Recruiting for NCS might just kill detached youthwork for good.

So, in a bid to increase the numbers of young people attending its Flagship youth citizenship programme (NCS), the government has issued a rallying cry and investment for those professionals who are doing youthwork amongst ‘hard to reach’ groups to participate in the programme. CYP now has an article Here.

What the article calls for is for NCS to be able to be deepened into communities, amongst those young people for whom would be interested naturally.

There are key problems with this. The concept ones ill deal with later.

But on one hand it’s difficult to work out how NCS is any different from schemes like the Princes trust, which has 12 week programmes. At least the princes trust scheme has as its aim to work with young people more at the challenging end of the spectrum (to use such a phrase) – and yet even with the best intentions, environments and staff – the most chaotic disengaging, disorganised young adults are deemed and doomed to fail because of rigidity of programmes, structure and need for some kind of discipline. If young people were too at risk to cope with school, an enforced 12 week programme is another form of structure to cope within let alone thrive within.

When i was in Perth doing the detached youthwork, whenever there were these schemes being run by the various providers in the town, we would be asked to promote them to young people, especially if there were ‘gaps’ that needed to be filled, in a not too dissimilar way to the call for delivery agents in amongst the more marginalised groups to work with NCS.

One of the challenges for using detached as a signposting tool is that it gives the young person or group the impression, a true one, that the reason for being in contact with the young person is for a reason determined by someone else, outside of the relationship or the space. Especially if that is the sole reason for the youthworker to be in the space, is to inform 30 young people about a product, a service or a programme – it on that basis is no different to being an advertising arm of a local under age disco or pub, the people who are often seen handing out flyers.

I once took out an ‘outreach’ worker for a local advisory service, on the premise that they could talk about their service with the young people in the conversations on detached, but the condition was that they could not manipulate a conversation to talk about their advisory service, the only conversations they could initiate about it were from the logo on their ID. In a way this example showed the difference between improvising the conversations in the context – yes armed with information that might be useful – such as from the advisory service, or education/employment programmes – and solely being there to give information and recruit to the services.

Even when the information is given away in the conversations and is appropriate, because young people mention that theyre looking for work, or on benefits, and they could participate in such a scheme if offered, is it better than the activity emerges with the young person and youthworker as a legitimate part of their relationship and grows with the young person who has an active role in the process – rather than it be an already determined, pre organised programme that they have to fit into, with others, and have to be in a group (usually of 12) and cope in a situation that might not fit them, even if the education and skills offered might do. If the young person wants a chat about opportunities and options, then spend more time with them, follow up a street based chat with a phone call or meet for a coffee in a cafe to have a conversation – all more beneficial in the short term than referring them to a course as a next step. And if its a group wanting that kind of opportunity then again, create it with them.

If detached is only outreach, then it is questionable what kind of youth work is actually being done in the space, and if signposting to other programmes is part of the deal for a detached youthwork provision, then the integrity of the relationship, where some kind of honesty, valuing the context, challenging the structures and long term relationship is also to be questioned.  If youth work is about building a relationship with a young person as the primary client (Sercombe 2010) in their context, then the young person being the primary client is diluted when the youthworker is tasked with recruiting them for a pre existing programme, the client is NCS in the above case. The young person is a number.

At times on detached we give stuff away, maybe it is information about phone numbers for support services, or agencies, and so if young people need them they have them, and young people take these up as they need them.  The critical question is whether those who deliver detached youthwork are able to resist the incentives to be recruitment for NCS and buy into the ideologies that NCS represents, and be one of a long arm of attempts to individualise youthwork, target it and view young people as individual cases. And what happens if detached workers arent able to fulfil the targets? what happens then. what has failed – detached work? the young people? thats likely to be the story, not that the government sponsored NCS is a failure. Though by admitting it needs other agenices who work with young people at risk it is admitting that it has cherry picked thus far to make itself look half decent. What it achieves is debatable in the current climate, especially in cherry picked young people who were likely to get jobs, go to college or university anyway.

Detached youth work was never about recruiting young people or taking them off the streets, even if detached work has been one of the few consistent approaches to contacting and building long term supportive relationships with young people outside of structures of groups and organisations, using it as a recruiting tool misunderstands its practice, and reduces, dilutes and devalues the young people and the process of critical education and building community with young people.

Maybe im a purist? or Maybe detached youthwork just hasnt been used to its full potential in community development, and community flourishing with young people.


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