An Exit strategy for Detached Youth work

As you may know i am leaving my current role as a detached youthworker in Perth, in about 4 weeks time now, so the time is well and truly flying by. However, as a detached youthworker i have been pondering the notion of an exit strategy within detached youth work.

Before now i have left youthwork jobs in churches, one year out programmes ( when everyone knew it was just for a year) or schools work, and so in most of those instances it was easy to communicate the prospect of leaving with the youth groups and have a leaving night that sort of thing.

Its not a question of how to tell the management, the volunteers, the working partners etc of the project, as they can get a quick email or phone call, but it boils down to how to tell the young people. Given that conversation is the primary education tool of detached work, especially what we have done in Perth, and this has nearly always begun on the terms of the young people, so their activities, interests etc, how do you bring into the conversation – oh and by the way this is my last night? or in 3 weeks this will be the last night of detached youth work for me in perth?  when their thoughts are of their night, their issues and personal traumas ( like who stole my drink, wheres my bus money etc), so to add to their drama…..

Its not that we havent had more meaningful conversations with young people on the streets, and we have, but the skill has been to probe and prompt young people from the basis of the conversations that are started naturally, rather than with much more than an agenda than that.

In the natural way of things, the conversations and relationships with young people have started very naturally on the streets, and so i imagine that to do equal justice would be to end them as naturally, so on the last time, the last evening, our goodbyes will be a final goodbye, just like our ‘hi’ carried a promise that we’ll be around for a while.

So on my last night, what do i do about meeting a group of people that i know ill never see again? what about a group who are out on the streets for the first time, and so do we start a conversation, when I know ill not be around to see its fulfilment? What of the young people, if they find out too early that staff are leaving will the focus of attention be on the staff or the needs of the young people, for others will they bother talking with us if they know we’ll not be around?

I think what i am also trying to say is that the young people deserve something in the way of information about the leaving situation, rather than just us not being there, and its really difficult to think of a way of communicating it. Thing is, leave it till the last night and it might be a wet night and no one is around, and that’d be that then. The unpredictability of detached work in a nutshell.

The fine line between Detached youthwork and Informal Policing

Maybe and old chestnut this one, but one worth exploring as its something the Sidewalk Team were thinking about last night. We were out and about in Perth City Centre, as per usual, between 8pm and 11pm. To give a bit of background, the project has always had a focus on alcohol misuse amongst young people , and so it is with groups of young people who misuse alcohol that we tend to spend time with, however, this brings me to consider the dilemana of the title; Detached youthwork or/and Informal policing? .  You see at times in the history of the project when there have been few young people drinking alcohol in the town (on the streets) we have chatted to those at Bus stops, near to the cinema etc that kind of thing, being there for everyone, regardless of alcohol use/state.

However, last night, there had been quite a few young people in the vicinity of the town, some at bus stops and the cinema was quite busy, yet instead of being there in those situations, we found ourselves in and amongst two or three groups in one of the city centre parks, who had left a party early and were drinking. Later after they had left we went back to the same area to see if they were ok, and from a distance monitored the situation, for aggressive behaviour, or them starting to move on home. It was at that point we asked the question, are we doing youthwork or informal policing?

Theres no doubt of our usefulness, being in the environment to keep a lid on any issues that arise, chat with those drinking, being a presence ( and these are all things the volunteers have commented on this week) yet, did we miss an opportunity to support a young person whilst they waited for a bus tonight? have we fallen into the trap of just being accepted by the young people who might pose others more of an issue, or a risk to themselves , leaving from parties with high heels, trying to walk through a park…yet we did get alot of positive response from the young people such as:

Its only F****** Malcolm in the middle and James! (young person, last night to us)

Does detached youthwork fall into this trap? well of course it might do? and i am not beating ourselves up, it was a great night of realising the acceptance the young people have of the work that is done by the project, and the people of the project.  Yet it is a fine line between the detached youthwork and complying with the values of a community to restore order, prevent anti social behaviour, rather than work with young people, educate, build community.

Maybe it’ll be a challenge to be a youth and community worker in a new setting, and return back to the basics of youthwork, after a few years of it being a challenge to walk along that fine line….

Detached youth work – closing one door

“getting the chance to have an influence” Laura Barton 2012

I have changed to writing in this format as per advice from Russ Wood, see how it goes… 

Closing one door is something really difficult, most of us love to get to the end of one job, look forward gleefully to handing in that notice letter to an employer, when the grass is greener on the other side, but though i look forward to something new in Ottery St Mary in less than two months, i also want to end well, and also feel as though i have been able to do the Sidewalk Project justice, in not only what we have done recently, over the last 5 years, but also in the last 5 weeks of my involvment and who knows what happens in the future. 

So what i am in the process of doing is collating all the stories, feedback, messages of support, press clippings, interviews, case studies of all the work of the last 5 years, from all the perspectives, and be able to write up what is in effect the ‘Sidewalk Story’ call it a mark in the sand, where we got to, what we achieved, how detached youthwork enabled christians to engage with young people, empowered a church to get involved in its community, how young people could be supported to make positive decisions, how we trained students in detached youthwork, how crime stats reduced in areas of the town, how many many young people felt supported and had positive conversations with us, and us by being a presence helped, cared for and did something meaningful. 

So today i interviewed two students who have worked on the project, both telling me about the situations that made sidewalk significant for them, but also where they could be significant to the young people. I am hoping to be able to make this story more widely known, it may even get published, to inspire others on a journey of engaging meaningfully, regularly and respectfully with their community and young people. I hope that in ending well, others start, rebirthing and creating something new from what we’ve done. 

 

I have changed to writing in this format as per advice from Russ Wood, see how it goes…

Closing one door is something really difficult, most of us love to get to the end of one job, look forward gleefully to handing in that notice letter to an employer, when the grass is greener on the other side, but though i look forward to something new in Ottery St Mary in less than two months, i also want to end well, and also feel as though i have been able to do the Sidewalk Project justice, in not only what we have done recently, over the last 5 years, but also in the last 5 weeks of my involvement and who knows what happens in the future.

So what i am in the process of doing is collating all the stories, feedback, messages of support, press clippings, interviews, case studies of all the work of the last 5 years, from all the perspectives, and be able to write up what is in effect the ‘Sidewalk Story’ call it a mark in the sand, where we got to, what we achieved, how detached youthwork enabled christians to engage with young people, empowered a church to get involved in its community, how young people could be supported to make positive decisions, how we trained students in detached youthwork, how crime stats reduced in areas of the town, how many many young people felt supported and had positive conversations with us, and us by being a presence helped, cared for and did something meaningful.

So today i interviewed two students who have worked on the project, both telling me about the situations that made sidewalk significant for them, but also where they could be significant to the young people. I am hoping to be able to make this story more widely known, it may even get published, to inspire others on a journey of engaging meaningfully, regularly and respectfully with their community and young people. I hope that in ending well, others start, rebirthing and creating something new from what we’ve done.