What would you say the basics in youthwork are? what is it all about even?
One of the things that has tormented many a youthworker is to establish what ‘youthwork’ actually constitutes. It may, constitute only as a conversation, being defined by youthworkers in their ongoing practice (this is also a view shared by Kerry Young, though this is not one her more popular concepts when she talks about the youthwork as an art, 1999) However, beyond what youthwork actually is, there can be a need to reflect on what the basics of developing a youthwork practice actually is.
This need can sometimes be realised when we forget what we actually do as youthworkers, as it has become ‘normal practice’ default in our brains but and we have to then share this with others, maybe even ‘young’ leaders, or teach others on an academic course. And so, for your benefit, I have tried to come up with 12 commandments of basic youthwork practice.
- Youthwork is about young people – but its not just about them, but putting them as the primary recipient and creating participatory agendas around them as central is part of it, yet it is about them in and part of their communities and how young people access, reject, use and change aspects of their local community for their or others good.
- Youthwork is about creating spaces for education through conversation – it is about conversation with them included and respected in them.
- Youthwork is about developing relationships –that help young people to learn, to use their talents and pursue collective and community action
- Youthwork is about negotiation and participation – with young people who are principle dialogue partners in the negotiated conversations
- Youthwork is about respecting young people and also the communities they are in and choose – it is about group work
- Youthwork is about challenging young people – not about just giving them what they want – its about negotiation
- Youthwork is about politics, because it in itself is political and young people are politicised- young people are given respect and trust – this is political in itself. Young people are marginalised through media derived policies and taregtted through an underlying current of neoliberalism. Challenging this is political.
- Youthwork is about opportunity- not outcomes- our strategies are to create spaces that expand possibilities, not reduce to youthwork to a process of enabling young person to get from A to B.
- Youthwork is about Hope and belief – that young people and ourselves collectively can and do enable something new to occur through the relationship.
- Youthwork is about taking risks- it is not risky in itself – because that says something about the believing the narrative of young people (to be dangerous etc) – but it is about taking a risk with young people.
- Youthwork is about being a youthworker and being a role model – not perfect, but persistent in ongoing learning, and maintaining a critical awareness of the world around, that young people themselves are also part of. Its about temperament, attitude and also about modelling professional boundaries, personal boundaries especially time off.
- Youthwork is about improvisation – its about the being ready for anything – but also being ready in the opportunities created to enable young people to take positive steps and changes. If we have a toolbox of resources that are to be ‘ready to use’ in case – not pre determined to use at all costs.
I have avoided, or at least tried to avoid using words that have become acknowledged as the ‘Values’ of youthwork – such as equality, as participation, as empowerment – because whilst they are implied in nearly everything ‘basic’ youthwork is all about – they are open to considerable interpretation, and at times need themselves to be challenged and critiqued, and their current use might not be what the intention of them was. Empowerment a case in point. So, instead, I have tried above to focus on the practices of what basic youthwork might be about, so that these are the starting point for developing further practical ideas, and activities for training others, optimistically so that youthwork has a conversational future. Each of these 12 things might need breaking down further, and often things like communication skills, group work development, conversation, risk assessment, strategy, power, leadership and management are all part of all of these in different ways. It is not always the case the if we get the basics right we get everything else right, because sometimes in youthwork there is no one ‘right’- and why 12 basics might be better than 6, because youthwork practice can be broad, unwieldy and open. It is after all in many ways a continual conversation that includes conversations. Critical conversations, hopeful conversations and inclusive, participatory conversations, but conversations none the less.
Anyway – Starting right- or at least trying to put words to what we might already do, What might else be included in the 12 basics of youthwork practice? – what are we trying to be about?