Federation of Detached youthwork conference 2016 (#fdyw16) A turn to community?

I could only make it to the second day of the Federation of Detached youthwork conference this year. And its three years since i went to the last one, my reflections of which are here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-3N. Then i wrote about the opportunity that was beginning to present itself for the non statutory organisations to fill the void that was about to emerge in the pending demise of youth services, and thus detached youthwork consequently.

What this made for, in 2013, was a conference that pooled together mainly statutory workers, who were fearing and facing the reality of a bleak future. Talks then, whilst helpful and practical, were often couched in a reality that there was only a bleak future ahead. Understandably, it felt like a community in a bit of crisis. One that didnt quite know what direction to turn in.

Fast forward, and still some of the issues remain that appeared at that conference three years ago, and these are worth reflecting on further, in terms of measurement, worth and value of detached youthwork – however the atmosphere was distinctly more optimistic.

It could be that only those who adapted and survived the cuts, and could afford to be at a scaled down conference were there- and so by nature were more positive. Alternatively it felt as though where a form of idealist protectionism had occupied detached (and probably) youthwork – that resources for its future have been accidently, or necessarily sought and are being found in order for the practice to be continued.

Either side of the workshop i led, there were three others, here is a quick summary of them.

Graeme Tiffany opened the day with a session on the space of the community as a source for learning. How individualised approaches, and targets have shifted not only the job role of the detached youthworker but also its identity. He argued that the where in the past detached youthworkers spent a while embedding themselves in the culture of a community – doing some kind of community profile, this data appears in the form of an externalised system – the system of data from police, schools – but not people, qualitative, opinions, attitudes. Learning from and about the community was what detached workers used to do. Graeme then helpful gave examples of community learning – how that when people ventured out and into proximity with others, and shared opinions, dreams and stories with others that this was a place where ideas and change occurred. Developing community learning created opportunities for community change.

Then there was my session, which looked at detached youthwork as a community endeavour, and asked questions of youth workers attitude towards the community , as the potential source of a young persons problems, o not just a resource, but also to identify its strengths. It i hope followed on from Graemes talk previously. If you would like a look at the powerpoint slides they are here: federation-of-detached-yw-talk  some fairly odd photos of me delivering it are here, as well as a quotation from Cormac Russell which silenced and moved the whole room:


After lunch a panel consisting of effectively 3 partnership/organisation managers convened. An insight that continues a theme is that approaches to developing partnerships in communities has become a theme, all of a sudden. When i say all of a sudden, it is that it appears that the statutory sector want to play in this game. Where if i was cruel to say it, the voluntary sectors had developed partnership working previously. Trust has been needed from community/voluntary workers to trust those in statutory positions now seeking to develop partnership. On reflection, the statutory sector, in a necessary way, has realized, not just theoretically, or when challenged in a conference by those from other sectors, that not only practice that is good is occuring and to be encouraged outside of the statutory sector, but that learning from it is also possible.

The final workshop i went to was from Tania de la Croix, who presented the findings from her Phd Research into youthwork – or at least managed to stimulate a few thoughtful conversations around the theme of how youthworkers are ‘Passionate’ about their practice – especially part time staff, yet that this passion leads to them taking paths of least resistance in their workplaces because they have the emotional passion and connection of the young people in mind when they make certain challenges, they may be open to emotional manipulation- in an emotional labour setting. Might youthworkers then opt into competing ideologies of practice – such as high outcome/measurement evaluations – in order that the practice can be maintained that they are emotionally invested in. This can then be manipulated by managers, should they be so coercive, or the ideology itself, she quoted from Stephen Ball who argues that The ideology of Neo-liberalism, ‘Neo-liberalises us’. Targets and forms are filled in, to keep roles and centres open, for people to build relationships with young people in a good way, yet the forms negatively affect the relationship. Funny that.

It felt as though the practice of detached youthwork had necessarily found sources of strength in practice, in itself, but also began to recognise the strengths in local communities, and develop community practice, partnerships and coalitions in order that the goodness that detached youthwork was said to be can be continued.

Good outcomes

Given the conversation that occurred during the panel session, and also afterward in a session run by Tania de la Croix on ‘Passion and resistance’ that centered around outcomes, commissioning and measurement (the theme i mentioned above), a few critical questions emerge, and are linked to the overall theme of the conference which was ‘ Is community back on the agenda for detached youthwork , or as i argued in my session How is detached youthwork a community practice endeavour?

Its a question of good outcomes. Or should i say, outcomes that supplement and complement practice that is for the common good. Yes it could be debated whether something good is something that can be measured, but if there is a desire for community education, community approaches for a young persons benefit – then might this at least be measured ?

So, Can the following be measured?

Learning – what have practitioners learned about the community they are in practice with?

What have detached youthworkers learned about the young people?

Strengths– What do we identify as the strengths of the young people whom we are working with, and how have i , as a worker, helped them to develop these and/or their weaknesses?

Collaboration and genuine capacity building: How are people in the community involved in the ongoing process of developing community practices?

Values and Virtues: Can virtues or values be measured, or can measurement be done in a way that reflects the intentions and values of youthwork practice?

I left the discussions with another thought; Maybe the only ‘good’ youthwork practice is now outside of the competitive funding market. And this includes even the charity sector which like DYFC (where i work) is reliant on charitable trust funding and thus playing measurement and outcome games with charity funders.  What if the best youthwork occurs when it is done by experienced people – but as they are all volunteers and not needing to comply with regaulations/funding or commissioning. Yes they may need other day jobs – but would it produce better, quality, relationship youthwork in local communities?  i wonder….

These may be community development questions, they may be Asset based questions, but if measurement within detached youthwork is here to stay, and often its practice and criteria emerges from centre based work, then as a practice that is intrinsically different, and seeking to have rootedness in local communities then as a Federation developing credible measurement tools & evaluation that can be adopted to reflect our own values and aims of community education and development approaches might be a next step. Otherwise detached youthwork continues to be adopting practices around ideologies, beliefs about young people and definitions of outcomes that are anthemic to its practice, ideals and values. Its easier to be passionate, moan and comply.

The Passion for detached work still remains and still shines bright, it is finding new avenues for collaborative working, and all in all its future is about asking how it is going to happen, not if.



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 “Federation of Detached youthwork conference 2016 (#fdyw16) A turn to community?”

  1. Excellent article James … you ask a lot of questions and give food for thought on many facets of Detached Youth Work. I’m retired now and still feel the passion I had/still have, for DYW., Community development with young people was at the forefront of my practice with the end goal of community action, usually upsetting my ‘bosses’ …. anyway, good article.

    Liked by 1 person

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