 years old – but only after winning a court case that allowed her to go.

Arrival of 16-year-old, Dutch girl, Laura Dekker in St.Maarten Yacht Club, in the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on January 21, 2012. She becomes the youngest sailor who ever sailed around the world solo. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-MICHEL ANDRE

Although Laura was born on a boat off the coast of New Zealand (and holds citizenship there), she lives in Holland where schooling is compulsory until 16. As a result when she made plans aged 13 to do a round the world solo voyage, the Dutch authorities stepped in with a court order and she was almost taken into care as it was felt she was too young to look after herself at sea. She eventually won the court battle on the conditions that she complete a first aid course and continue with her education via an internet-based distance learning scheme. The BBC have a good piece covering the full story surrounding her voyage.

However, the youth work aspect I’m interested in with this story is in finding the balance between encouraging young people to fulfil their dreams, and taking necessary precautions around their safety and wellbeing.

My initial reaction to hearing that Laura had completed the voyage was pride. Here was a young girl who has followed her dreams, achieved something amazing, and proved her critics wrong. But then I thought: what if I had been responsible for her? Would I have encouraged her to go, or maybe suggested she wait a year or two?

It’s actually the Social Workers in the story who I feel a bit sorry for. I understand their dilemma. As the BBC quotes:

“We have a duty to investigate. The law says you must stay in school until you are 16,” says Caroline Vink from the Netherlands Youth Institute.

“We also had to make sure that Laura was able to cope with the demands of such a massive challenge when she was so young; things like the lack of sleep and being on her own all the time.”

“It’s so difficult to judge a case like this and when you’re dealing with such a determined young woman.

“We never meant to make her life difficult, only to look out for her safety. I hope she doesn’t hold a grudge.

“In the end she has shown extreme strength of character both before and of course during her adventure.”

Apparently, Laura doesn’t think much of the Dutch authorities due to her experiences and is considering moving to New Zealand as a result!

Most of us aren’t involved in such a high profile scenario, but we do face similar dilemmas in our work. How do we best encourage young people to fulfil their potential while being realistic about their, and our, safety?

What do you think? Were the Dutch authorities right to try and stop the voyage initially? Should we allow young people to do risky and dangerous things, or do we have a duty to stop them? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

This week there’s been a couple of key reports released relating to the quality of life for children and young people in the UK.

Firstly the Campaign to End Child Poverty published new figures (estimates for mid 2011) that provide a child poverty map of the whole of the UK.

On average, one in five (20.9%) children are classified as below the poverty line (before housing costs). It’s 18% in my locality. In some areas of large cities, this rises to over half. At a more local level, there are even more serious concentrations of child poverty: in 100 local wards, between 50% and 70% of children face poverty.

Official government measures of child poverty are based on a national survey of family income which only shows poverty at national and regional level. The figures shown in this report use tax credit data to give the percentage of children on low incomes in local authorities, parliamentary constituencies and wards. Therefore although it is not the official measure, it is the closest data available on local levels of child poverty and very useful information to help us do better at eradicating poverty. As Alison Garnham, Executive Director of the Campaign, says:

“The child poverty map paints a stark picture of a socially segregated Britain where the life chances of millions of children are damaged by poverty and inequality. But it also gives us reason for hope. The child poverty target has already been met in the Prime Minister’s constituency and nearly a hundred others, so never let it be said that the targets are impossible to meet. If we can do it in Witney today, we can do it in Hackney tomorrow.

Then yesterday, The Children’s Society published the The Good Childhood Report 2012. After interviewing 30,000 children aged 8 to 16, the report reveals that half a million children across the UK are unhappy with their lives. This is important information as the report states:

Children who have low levels of happiness are much less likely to enjoy being at home with their family, feel safe when with their friends, like the way they look and feel positive about their future. Children unhappy in this way are also more likely to be victimised, have eating disorders or be depressed.

Key findings include:

  • Choice and family have the biggest impact on children’s happiness.
  • The quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in.
  • Low well-being increases dramatically with age – doubling from the age of 10 (7%) to the age of 15 (14%).
  • Children as young as eight are aware of the financial issues their families face.  Children in families who have experienced a reduction in income are more likely to have low well-being.
  • Children who do not have clothes to ‘fit in’ with peers are more than three times as likely to be unhappy with their appearance. Children who are unhappy with their appearance are also much more likely than average to experience frequent bullying.

You can download the full report or the research summary to find our more, but these findings indicate that poverty (or a reduction in wealth) have a big impact on how happy a child feels.

Both these reports highlight some serious challenges for children and young people in the UK, and some big reminders of how those working with them must continue to provide support in this difficult time.

Safe Network

6 January 2012 — 5 Comments

The Safe Network is an excellent website and series of resources for community and voluntary sector organisations around best practice in keeping children and young people safe.

Jointly managed by the NSPCC, Children England and Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), Safe Network was created as a result of the Government’s Staying Safe action plan and is fast becoming one of my “go-to” resources. The site is pretty comprehensive with hundreds of downloadable policy templates around child protection, bullying, online guidance, recruitment, etc. They also offer free online child protection training to not-for-profit organisations, and the Are they safe? Pack.

Impressively, they are working closely with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), and the Childrens Workforce Development Council  (CWDC) among others to try and build common safeguarding standards for voluntary and community organisations. This is reflected in the way they offer specific advice and policies for various demographics such as faith groups, sport groups and supporting LGBT young people.

I’ve been working through the Self-assessment tool which helps organisations check if they meet the Safe Network Standards, a set of national core standards designed to help non-statutory organisations put in place clear safeguarding arrangements for children and young people. You have to register on the site, but can then work through each standard as a checklist to see if it is implemented in your organisation, and there are downloads and templates to use if you need help.

So there you go. Visit the site and bookmark. You will find it very useful if:

  • you work in an organisation, whether small, medium or large, local or national, and your activities are primarily aimed at children.
  • you provide activities for children and young people in a local voluntary and community organisation.
  • you have contact with children and young people but your work is not primarily or solely child care (eg faith groupblack, minority and ethnic grouphobby clubunaffiliated sport , cultural or leisure activity).
  • you’re a trustee or a funder of an organisation that involves or includes children in any of its activities.
  • you’re a parent or carer who needs advice on keeping children safe.


Happy New Year

31 December 2011 — 1 Comment

A huge thanks to all the readers and contributors who helped make this tiny corner of the internet even slightly interesting during 2011. I trust and pray you have an exciting and fulfilling new year in 2012.


Mistakes I’ve Made #11

23 December 2011 — 2 Comments

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Mistake #11: (Almost) Ruining Christmas

Each year our church hold a very short (45 mins) service on Christmas Day which involves a few carols, the kids each sharing about a gift they were given, and a quick presentation reminding people about the reason for our celebration: the birth of Jesus.

A few years back I was asked to do “the talk” for the Christmas Day service and prepared what I thought would be a fun and engaging few minutes. I planned to do the brilliant chocolate sprouts illustration followed up by a funny anecdote about Christmas.  Turned out, it wasn’t that funny to some people…

The story I told was of a friend of mine who had accidentally put his foot in it at Christmas time. At a kid’s event, my friend had noticed a young lad who was not engaging with the current activity so went over to ask if he was ok. The boy quietly shared the burden he was carrying, that he knew that Father Christmas wasn’t real. Realising there was no use trying to persuade him otherwise, my friend gently said, “You’re right, he’s not real” before adding “It’s just like the Tooth Fairy”. At that moment, a look of horror swept over the child’s face as he cried out “Not the Tooth Fairy as well!”

Obviously, it’s a humorous and true story that I took great pleasure in telling that Christmas morning. Unfortunately it never occurred to me that in retelling that tale in front of numerous families with young children, that I would effectively be making the exact same mistake as my friend in the story and putting my foot right in it. Although I never explicitly stated that Santa wasn’t real, the implication from the story was that both he and the Tooth Fairy are fantasy figures – something that parents aren’t too keen to hear mentioned in front of their children on Christmas Day!

A couple of people were understandably very upset at the time and I was told that I had ruined Christmas. Thankfully, most people were fine about it and many, many people still lovingly remind me of it to this day – much to my embarrassment.

So what about you? Have YOU ever said something publicly that you later regretted? Have you ever told a child that Father Christmas isn’t real? What happened? Share with us in the comments!

Jargon Busters

19 December 2011 — 2 Comments

Are you confused between your Outputs & Outcomes? What’s the difference between your Vision, Purpose, Aims and Mission?

Jargonbusters.org.uk is a new website designed at cutting through the confusing terms and definitions in the charitable and voluntary sector to enable organisations to be clearer in their language. It’s been put together by a group of funders, government departments, regulatory bodies and voluntary sector organisations who form the Jargonbuster Group.

Having checked out the site, it’s actually very useful. As the site explains:

Funders and support agencies use concepts and terms from the language of planning, project management and performance improvement in different ways. This lack of agreed definitions has led to widespread confusion about what particular terms mean and how to use them most appropriately

The Jargonbusters site is designed with three aims:

First, it will define some of the different terms charities and community groups, evaluators and funders use, tell you when you might hear them, and what they mean in different situations.

Secondly, it will bring out some of the ideas behind the jargon.

Thirdly, it will help funders be clearer about the words they use and use them more consistently.

So add it to your bookmarks and now there’s no excuse for using the wrong terms in your communications! 😉

Sticky Faith

13 December 2011 — 1 Comment

I’ve recently been reading the Kindle version of Sticky Faith, a book and collection of resources for youth leaders and parents to help young people stick with their faith beyond the youth group.


The book comes in two editions; for youth leaders, and for parents, and is accompanied by a comprehensive website that provides additional material and regular updates over at stickyfaith.org. The whole idea is based on six years of study by the US based Fuller Youth Institute who set up the College Transition Project, a longitudinal study that followed over 500 high school seniors during their first three years in college. As they state:

The goals of this research are to understand the dynamics of youth group graduates’ transition to college and to identify the relationships and best practices in youth ministries, churches, and families that can help set students on a trajectory of lifelong faith and service.

Despite being based on some rigorous academic research (you can read the research overview and criteria on the site), the books are very accessible with lots of stories and examples to help draw out the findings. They are also very honest and don’t shy away from asking hard questions such as ‘why do so many “Christian” young people end up walking away from their faith?’ While there are no easy answers here, the authors do suggest some key ingredients they have found that make a lasting impact on the young people they studied helping them to retain a ‘Sticky Faith’.

By “Sticky Faith” we mean a combination of characteristics, all of which exist in a dynamic tension…

  • Faith that is both internalized and externalized: a faith that is part of a student’s inner thoughts and emotions, and is also externalized in choices and actions that reflect that faith commitment.  These behaviors include regular attendance in a church/campus group, prayer and Bible reading, service to others, and lower participation in risk behaviors, in particular sex and alcohol (two behaviors we are studying specifically).  In other words, Sticky Faith involves whole-person life integration, at least to some degree.
  • Faith that is both personal and communal:  a faith that celebrates God’s specific care for each person while always locating faith in the global and local community of the Church.
  • Faith that is both mature and maturing:  a faith that shows marks of spiritual maturity but is also in process of growth.  We don’t assume a high school senior or college freshman (or a youth worker for that matter) will have a completely “mature” faith.  We are all in process.

Encouragingly, the research confirms that it’s never too early or too late to start developing faith that continues to grow and lasts and gives a good theological/philosophical framework and some practical relationship and programming ideas that develop long-term faith in teenagers.

I would highly recommend buying the book if you don’t already own it, or at the very least spending some time on the website.

A Gospel that Sticks from Fuller Youth Institute on Vimeo.

Kids Company Christmas

9 December 2011 — 1 Comment

You many have heard of the Kids Company, a charity proving support for vulnerable children in inner city London. I was asked to post about their upcoming Christmas Party which you can hear about in the short video below.

Kids Company help over 17,000 vulnerable children and young people in and around London, and this year, as always, they are hosting a Christmas Day party for thousands of kids who might otherwise spend the holiday alone.  On the day, dedicated volunteers will cook a feast for 3,500 kids at the party, and will create food packages for 4,000 others.

This is a huge task and they are dependant on raising money to make the event possible. As a result they’ve created a Facebook app that allows people to make small donations to the party in the form of virtual gifts, from party hats to Brussels sprouts to a star for the tree. Why not take a look and buy a gift for the party: www.facebook.com/kidscompany

Back in November, our Breakfast Club was featured as part of the BBC Children In Need fundraising programme. Here is the appeal film that they made:

As a result of the film, we’ve had loads of interest in the club. Many, many people have commented that they saw us on TV and four individuals have already come forward to volunteer at the club. Our local B&Q branch came along and donated an 8′ Christmas tree complete with decorations, we’ve had an article in the local paper and a feature being written for a magazine, and there’s now some bigger discussions occurring around how the club can develop in the future.

We couldn’t have bought this kind of publicity, but it’s been an exciting journey so far. Most importantly we hope it will enable us to continue supporting the brilliant children who are referred to the club, and allow us to help even more of them!

This Is Youth Work

1 December 2011 — Leave a comment

I meant to post about this last month, but due to the arrival of our new baby I never got round to it. Tony Taylor and friends over at In defence of youth work (IDYW) have published a book called ‘This Is Youth Work: Stories From Practice’ along with an accompanying DVD.

The book features 12 stories, nine from the point of view of youth workers and three from the young people’s point of view, all presented with a useful introduction with some context and analysis of youth work practice in our current political climate. IDYW hope that the book and DVD will provide a  starting point for further debate and activity in support of democratic youth work.

Here is one of the stories from the book:

Pen and Paper Youth Work

Anne was fifteen. On this particular evening she looked subdued and withdrawn, making little contact with the other young people. Something was clearly affecting her but her shrug suggested that she did not want to talk. It was a dismissal of both Grace (the youth worker) and the topic.

During the evening Grace created an opportunity for sitting next to Anne. Rather than talking, she passed her a note asking if she was ok. Anne responded by writing a note back saying she was feeling down, things were not all well at home – that she was really struggling. She signed the note with a sad face 🙁 . Through a series of small points of clarification in the notes that followed Anne, bit by bit, was able to reveal her struggles. Open questions were avoided or ignored by Anne who was too ‘sussed’ for that: she saw them as disrespectful, an insult to her intelligence. For Anne the problems were too big to bring out in one go.

Though it wasn’t emotionally and physically possible to do that, the small pieces of clarification that Grace asked for seemed to be respected and responded to. Grace used the clarifications to show she was interested, that she cared and – both as a youth worker but also as a parent herself – that maybe she even understood a little of what was happening to Anne. When it became clear that her relationship with her mother and father was strained, one of Grace’s responses was that she was a mother as well and that as a parent she didn’t always get it right.

As the exchanges of notes continued other worries came out – about the pressure to
have a boyfriend and how she felt about herself. All this took place without a spoken word between the two of them. At the end of the evening Grace wrote another note asking Anne how she was feeling. Her response was to draw a straight face an improvement on the sad one where she’d started.

No more was thought or said about this exchange. Though infrequently, Anne continued to visit the centre, then eventually stopped coming altogether and contact was lost.

A couple of years later Anne saw Grace in the town centre. She approached her smiling, asked how she was and about the youth centre. She was studying in College and enjoying the course. Anne asked whether Grace remembered their exchange of notes, to which Grace replied that of course she did. Anne thought for a moment and then, looking directly at Grace, said that on that evening she was feeling so low that she was thinking of self harming but that their ‘conversation’ had stopped her. She then said thank you, and ‘seeya’.

Go download the pdf version of the book from here.