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.

Youthworkers today arent speaking from a position of strength, in society or the church – but then again have they ever?

Theres a bit of a recurring conversation going on in a number of different places at the moment, that is building a conclusion that Youthworkers today arent speaking from a position of strength.

On one hand there has been the decimation, or virtual obliteration of funding from local councils (brought about from national government funding reductions, excused by ‘austerity’ as a narrative) towards statutory youth services.  This has had a knock on effect almost everywhere in regard to youth and community work, and for young people themselves. Much ink has been spilt on working out all the effects. From loneliness, knife crime, mental health on an individual and social level – but also where schools and other institutions have been subtley charged with filling in the gaps – making a mockery of funding cuts and also trying to ‘do youthwork’ without the agenda less approach of youthwork. (That post is here: The effect of disappearing youth clubs )  This reduction in youthwork, then has an effect on those seeking to be employed and qualified in it, and the reduction in courses, funding and applications for these. Yes, the voluntary sector and social businesses may have been given the open book to fill the gap, but they do so with orgainsational survival and competition as core objectives – stuff which flies in the face of partnerships, collaboration and community which underpins the very nature of what youthwork is all about. Anyway. Thats one conversation.

The other conversation is in the faith ‘sector’ , and it is similar. Though not starting from centralised funding cuts. It does have funding as part of its issue. The last 10 years has seen the gradual shift in youth work posts in faith organisations/churches in the UK.  Whilst there are still many vacancies in some areas , this is also coupled with the reductions in courses across the country. A conversation about the pay for youthworkers, isnt new, given the extortionate housing costs in some places means that this is only a profession for the single, the young, or with those with a decent second income in the family. Unless a position also includes accomodation. Some of the high water marks of youth ministry, such as Soul Survivor, and collaborative working on resources (see ‘joined up, 2003, and other resources) gave the impression of a growing impetus for youth ministry as a profession and the hope of a collective voice, that inspired and could encourage many. A look back at Youthwork magazine from 1999, and it reveals colleges and courses cramming up the pages with adverts to attract people to them, a variety of jobs and vacancies, a rhetoric of positivity and a belief that youth ministry was the future, and the church needed to catch on and up.

The conversation now is that Youth work and ministry is not in a position of strength.

The reality is that youth work and ministry never was in a position of strength. Position of ‘stuff’ maybe. 

Of course stuff was happening. The myriad of activity… But was the stuff happening that was in the corridors of the power brokers?

Youthwork slipped from the department for education (where it had sit for a considerable length of time) , but were youthworkers in that conversation. How might youthworkers affect education policy – rather than the other way around? Yet the place of youthwork slipped to crime prevention departments and now leisure and tourism…

At the same time were youthworkers in churches busy taking kids to soul survivor, were they also holding or furthering conversations at the time about increasing the status of youth ministry in the church, at a systematic level? Ensuring better pay, or housing, or stipend, or support, or recognition for the ministry within these settings? only a few, and that seemed hard work, easier to play the passive game. Not make a noise or fuss. Accept a low wage for the sake of calling. Contribute to a year out scheme that could be deemed like modern slavery. Then move on to not be a youthworker and represent young people for a stable role that carries a ‘higher calling’ (by others), but would that occur if the youthwork role was more stable?

Yes, as youthworkers we like to be in the thick of it, in the action, behind the scenes, getting messy in the margins, much of the time we’re trying to encourage young people to have a voice, and promote their voices (all fantastic) such as the recent youth parliaments and protests – all the time not realising or being able to do anything about the rug of that process and practice being pulled from under our feet. Empower others, dont do political. But thats not got anywhere. Youthwork is political. And the campaign groups continue, just. Though in youth ministry, its less a campaign group, more a few experienced youthworkers trying to get something done. Its difficult to make waves in a culture of compliance in a role that is paid for. Dont upset the payroll.

Systematic change is still required. All the stuff about young people in society requires and demands it. Imagine if loneliness is reduced because youthworkers (the same one) is present in communities for 10 years. Thatd be helpful wouldnt it? What about the same for all the activities youthworkers do, sports, social and spiritual – all things bereft in communities, where theres one crisis (obesity) to another (mental health) – so what if there was strategic and systematic commitment to youth and community work provisions in every community. How might that encourage the process of helping young people flourish, its probably immeasurable, and thats probably the point.

Would this be the same in churches? The best examples of where youth ministry works is where the persons have been around for more than 5 years. Not unlike the community, any community thrives on this kind of stability, and young people are no different. And I am guilty as charged, given up a role after 2 years, and struggle with another after the same. It would systematic change of thinking from funding and affiliations to commit to fund workers who are involved with youthwork for them to have significant long term contracts, and the stability equivalent at least to the minister. But this is not an argument from a position of strength, but then again, even at its surfing of the crest of its own bouyant wave, it was barely strength anyway. Strength implied that people were listening to youthworkers and their voice and enabling them to have increased participation in processes, methods and politics, that youthwokers were trying valiantly to encourage young people themselves to have. And whilst i write off the last 20 years in one fail swoop, there are and were some exceptions to all of this. But very little of that has lasted to the point where current decisions about youthwork and young people are made in the knowledge and collaboration with youthworkers or their approach. Theres dragons den meetings to decide funding, and consultations that appear relatively tokenistic.

What might it take for youthwork to actually be in a position of strength?  In both the government and the church?

and who is prepared to make a stand to cause this to happen, and how will anyone know when this has happened? 

Was youth work in a position of strength? Maybe it was just in a better place than it is today by a long way – but strength?  not sure about that one..

‘its got nothing to do with the cuts to youth services’ – or has it…. ?

‘Its got nothing to do with the reduction in youth services’

At least that has been the governments response to recent news items such as;

The increase in County lines in the last 4 years report 9th feb is here. But its their response after today’s news on radio 5 thus morning.

The increase in knife crime in London

The increase in young people referring to mental health provision the guardian this week, this report this week: camhs figures

and these are just the things in the public media domain…

Anecdotally anti social behaviour is on the increase, especially in areas where the youth clubs have closed down. And where voluntary groups are trying to raise the money to fund a youthworker.

None of these issues have anything to do with the cuts in youth services.. apparently according to every statement on these issues by the current government. They have to say this dont they and its becoming a more than frequent response as every new issue that affects young people comes to light, but …..

The government may have the tiniest slither of a point.

Only a tiny slither.

For it is difficult to say whether cutting youth services would have prevented any of these things happening. All existed before to some level. And measuring open youth work and its preventative possibilities has and still is notoriously difficult.

But what has been removed has been a safety net layer.

But what has been removed was on the ground intelligence (though in the case of Rotherham abuse scansal, the reports by youthworker to services about the scale of the problem were deemed excessive and ‘over-egged’ thus ignored)

But what has been removed was the persons on the ground.

But what was removed was a person who was trying (even in the midst of managerial targetting) to put young people first

But what also happened when the youth services closed down was that young people realised that they were the first to be targetted when priorities of budgets were set.

Young people realised that the government really does not care about them, that society doesn’t care and they were merely pawns in a bigger game they have no control over. No voice and no autonomy.

Maybe none of these things matter to the young person carrying drugs around the counties, or waiting to be seen by a mental health provider (again if there are any dedicated young person mental health provision left) , or the young person carrying a knife.

But what’s also been taken from many communities is the person who might facilitate a coordinated response to these issues who has a young person focus. Someone who not only contributes but for whom it’s their job to coordinate and facilitate. When in some cases a police, health or education perspective might not cut it (at least not always).

It would be disengenuous to say that youth services would have prevented any of these things happening, that as we know would be difficult to prove, but then not everything is easy to prove especially preventative work with young people, still far cheaper than reactive and targetted work, that has limited if only short term results.

If the reduction in youth services isn’t the issue, say the government, then I’m so glad that NCS is having such a positive effect on the most needy of young people. Guess it went for the most vulnerable after all- just those who needed a confidence boosting few week programme. The NCS person or programme doesnt have ‘the whole community’ at heart, neither are they on the streets being involved. They, like many others are detached from the real action, and trying to get numbers for a programme.

We’re never going to know if cutting youth services contributed to the issues young people are facing. Whats done has bern done. What we do know is the cost for young people, in every family, every wasted day waiting on a list, every day travelling around as a drug carrier is a completely dehumanising and degrading experience that could be prevented.

What is happening is that over professional services such as schools are spending their budgets on extra provision to back fill (see my previous post here, based on reflections from a small NE town ) so there isn’t a cost saving. It’s just money being shifted around.

Cutting youth services haven’t had any effect at all? Really, conservative government are you sure?

If nothing else the budget reducting austerity chickens are coming home to roost, and it’s not looking good.

Proposing Youthwork in school shows that the government doesnt understand youthwork at all

Take your mind back a week or so, before Brussels and the Budget, and before Nicky Morgan had a weekend in the limelight over education. There was the announcement that schools (even the compulsory new academies) should have extended opening hours, sorry I mean finishing time. (oops i confused a school and a private business, not unlike the government)

The Daily Express reported it here

Aside from the appropriate backlash that  the other policies in the budget regarding education rightly received from teachers, unions and education bodies regarding academisation, (or should that be the Macdonaldisation) of schools, the policy to extend school hours went a little under the radar. One of the suggestions in the policy was that it wouldn’t be teachers who would fill some of the extra time in schools ( because, and rightly so, they work enough as it is) – it would be youth workers who would come in to do ‘extra curricular’ sports and leisure activities with young people in that extra hour. Concerned? maybe youthworkers should be….From a youthwork point of view, there are substantial alarm bells here arent there?

1. Forced Fun is no fun. Though i guess the cabinet have a whale of time when they go away on go-carting team building days, or they play the 1 almost truth and 2 lies game when they gather. They must hoot. Taking the personal jibe aside. Forced fun for adults is generally awful, and so – if young people are forced to stay in school to have ‘fun’ – or do even more constructive things that this like say DofE, or community work- then it’ll feel no different to being in school, a place they’d hoped to be out of an hour earlier. It could turn young people off doing voluntary, community active, sporty activities for life, if schools force them to do it.

A case in point would be the amounts of young people forced to do ‘religion’ in schools. They generally don’t go back  to it.

 

2. Compulsory youthwork isn’t youthwork. I should be playing to the choir on this one. Most youth workers know what youthwork is, and its based on voluntary negotiated participation with the young person. Anything else is using a ‘youthwork approach’ (usually doing games and having chats) and being a ‘pseudo teacher’ in a already pre ordained space. Youthwork has the young person as primary client in the space – an hour after school will predominately serve the interests of the policy and the school. Critical youthwork challenges these structures. Even liberal youthwork would only exist in voluntary settings.  Youthwork in an hour after school would only be youth work by name, not by nature, philosophy or practice.

It will be interesting to see what kind of youthworkers opt to take these opportunities. I imagine its those desiring to be known by the large groups of young people for other motives. Including the youth evangelists.

3. Given the pillaging the Government has done with youth services – why would any youthworker jump to this highly dubious government policy for a few hours work a week anyway? 

Surely its better to stand in solidarity with teachers, to attack the proposal of academisation, and extra school hours – than see it as an opportunity, thus working against those who educate our children in the harshest of educational policy environments- (policy environments that youth workers can also understand).  Is the integrity of the youthwork sector (in its entirety) worth it?

An IBS article sums up the background to the Academisation policy  here

How Many Youthworkers do you think there are again? 

So lets assume that there are 1,000 secondary schools being given money to open up 2 hours extra per day. On the basis that theres 6 classes of 30 per year group, 4 year groups ( yrs 10-11 must only be doing GCSE revision), and there would need to be at least 2 youthworkers in each session- for each class (no school is going to allow a less than 1:15 ratio for a non teacher, and we shouldnt put ourselves at risk either) so lets do the maths

1,000 (schools) x 4 (year groups) x 6 (classes) x 2 (per class) = 48,000. Given that all the schools will want this service at the same time ie 4-6pm  – no youthworker can be in different places.  How many youthworkers are there to take up 48,000 contracts of 15 hour weeks?

 

If the government has listened to anyone about the closure of the youth services across the nation, then its got a funny way of showing it. By ‘giving’ youthworkers the opportunity to work in a school for a couple of hours per day, at max 15 a week including planning time, is nothing compared to what had gone on before- and importantly the type of work that had gone on before. It was open, unpredictable and young people chose it. There’s a fundamental difference between this, and doing youthwork in a school at the end of a school day, when all young people want to do is go home and relax, and have their own space for a few hours. 

Nothing this government has done has convinced people that it is heralding these policies for the ‘sake of the next generation’ or for young people. This is purely and simply to extend free childcare so people can be in work longer. Nevertheless even the proposal of it shows that understanding youthwork in its approach has never been part of the governments thinking.

And this is before we get on to think about what the afterschool provision will need to prove  in terms of success – against the governments tightly regimented outcomes? or where the funding might come from- and the conditions of it. And who might train youthworkers to be proficient in classroom environments ?

Nope, the Government doesnt get youth work. This only proves it again.