For detached – why context matters

For 10 years now I’ve been involved in delivering detached youthwork in a number of settings, and not just city, rural and suburb, but also neutral space, community , school and college. For me the two key factors that enable quality conversations to happen are the following;
A. The geographical distance from adults who control the space, and B. The  Aims and intentions of the work.

Let me explain A. Because B is more obvious.

In Perth we as a project delivered street based detached for 3 years before we ventured into the schools, we’d built good relationships with young people and we’re well known.
Our first attempts at detached in what was an old school was pretty successful.  There were plenty of open spaces, grass areas and the playground. Even though young people had limited time and it was their time away from lessons/adults were generally happy to talk.

This all changed when the school updated to a new campus. Young people gathered in tables inside, rooms were locked, only a few young people went outside, and they had a greater desire for their freedom. They frogmarched to asda and back instead of staying in the vicinity of the school. All we could do was walk and wait as they gathered outside the school vicinity. So it was like street detached for about 15 mins when they gathered in groups anti socially to smoke.

Conversations inside the school were almost impossible. Too many allowed spaces, too much control, too many other teachers walking around. We became no different to teachers. The further outside the school the more young people to choose to be there the better the conversation with the detached team.

We tried doing detached in an FE college with similar results. Only young people we knew already would be up for conversation and even then it was rare.
The question is why are young people in the space? There are a myriad of reasons when they’re on the streets in the evening, these are reduced considerably during a school lunchtime. Theyre there to have a break, space away from adults, socialise with friends and unwind from the morning. The space is constructed by adults, for young people have permission to be there. Given a choice they wouldn’t want to be there at all.
Being on the streets at night is more often an active choice and decision.

Some of the same issues may happen in the community as is often the case when we deliver detached near to the houses of young people. There are conversations yes but there can be a reluctance for young people to divulge too much as adults can be around and near the front gardens.

In my experience, and it’s only my experience, where young people have more choice and their own reasons to be in the space then conversations are more likely and more likely to develop & deepen. Where the space is most neutral ie park or space away from adults who are deemed to control it (by the young people, teachers for example) again my experience is that the same benefits occur.

None of this is to say detached doesn’t work in a school. It all depends on the space and the gathering spaces for young people.

Maybe in a more contained space the approach has to change, in a space where young people arent actually bored (they rarely actually are bored on the streets) they need to be entertained to be distracted from their chosen activity, so sometimes the mobile bus, or sport cage, or other lunchtime club could be the thing that creates interest, and conversations can happen in those spaces. But its the thing of interest that attracts and then starts to drive the practice, not just the possibility of conversation, of interaction, that detached is all about.


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