YWN Article: Who would gain from a licence?

8 October 2010 — 5 Comments

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 £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.


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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.

5 responses to YWN Article: Who would gain from a licence?

  1. I feel the problem with the idea of licensing youth workers is that it is all about ensuring that only one ideology or one brand of youth work is allowed to practise. I recall debating with a very earnest trainee about whether or not scout leaders practise youth work. I came across similar opinions from tutors on a degree course for youth work. There was a time when one of the cornerstones for youth work was about the input of the young people being voluntary – and then it changed to that fabulous word ‘participation’. Sense the irony. I think REYS and all it stands for has sounded the death knell for youth work, and the whole issue of licensing and professionalising youthworkers reveals a desire for control in an environment where it should be the young people deciding the pace. This whole debate also has to be set in the context of Bernard Davies criticising the NYA and its stance over the cuts in services …

    • Thanks Chris, I totally agree with you. Your point about licensing promoting a narrow definition of youth work is entirely accurate.

      I wrote the article before Bernard’s critique of the NYA’s Spending Review Framework response, but I take a lot of his points. Personally, I feel the NYA have no real role or future in the current climate and are desperately trying to find a niche that will keep themselves solvent.

      There’s a great discussion happening around Bernard’s letter on the cypnow site here: http://community.cypnow.co.uk/forums/t/2723.aspx?PageIndex=1

  2. I’m having similar thoughts about the JNC qualification – how much does it benefit the young people I work with, given my experience, but is it important to give access to new places?

    • Hi Chris, I believe there are many people questioning the validity of the JNC but, at least for now, it is widely recognised as a professional level qualification and without it, excellent youth workers are often unable to hold senior positions.

      I really enjoyed the process of studying for my BA (Hons) and got a great deal out of it, so I would always endorse training and gaining that JNC. The qualification itself won’t affect your work, but the process of gaining it should make you a better worker.

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  1. Institute for Youth Work? | JonJolly.com - 3 May 2011

    […] heard all this before. I previously wrote about the NYA’s move towards registration in an article here. Earlier this year, the NYA committed £30,000 to explore the feasibility of a voluntary register […]

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