Challenges in Detached Youthwork (2) – affected by social media

Dynamo international in their “Methodology of street work (2008)”  discuss the variety of different reasons why young people occupy the public spaces of the local town, city, street or park. Often the rhetoric from policy makers is of boredom, yet the positive reasons that young people occupy these spaces can be from a space to experience freedom, to have power over others, to have confidence, to be themselves, to create new community amongst friends, to share interests. All of these may be evident in the different groups of young people that you may meet on the streets, and others, however, i wonder if over the last few years that there has been a drive to divert young people away from the streets, or at least that the times are a-changing.

Various articles recently have highlighted that there have been reductions in young people drinking, young people starting smoking, and also anti social behaviour. Thats not to say that this has been erradicated, but various interventions have had some effect on this. The legality of public drinking has had some effect, and as will interventions on the accessibility of alcohol, but i wonder whether the streets are less of an attractive place for the young people for more than just the alcohol reason.

As has increased enforced policing, an increase in the presence of adults in City Centre areas – such as detached workers, street pastors and the like, which might mean that these spaces might be safer, supervised and controlled, but that the young people themselves are choosing to be elsewhere to control the space, and seek the positive interactions, power and freedom that the streets used to provide.   I am acutely aware that i write this from a leafy situation in rural Devon where ASB is minimal as is public drinking, or seeing any groups on the streets is a rarity.

However, young people are finding themselves, their space online, in developing profiles, images, and community here then this is a seemingly safer space for them to gain the buzz/adrenaline that the streets used to bring for them, and only allows this to be offered until it is a cause for concern.  However, along with this, the increased communication of young people between school ending time 4pm and ‘meeting up time’ – using text, facebook, etc means that they no longer have to meet up in the park to communicate, now they communicate and decide to meet if necessary – and especially if its wet/cold etc why bother unless there is something planned? (regardless of what that planning is)  This i find more surprising in a small town such as Ottery St Mary, where there is a fairly positive view of young people around and its safe for young people to meet up, they’d still prefer to be at home, skyping each other after school than meeting up in the park, even if they’re allowed to be there.

So my thought that young people communicate to meet up, rather than meet to communicate with each other is a subtle but marked difference. Similarly its even more evident that they communicate to meet up, but when they meet up they are using their phones etc to communicate with others within or out with the present time and space. I know that in the past young people would have found ways of planning to meet up, but a verbal agreement in school, or a landline call are far less encompassing than maybe 20-30 facebook chat messages over a period of an hour, and so the desire to meet up in a less purposeful way might have been decreased.

So, does the space itself need to present more of an attraction for young people to inhabit it than it used to, well i guess so, or maybe this is the cry of the more middle class young people who have TV/XBOX/DVD and all manner of attractions at home- let alone just being warm/dry, and still have an online presence and community in which to communicate with that will give them the same power, confidence, authority, space that the streets used to. Does that mean that the streets still represent a viable space for the ‘more at risk’ young people? who havent the choice to be at home, or that home represents something unsafe? does that present a dichotomy of social navigation for the young person, who has to be on the streets, when others are less likely to be there, is it more alienating than before – and yet is the space becoming more legislated at the same time and thus a more harmful place for the more vulnerable?

Which is the real world then, and where is appropriate for detached youthworkers to operate? Do young people inhabit the public space in a different way than they used to?  do they expect it to have more for them than just the space in which to create something out of nothing? Today is Safer Internet Day, and so how might youthwork inhabit the internet whilst upholding values/virtues/principles of practice? Are the ‘fringe’ young people disappearing from the streets, they’re there once or twice but in the main its those who find something or get something about just being there, the adrenaline rush of the chase or the jump on the skate park, or the cruising in the car. 

The challenge is how we as detached youth workers adapt in a changing world of young people, detached youthwork is a key way into any groups of young people, and yet does something change in practice given that young peoples intentionality may have changed.





Challenges in detached Youthwork (1)- Managing Relationships

There have always been a number of challenges in regard to the delivery of and sustainability of the practice of detached youthwork, and i thought it would be good to share some of these here, but also begin a conversation about some current and what might be future challenges.

Detached youthwork by its own strength is hugely unpredictable, it is difficult to say for certainty what is going to happen, when and where and with whom. Not unlike a drop in session or club, every night is different, every young person interacted with has had different experiences in the preceding time. Yet, possibly, the variables for detached are that much greater – at least in a club setting a young persons attendance is more likely in the rain – not less ( of greater significance a factor in the last two years of our british climate- , so not knowing or being able to prepare for a session can be a challenge, and being ready for the unexpected is also part of the planning.

As a consequence detached youthwork, which starts from a position of meeting young people in their chosen spaces in their community, at their chosen time has a challenge to know when to be in the right places, what to do there and how to be appropriate.

Yet, the unpredictability of contact time means that often the relationship between the young person, or group of young people and the detached worker/team is more difficult to quantify, if anything it is de-constructed to being a series of spontaneous conversations, often in the context of the whole group, and in a public space.  Is this any different to club work? well it kind of is, given that the sharing of tasks, games, activities, and the process of decision making, or the politic of the club can be a method of developing purposeful relationships. Outside on the streets, there could be 3 or 4 fleeting chats, or a number of acknowledgements, or ‘playing the rules of the game’ for a while ( See Goetchius and Tash 1967:93-111),in which the young people are assessing intentions, trust, acceptance, testing boundaries, exploring authenticity of the workers, and this takes time, as does immersing yourself in their culture to understand their values, behaviours, attitudes and beliefs.  I wonder what space there is for this to happen in a club/centre environment or is all assumed? until things ‘kick off’?  However, i digress, and so the relationship is the cumulation of conversations, of actions and behaviour, of testing the water – and yet how in detached youthwork can we coherently articulate that that is a relationship that is developing, or the identify the strength of it – even at an chronologically early stage? – especially if there isnt the possibility of shared activity over a xbox game or pool?

Evaluating change and effect is one of the more notoriously difficult challenges in detached youthwork, though not too dissimilar to centre based work. If the nature of the contact is categorised by a series of actions then it may be able to say whether the relationship has reached certain points, but relationships aren’t linear, and often a time of trauma in a relationship occurs after the point when a young person might have dared to trust.  You may have a really detailed conversation with a young person one week, but then only see them with their friends, in groups for a number of subsequent sessions, and so things to you might stall – but for them, they are wanting you to be trusted with that personal information, and not talk about it- right now in front of their friends- but if you do the right thing with this information now, what about next time? 

Again, there might not be the quick moment in the kitchen or back room of the hall to have that ‘how did things go?’ moment, when on the streets. But does that invalidate the significance of the relationships, no not at all. If anything, because the young person has confided in you, at a time that is their own, in their ‘territory’ then it carries even more significance, given the effort, and ‘game playing’ that might have been needed to lead up to such a scenario- some of that random banter, where you have felt no where in control has in fact oiled the wheels of the developing relationship- from their perspective. The challenge is how to validate this with others, with our management, our trustees, and often our funders.

Theres the challenge; supportive, purposeful relationships, if the desired outcome of detached youthwork, will take time. Meeting young people where they are at, will mean playing the rules of the game for a while, gaining trust and acceptance, and realising that there may be unpredictable significant moments, as well as many evenings of just random banter, or acknowledgements, or no one. Sometimes it is enough to just ‘be there’. Sometimes in the relationships that start cagey or with offence are the ones that last the longest, as you have stuck in when others have judged and left. And then theres the challenge of identifying how your progress is going with a ‘group’ but also what the relationships is like between you and (all) the individuals within such a group.

Over the next few weeks i am going to have a look at a few other challenges in detached youthwork, if there is something that you would like to have a discussion on, then please send me a comment.  A few things that are planned are : social media and the planned activity of young people,  measuring change, and dealing with conflict.  Contact me if you would like to begin a discussion on a new topic…




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