Surveying the landscape

I am writing this from the 2013 Federation of Detached Youthwork conference (FDYW) in which i am with other detached youthworkers from across England and Wales ( as no one from Scotland could make it) who have gathered to listen and learn and share. The theme emerges and is repeated of stories, anguish and pain of the demise of not only youth services across the country, but also the curtailment and restructuring of detached/outreach youthwork within the statutory sector. I guess theres no surprise in this. However, its a painful reality that many detached youthworkers are having to reframe their work around not just anti-social targets, or NEET targets, but also within integrated services and the so called ‘problem family’ mandate of the current Tory government. And as a result youthworkers with the title ‘detached youthworkers’ are having to :

  • only work with ‘named’ young people
  • be sent round to specific ‘houses’
  • work with the family as well as the young person
  • Find young people that no one else has been able to

Essentially becoming more outreach social workers, working with an even tighter remit that the connexions/NEET/ASB mandates previously.  Now this isnt the same for all the youth services detached youth work out there, but the cut backs seem to have been severe. It may be that detached youth workers have never been very good at being able to frame their work around informal education, human flourishing or changed behaviour, given that evaluating this on the streets would be almost artificial to do. (one worker has been given a check list of 25 aspects of a young persons life to go through with them, whilst on the streets, so that someone somewhere can input this into a computer system) Yet the value of prescence, of non judgemental approach, of conversation, trust and a supportive adult(s) changed, improve and enhance groups and individual young people, and do this is in a way that almost no computer system could calculate. Strange how sometimes human interaction is mysterious and unquantifiable- we are more complex than forms, targets and systems

We have been encouraged this weekend to consider that this challenge to detached is nothing new, that the misunderstanding of the role of detached existing at the time of the albermarle report (1960), the warnings then for young people in society, who would have no informal education & support remain today, especially whist much work both government and voluntary sector funded is so outcome and target led. 

One of the stories of hope is that there are examples of good practice out there, and good youthworkers whom are having to bend the rules so that young people benefit from a youthwork approach, despite the pressures made on staff by management/funders/police etc, but its a shame that detached youthworkers are needing to work subversively at times so that young people are ‘met where they’re at’ and not because they appear on a computer somewhere as a hotspot.

The opportunity is out there, as whilst i have been in the minority, ie non council worker , it has become more that evident that detached youthwork, with an educational pedagogy, with a conversational, genuine ‘relational’ approach may/will only soon be delivered by community based christian youthworkers, in/with churches and community groups that have the insight/willingness to value and invest in working with young people in this way.

When the last person who is delivering ‘youthwork’ in the youth services shuts the door and turns out the light – will these churches and groups be ready to take back the baton from the state- they once held anyway?  maybe some will be, but those groups with ‘just’ an outreach or conversionist approach to christian youthwork/ministry might not have the tools to be ready to respond to local needs, and surely by being ready the church’s mission ,amongst young people outside of its building, has the potential to happen? and be done in a way that is acceptable to the community, is value based, educative and transforming.

So, community based christian youthworkers, get ready. Lecturers of Christian youth and community work prepare your students. There is no greater opportunity than this to develop and invest in young people in the community, as unfortunately the state is reducing its inclusive, broad youth services. The landscape is bleak out there and it will be young people who will lose out the most. The church already has the most ‘youthworkers’, soon it might also have the most community based detached youthworkers too.

If you are interested further in the federation of detached youthwork, please visit, for details of 52 youthwork projects who are actively involved in streetbased work from a christian and youthwork approach see



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