Can detached youthwork be ‘asset based’ and develop young peoples gifts?

We’ll not speak to those young people – they’ve not got alcohol on them

They appear to be ok, we’ll leave them alone

I doubt if its them who are causing the anti social behaviour calls

These are all phrases I have used on detached youthwork. Its that thing where you go out, of an evening, to try and talk with young people on the streets, develop contact and relationship, and all of sudden in the heat of the moment, a whole load of baggage arises to the surface that kind of stops me from doing what i might be meant to be doing.

In a busy environment like a city centre where i did detached youth work a few years ago, it may have been possible to make those filter judgements because it was always busy. On a smaller community estate where there might only be a few groups of young people having this in built filter might mean it could be a quiet evening.  At least quiet because all the young people we see are being normal decent young people, playing in parks, kicking a ball around, and not really need us. More importantly, that we in those moments dont see that they are worth working with.

Because they dont display needs

Because they dont show us in their actions that they fulfil funding criteria

Because they seem sorted

Because we might not be able to tick boxes in working with them

Because its not what we’re about.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of delivering detached youthwork training to a group of sessional staff just north of Inverness. The feedback from them was really positive and it was a great 2 days. One of things that shaped the planning of these sessions for me was how focussed on ‘needs’ the teams, and communities were in relation to developing detached youthwork. There were kids playing near railways (single track lines with one train per 2 hours- not intercity lines, ((and even the intercity line has 2 trains per hour, hardly busy.. however) , young people starting to gather near to some town centres, vandalism and stone throwing. Whilst none of these issues are in any way pleasant, positive and they cause significant harm, and fear and isues about safety, of course. Often detached youthwork starts off from a perspective of need. Though to be fair also, much reactionary youthwork in buildings has done the same .

Conversations about moving from needs to gifts have occured in community development practice, and in youth work generally.  Peter Harts article in Youth and Policy 117  does identify that asset and needs based approaches do run concurrently in youthwork at times, he argues that

However, I would argue that as a general framework in which to understand the differences in
approach to out-of-hours work with young people between secular and Christian organisations is
through their occupational paradigm, model of youth work and assumptions about young people,
approach to risk, and dominant philosophy of ethics. (Hart, 2015, Youth and Policy 115)

Saying that needs and gifts are both part of the equation.

One of the recent new books I have been given for free from the North East Resources centre  is the following one : ‘Dont Shoot I’m a detached youthworker’ by Inez and Mike Burgess. Im reading the first few pages and see the following:

  • The service we provide is ‘needs‘ led (page 8)
  • identify groups of young people in patch and record any relevant dialogue linked toissues and needs…….(page 10)
  • listen carefully to young peoples thoughts allows a good detached youthworker to develop a while range of dialogue, as well as gaining information about the basic picture of young persons needs (page 12)

Now,  this is one of the few recent detached youthwork books that i hadnt read, and its why i lapped up a free copy. However, I am acutely aware of how influential this book is. I am also aware that issues and needs get youth workers to the streets  (i feel its like fascists bring citizens with milkshakes to the high streets) . And Peter Hart may be on to something, and my experiences, not just in Inverness but with FYT are that detached youthwork that is not primarily funding or community police set up can have a more positive footing.  It meant that to talk about young people and their gifts, their assets and use detached youthwork to focus on their was refreshing and powerful to the group of workers in Inverness.

Yet, I wouldnt be sticking my neck out too far to say that developing detached youthwork on the basis of the gifts of young people might be rare. To start with viewing young people with more dignity and humanity. To start by enabling young people to be part of the decision making process about any youthwork provision, to have conversations with them about their passions, their dreams, their abilities and how they might contribute to enable these to occur. And that could be all young people.

Somehow sadly, detached youthwork may be stuck in a needs orientated paradigm, created by those who need it a soft way of addressing community fears ( by the police) and this, as Peter says above, will shape the approach, or at least be the guiding lenses within which to develop practice into. Have predetermined issues, discover needs and then bam!, problem solved. But it isnt is it.

It is almost as if detached youthwork really isnt caught between the two stools of assets and needs, more that it is caught between a rock of funding and reaction – or none at all. Because of this, the many young people who are just being around, who are still victims in a society which has cut services to them by a staggering amount, are even likely to be given opportunities to thrive, to participate and to be decision makers in their own provision.

I wonder if it is more difficult to do ‘asset based’ detached youthwork out on the streets, because the setting is already so politicised and deemed ‘anti-social’, ‘frightening’ – that its difficult to see past all of this when trying to talk with young people. This may be different to when young people are in buildings that are youth orientated, its only a guess or a thought. Can young people show their gifts on the streets – of course they can – it is just up to us to look and maybe intentially look and find them.

Maybe any detached youthwork in the UK is better than none, and it wouldnt take a university study to reveal how decimated detached youth work has been in the last 10 years. But, if detached youthwork is to come back – and there are signs it might do – can those of us who develop it do their level best to shape it in a way that is about not identifying groups and problems, but discovering the gifts, abilities and good things about young people, and enabling them to explore their dreams, potential and how they want to make a difference. In this case, we have to sort out our langauge, our questions, and how we start from scratch. What if detached youthwork could enable young people to develop their gifts?  What might asset based detached youthwork look like?  (and im sure its happening, please if you do this, share details below)

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In Praise of Youth works influential (often invisible) Women

A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a discussion, may be caused by me, on the number of women in youth ministry who have been able to or been involved in publishing theological or theoretical books, and whether Youth Ministry is too American and too male. Whether publishing is the way to influence, or whether there are many many reasons is a piece for another day. Not to mention ‘what youth ministry’ actually is. But it is a Friday. The end of a long week.

And this week, on a similar theme, I have been reading the following book, another free one as it was being cleared out from the Religious resources centre in the north east, they’re fabulous as they keep me a pile of any youth work books that theyre about to throw out (might start my own library)..

The best thing about books is learning something new, or in equal measure in the case of this one, learning about someone new.

And , to be quite honest with you, in this book I found a new hero. I fell in love.

I fell in love with a lady called Josephine Macalister Brew.

A woman, who I confess, I had never heard of, until i read chapter 13 of the above book. A woman who was one of many who was highly influential in the development of youthwork in the 1940’s-1960’s. A woman who was an educationalist, who was thoughtful, who it was said had a lightness of touch in her writing and yes was critical, and who held onto faith.

If we are not in youth work because of our love of our fellow men we have no business there at all. This burning love of humanity always meets with response, though not always in the ways we most care for, but nowadays as much youth work is ruined by too much restraint as by too much exuberance. Fear to exert undue influence, fear to assert authority when necessary, conscientious scruples about this and that – are all contributory factors. But young people want to know where they are and they need the friendship of those who have confidence and faith. (Brew 1957: 112-3)

I need to read more of her work to do her justice, and I’m grateful that you can read more about her in this piece: Josephine Brew and Informal education so that you can be as inspired and bathe in her profound, compassionate, yet passionate insights into youthwork. I was interested to read that the much heralded ‘Informal education’ by Jeffs and Smith (1999) was a cover.. and that Josephine Brew had already written a book with that title.. read the link and find it for yourself…

But this got me thinking, I hadn’t heard of Josephine Macalister Brew. Who else haven’t I heard of? and…. if I hadn’t heard of her, are there other significantly influential women who have shaped youthwork practice in the UK that others may not have done?

So, starting with Brew, above, here is my list of 5 other significant women who have influenced me in the history of UK youthwork, from their action that inspires, their writing and their influence, some you may not have heard of, others you might.

1 & 2. Maude Stanley and Ellen Ranyard : For anyone who has thought through the history of detached youthwork, these two women feature heavily. It was they who began, in one form or another to provide non building related health services to people in London in the 1860’s on wards. Today we might call them community nurses or matrons, they used the term district nursing, or Bible nursing, and whilst we might find issue with some of the ethics of their practices, what cannot be questioned is their dedication and heart for the poorest, most infirm in society, and the dedication to get out of the cosy building and meet people in their homes.

ellen ranyard, 'bible women' and informal education

For more on Maude Stanley and her setting up of girls clubs in soho, see this link : Maude Stanley On Ellen Ranyard, see here: Bible Nursing

3. Hannah More. If you think about the history of Sunday Schools in the UK, you might mostly think Robert Raikes, and this is pretty accurate given his role in developing them. However, you would do well to include the name of Hannah More in the development of them too. For reasons explained in this article , Hannah More used her knowledge and power, and influence within the church (albeit controversial at times, how things have changed…) and fought to encourage the expansion of Sunday schools in the UK.

Hannah More - Wikimedia Commons. Images by unknown engravers, and thus are PD due to age, per the relevant British legislation.

Her desire for them, was based upon the compassion she experienced in situations like this:

… we found more than 2,000 people in the parish, almost all very poor—no gentry, a dozen wealthy farmers, bard, brutal and ignorant.. . . We went to every house in the place, and found every house a scene of the greatest vice and ignorance. We saw but one Bible in all the parish, and that was used to prop a flower-pot. No clergyman had resided in it for forty years. One rode over from Wells to preach once each Sunday. No sick were visited, and children were often buried without any funeral service. (from H. Thompson, (1838) Life of Hannah More quoted by Young and Ashton 1956: 237-8)

In describing the nature of More, and the Sunday school she set up in cheddar, Mark Smith writes: ‘ The significance of Hannah and Martha More’s activities with regard to Sunday schooling lay in the pedagogy they developed; the range of activities they became involved in; and the extent to which publicity concerning their activities encouraged others to develop initiatives. Hannah and Martha More attempted to make school sessions entertaining and varied. We can see this from the outline of her methods published in Hints on how to run a Sunday School (and reported in Roberts 1834). Programmes had to be planned and suited to the level of the students; there needed to be variety; and classes had to be as entertaining as possible (she advised using singing when energy and attention was waning). She also argued that it was possible to get the best out of children if their affections ‘were engaged by kindness’. Furthermore, she made the case that terror did not pay (Young and Ashton 1956: 239). However, she still believed it was a ‘fundamental error to consider children as innocent beings’ rather than as beings of ‘a corrupt nature and evil dispositions’ (More 1799: 44, quoted by Thompson 1968: 441)’

Hannah More, known by Wilberforce and part of the group demanding change in the Anglican church towards social justice, and putting it into practice in Cheddar gorge.

4. Joan Tash

For me Joan Tash is one half of the dynamic 1960s duo, Goetschius and Tash, who wrote up their experiences of developing a detached youthwork/ outreach project in a london borough by the YWCA. Working with Unnattached Youth (1967) is that book, for me its virtually the Bible of detached youthwork, though I may now revise giving Tash all my hero status, (now that I have found Brew). But Joan Tash, (and George Goetschius) writing in that book alone, has i my opinion been barely superceded, in terms of detail, insight and thought in regard to the issues, challenges and scenarios of detached youthwork faced by them over the course of 5 years. They pioneered thinking about groups, values, community, supervision (ill get to that later), faith, training, and power, relationships in youthwork. When i say pioneered, it is as much that so much of what they said may not have been new, but written down in this book, with such evidence of practice included in such a painstaking, detailed way is hugely important. Many of their ideas have been used since (such as Heather Smiths work on Relationships), or values in community work developed elsewhere. Tash, like Brew, became significantly influential in the early development of the youth service. Working with the unattached is still i believe under valued in the history of youth work, and also in the field of christian faith based work.

As an educator, Tash lectured and was senior tutor at the YMCA college, and her extensive work on the supervision of youthworkers has influenced so many since. I can only imagine that 5 years of detached youthwork gave her the insight into the importance of it… im sure those who heard her lectures might agree…

Do have a read of Joan Tash, again, Mark Smith has written of her in this fascinating piece

5. The following Women, are to my knowledge all still alive. And so, their names have not yet been written up into youthwork legend status. Some of them, I know personally, some i dont so well. I have found their writing influential in my thinking about young people and youthwork, and so I hope that you might do too, there are no links for these women, just a hope that you might give their work some time and invest in it.

Johanna Wyn (& Rob White) ‘ Rethinking Youth’, 1999. If you are in any way serious about young people and thinking about them especially in culture. (Youth ministry colleagues especially, its all about youth culture, isnt it..) then to get a different view on much that is taken for granted about young people and culture, give this book a read. I implore you.

Kerry YoungThe Art of Youthwork’ 1999 & 2006. A book so influential in youthwork it has now had 2 editions. Nuff said. A must read. Its a must read every year. Covers everything from values, virtues, philosophy and ethics. Just read it.

Annette Coburn (and David Wallace) ‘Youth work in Communities and schools’ (2011) As Allan Clyne and I agree, this is one of the few books recently that has started to frame youth work in a constructive way (and not just moan about its status or give the rose tinted specs of the past) . Her definitions are helpful and theres a fair inclusion of detached youthwork in this piece as well as schools and community work generally, so, whilst Scottish based (and this makes it less relevant for some) it is definitely worth reflecting on.

Heather Smith – On relationships in Youthwork. During my honours writing a few years ago on mentoring relationships i encountered Heather smiths pieces on Infed, and then her chapter on youthwork relationships in ‘Engaging in Conversation’ in Jeffs & Smith (2011). She understandably credits Goetschius and Tash for original insight, but i use her writing on relationships and conversation alot in helping others think through these things when i deliver detached youthwork training. So, for me, influential. This article on seeking out authenticity in youthwork relationships is one to reflect on over a coffee today… go on…

There may be a number of women I have missed, there will be, and creditable mention to Tania de st Croix, Naomi Thompson and Sally Nash who have influenced me in a number of ways, in my youthwork vocation, and friends such as Helen Gatenby and Gemma Dunning who have inspired me alot in the last 5 years. This isnt a roll call necessarily and its not to embarass or annoy anyone, and thats the problem with starting a piece like this, there will be names I might miss out. Maybe thats always going to happen, I just know who the people are who have influenced my practice, their writing and their support, encouragement and it is these i give credit to. And i hope that some of these women are as inspiring and influential to you, i hope like Brew for me, one or two surprise you.

3 questions that are critical to ask of all our youth work and ministry practice.

Shall we start with a reality check?

There is no magic answer, solution, gravy train, resource, method, model for youth work and ministry. There really isn’t. Anyone telling you this is merely on the hard sell, of their particular brand, style, event or model. Anyone telling you this is is hoping that they have it, that they experienced it and they’re clinging on to keep their particular dream alive. Or organisation. And i have been as guilty or complicit in this too. Though Id hope not because id peddle my own faith upbringing as the only path for others to have..

But I know you’re probably reading this because you want an answer, a style, a method or a model to solve the current problems, concerns you may have about your youth work practice. Whether it is about children leaving messy church, or young people on the streets, or the YF being boring and running out of ideas.

And running out of ideas is one of the main issues isn’t it? A key factor in youth worker burnout. They run out of ideas.

Yet, youth ministry isnt an entertainment industry… is it..?

If you are reading this hoping for the magic answer, then you may well end up being disappointed, but well done for getting this far. The questions are coming.

Because on one hand I am slightly tired of the models and methods, the research, and the moaning, about why people leave their faith, or why a model didn’t work because it worked elsewhere (or in 1983), yet without looking at what is going on at a deeper level with young people, then models, methods are still unlikely to work. But they kept being tried… Working doesn’t mean attendance, or young people paying for something. Because.. its not the values of the entertainment industry that we’re looking for.. is it?

So, what are the 3 questions that we should ask of all our youth work and ministry practices? And ask repeatedly and all the time. They are:

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples belonging?

Does what we do/about to do increase young peoples autonomy?

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples sense of competence?

 

What you say – no  mention of Jesus?  no mention of values? no mention of ………(fill in the blank)

Yes. Agreed. No mention of those things. Because, look closely and you will find those things in these three questions.

Belonging. 

Relationships have been front, centre and under pretty much all of youth work and ministry practice. You really dont need me to pull out all the references for this. But relationships are one thing. A sense of belonging and connection is another. If we hope that ‘our relationship’ with a young person as a single youth worker or volunteer is crucial, we may be misguided, because its a sense of belonging that young people crave, (secret: we all do).  So… do young people feel they belong in the church family, do they feel they belong in their school, do they feel they belong in their public park, do they feel they belong in their town. Our relationship with a young person might be critical, especially if it helps to help them have a greater sense of belonging.

How might the whole church help a young person (s) belong? How might the town help young people belong who also want to express their anger at austerity through anti social behaviour?

So – how might what we do/ what is bout to be done – help young peoples sense of belonging?

 

Autonomy

This may seem to stand in contradiction to belonging and connection. But it isnt. Autonomy may mean that young people can make their own decisions, and as an individual, however, autonomy can also become something that our youth work and ministry should create, in order that young people can have a say in decision making processes, in decisions that affect them, affect the youth ministry/work itself and also the wider faith community and organisation. Autonomy is a key motivator for us all, we all like to be kings of our own castle. Yet at the same time, reflect on the situations where young people in the group, or organisation had any autonomy over the activity, process, style and nature of the group.

We might use the term participation, and that in a way is a graded scale of how young people do have increased decision making/autonomy.  Because after all, increasing young peoples participation is not that far from helping them to meet some of their self determined goals. Their goals about the club, group, community.. their dreams, visions, their collective passions for these things

I have written extensively on participation, some of these are my most read pieces.. its clearly a need, to think through and reflect.

Though i have suggested this one is second in this list of three. I think its the most important. Especially in churches and youth ministry.

 

Thirdly, Competence

What can your youth work and ministry do – to help young people feel that they acheieved something, they made something happen, they did well?

And it doesnt need to be personal – but it could be

It doesnt need to be social – but it could be

They did well doing the reading in a service is one thing, they did well speaking up at the leaders meeting another. They did well writing to their MP on climate change, they did well showing generosity and grace to others in the group. They did well…..

Nothing like doing well isnt it.

You know what that feels like?  probably not.

Will you only tell young people they did well at something when you get positive feedback for all your efforts, your hard work, your job? Id hope not.  You might have to give and continually give praise, even if you dont receive it.

But its not just the praise. It is the situations in which there is a possibility of being able to. When working on the streets its easy to affirm young peoples football skills, or how they ct with each other. It is their environment. So, how might the space of the youth group, club or project also be a space that encourages competence, encourages risk taking activity that stretches our known behaviours and praises the actions that are taken.

Youthwork that has craft activities are brilliant at this, if we can encouraging the simple making of things that are fairly easy so that everyone can do something well. the same with cooking, or fixing bikes, or sports or video games… its not quite the same with movies.

Its no coincidence that uniformed youthwork organisations with badges and awards continue to be very popular.

How might young people feel, if they are part of a group or project in which they leave each session feeling like they have achieved something, have developed a skill, have something to take home, have created something? Yes.. exactly…

 

 

If you need to think further about these three things through a faith lens, then do so. If you want to think about them in the context of the divine relationship between humanity and God, in terms of divine and human action, in terms of free will, prayer, and being made in the image of God, then do so. I would encourage it. It would be good to have that discussion. if you want to have a look at these things through discipleship or mission, through church then do so. You should also be able to see where these things mirror core youthwork values, like participation, empowerment and valuing the individual. Some of those reflections have already been done by Jocelyn Bryan in her excellent book, referenced below.

So, faith and theology is not my starting point for these. It is psychology.

If this all feels a bit more on the psychological side of things then it is. But thats ok isnt it. Because psychology could help us in youth work and ministry in a way couldn’t it. After all, we’ve tried sociology to death with all the generationalism surveys, and that hasn’t got anyone anywhere. Aside from selling resources.

But, you want to make a real difference in your group, your church, you organisation with young people. Don’t worry about second guessing their interests because they’re millenial. Try instead looking at the deep things that motivate them. Try looking at how belonging, autonomy and competence are part of their lives, try seeing where they find these things already. Try doing what you can to find them in the group, project and activity that you run. Of course this is hard work, of course this might require shifts. Who said this was in any way easy…

The reason these questions are crucial – because they’re the same one we ask of ourselves. Young people, are no different to us.

 

Further Reading: 

Human Being, Jocelyn Bryan, 2016.

 

Has this blog killed youth work?

Beyond the title, this is a serious conversation. Not just a provocative start to peak your interest, but a genuine question. Has this blog, and the now many others, become responsible for killing youthwork?

It would be easy to argue against. I could talk about the many 1000’s of views this blog has had. I could tell you about the feedback I have had whereby volunteers, clergy and workers, managers, supervisors and leaders have provided me, telling me how much benefit this blog has been to them. And I am truly honoured. So, this blog has helped practitioners. It has helped guide and advise. It has provoked a question and provided a reflection.

But has it become a problem ?

Because, if this blog, and the many others, have become the ‘go-to’ for the despairing youth worker, ie a Google search for ‘the role of youths in church ‘

Then what happens to youthwork as a profession as a result?

After all, teaching, medicine and social work haven’t dropped off the pace and become ‘online only’ – though their courses and demand for them to exist.

It was fabulous to receive feedback about this blog 4 weeks ago at a number of conferences. But the truth of what that also means is that whilst I may have influence, the profession is showing signs of rapid decline. There’s only shouting voices left, and this one isn’t going to be taken seriously academically or institutionally.

Blogging cannot shape the discourse of youthwork. It really can’t. But that it is doing so, shows what youth work has left, doesn’t it?

If the books are inaccessible and over priced? (Various recently all over £50)

If books that are accessible are under used?

Not just because of blogging, but why spend £50 on a book, unless you really are a student of the profession, a lifelong student.

It’s far easier to read a review here, or elsewhere and then not bother. So there’s another sale down the drain and license to say ‘Naomi Thompson’s book on Sunday schools talks about x and y and z’ without £80 being invested in the source material, the publisher and giving the profession , the discourse, the impetus it needs.

A profession fuelled on blogs and second hand reviews. Where the academic becomes superfluous. Has gone underground and become a protest movement. Not a serious discourse or profession.

Not that you need to read a book to be a good youth worker. Of course. But that’s not the point . The point is that whilst youthwork might continue in it’s various forms in practice, and blogs supporting them are now numerous, are creative and become almost essential. Their proliferation has by default also indicated the systematic death of the profession. Maybe they haven’t caused it. Maybe kindly it’s being propped up by them.

But a credible profession, which is what youth ministry and youth work, both claim to be, can’t rely on the sugar puff of a blog that’s popular for a week. No one is going to take seriously the future of youth work (in whatever form) if it’s main writers are those who have a moan now and then, and whose work isn’t peer reviewed, published and credible outside of the practice field.

We have to take seriously responsibility for our demise. There’s no advert on tv with a university library youthwork department asking for £3 a month to keep it going. But it is more likely to, if you buy at least 5 youth work books a year. Read them, not (Just) this.

Has this blog killed youthwork? Sadly maybe what it is a symptom of how superfluous youthwork has become. The tide might be turning. But from what kind of discourse of a base. Easier to read a few blogs and go to a conference, than really invest thoroughly in it, and you’d still be a good youth worker that many churches might still employ. Or just get a level 3. And there’s nothing wrong with either.

That’s just where youthwork is.

Killed of by chronic under value and funding. Yet we might ourselves need to look in the mirror and ask where we have been part if it’s downfall. Moan about the high street but still buy on Amazon.

Has this blog killed youthwork? Or just keeping the embers alive…..

How might churches invest in young people? (if that’s one of the only ways young people will invest in the faith)

This is effectively the sentiment from Christian Smith who wrote, in 2003;

‘Young people are more likely to become serious about their faith, if the institution of the church makes significant investment in them”

So.. whilst invest possibly is a word that we might challenge for its financial association. There is a reality that churches who dedicate themselves to young people, and values that include, create safe space for and enable participation, are more likely to have young people within them who have a dedication to the faith. Honestly, drum kits and worship styles might matter far less.. especially, if, as Chap Clark recently suggests in ‘adoptive church ‘ these are merely tokens and are purchases that are bought instead of relationship.

So. Getting back to the sense of investing in young people, the first thing we might think of is money. But don’t. Because buying a Youth worker in, really might not be the right thing. Especially if buying a Youth worker causes all the people in a church already developing positive relationships with 11 year olds, to stop doing so. Honestly.. if you’ve got that far.. the best thing is to continue…

On this basis, investing in young people is far less about money. And far more about investing in them as people. Investing in them and connecting them in relationship with other people in the church, investing in their gifts and abilities, investing in them and understanding their social world with empathy. Investing in them so that they explore and create expressions of church that give them a sense of wonder, relationship and participation, not just attendees.. , invest in young people and their discipleship and their ministry in the world (not just volunteering to to the chairs), but invest in what they can bring to the world in response to God prompting and speaking through them.

So, it’s nothing like just about money. Investing in young people and their faith is a whole lot more.

It’s about investing in thinking positively about young people

It’s about investing in the volunteers who work with young people, with training and supervision

It’s about investing in the young people as more than recipients of resources

It’s about investing in their ministry and supporting them in it

It’s about making spaces inclusive and safe for challenging conversations

It’s about enabling participation in the whole faith community.. including the decision making processes.

It’s about challenging the stuff that young people have to deal with, not just supporting them through it.

It’s about investing in the 5 or less that you have, not the 25 you wish you had.

And a whole load besides… but I’m sure you get the point.. It’s not about money, trips or festivals, it’s about belonging, participation in ministry and the life of God and community.

Creating a culture of sharing life, of family, of participation and faithful risk taking, that might give young people, and anyone, the clearest indication that it’s people that matter to God, not structures and organisation.

Maybe then young people might invest in their faith back…

References

Christian Smith, 2003, Soul searching

Chap Clark, 2018, Adoptive church

Andrew Root, 2018, Faith formation in a secular age.

Focussing on the good in our youthwork; despite culture of numbers and expectations

Because it’s more likely that we’ll be heard saying things like;

We’re not as big as _________ up the road?

Or…They get to pray with their group.. or..

We just can’t get our young people to go to soul survivor?

Or… We only have a few leaders..or..

It just feels like were just going through the motions..

One of my roles is to travel up and down the north of England, talk to youth leaders and project workers in a range of youth work situations. Sometimes it’s to deliver training, supervision or reflection.

A common thing that key youth workers and leaders do is talk down their youth group. Often using one or some of the statements above. Maybe it’s the British thing to talk ourselves down, maybe it’s the awkward thing of feeling like open youth clubs are in competition with the more programme/activity orientated youth ministry like groups.

But what if we started with the good stuff. Start with the positive.

What about asking the question;

What’s good about your youth work?

So, go on then. Forget the negative comparative talk. Talk up the positive. What is it that makes your youth club come alive? Where is it’s spark? What’s good?

Is it the conversations? The volunteers and their team work? That young people feel safe? That there is respect? That young people participate? … go on.. why not write down with your volunteers next time, all the good things about your youth work?

And build from there.

Sod that, why not ask the young people too?!

In a way it’s so easy to reflect on the negative to improve practice, and then dig ourselves into a spiral of looking only negatively. But what if instead we made a conscious effort to focus, identify and describe the good stuff. The gifts, the questions, the space, the interaction, the sense of home. Stuff that’s good. Stuff of value beyond the money.

And if we can’t spot the good and value it, who else will?

If we are able to value the good, the positive, and identify it, build on it, and develop community, then it’s more likely that young people will want to be part of what we do and are. Surely. And our work is with the specific young people we have, not the ones up the road. And so, what is the good about them?

Maybe asset based community work, needs good identifying youth practitioners too.

So..why not start with the good! It’s a tough gig at times working or volunteering with young people, so it’s worth celebrating and giving yourself space to recognise what’s good about it, what’s of value and be encouraged by the sometimes invisible yet meaningful impact that you may be having.

Is what you’re doing worthy, true and lovely? Then..

‘Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is praiseworthy.. think on these things’ (Philippians 4;8-9)

It’s not going to do any one any harm to focus on the good that is done.. take credit youth worker, volunteer, leader, for the immense good, often unnoticed that you do. And hold it’s value close, and share it amongst you. Treasure the good.

Could the last remaining youth worker, please give the PM a hand with her knife crime problem?

This week, on Monday Theresa May held a conference in downing street with a number of organisations on the back of a rising panic about knife crime in London, but not just London. What this conversation didnt seem to do was start to address the deep seated issues of poverty, cuts and reductions in youth services that have created an environment where these issues have now got to crisis point. And poverty and austerity have created an angry and lost generation of young people. Understandably.

Schools cannot afford to train or employ staff to tackle knife crime.

The cuts to youth and childrens service have been savage since 2010. Under the austerity measures, it is estimated that over 600 FTE (and so with an extensive number of PT staff, this will be nearer 1000 people) youthworkers have been taken out of youth work orientated roles, on the ‘frontline’ an with a broadly youth work remit. Yes, some have been redistributed to social work, troubled families and to other agenda’d areas in local councils and statutory bodies (as my post here suggested. But savage cuts have taken an extra ordinary number of youthworkers away from the local community, and community practices where they were. Do a search of ‘cuts’ on the Children and young people now website and you will find plenty of evidence, such as this piece, written in February: https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2006432/childrens-services-at-breaking-point-due-to-funding-cuts-charities-warn

Youthworkers have expended energy trying to keep youth centres open, trying to be innovative to keep the semblance of a youth service going, become creative in ascertaining funding, yet at the same time training organisations, colleges and courses have been cut too, as their need has collapsed. There is not then the ‘churn’ of new youthworkers entering the field, as there once was. And the same might be said in the church. The same might be said in the voluntary sector, where there are jobs, but few applicants, at times.

Yet, the social panics about young people, county lines, mental health – and this week (again) knife crime – have come to the politicians attention, and the public at large… just… (even in a Brexit toxic week) and whilst I have written before about the knee jerk reaction for the promotion of youth services on the back of moral panics young people deserve better, in terms of being thought of as creative, energising, innovative, passionate and been subject to austerity policy (rather than to blame) .

We are left with the cumulative scenario, that it is now due to the public sector to deal with a response to knife crime  which is really interesting, as I am sure the policy of education revolved around the ethics of the market is really going to accommodate a space for knife carrying education, or peace and reconciliation, in and amongst a data pressured, outcome driven school system, where PSHE and citizenship have already been slashed. Concerns voiced by teachers and unions in this piece here: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/01/knife-prevention-plan-unfair-on-teachers-say-unions

Responding to youth violence through youth work

So ultimately, the axe falls to the teachers in schools.

Because, there isnt the frontline youthworkers left, even though detached youthworkers produced resources into ‘street crime’ responses 10 years ago: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=9781447323099&i=stripbooks&linkCode=qs. The voice of youthworkers and their ability to respond has been so diminished, devalued and restricted.

Where youthworkers had an on the ground perspective of the issues, the interactions with young people on the streets and have heard, seen and witnessed it, the task is for the public sector workers cocooned in institutions- subject to education policy remit (and not specifically for/with young people) . Yes, some youthworkers have been part of the conversation – but realistically – the question has to be asked ;

Would the remaining youth workers left help the prime minister out with her knife crime problem? 

The cart and horse had bolted at the time of the London Riots, government cuts to youth services produced anger and outrage, and yet here we are 7 years later. More cuts, more moral panics, and Theresa the hero holds a conference, yet has over seen the most damaging series of cuts to youth services in their 100 year history. Young people are almost left with little choice. Anything now is reactive, being on the ground in the first place might, just might have brought about more social cohesion and community, more understanding, influence and moral guidance with young people – take that all away and a youth worker is just an informal police officer. My guess is that the police dont want this gig either. Youthwork is not their speciality, neither is it as possible in such an environment. So – would the last remaining youthworkers give Theresa a hand? would you?

And if you do – what are you saying about how this ‘problem’ is caused by, and being complicit to an agenda which places the individual, rather than society at large, and the government for its cuts partly responsible.

Should Youthworkers be ‘policing’ young peoples emotions?

Getting young people off the streets, that was and still is one of the old mandates for youth workers, getting young people into other institutions was another.

Youthworkers effectively were tasked with policing the streets – or policing the third space in between organisations, so that young people wouldn’t fall through the gaps.

There is a new place for youthworkers, to effectively police ‘in town’.

And, though it is not new, it is back with a vengeance.

Youthworkers now tasked with policing young peoples emotions?

Young people are to be happy, and to be well.

The area of value is not the social space of the park, but the heart space, the attitude, the feelings of the young person.

Policing young peoples emotions so that ‘they are not unhappy’ with their lot..- I wonder.

I am just returning back from todays In defence of youthwork national conference, in Birmingham, in which the principle subject was on ‘happiness and well being’ . A number of conversations curated the day in which the concept that youthworkers had a new responsibility of ensuring the happiness of young people was a significant part of them.

I might suggest, that we would do well to be able to determine what ‘Happiness’ is – or even what ‘well-being’ is (and well being was only referred to during the day). But Happiness was explored in brief by Tony Taylor in the morning, and referring to Aristotle talked about human flourishing, and ended with a call to social happiness, social well being – after regaling his own frustrations with happiness as concept that focuses on the individuul to find contentment in the most shittest of situations, the most restricted of settings, education systems and welfare and benefit systems and housing scenarios, not to mention family, health and employment situations. But yes – ‘Be Happy’ throughout.

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If the world of psycho- therapy and self help – places much of the responsibility of determining happiness with the individual, and I admit at this point, having recently undergone a period of time where counselling and therapy has been profoundly useful for me personally, I am also intrinsically aware that an individual can only affect their own happiness in a certain way. And equally, it has only been after my own counselling that I may even have tools and concepts to hand to help young people deal with their emotions. But is that the point?

I agree with Tony. We can do so much. We can decide individually how we might react in situations, we may even try and regulate our emotions, we may even feel happy. We may be able to to this ourselves individually.

But ‘Man is not an Island’. We are in community, as are every single young people and the groups of them who we interact with. There is a flow of communication, attention, emotion, complaints, pressure, tasks and trauma passed around, and young people may not, can not have the tools and experience to cope with these. Not without serious therapy and counselling – surely (and that isn’t the role of the youthworker is it..)

I am reminded of the considerable work of Cormac Russel and the Nurture Development site. Whilst there may be critiques of the purist Asset based community development. What I find in that resource, is a real determination to understand that community flourishing, community use of gifts, community development is the principle key to unlock many of the issues that any individual within it (including young people) will be. Developing community is key, good youthwork only exists in good community work. Social happiness may only be possible when the whole community is more on an equal footing, as ‘The Spirit level’ book ascertains. And so, poverty and inequality are factors in the depression and sadness that all face – even the rich- because their wealth is never enough. Loneliness is not an individual problem, it is a community problem.

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I might break off from this point and insert that it is far too difficult to not look at even our most prominent belief stories as episodes of individual faith, because our lens has shifted so far into the quagmire of individual thinking. A tendency to tell the Christian story about ‘how God saves me’ – might be dominant – but the reality, as the most famous verse in the Bible says ‘God so loved.. the whole world’ … the isrealites wandered in community, the trinity is a community, the early church was a collective. It would be dangerous to read to closely the position of the christian faith (as one example) as solely about ‘the individual’ – yet from our vantage point where individualism is key it would be harder not to. This is the point Christian Smith makes, saying that american Christianity for young people has become less of a community transformation programme (Vanhoozer, 2010), but a ‘self help therapy for the struggling’ – ‘Jesus is for me’ (Smith, C 2003)

I digress, but I think you see my point.

The rise of individualism has infected religion. Our lens is on ourselves, and our own miscontentment. We are own advertisers nightmare. Plagued by our own sense of disconnect and deficit, waiting or the next product to help us feel good, or shopping to alleviate the pain. Or alcohol. Id is from our own plane that we stand. Not ours in community context, but thats what we need to resist to think about young people. see them in community context. See them as Goetschius and Tash (1965) tried to say. within a web of community with values, behaviours and interests all interacting in a web of community.

Community flourishing seems a distant dream. The subtlety of neo liberalism, and its evangelists, has placed the responsibility of the shite of the world on the individual to cope with and be happy within, and find all manner of things for dealing with it, and their own mental health – exercise more, eat healthily, meditate – but don’t dare try and make the system be responsible.

About 11 years ago I was involved in a mentoring programme in and linked to schools, helping young people who struggled with school to re connect back, increase their timetable or to deal with some of their issues. Within that programme, it became apparent that dealing with young peoples emotions, or shall I say, helping young people identify, to name, and to reflect on their reactions due to their emotions was a key part. I read Emotional intelligence by David Goleman, as a result. I started to use the Brief solutions therapy mantra of ‘steps’ ‘numbers out of 10’ and giving, I thought young people space to explore emotions. But in such a short term, formal mentoring space it wasn’t ever really possible. It was not done in trusted relationships, and they were too agenda’d. But what I am trying to say is that dealing with young peoples emotions isn’t new. But dealing with young peoples emotions, anger, frustration, hurt and pain, in isolation is doing them a disservice. Helping them cope is only one part of the equation.

And measuring this… well that’s a minefield…..hoping young people tell us how happy they are… really? – when most of us feel happy differently by the hour…

I am not going to return to points ive made previously about ‘Austerity Generation’ and the ‘Market Ethics of schools’ – but something is as clearly wrong. And it is not social medias fault. Social media is a tool, and is often an escape. (and least young people aren’t drowning their sorrows in alcohol as much anymore)

So – what does it mean for youthworkers to be the police of young peoples emotions? Are we in danger of returning the role to the chirpy ‘youthworker as red-coat’ that Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith describe – always being the buoyant entertainer that distracts with fun – or the friendly youth work therapist who tries to go deep… quickly. But really – what is a youthworker really able to do? Or is qualified to do?

Image result for emotions

I end this piece with a short delve into some psychology that I am increasingly finding useful.

Deci and Ryan suggest that all human beings are motivated by each of these three things:

Relationship, Autonomy and Competence. (Bryan 2016)

From a youthwork perspective; Howard Sercombe writes that youthwork is a ‘professional relationship in which young people are engaged as the primary client in their social context’ (Sercombe, 2010)

My overriding question, if youthworkers are to be the ‘emotion police’ is – what kind of connection, autonomy and competence in this space is a young person actually able to participate in? – and in addition – what does this focus on emotions, as a target, do for engaging with young people , as the primary client, in their social context.

If we meet young people in their space, or try and create safe spaces for conversation, what kind of space is a young person going to engage with if its not derived by their agenda, their interests and passions and gifts – rather than be a space where their emotions are under scrutiny.

Youthworkers, who curated during the day, are some of the most imaginative around for trying to do practice that ‘looks like youthwork’ even in a space dictated by the latest agenda ( and knife crime is also another one) – and significant credit where credit is due, as any work with young people is valid and important. But policing the streets was an impossibility and best left for police – the intensity of young peoples emotions might be best left with the kind of well trained counsellors who can do this.

Maybe youth workers have crosses the line and subliminally become the crisis therapists, employed by the crisis theoreticians as spoken of by Freire here;

(Education for critical consciousness 1974 p11)

But whatever happened to just trying to to create spaces of relationships, of creativity, or groups, of activity, of participation and even entrepreneurship all of which will allow young people to have connectivity, autonomy and become competent. Then, and this done in community, with families, with the institutions, and others, might be the best way of making more than just young people happy. It might make the community happy too.

We would never say that we would want young people to feel worse after meeting us, but happiness might not be likely if we have exposed and helped them become more self aware of the issues that affect them and how they react. They might know more but be less content as a result, needing a personal struggle to assimilate new information into their previously normative world view and identity.

We’ve got a long way to go. But the journey doesn’t start with fixing young people and helping them feel something, despite their circumstances. Policing young peoples emotions… really? Is that what youth work has come to?

Detached youthwork stage 1; Observation

Instead of writing a whole load of stuff on observation. I decided to make a film about it instead. See what you think.

Yes I need help with the technical bits.. but enjoy none the less…

Here it is detached youthwork stage 1 – observation

The stages stuff you’ve seen before. And I go into more in detail in Here be Dragons.

Anyway. Enjoy. Cringe or Laugh..

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