The fine line between Detached youthwork and Informal Policing

Maybe and old chestnut this one, but one worth exploring as its something the Sidewalk Team were thinking about last night. We were out and about in Perth City Centre, as per usual, between 8pm and 11pm. To give a bit of background, the project has always had a focus on alcohol misuse amongst young people , and so it is with groups of young people who misuse alcohol that we tend to spend time with, however, this brings me to consider the dilemana of the title; Detached youthwork or/and Informal policing? .  You see at times in the history of the project when there have been few young people drinking alcohol in the town (on the streets) we have chatted to those at Bus stops, near to the cinema etc that kind of thing, being there for everyone, regardless of alcohol use/state.

However, last night, there had been quite a few young people in the vicinity of the town, some at bus stops and the cinema was quite busy, yet instead of being there in those situations, we found ourselves in and amongst two or three groups in one of the city centre parks, who had left a party early and were drinking. Later after they had left we went back to the same area to see if they were ok, and from a distance monitored the situation, for aggressive behaviour, or them starting to move on home. It was at that point we asked the question, are we doing youthwork or informal policing?

Theres no doubt of our usefulness, being in the environment to keep a lid on any issues that arise, chat with those drinking, being a presence ( and these are all things the volunteers have commented on this week) yet, did we miss an opportunity to support a young person whilst they waited for a bus tonight? have we fallen into the trap of just being accepted by the young people who might pose others more of an issue, or a risk to themselves , leaving from parties with high heels, trying to walk through a park…yet we did get alot of positive response from the young people such as:

Its only F****** Malcolm in the middle and James! (young person, last night to us)

Does detached youthwork fall into this trap? well of course it might do? and i am not beating ourselves up, it was a great night of realising the acceptance the young people have of the work that is done by the project, and the people of the project.  Yet it is a fine line between the detached youthwork and complying with the values of a community to restore order, prevent anti social behaviour, rather than work with young people, educate, build community.

Maybe it’ll be a challenge to be a youth and community worker in a new setting, and return back to the basics of youthwork, after a few years of it being a challenge to walk along that fine line….


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