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 On this particular evening she looked subdued and withdrawn, making little contact with the other young people.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.


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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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