YWN Article: Break down the youth work divide

8 March 2010 — Leave a comment

ywn-logoThe following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.

Break down the youth work divide
Over the years, I have often picked up on a perceived divide between the voluntary and statutory youth sectors.

To illustrate what I mean, there was one guest lecture at a university youth work course where I was asked to talk about the benefits of the voluntary sector. During that presentation, one of the students took great exception to my description assuming that I was, by extolling the virtues of the third sector, dismissing the value of statutory youth work.

While many voluntary organisations work closely with statutory agencies, this either/or attitude is still quite common. I’ve heard statutory workers criticise voluntary organisations for their lack of professionalism and ad hoc approach, and have myself been vocal on the constraints and outcome-focused approach in the statutory world. Many writers have also commented on the distinctions, drawing neat dividing lines between the two.

The result is that these sectors can sometimes be unintentionally framed as mortal enemies, set against each other in an epic battle for young people’s attention.

Of course, this is nonsense. So why does this “them and us” mentality continue? I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply based on a misunderstanding of the other sector.

I recently spent a Saturday training with a group of part-time statutory youth workers on accreditation in the local youth service. Personally, I was interested in how accreditation was being successfully integrated into generic activities, but these workers were there to learn how it must be incorporated into their work in order to meet the service’s targets.

What was noticeable during that session was how enthusiastic and passionate these workers were, even though most had given up their time voluntarily to be there. I had naively assumed that they would simply accept outcomes and accreditation as normal practice without question, but many of them were incredibly self-reflective and critically thoughtful about how accreditation affects their work.

Learning and laughing together was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and my preconceptions were proved very wrong.

There must be a whole bunch of workers in both the statutory and voluntary sectors who, like me, would benefit from spending some time learning about how each other’s organisations work. In fact, it should be a mandatory part of training.

Of course, there will always be differences in ethos and approach between agencies and sectors, with workers drawn to particular styles of working. We need that diversity. But in these difficult times when many youth work jobs and services are under threat from budget cuts, maybe we should finally forget about our differences and join forces to promote the excellent and vital work that we do.

You can view all my Youth Work Now articles 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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