Forgetting what we do, remembering who we are- detached youthworkers

One of my reflections from the FDYW conference over the weekend was highlighted a session led by Bernard Davies in which the group were encouraged to critically reflect on an actual story of a piece of detached youthwork practice, provided by one of the group. It was described as a process of ‘socratic dialogue’ in terms of method.

What was interesting, was that although many of the group could identify the change that took place with the group of young people, and how the workers worked, different to police, as that knowledge, understanding of the young people increased over time. It seemed apparent that a group of 12-15 youthworkers couldnt actually articulate or identify the educational process that occurred between the youth worker and group of young people over a given period of time. Yet also it was strange that the example chosen veered towards a more welfare approach, whereby young people, who were originally ‘targetted’, were eventually helped to get CV’s, lesser ASBO’s, but along the way built up rapport and relationship with the workers, which included meals out and centre based work.

The example of this session seemed to provide an illustration of the conference, in that as detached youthworkers, it was very easy to say what we’re not, ( police, social workers), what we dont want to be ( police, social workers), what agenda’s we dont want to take on ( ::, ::) , what surveillance or data collection methods we dont want to have to process, although without doing so in most cases many will be faced with job losses. Yet at the same time, there was a lack of stating, creating or cultivating a sense of what it is detached youthwork is all about, and stemming the tide of change. Even if it is ideal world, even if the frustration is culpaple, and believe me, the freedom to practice almost ‘ideal’ detached youthwork, in a place where there is almost no young people on the streets  is hugely frustrating also.

Do we know what we are?

We are different to social workers, teachers, police and health, because we see young people differently; as Humans in their own right, with potential, as social beings living in communities and families, often harmed, not just harmful. We see them as individually unique and part of the community.

We want to work with young people, with them as the primary client, in their social context- meeting them where they are at – as that is where the magic happens, that is where relationships occur that allow for genuine support, learning and welfare. That is where different, positive, purposeful and respectful relationships occur between a ‘professional’ adult and an individual or group of young person –  a type of relationship that any teacher, social worker or police officer will find hard to get, that is what makes us different, distinctive and of value.

We seek to educate with a young person at a level appropriate to them (not a preset curriculum), and journey with them in this process of learning, to discover new experiences, taking them somewhere new, in attitude, reaction, place or value somewhere where they hadnt thought of going before, but now have someone to show and go with them.

We work according to values, and are people willing to be vulnerable, honest and reactive to the young persons needs and interests, often standing with them, when society might say otherwise, to make sure that they receive justice, help, and a voice.

We measure by knowing that something happened when we met that young person today, a smile, a spark or a question, something moved that purposeful relationship further, an acknowledgement made something new happen, a moment of rapport. A question or story which mean that we mean something, the sharing of a chip or a handshake to pertain to acceptance- these arent the stuff of forms, data or computers, this is the stuff of life, relationships and growth.

So what are we, yes we are detached youthworkers, trained and professionally equipped to do this, to be intentionally informal, to depart from uniforms, formality and targets, to performs actions of community cooperation and education with young people, to journey, live alongside, care and respect them- as they are. 



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