Trying to cling onto values based youth and community work, in an outcomes orientated society.

I was prompted to think about writing a piece or two about values in youth work/youth ministry by a friend of mine, yet as i thought about it struck me that I hadnt really written a piece about youth work values for a long while. Then i thought, what is as surprising is that talking about values in youth work seems a bit ‘twee’ or old fashioned and it isnt something I had heard for a while. There’s lots of talk in the youth work community about being against the government directed programmes such a NCS, please see the youth and policy facebook page.

At a recent consultation meeting, representatives from a number of agencies, all of which proposed to be working with young people across a town in the north east were gathered together to think about future services and programmes. In the discussions, not one mention of ‘values’ was given about how things would take place and what activities were for. The talk was about ‘getting the best OUTCOMES’ for young people in the city, or ‘achieving outcomes’ – all of which push services and activities into the direction of meeting targets, skimming off the quick wins, and not necessarily working in a way that looks much like youthwork – just to receive funding. Not much in the room looked like a youthwork process taking place, not much looked like youthwork values were the common denominator on the ground. In a way, working with outcomes in mind tricks people out of doing youth work. Its hardly participative if young people arent even in the room, or deciding with young people and leaving the space of open for them to create it.

In the cut and thrust of the ‘new world’ of efficiency cutbacks, value for money is the game. And deficiencies of this approach are seen in this report, with less interactions and informal services, social care bills are going through the roof:   So if outcomes have driven youth work values out of the park, then what about the voluntary or faith sector?

It is fair to say, that ever since Jeffs and Smith brought together 4 Values for youthwork practice, that the faith based sector has magnetically drawn itself to them as the key pillars of ‘secular’ youthwork practice, and sought to adopt, justify, add or build from them. The irony being that the same values have become less and less referred to with the sector that derived them in the first place, and clung on to within some of academia (where it still exists) , in the misty eyes of bedraggled former council youth workers, and in the marginalised, yet galvanised protest groups, such as In-defence of youthwork. Even Jeffs and Smith (Youthwork Practice, 2010) barely mention values.

But back to those values;

Jeffs and Smith in ‘informal education’ regard the first order values in society to be:

  • Respect for persons. This requires us to recognize the dignity and uniqueness of every human being. It also entails behaving in ways that convey that respect. This means, for example, that we avoid exploiting people for our, or others’, ends.


  • The promotion of well-being. We must work for the welfare of all. We must further human flourishing. That means, for example, we must always try to avoid causing harm, and seek to enhance the well-being of others.


  • Truth. Perhaps the first duty of the educator is to truth. This means that we must not teach or embrace something we know or believe to be false. We must search for truth and be open in dialogue to what others say. However, we should not be fearful of confronting falsehood where we find it.
  • Democracy. Democracy involves the belief that all human beings ought to enjoy the chance of self-government or autonomy. Implicit in this is the idea that all are equal citizens. A fundamental purpose of informal education is to foster democracy through experiencing it. We must seek within our practice to offer opportunities for people to enjoy and exercise democratic rights.
  • Fairness and equality. Informal educators have a responsibility to work for relationships characterized by fairness. Any discrimination has to be justified on the basis it will lead to greater equity. We must also look to promote equality. Actions must be evaluated with regard to the way people are treated, the opportunities open to them, and the rewards they receive. (Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.)

In 1991, a Ministerial conference was held that determined that the Core values in youth work are to be:

Voluntary Participation

Informal education

Empowerment and

Equality of Opportunity¹

Democracy was notably dropped from previous lists.

Whilst this is not the time to discuss these values individually at length, what each mean to practice, and give examples of each. It is striking that the faith and voluntary sector has continued to wrestle, and promote the adherence of values within its practice, or at least, in its writing it continues to use them. So for example, Danny Brierleys – Joined up (2003) gave a description of these four/five values, and added to them Christian principles of hospitality, acceptance, forgiveness and Incarnation. In ‘ten essential concepts for Christian youthwork’ (Grove, 2015) Jo Dolby suggests that core principles are the four values stated above. The same appear in ‘Here be Dragons’ (2014, Passmore R and Ballantyne, J). In Christian youthwork practice there were countless conversations about ‘how to use youthwork values’ but in a ‘Christian way’. Allan Clyne in this paper  reflects on the fact that the Christian context of the world from 1800-1950 became the backdrop for determining values in the first place, and so each of the four values have some resonance with the social transforming and redemptive aspects of the Christian faith and within its structures of its time. In a way then, it is no wonder that talk of values isnt cheap within Christian youthwork, and those who might be considered more marginal within christian youthwork tend to be those who cling to giving credence to them and developing youthwork with young people. They may be prefixed by ‘pioneer’, ‘sacrilised (Sally Nash), or Symbiotic (no, it didnt take off) – but youth work in its value orientated sense is retained, as core. In one way Danny Brierelys book feels like it was quite seminal, given that it was published by a collaboration of what might be argued to be evangelical faith organisations (YFC, SU, OASIS, Youthwork the conference), and promoted value orientated work within the faith, even evangelical sector. On a personal level, every single training session i have ever delivered on detached or faith based youthwork has included a section on values. Values give aspiration, hope and meaning to a piece of work. Elevates it to beyond functionality.

This isnt a discussion here on where youth work values have dropped off the radar in the Christian/Religious based youthwork, needless to say, its when the aims of the practice become institution serving, or faith transmission orientated that this can be the case. Discussion of this have occurred in numerous occasions, such as Maxine Green/Sarah Pughs articles in Youth and Policy, 1999 (no 65) and Pete Harris’s chapter in Youth work and Faith (Smith, Stanton and Wylie, 2015). Consequently, there can be dilemmas as to ‘what is important’ in Christian faith based work with young people, and if, like the statutory sector, it is outcomes, (such as adherance to belief, attendance or retention at church) then these blur the lines, and cause tension in regard to the values within a piece of work. Ultimately institutions and funding win this argument. It a reason why youthworkers leave the church… One of the key questions that Nick Shepherd, Faith generation 2016, raises, is ‘what kind of faith has evangelical youth ministry actually transmitted anyway?’. But again, another story.

It feels as if there has never been a time in the last 20 years when talk of value based youthwork has been such a voice from the margins. A prophetic voice that has young peoples autonomy, respect and decision making ability to heart, that has spaces of inclusivity, opportunity and diversity as it rallying cry. At the same time working with young people has abandoned values, its a simultaneously loses its value with young people, for they dont own it, they just get something. So, where we might be able to, the Christian faith based ‘sector’ might do well to retain its sense of core human values and principles, and discover that its Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith adhering practitioners also resonate and connect with these in a broader sense of common good in the restoring and maintaining of the created world. Of course in a world where democracy seems to be taking a shift , as it was in 1939 when it was first introduced might not be a bad thing, giving young people the power to use their gifts and resources might not be a bad thing especially when schools are filtering and narrowing the curriculum and choice for young people, recognising the voluntary nature of youth work, in an era when young people can feel like they are targeted, and ‘selected’ again might be a good thing for young people. Practices are not value free, even if they dont state that they have values, yet, what they value might be the economic value of a young person, and the economic values of the current government policy, or the value that persons in church might place on church attendance. Yet it is very difficult to argue that targeted provision has had any difference, only creating competitive marketplaces for organisation and the overall reduction of the youth service.  The longer the faith based sector can hang on to values based practices, the better for the sector overall, the better for every young person in the UK.


Danny Brierley, All Joined up, 2003

Smith, Stanton, Wylie, Youth work and Faith, 2015

Jeffs, Smith, Informal Education, 1996, 2nd ed 2006

Jeffs, Smith Youthwork Practice, 2010

Passmore, Ballantyne, Here be Dragons, 2013

Nick Shepherd, Faith Generation, 2016

Youth and Policy, No 65, 1999

¹(as determined by the second ministerial board of education)

Something socially good is lost when youth clubs are closing. 

On the morning of Fidel Castro’s death, a possible recount of the votes in one American state and a huge swell of media attention to historic sex offences in football ( top three stories right now on BBC news website), there wont be many column inches spared to the pending closure of the Universal youth provision in Brighton which was announced in the last two days. It is part of a 1.3m savings process for the local council, in which ‘vulnerable young people may be put at risk’ the details are here:  and by some accounts was announced to the media as consultations were being organised.

It feels a strange week then, given that ‘Youth worker of the year awards’ were publicised by ‘CYP Now’ this week, and the Christian Youthworker awards were held only 2 weeks ago. Is there much to be celebrated? – well of course given the huge demands on the profession, the people fighting for it and the work that is done to help young people, people delivering youthwork should be heralded more than ever. But it remains a critical time and i didnt hear much from the platforms of people giving prophetic, challenging messages about the state of the profession. You know, a bit like the actresses at the Oscars who know they are making a scene when they challenge gender pay inequality, or when race inequality is also challenged.

Where was the politically charged speech? if there was one it wasnt shared very widely. Maybe the occasion too managed, the funding too precious, sponsorship too seductive, that at gatherings of youth work professionals calls to challenge the pending desolation of the founding identity of practice – the youth club is on its way out. I wonder if there is too much protectionism of the brands and organisations that people represent to challenge the powers and structure that are undermining youth work and in effect young people as people at all.

The reality check is that there were rallied calls in 1967 that less than 50% of young poeple attended youth clubs, and hence why detached youthwork was seen as some sort of response to this (working with unnattached youth, 1967) and 50% was seen as a negative thing back then, figures that youth clubs in the 1980s & 1990s could only dream of. But in a way that isnt the issue, for numbers dont prove anything, what might matter is whether something for and with a young person in a community is done that is as good as it can be. and good doesnt mean high energy, or relevant, but good in terms of virtue, of common good.

Something that might be good for young people is being removed from the country. The opportunity to ask a group of young people – what might we do for you, or what might you like to do- or what do you want to do to change or challenge the local community? has been replaced with programmes where this is done as part of a pre-existing programme, as an opt out, rather than decide together voluntarily piece of community development.

The arguments about NCS will go on long into the night – but spaces where voluntary community development and education are gradually reduced for individual programmes to help young people be job ready. The space to negotiate is reduced, the pre ordained outcome increased. As youth clubs disappear, so do other free social spaces. It is now up to the voluntary and faith groups to provide community development, the kind that might challenge, create and develop spaces with young people and adults so that they hone community skills, and develop community life in proximity with others that will enable them to be ready for life. They get then resources for the future through organisational association, through delegation, through planning and social friendships, a space that is undoubtedly inherently political.

If Kerry Young is right, and youthwork is a philosophy, an art (1999), then what kind of philosophy of life are young people being ‘exposed’ to in current practices, how are they valued, and given the opportunity to reflect on the situation, and the powers that exist in the systems, society and culture that they are part of. But its ok, as long as they can develop resilience to cope with in it, and get a job at the end of it, it doesnt really matter about that sort of thing anymore.


The NCS debacle continues, Young people are set to lose out twice.  

I saw this in the locally printed county Durham news a few weeks ago. It’s an advert in a paper for adults to appeal to them to send their children on a life changing experience for a week. For ‘not more than £50’. Looks a bargain doesn’t it? Until that is the true cost of NCS is weighed up.

1. Young people in some of the most deprived areas are being ‘given’ a week of a programme that still costs £50. Has NCS got any idea of the level of food bank use in the north east, or school meals. £50 is alot of money for some families even.if is subsidised.

2. Recent reports have been that NCS has struggled to attract young people from the most disadvantaged or at risk. I’m sure advertising in Durham County tourism news will doubt part of its £72 million over 5 year advertising budget. What has also been suggested is that agencies who do work with young people at risk (who have to find non government funding to stay free at the point of access, such as detached work ) could be used to signpost young people to a service that has been government endorsed and bankrolled that will still cost £50 for the young person..where is the relational aspect in signposting in this, let alone the fairness for the agencies.

3. If effectively the government subsidy of NCS is money diverted away from open, weekly youth club provision, Why couldnt the government just fund the free provision in the first place.

4. I know of at least 5 young people who have done NCS, one who was badgered by 4 telephone calls from a London office to participate. None would have gone to a youth club, none needed it or used it for anything other than a gap week in their summer holidays. None described as disadvantaged. None needing advice on future choices. Therefore all well.behaved young people who could be made out to be NCS Success stories.  No their parents deserve the credit.  For stumping up £50 and for giving the young people all the support required to make decent life choices, NCS was a weeks activity holiday.

5. Instead of youth clubs open in the twilight,  in the evening, when young people want social spaces. NCS occupies daytimes for one week.  It is not there, not available. It is what it is.a tory government citizenship programme to educate/bribe in a week the importance to young people of pursuing economically active /contributing lifestyles. Not that this is wrong per se, but to have this as the replacement for the kind of youthwork in open clubs that would help to get young people to this point as one of many options in an environment of voluntary choice and participation.

6. The government’s idea for educating young people is a £50 activity week. Let that sink in.

It just feels like it beggars belief.

However, It now looks as though those inspecting NCS have discovered this too.

Here the Government accounts committee suggests that a radical rethink is required:

Oh, and when it is a commissioned and privately run project, with several millions of pounds being transferred, it is open to abuse and bad management, this is what has happened here:

Privatising working with young people away from the youth services – was this a good idea? – Now the truth is being found out, both financially and practically, and not only will young people lose out because of the demise of NCS and the limitations it can offer, but also lose out because the open youth club that had been subject to underinvestment has also closed down. either way young people lose out, and the burden of their care, and the potential of transformation lies elsewhere. But where..

Youth work? Church; its over to you. (again)

So today marked the day when the targetted programme to help young people get Jobs programme, known as NCS was given effectively royal ascent in the Queens Speech. A programme that channels young peoples future into predetermined outcomes relating to employability became the nationally recognised government statutory provision for young people in England.

Yes, thats young people who might have been excluded from school. Young people who might not even want a job.

The Details are here.

Two Fingers to Youth Service as NCS put on Statutory Footing

The Government have decided that a way of working with young people that has an educational philosophy, that ideally would build work with young people as primary clients in the process, that when it happens would recognise the gifts of young people – regardless of socio economic, educational or family background, or postcode is worth spending time with, listening to and educating and learning with.

That is all gone. For the same price that statutory youth provision cost. A national jobs programme is rolled out instead. It is not a cost cutting decision. but an ideological one.

Education that causes political awareness because of the power structures it threatens is replaced by politicised programmes that process young people to jobs and pre-desired outcomes with NCS. If its that good, it should have a 100% success rate. It may have viability in whatever todays world is, but job programmes have existed for a while. Theyre not youthwork.

So, the gauntlet is laid down. Yes i know there are a few voluntary groups trying to scramble around fighting for ideologically restricted funding to work with a few ‘disadvantaged young people’ but….

Church if we’re serious about community transformation then we need to recognise the oppression of the young people in our local communities. Liberation for them will only come if we walk with them in their communities, building on what they have and recognising the powers that hold them back.

Church it is over to us to provide practical and prophetic youth work. Practical that walks, lives and listens. Prophetic that it challenges with young people the powers and structures. Practical that it gets its hands messy. Prophetic that it transforms.

People like Frontier Youth Trust and Streetspace with their 52 Projects are doing this all over the UK, and hopefully with more in the North East soon. (see, and please give to their cause as they do this)

There are others, but as a national church, CofE, here is a plea. As the national church, make yourself present in communities with young people. Do something brave and stupid, employ youthworkers in every parish. Resource spaces for them to gather young people, to educate, to provide spaces of interaction, to subvert the government thats closed all the spaces away. That gets its hands dirty to enable communities and young people to flourish.

This is not meant to the opportunist plea to fill the gap, this is the plea to carry on the christian values that youth work stemmed from, (democracy, voluntary participation), to practice being dreamers of a better world where hope, peace, love and equality are realised. Carry on the work based from Christian values that the government has effectively disregarded, and to use the same metaphor has stuck two fingers up towards.

The Government today might have stuck up two fingers to the universal youth service, the sad truth is that any movement that tried to challenge the government ideology since the 1980s was going to be reigned in and have its political wings clipped one way or another. The challenge is for the church, to develop youthwork that regains not only a practical, long term educational liberative view, but is also able to prophetically exercise unclipped wings in the process of political and social liberation, that may also enable spiritual flourishing too.

Maybe the church should stick a prophetic and metaphoric two fingers up to the government and take on universal youthwork provision in its entirety. Maybe thats what the faith groups are already doing and have done so through a myriad of uniformed groups, agencies like YMCA all along. after all thats where it all started…



(Dyfc (a streetspace project ) is the only deliverer of faith based detached and voluntary mentoring with young people in County Durham if you can give to it please do so in the link above thank you.)