Values in Detached youthwork

Values, Values, Values, there’s quite a bit spoken of values in youth work, what they are, how they are embodied, who they are for, how they can be attained, visualised and where they come from and what is, isnt, could be or may be a value. This may not be the place to begin a conversation about the changing values of youth work, or the paradigm change in the value based youthwork recently (some might say that youth work has lost much of its ‘value’ orientation instead being redefined through merely functionality). It may be tentative to suggest that the values that underpin youth work stem from individualism thinking that in itself is being deconstructed through post modernism, post structuralism, and a realisation of the infallibility of the human. Possibly then a new horizon of values brought about by a new construction of the human condition, and new dimension of hope and community is required to take the place of the dying embers of pre modern hoped for values, such as democracy, individual freedom and plurality… some of which are being assigned to the post-secularisation bin.

As a detached youthworker, i find the clash of values, rather that the seeking of underpinning values as interesting to reflect upon, something i realised in the practise of doing detached youthwork in Perth over the last few years. Its one that i didnt quite understand until i read, and re read Goetschius & Tash’s seminal piece on detached work and in particular on values ( 1967: 101-103) within practice, and related to the choices young people made, and the expectations of them.

They highlight three distinct areas where standards and values occur; two in the community(high and low) and also the young people.

The Community (high) Values are those in the community set/created by the agencies in the community; schools, police, local government, health, social servs all whom young people interact with or not in one way or another, and include the church, or at least at times , or in some contexts do.  The values determined by these agencies often “made specific demands which included particular expectations, compliance with which could on occasions be enforced by the officials representing the organisations – the school attendance officer, probation, policeman” (Goetschius and Tash 1967)

The Community ( low) are the values in the community as set by the people in the community in families, relationships, outwith the responsibility of local agency, the value system created is more subtle, but more influential as it includes the pervading values that arise out of the family unit, and to a point young people subscribe to it fully in compliance with the local contextual values that they have grown up with, until they are able to reflect upon them….

The Young People:  obviously the values of the young people which are described by Goetschius and Tash as “amorphous, undefined, often contradictory, sometimes complying with the neighbourhood, sometimes at variance with it” For instance these ‘values’ affect the reasons which a young person is; there at all, drinking, not going to school, on benefits, in a relationship, working, driving, swearing or all manner of things, often affected by the dominant community and their values in their life at that point, be it friends, family and/or rebellion of institutional values.

Goetschius and Tash recognised, and i would say that as a detached youthworker some 45 years later, that this triplex of values has such a huge bearing on detached youthwork. It is worth thinking about a few questions in relation to them, however:

1. What about the values of the youthworker and the organisation they represent?  do they fit within those of the ‘high’ community ones, and how should the youthworker be honest about these?

It can be very easy to revert to moralising and judging young people on the streets, and this occurs predominately because the hype is believed about them, yet as Rogers considers, making judgements is a hindrance to being empathetic ( Rogers 1980:154). So, even as we’re out on the streets we can be non- judgemental, but not lack of judgement, its that we realise the limitations and conditioning of the values that we have, though this does not mean that we have to accept wholeheartedly the values of young people. After all its important to be accepted by the young people for who we are in our role, rather than just because we lose our sense of identity/role and play the fool.

This adaptation does not involve mimicry, rather the opposite. We cannot insist enough on the importance of a street worker showing solidarity with yet at the same time a difference from the people they meet. Too many young workers mortgage their integration into the street by trying to imitate the habits, customs and behavioural patterns of the target audience.It is essential to remain who you are. It is in facing differences that real mutual enrichment is possible. (International Guide to the methodology of streetwork 2008)


2. Why might these values be more apparent in detached youthwork than other centre based youthwork?  My response to this is that because the youthwork occurs in the context of the community, and where/when young people are more at ease to express themselves and behave more naturally their chosen space, then this could be seen to be more at odds with the community at large. It is precisely because the young people are being engaged with, with and in their context that it is less acceptable to challenge, moralise or insist upon changed behaviour, when this may be a viable communication, transition, bonding activity for them over a long period of time, such as drinking publically, smoking, swearing. I would say that even the most ‘liberal’ of centre based youthwork will have socially constructed boundaries of acceptability, or code of conduct, and so these values can create a newly shaped social reality for the young person in that space, to become natural and ‘at home’ but maybe not immediately.  So being detached, being on the streets it is the youthworker that has to reflect on their values, whereas in the centre its often the young person who is conditioned to change.. 

One challenge that is often faced is that of role/value identity in detached, or to put it more bluntly ” who’s side are you on?” – in situations of high authority tension this is probably a real concern, and to a large extent in Perth we tried to make sure that the young people did not see us chatting with the police during the work on the city centre, however there were times when we worked with the Police in emergency situations, involving young people. But it wasnt just the police, to be part of any establishment, when to all intense and purposes, many of the young people felt rejected or judged unfairly by the establishments, was something that we had to be careful of, but at the same time want the young people to use and make the most of what the establishments could offer them. Part of the role of being there is to “to help individuals, groups and social institutions understand, accept or reject, use and affect, their social environment.”(Goetchius and Tash 1969:168). For me its a bit like being social double glazing salespeople, where we hold invite young people to see and reflect upon not only their own values, but also our values, and maybe more importantly those of the community around them. We , in our dealings with other agencies, can also hold that same glass pane to help them understand more about young people in their communities.

One of the things i am facing at the moment is the pre conceived notion that because young people are on the streets that they are in need or trouble of some kind, and yet the streets and parks are places exactly for the social gathering of young people, them to have some space away from adults, in groups socialising, have some fun, and yet a value suggested by the community (at large) is that this is a source of trouble, or young people being bored.  If we only stop before we rush out to rescue, condemn or entertain, and just for a moment let young people have open spaces to be, to meet, to chat, in the public spaces, and not judge this behaviour before we get there.

So whilst values change, the conflict of values on the ground, in our communities some of these values are taken for granted, and yet one of the healing roles that youthworkers in the streets can play is seeking to bring understanding and reconciliation from different perspectives in this value triangle.

So whilst values are often ideals, and shape the nature and practise of youthwork, as they should, we should also reflect upon the values and standards embedded in our communities that affect behaviours and actions of young people and seek to provide tools for them, for their families and for the agencies around them, to reflect, be challenged and understand a little more.





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