Who’s going to listen to young people when there’s no youthworkers left?

If I was a pessimist id say that it hasnt mattered in the grand scheme of things. When countless youthworkers heard the voice of young people in Rotherham, albeit they were accused of over playing the seriousness of the situation, it was a voice that was ignored. Despite the good that the youthworkers did in Rotherham council has, due to budget cuts, removed youthwork and its philosophy from its provision. So – who’s acting in the interest of young people now?

We cant go around saying that youthworkers were preventing something hideous from happening, but they were listening, and hoping for the sake of young people that those who could act even more to prevent the horrors of this from continuing from doing so. They were able to capture this because they were listening to young people, in a way that no other agency was seemingly being able to do so, they were providing a safety space for young people to talk, to be heard and to hope that something could be changed.

The philosophy of youthwork puts the young person at the core of the relationship –  it is for them  however hard this is, especially when there might be a myriad of agendas trying to force their way in – such as ‘need for employment’ or reduce smoking/teenage pregnancy- none of which many youthworkers would argue with their importance for young person, yet the process of creating environments where listening to individual & groups of young people should remain core, and space given to enable a young person to explore their perspective of the ‘why?’ they feel the way they do about such desired outcomes, and along the way many more things are found out.

In Jeffs (2015) he argues that the space that youthworkers have to inhabit may need to change, yet the thought remains, who is now going to listen to young people – and who is going to put them first in facilitating a space for their voices to be heard. Maybe this isnt important anymore. Maybe creating institutions that serve their own interests through actions/change of young people is more important – but where does the young person fit in to that?  are they systemised through them as being pawns of the data game?  and if thats the case – lets just be honest with them from birth..

If the statutory sector has had youthwork decimated across the land, are faith groups (including the church) willing to go out of their way to make substantial commitment to a faith-based youthwork practice and philosophy that seeks to be inclusive, meeting young people where theyre at. And if not the church – who else might? – would schools do this – work with young people in a way that might not guarantee that they behave or perform better in school.

I guess the church has got nothing to lose, and it has a heritage of social philanthropy that could be as regained with young people as it has with food banks. Yet Christian faith based youthwork agencies across the land are equally struggling – stuck between being too ‘christian’ for funders, and not ‘evangelical’ enough for the church. (yet no one complains that people who attend food banks arent filling churches) Faith-based youthwork agencies are having to find other creative ways (charity shops – ie getting the local communities that they serve to actually fund the work through retail), outside of the church, to find sustained support – and are thus doing mission amongst the community despite limited funding from the church itself. Yet as a social conscience and political statement – would the church stand in that gap – and not expect churches to be full as an outcome.

It might be good for the church to listen to young people who they dont know yet. might be good to act in an advocacy way when young people need help for any myriad of personal concern, might be good politically to hear the injustices that young people are facing, and to act to loose those. The government was only going to prop up a service that employed the slightly anti-establishment boat rockers, and encouraged some dissonance for so long – would the church be so brave. Brave enough to invest in the process of listening to, and being with young people – regardless of an outcome. The sense is that whilst the sustainability of youthwork as a philosophy is worth fighting for ( see In defence of Youthwork) over and above this is the sense that this approach/philosophy is a catalyst for change within communities and the lives of young people in their communities. Starting with hearing their voice.

But if there are going to be few youthworkers left – who is going to listen to young people and work with them? Responding to their actual needs – such as the dramatic increase in mental health issues in County Durham – as anecdotally also confirmed as youthworkers have built relationships with young people and listened. Who might try and gather the voice of young people together to be political in an age of entertained individualism. Youthworkers have listened to the needs of young people for a long time and had to validate their pleas when institutions, who havent been able to offer the service, have then disregarded the validity of the voice ( Goeschius/Tash 1967) – or ignored them, as was potentially the case in Rotherham.

Maybe no one listens to anyone anymore anyway. we’re too busy telling everyone what were doing, and not being with the people who we’re with – but maybe thats all the more reason to give people, and especially young people that environment and time to have their voice heard, validated, privileged ( over all else) and encouraged. Id say that, if we were being future orientated- that this need will not ever change. What we have to do is follow and enjoy where that voice takes us.



Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) and am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.