10 reasons why young people might prefer detached youthworkers

This evening I have been delivering detached youth work training to a group of volunteers in churches in Hartlepool. During the evening, one of the more common exercises i do, is to think about the positives and challenges of detached youth work from our perspective as prospective deliverers of it. The usual aspects emerge, challenges include the weather, unpredictability and lack of control, benefits, meeting more young people, no need to ‘supervise’ buildings, cheap, flexible. However, i left wondering, and some of these thoughts emerge from the conversation this evening, the following question; why might young people themselves prefer to interact with detached youth workers? in contrast with building based clubs & activities. Yes i know detached youthwork can take a number of guises – but in general why might young people prefer being interacted with supportive adults in this way at this time, compared to others.

  1. They are in control. They can control the length of time the interaction occurs, ending it by ignoring the worker, or moving on themselves, they control whether interaction can happen at all.
  2. They can construct an interaction and relationship with a supportive adult- that may not know anything about them previously- so its a potential blank slate for them to construct and disclose the type of person that they might want to be seen as, outside of a school, family or other network. They can be seen as they want to be. Showing and comparing themselves in one space to that of them in another – “Im not like this at school….”
  3. They meet the person in a space they are comfortable- maybe more comfortable than the workers- they might be more at ease.
  4. They know it might only be a short burst of interaction, so for some they have nothing to lose and dive in with many questions or disclosures, for others they have nothing to gain so choose not to.
  5. They know theres little the worker can discipline them for doing, even swearing might not be condemmned, so rule braking isnt a conversation in that space.
  6. They can show off with something they like doing, ie football, skateboarding – because thats where they are.
  7. They can dictate the ongoing development of the relationship by not always having intense conversations, or being in different groups on others, they dictate its pace and development, again something they might prefer.
  8. They can be seen in environments where they might be showing strengths and natural gifts, that might be invisible in school structures, and a good detached youthworker will identity and enable these to be developed
  9. They know that they might be the sole reason the youthworker is there.
  10. They have the safety of their friends with them. But a detached youthworker in certain circumstances can also help them feel safe. (its what young people in Perth commended us as detached project for helping them feel, in a busy city centre environment)

Maybe there are a few more than this – and some will be relevent to centre based youthworkers too, it just occured to me that young people might prefer detached youthworkers and if this is the case why might this be. At the moment – the rate things are going young people might prefer any youthworker at all. but thats another story.

fellow detached workers- anything else you would add to these?




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.

2 thoughts on “10 reasons why young people might prefer detached youthworkers”

  1. Hi James,

    Some interesting points. However I would say that not some, but all of these should be true in an open access youth centre. Maybe the issue is that detached youth workers cannot assert their ‘authority’ in the same way, whereas sadly some centre-based workers may think this is what they ‘should’ be doing – maintaining control rather than working with the young people to give them control of the space.



    Liked by 1 person

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