The 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 online here.
Let’s celebrate our inspirational role
This month, the National Youth Agency (NYA) is relaunching Youth Work Week. According to the press release, it is a chance to highlight the contribution of youth work to the development of young people and to turn public attention towards the positive roles played by young people in their communities.
It is quite a timely event for the sector as a whole, given the far-reaching public spending cuts, and for the NYA in particular, as it faces strong criticism over its role as a national body and an independent voice to local government.
I have previously stated that there is a lot of confusion over the term “youth work”, so I think it’s a great idea to promote our profession and raise the profile of what we actually do. To that end, there are a number of resources and ideas available on the NYA website.
But all this celebration and self-congratulation has got me thinking about those who had a positive impact on me. There is a long list of significant adults who inspired, encouraged and challenged me during my formative years. Many were youth workers â€” even though they may not have given themselves that title. They worked informally, in whatever environment was available, to educate and advise me.
The same is true for most of us. Regardless of our history or social standing, we can think fondly of adults who encouraged us when we were younger. Across the UK, there are still traditional youth clubs where workers and volunteers have served faithfully for 20 to 30 years. I’ve heard many stories of former young people who come back to the clubs years later to thank those people for what they did.
In my own work, I have been fortunate enough to see a few young volunteers go on to train as youth workers. But the truth is, apart from a couple of stories, we will never really know the full impact our work has on young people and, consequently, on society. It is that unknown, that untapped potential, that makes this work so exciting – and so difficult to properly evaluate.
In our current climate with the general confusion and anger over the state of the sector, it can be easy to get caught up in doom and gloom. It is after all our livelihoods, and many youth workers are facing redundancy. But regardless of all the important arguments, changes to policy direction and lament over traditional youth work values, there will always be inspirational adults who work informally in various clubs and settings to encourage and educate young people.
As we celebrate Youth Work Week, take a minute to remember those individuals who have gone before us and made an impact on our own lives. Then as we make plans and move forwards in these difficult times, let’s consider those young people we work with and commit to doing our very best for them.
There will always be a need for skilled youth workers to provide activities and education for young people. I intend to do that to the best of my ability.