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.
Who would gain from a licence?
At the tail end of the summer, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that it had no plans to introduce occupational licences, including one for youth work.
A licence would require an individual to gain a particular level of qualification in order to be registered as a professional worker. The decision to keep youth work as an unlicenced profession means that anyone can continue to call themselves a youth worker – a point that divides the sector.
Despite this, the voluntary registration scheme for workers proposed by the National Youth Agency (NYA) continues to move forward regardless. Earlier this year, the NYA committed Â£30,000 to explore the feasibility of a voluntary register and discovered “considerable support among key stakeholder groups and individuals for a registration scheme”.
The agency obviously didn’t ask me. If the scheme goes ahead it will be only for Joint Negotiating Committee-qualified professionals, although could be extended to voluntary and youth support workers. But registration will require a payment from individuals. As a qualified worker, I would therefore have to buy my own registration into a scheme that imposes particular values and sanctions upon my work.
The key question for me though in all this talk of licences and registration is will this benefit young people?
Young people do not seek out youth provision with qualified and professional workers; they go where they have relationships with others, or a particular interest. So giving some workers an extra badge of honour is irrelevant to whether young people participate.
Nor will registration suddenly improve the quality of work happening with young people. Although good management and training can help workers develop their practice and should be encouraged, there are still some bad qualified workers. A voluntary registration scheme for those individuals would simply gives us bad registered workers regardless of any criteria or guidance.
Despite claims to the contrary, registration will sadly not protect young people from workers with less-than altruistic motives. High-profile cases among professions such as the clergy and teaching prove that abuse still occurs in regulated environments.
So if it won’t directly benefit young people, what exactly is it for? If, as the NYA claims, there is demand for a registration scheme then it can only be about professionals wanting further recognition for their work. This may be a fair request given the breadth and diversity of the youth work sector, yet it would potentially be very damaging.
My own JNC-validated qualification and references serve me adequately. If we really do want to improve the state of youth work in the UK, let’s stop developing ridiculous titles, brandings and status, and instead invest in our work with young people.