Last week I was at the Rank Foundation annual business conference on the theme of The Changing Experience of Young People. One of the guest speakers was Tony Jeffs, lecturer and author of many youth work texts. He gave an entertaining and controversial talk regarding the history of youth work practice in the UK and the current state of the work. In it, he likened the statutory youth sector to an old oak tree that is dying from the inside out! This may not be a pleasant read for those of you in the statutory youth sector, but I thought it interesting enough to share with you all. If you disagree, then please post your thoughts in the comments.
Some of the signs that he gave to justify this position that the youth service is dying, included the way many local councils are contracting out their youth services, the shift in job role to ‘support’ and ‘advice’ work – something entirely different to traditional youth work roles, plus the simple fact that key youth work policy documents like the Government’s Aiming High for Young People doesn’t even mention the term youth work!
He argued that this change reflected the Government’s loss of faith in association and groupwork. Instead networks and peer groups of young people are viewed as a negative, damaging influence that must be controlled. This thinking has been influenced by researchers like Terrie E. Moffitt who claimed it is possible to predict which young children would be lifelong perpetrators of criminal or antisocial behaviour, and Wade Osgood whose studies in the US suggested that those in poverty can have a corrupting and destructive influence on each other. The solution, therefore has been to focus on individuals at the expense of association and meaningful interactions.
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.
So what do you think of this prediction? True, possible, or very unlikely?