I was delivering some training for a group of volunteers just before Christmas, on the subject of developing pioneer youthwork. After talking through a number of theories, processes, ideas and stuff like values. The question was;
Well, that’s all very well – but what if the young people are ‘stuck’ inside their house?
And so, all the best theories, the best processes, the best methods might be ultimately faced with a barren brick wall, if the majority of young people are stuck inside. When I say stuck, i mean that as far as an outsider is concerned, they may be playing video games, on screens, doing homework, being escorted to organised activities (like after school clubs with Parents). But they are definitely not allowed out to wander, to go to the park, to ride a bike even. Some might be seen walking the family pet. Some might not want to go out. When bedrooms are the sanctuary from the horrors of school, family life or other stress, then why go out at all.
On one hand, some of this might be the feeling we have when ‘numbers of young people’ and not ‘quality of youth work’ is what we want to try and do. It could be as if ‘only a few young people’ isnt good enough, beneficial enough, or valid enough. See my post ‘But we only have 6 young people’ where thinking about the ‘only’ of numbers should be banned. However, this is only one side of the coin, probably. Its the side of the coin in which value for money might only take breadth and reach into equation, not depth and meaningfulness.
What is quite a challenge is that the young people some groups and organisations want to work with are the ones who are inside, who are generally diligent, who are doing their homework. But the ones who are disruptive and challenging, who are out and about, are the difficult ones that the groups dont seem to have the same enthusiasm for… strangely. Its as if the 30 kids in the park, arent the right ones…
Nevertheless, what if there isnt any young people around at all?
Some of this may be true as well. Talk of a sensible generation isn’t new. A generation adverse to risk taking, and trying to ‘get on’ might just mean that they don’t want to ‘ruin’ things, be disruptive, or be on the streets, to find identity, belong and community – when this is online instead. Or where fears of the outside world are overblown. But its not that new that the majority of young people aren’t ‘outside’ or at Youth clubs.
In 1939, 50% of young people were uncontacted, (not in contact)with any youth serving agency. (Circular; Board of Education). This included, faith/non faith groups, sports, club work and uniformed groups.
So, in 1939, only 15 years after young peoples clubs had hit a boom, things were on a decline. And in 1962, the ‘large numbers of young people’ not attached to any youth organsiation were a principle reason for a small scale, but 5 year funded + research project starting in London with a YWCA (More of which can be read in Goetschius/Tash 1967 Working with the unattached, a summary of which is on http://www.infed.org) . So the moral panic, or more accurately, desperate need to react to young people not attached isnt new. But maybe then, a good number were unattached and outside. I would say that since 2010, if a project doing detached youthwork in one particular area for 2-3 years sees 15% of the youth population in a suburban area it is doing well. Its probably only 10% of young people in an area who might be seen and contacted outide, and if the youth club (if such a thing exists) has 10-15 core young people then this is often the most it can manage and develop into a deep and meaningful experience long term for them.
In many areas, there are still the sports clubs, uniformed groups, faith groups (who may be the only ‘open youth club’/detached work left’) – church group like a ‘Messy church’ – dance, drama and music groups.
And so – whilst it may be that there are no where like 50% young people attending these things, it might be unlikely that they are doing nothing at all. Even the secondary school/Primary schools in many areas are delivering later evening activities, sports, etc.
That being said – the hard to reach might still be hard. And not every young person is the same. Screen time is one thing, home work another, but what if young people (aged 14) are caring for younger siblings until their hard working parents get back from shift work or a days work at 6. As a young person they are having responsibility – so what might a youth agency do to help them out? – what about a young carers and children session? (one example)
It could be dispiriting that the open youth group cant compete with all the technology of the childs bedroom, and there has been a tendency to try and fill the youth club with the same kinds of things. Or try and be relevent through making a you tube clip.
What is interesting is that young people like to feel at home in the spaces of the youth club – that doesnt mean that it has to replicate home. It could be ‘home +’ – where is feels like home, but they are trusted more, or given more responsibility, that they are cared for and listened to – not assumptions made. Where they are challenged even and enjoy social relationships. Having an Xbox in the youth club might be nothing at all really what young people want. Maybe its is something completely different, its time, its attention, its could be escape from the headache and stress of it all.
If young people cant come out of their houses – then why not go to them? – Could we do some door knocking and do a survey in the local area – find out actual information – rather than make assumptions? If they are hard to reach – then at least we make ourselves available… – this is happening elsewhere. Meet them where they’re at – how easy is this when they’re in their home?
We might think that starting the conversation with young people in a different space might be the thing – but doing schools work might not be practical if no one in the youth club or church is available all day, and the vicar turning up to do an assembly is no real incentive to come to the church youth club. Not really. Only for the already attending church kids.. probably… (its why i dont think vicars should do assemblies… 😉 ) – but trying to find a starting point for interaction seems to be one of the main questions – and something then that your group, church, organisation could spend seriously thinking about, especially if there is no natural footfall. But theres nothing new there…
Questions like these might help:
- Where do young people hang out in their leisure time?
- What are the routes from schools, from the school buses?
- Do any young people spend time in the town centres at weekends? (i have tried detached work on a saturday afternoon before)
- Where might young people find us? – How might they opt in?
There may be a realisation that we are heading into a space where we might want to think about ‘digital youthwork’ – and this will bring up a whole load of new scenarios, issues and practices to consider, in terms of values, engagement, confidentiality, individual/group work, participation. I am not sure what the latest guidance on this is, but i know that the NYA did produce some guidance a few years back ( in the age of Bebo.. ), which must have been updated since. However, if you think moving to digital youth work is the future for developing youthwork for the future indoor generation, then there is much to think about. I would suggest that there are enough young people who do not engage on social media 24/7 and there is evidence that young people are switching off. We might want to think about interest groups – how might we help young people be part of a movement – rather than a club… could the church be the space that helps young people change their local world, or a national issue ( like plastic, litter, energy, pollution, poverty, justice- the things young people care about…) .
If we offer something that is meaningful, that starts with young people in mind, offers a hand of participation, ownership and involvement, then it is more likely that this will create good youth work practice.
On the other hand, it is highly commendable that we want to reach as many young people as we can, the sad inevitability is that this may not be possible, but that doesnt mean that a small group of young people who we do spend time with is not worthy or unimportant. Maybe we are given a few first, and then opportunities to grow come more organically. Whilst we might not be in need for numbers for funding bids we can rest easy. Though if we have young people and are losing them thats a different matter – then we might have a different challenge on our hands- thats for a different piece.
Future youth work for the indoor generation? nothing new, but it might mean we have to raise our game…
If you have any suggestions – do put them below: