Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best…What if ‘love is the way’ in Youth Ministry?

Theres a madness in the air and its all about love, this evening its the remembrance services and commemorations of the one love, Manchester concerts to mark the year since the tragedy at the concert. But its love that caught the imagination on Saturday lunchtime, yes the love between Harry and Meghan, their looks, glances and lip-read comments (thanks ITV for this detail). Though the media might want the story to be about the dress, the gowns, the crowds and the dance (their first dance was Witney, apparently they did want to dance with somebody), the stand out performance on the day was of the sermon given by Bishop Curry of the US Episcopalian church.Prince Harry and Meghan Markle listen to an address by the Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle during their wedding service in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018

By now you will have surely read the transcript of Bishop Currys address, if not a link to it is here, and highlights are:

“That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centred. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

“Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighbourhoods and communities where love is the way.

“Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

“Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

“When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

“When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

“When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

“When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

…Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.

 

One of the points that seems to have been made subsequent to Bishop Curry, certainly by the few comments on social media by the ‘non christians’ is that he made Christianity look attractive, sound passionate, and mean something, and be about love that changes and transforms, love that frees and love that creates a better world. It appears a surprise to many that this is what Christianity is all about. And maybe theres reflection to be done on why this message hasnt been heard before, or been allowed to be heard. Its not as if the church hasnt talked about love, but maybe it hasnt done in public, maybe a message of love and social justice has become too separated, or maybe, its the only time a 14 minute sermon is heard in its entirety in the public stage and so, it can be more than a soundbite or the interpretation of the news reporter (ie ‘the pope used his christmas message to say X, the archbishop Y’) .

However, this blog is about youthwork and youth ministry – and where is the love in that? Well quite. We could be mercenary at times, but more rarely that we might be passionate, dedicated and over committed, usually going beyond the call of duty to accomodate, help, support, and journey alongside a young person. But has the language of love, passion and dedication gone a little out of fashion?

A glance through some of the recent youth work & ministry books, and there are models, methods, ideas, theologies. processes, practices, thinkings, approaches, philosophies and venn diagramms, how tos, not to’s and go to’s. But little on feelings, on emotions, on compassion, on love. The greatest of all. Dig a little deeper and thinking theologically, or philosophically about youthwork and ministry and love, compassion and respect figure. And undoubtedly many youthworkers and ministers burn out through over commitment and passion. And leave posts potentially because their respect for young people might not translate into strategies of growth and attendance – where views of love differ.. Love does seem to motivate youth workers, more than calling – dont you think? 

In ‘Starting right; thinking theologically about youth ministry’ Dave Rahn writes:

These words of Jesus ( Mark 12: 29-31) provide the definitive and final job escription for the youth worker, and for anyone in christian ministry, we are to be guided by love, and only guided by love. What is our role with our students to love as we would be loved (SR, 2001, p379)

going on to say; ‘in response to this rush and passion and longing, we are invited into the intimacy of the trinitarian fellowship, we allow ourselves to encounter the incredible love that God personifies’ (p381) God is love. Love, in a roundabout way also features when we talk about incarnational relationships in youth ministry, but without love this can just mean being in the location of where young people are. Love requires action that involves, interacts, empathises and is compassionate. Incarnationally present is not vulnerable and love if it is just a statement of kudos, and as Root suggests, developing relationships for strategic purposes is not love either. (Root, 2007)

But what if love is the way in youth ministry. Well, there is someone who talked about this a long time ago, someone, outside of these pages who is largely ignored- stating that;

“The situation in which the community of the Church is set, asks questions of it about the age structure, the class structure, the openness to go out into the world and receive the world, The crucial thing at this stage is that all of us who have this concern (for young people in the community) deeply in our hearts should recognise that any remedial christian action will emerge only out of painful, searing, physical and mental acceptance, in love, of a generation which is painfully different. What we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement, of ourselves or of other groups” (Lecture given to World christian youth commission in May 1964, Rev HA Hamilton, taken from Working with the unnattached, a review is here: )

We, the church, really has at times messed up with young people, not loved them enough to be more inclusive, to be more patient, to ready ourselves for the challenge of youth ministry (thinking it was easy, or about keeping things simple), and on other occasions we ban, prevent, exclude the kind of young people for whom love might be absent, yet the plea for a searing compassion, a love for young people who are intrinsically different to the many in the church, or the adults in society is still to be sought for. Love plays its part in thinking theologically about youth ministry thats for sure, for God is love, and this must be the motivation. Yet love might be hidden behind so many of the things that we talk about , that it might be hard to find – especially when talk is growth, strategy and institution – where is the love?. 

If we love young people – would we judge them?, would we clump them together as a generation?

If we love young people – would we talk about them – without them? 

If we love young people – do we blame them, shame them, or find a way to exonerate them? 

If we love young people – are we with them, for them, and alongside them? 

If we love young people – do we fear them, or hear them? 

If we love young people – are they trusted? 

If we love young people – do we challenge them, push them, prize their gifts open? 

If we love young people – what might youth ministry be like with them? 

 

I would hope that in the vast majority of situations young people who encounter youthworkers leave feeling more positive, different and changed for the better, and this surely is the case. But talk of love has been thrust square and centre this week. Maybe its time that love became more central to even more of what youth ministry is all about. Maybe on another hand, young people might know that the church is about love because of the actions they have experienced from a youthworker, the time, effort, energy and space provided, given at personal cost. Maybe its just the community at large and the media that didnt realise that christianity was about love. Maybe, love is what youthworkers have been sharing with and telling young people about for years and decades. Maybe that ‘loving relationship’ with Jesus, hasnt been made meaningful enough through transforming actions that change the world – and many young people would be up for world changing (often its parents and consent forms that prevent it). When love is the way… who should stop young people? When love is the way, young people might need to be participants of it, not just recipients of it. When love is the way, it needs to be given away.

 

References

Clark, Dean, 2001 Starting right; Thinking theologically about youth ministry, 

Goetschius and Tash 1967 Working with the unnattached

Root, 2007, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

 

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Is Mentoring still the ‘silver bullet’ to solve all society’s problems with young people?

There was a time when Mentoring was the deemed to be the silver bullet, the approach and method that would solve the problems that young people were causing society, from the Big Sisters/Brothers schemes in America since the 1900’s to many school and community projects, funded by the US government in the states, to the voluntary and statutory projects here in the UK. Though in a way it has always gone a little bit under the radar. Though they had expanded significantly up until 5 years ago ( McCleod, p101) And its status under the radar might be one of the reasons why its maybe not as talked about as other ways of working with young people, such as open clubs, detached or programmes. At least that might be my own blind spot, and having been involved in mentoring, managed an mentoring project and written an honours thesis on it a few years ago, it would still trigger my attention a little.

One of the issues mentoring has always faced within youthwork is that it has been seen as the gradual process of changing group work and the facilitation of groups and community education, to the narrowing of intentions to individuals, to the point where the group work disappears altogether for the individual mentoring projects, these fears were first realised in Jeffs and Smith’s piece individualisation and youth work and so, many a critique has been written about what mentoring is within a youthwork philosophy, how it could encompass youthwork approaches and values, but that generally ultimately it begins to veer towards an individual therapy approach, aka counselling, guidance or life coaching which is fine, but its not then as easy to quantify as youthwork per se. Its maybe why as a youthworker its dipped below the radar. Though some of the larger mentoring networks have closed down in the last 6 years, victims themselves of the wider financial constrains within youth provision.

That being said, having a mentor can have a profoundly positive and also negative effect on a young person, with much of the research (by Fairbridge group, now Princes Trust) suggesting that the more positive effects occurs after a year of the mentoring relationship, and where the mentoring relationship ended under 6 months or was terminated this had a negative effect, on the whole.

But the mysterious thing about mentoring is how it works at all?

And this is the fun bit. There seems to be no real logic as to how mentoring actually works, it is a mystery. But then it should be, putting two people usually strangers together.

The relationship can occur within the confines of a school, and be about trying to help a young person with attendance issues. Yet the relationship between the two people might have nothing to do with the purpose of the relationship, they are two people who click, sometimes two people with shared interests dont click, sometimes they do.

Image result for mentoring

One of the pieces of the magic jigsaw, is the how of the interaction.

Commonly known as the process of matching. In one situation i was in i was told that i would be mentoring a young person, they were told that they would have a mentor and then we would meet, week 1 was the initial meeting, and with only 7 meetings afterwards, there was going to be issues, it would feel like trying to rescue the person, and they knew it. In another project, the mentoring, one to one conversations after initially meeting the young people on the streets in detached work, the relationship had already occured, and the young person was opting into the choice referral with a person who they bonded with a little. In another project, the one i used to manage at Durham Youth for Christ, the coordinator would arrange for the mentors and young people to meet each other in a three way meeting with himself and then the two would decide after 2-3 meetings whether they would continue. Often this worked, as it gave both parties to opt in, or out to the relationship (but not being involved in being mentored)

The matching is important then for the magic to occur.

The magic of mentoring is also more likely to occur when the objectives of the relationship are known, and where the young person has the opportunity to shape them, even in a situation where the pressure is on to get ‘results’ the greater pressure on the relationship, the less likely for the relationship to work to its fullest. And its the relationship that the mentor has to attend to and prioritise (Tina Salter, YMCA GW college, Innovations in Youth work, 2014), and the skills required for the mentor are listening, and trying to build rapport and trust, especially if the relationship is going to develop beyond a social status, to increase personal giving away, sharing and any more serious disclosures.

The magic also occurs when the young person has confidence in the relationship.

It is one thing i notice on the streets, theres only so much young people say until they trust the relationship, the purpose and the workers in person. It takes us to give away who we are and our purpose for then young people to know whats going on and make a decision to invest in the relationship. The same for mentoring. This is where time is a factor, for, if young people know its only for a very short term, then its unlikely that they, understandably will invest in it, it will stay functional and practical (despite the best intentions of the mentor to show empathy, the short term nature overrides this, often). If the mentor is promising a better future for the young person, it has to be accompanied by a promise of time for the relationship – ie over a year. So at least the young person knows and is confident that they have space to grow into it and build the relationship.

In the same way a group might undergo ‘storming’- so there is usually boundary testing in the mentoring relationship. Or behaviour that the young person is invoking a reaction, whether sympathy for a situation or shock, or to get an aggressive or disappointed reaction. Or the young person is trying to asses ‘whose side’ the mentor is on, theirs or the school/probation – or neither – and this can make or break. This was always the benefit of being independant from a school in mentoring ( ie who pays for it) but thats not always possible.

An interesting aside to some of this is that in the UK we often assign mentors to young people who are most in need, in the USA many more young people from across the whole spectrum have the opportunity to engage with a mentor. In this way it destigmatises. But also means that the mentor might offer more than coping strategies or support for a problem, it might be support to succeed, or develop critical thinking ( Rhodes, 2002, 46-50). But it means that mentoring has a different focus. And mentoring type relationships do occur in work, apprenticeships and graduate schemes, so its not just about young people in schools.

Image result for mentoring

But how does it work?

Rutter observed that vulnerable children with one good relationship were less likely to develop behaviour problems than others, deeming that good relationships outside the family have as much positive effect as those within. In another study Werner and Smith concluded that resilient young people sought support more often from non-parent adults. One relationship was often enough. Rhodes discusses that social skill enhancement, dialogue and listening and being a role model are the contributory factors to ensuring that mentoring works, or that the mentors influence the young persons development, but none occur without an emotional bond. And it is that emotional bond that needs honing and developing within the nature of the relationship. A purely functional goal orientated relationship is unliekly to develop these development factors. The active, mysterious ingredient, in a good mentoring relationship is a close trusting connection. No bond, no relationship and then limited positive impacts ( Rhodes, 2002, p37).

Looking at Goffmans presentation of the self in everyday life (1960) there is the sense that each interaction is also a performance of the self presented in a way to others, to gain and receive what each individual wants. Yes it could be selfish as a model, but in a way the presenting of the self and the rules of the game being played all occur within mentoring, from the falseness, to the status, and also the deliberate hiding of truth for an advantage, all aspects that affect a persons performance through their interaction. What is revealed on the front stage ( body language, clothing, speech, make up, hair, content of conversation) that affect the performance as well as the back stage ( the objectives, formality, room, time, finances, style). When broken down like this, the mentoring relationship can be viewed as an ongoing performance of persons, developing rapport as they present to each other, giving away truth, reality and falseness in the process of nurturing or forming a relationship that develops meaning and actions. The conversation is a little piece of theatre, and in mentoring the two persons performing might be ‘forced’ together, or find their way to perform together.

The problem with the silver bullet and rescue approach is that the relationship is highly managed, professionalised and the young person targeted, the magical rapport is going to take a long time. Informality, where it is at all possible, and where the young person has at least some autonomy as to who they are being mentored by, will have some positive bearing on this, as will the promise of time, and the skills of the mentor. There is inevitably, as Gina McCleod writes, a crossover in youth work between different approaches and when we become guides, wise, and supportive, and this can be in informal mentoring in whatever context.

Not unlike much youthwork, being able to ‘bottle’ it when ‘it works’ is great, but its really difficult to replicate it at any time. The most formal mentoring might pair the most suited persons, the least official mentoring and short term volunteer could develop a deep bond quickly. In Mentoring there may at least be some ways of shaping the relationship in its structure, to create more of a possibility for the magic to happen, but again thats also the same for the youth club setting too. There are stages in the relationship, and its a relationship to be finely attended to by its participants with small amounts of external influence where possible, but time pressures and objectives and targets affect the relationship too and its possibilities.

Still, What surprises me is that there arent more schools wanting mentoring projects around the country, or that churches and voluntary groups arent setting even more up, especially given how significant they can be at helping young people with the day to day advice of life, and being a supportive person in the mix, that may help in preventing a Camhs referral or be someone to help with pushing, questioning and encouraging. And whilst young people need this more than ever, may be thats also the kind of person we all need from time to time.

Is youth mentoring the silver bullet? maybe its gone out of fashion as a new thing, but as youth workers do less group work and more individual work, then more and more of what is done is closer to a form of mentoring. Maybe it isnt the silver bullet, there isnt any silver left.

Credit for this piece, goes to a friend of mine, John Ristway, who still runs the mentoring project in Durham, whos dedication to develop as informal and participative youth mentoring programme in schools was a source of great inspiration. This project is still being run by Durham Christian Partnership, please do search them out and make a donation or volunteer.

If you would like to receive training on setting up mentoring in your church or organisation, then please do contact me and click the link in the menu above. Thank you.

References

Goffman, Irving, 1960, The presentation of the self in everyday life.

McLeod, Gina, Advising and Mentoring, in Youthwork Practice, Jeffs and Smith, 2012

Rhodes, Jean 2002, Stand by me, The risks and rewards of mentoring todays youth, Havard

Salter, Tina, 2014, The place and use of mentoring with young people, GW YMCA, Innovations in Youthwork practice.

And theres a piece here : http://www.infed.org/learningmentors/mentoring.htm  on mentoring on the Infed.org page which is a little in need of updating.. but worth a read anyway.

If young people are offered a relationship with Jesus – should it be a working one and not ‘just’ personal.

All those who have put on Christ are equipped to play the part. To act out our being in Christ is to practice the new life and new covenant we have in him (Kevin Vanhoozer, 2014, based on 2 Peter 1:8-10)

There were many distinguishing elements in the way Jesus ‘discipled’ his 12 disciples, as opposed to the order of the day, the discipleship in the Rabbinic tradition of Israel of its day. Not just that Jesus chose his disciples (invited them), who he chose (often those rejected by Rabbi’s already) and these two are key. Jesus discipleship if offered to all, the condition is to accept the invitation, and it is free.

And it is free. That in a way is the point.

In a re-read of the gospel records, another interesting aspect is the level of functionality of what being a disciple of Jesus was all about. There were undoubtedly tasks that any potential disciple of a Rabbi might have needed to do to curry favour with a Rabbi in the temple, in order to become acceptable, but this was an ongoing burden of slavery. But being a disciple of Jesus also involved practical work. From getting donkeys, arranging room space, rowing, crowd control, and probably a myriad of other tasks unsaid. There must have been, because effectively 13 people and entourage were on the road for the best part of 3 years. The point being, that discipleship was practical, the ongoing formation and learning was done through the practical. But it was practical in the walk, in the journey discipleship. And work was done within a relationship that promised much, that gave the disciples acceptance (even though theyd been rejected previously). In short accepting the invitation was free, but discipleship involved work.

The task of the disciple, according to Jesus, for every one who identifies as a disciple is to ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 28:18) it involves participating.

One of the features of youth ministry in the 1940s and 1950s with Billy Graham, was the offer of an intimate relationship with God, an intimate relationship that in particular young people at the time, and ever since craved and lapped up in their droves. Though ironically, as Andrew Root writes, what the large rally lacked for young people was also the intimate relationships of others. If the mass Rally of Graham lost its cultural signicance by the late 1950’s (Andrew Root) – what wasnt lost, in some quarters, is the influence of the Billy Grahams theology and simple message, that reduced faith to a moment, that would make measuring numerical success easy to do.  What was offered to young people (specifically but not exclusivey) was a ‘free relationship’ and acceptance into the family of God, sins forgiven and a ticket to eternal life. All free.  Salvation was offered without much of a catch, all that was needed to was accept and believe. Christian faith became an individual free-will choice that was presented through a self-chosen relationship (Root, A, 2007;58)

The problem was then, and still is now, is that this is not what the great commission says. It says ‘make disciples’ , and disciples are those involved in the tasks of God, are on an ongoing process of learning and doing, or forming and performing.

Salvation was offered by acceptance. What is needed instead is Salvation as participation.

A personal relationship with God is not enough, it makes faith too easy, it also doesnt tell the full story. If we’re going to offer anyone the opportunity to have faith in, and an ongoing relationship with God, then we at least need to say that it is a working relationship. We might as well have a 28 day cooling off period as the original ‘contract’ doesnt give all the details.

In this way, from the outset, any who take up the challenge, know that they are taking up a challenge, and that they have work to do, or at least have some responsibility to be joining in with or doing the practical (often in the normal day to day life). They know from the outset that it involves work, effort and dediction to a cause. It is not a free ride. Or a free ride than then has unexpected effort required afterwards. Oh and neither is it ‘faith by works’ – it is accepting a working relationship with Jesus as a disciple, not just the offer of belief (with less strings attached). The oft-quoted research by Christian Smith, that reveals MTD (moral therapeutic deism) rife in American protestant churches, showed that belief was evident, though this belief was in a deism who didnt have any direct impact or involvement on a young person. Faith was a useful add on to current existence and a confidence giver in case of trouble.

Salvation as participation changes the dynamic. What is offered is a part to play. A working relationship with God changes the dynamic, from free personal relationship, to having practical tasks to do anf fulfil as part of an ongoing ‘job’ in the kingdom. If the workers are indeed few – then at least it should be workers who sign up knowingly to being one. Lets make ‘signing up to Jesus’ more difficult, more challenging, and something that might realistic, communicating the costs, and the work involved. Making faith easy, when it is nothing less than an ongoing drama, shoots it too low, and gives an unreal expectation.

It might be easier to declare that the good news is good news to all, especially good news to the rejected, and marginalised.  It is of course a free gift to be accepted, yet faith is more than belief, or at least, belief is more than cognitive, it is something that is done, and acted. The difference between the wise and foolish builder was ongoing obedience. It was obedience that experienced fisherman Peter led him to toss the net over the boat on its other side. It was practical obedience in the every day.

In his recent book the American Youth Minister Andrew Root talks about Faith acceptance being a process of deduction. Saying that in Union with/in Christ, St Paul himself realised that this was a process of denying himself, and personal death to life experience. A part played in the divine action of God is to deny oneself, for the other, to deny possessions for simplicity, to deny the pull of selfishness. All of these require work, as in they are not easy. They are not done alone, but that still doesnt make them easy.

Faith is about being called to participate in the life and saving activity of God by becoming ministers (Andrew Root, 2017, p130)

What we need to offer is not a free ticket to heaven on a free ride of belief. And not a personal relationship in which God can dangerously be reduced as a concept who meets the needs of the human, the divine Santa claus who gives only abundantly to satisfy the greed of human requests. But as Volf describes, God also makes demands as he also gives generously ( Volf, Miroslav, 2005: 28). Whilst God gives, writes Volf, he gives in order that others might flourish through us, again, they involve work on our part, to share, to give ourselves. Not only that :

But we were created to be and act like God, participating in Gods gift giving is what Gods gifts oblige us to do (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 2005, p49)

Of course there is human freedom to choose to give a gift away. But the intention of God in giving is that we do so, and its that costly obedience, and practical and mental effort to do so that is the task of the disciple. Merely keeping a faith to oneself, is impossible for the christian, even more the disciple. But again, it is disciples we are called to make. A movement of disciples being prepared for the hard graft of kingdom building, through acts of grace, love that cause the denial and deduction of themselves.

But participation in the activity of God, through a working relationship with God, who prompts and guides and acts in the ongoing Drama of Redemption.  (yes that Theodrama gets in here again). Salvation as participation suggest that everyone arrives having a part to play, and part is to be performed and discovered, and involves the process of ongoing learning and formation. Preparing like any actor- by understanding the plot, script and developing an attuning to the likeness of Christ and playing likewise. Working for the Kingdom of God requires both understanding and action, and these aid each other. Formation is also about being ready to act, ready to participate in the tasks a position that Vander lugt describes as Disponibilite – the awareness of the action in the present needed to be made. Being ready to work as well as being at work.

As Bonhoeffer said:

‘Our Task (as disciples) is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or what we are doing’

If one of the tasks of being as disciple is to be encouraged to make disciples, then it stands to reason that we should do everything possible in all that we do in youth ministry, in churches to create spaces where discipleship, the radical, propehetic, dangerous discipleship can occur. If our young people are hoping for an easy ride in a culture so consumed by technology that  makes things easy, then we might just have to be blunt and say that being a disciple of Jesus just isnt for them, as they’re not ready for the practical and costly work that is involved.

To follow Christ is to go after Christ along the way of Christ (Vanhoozer, K, 2014, 1)

 

References

Root Andrew, 2007 – Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

Root, Andrew, 2017, Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Vander Lugt, 2014, Living Theodrama

Vanhoozer, Kevin, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding.

Bonhoeffer, D The Cost of Discipleship, (Taken from Vander Lugt, 2014, p139) 

 

12 responses to the question; what is youthwork all about?

What would you say the basics in youthwork are? what is it all about even?

One of the things that has tormented many a youthworker is to establish what ‘youthwork’ actually constitutes. It may, constitute only as a conversation, being defined by youthworkers in their ongoing practice (this is also a view shared by Kerry Young, though this is not one her more popular concepts when she talks about the youthwork as an art, 1999) However, beyond what youthwork actually is, there can be a need to reflect on what the basics of developing a youthwork practice actually is.

This need can sometimes be realised when we forget what we actually do as youthworkers, as it has become ‘normal practice’ default in our brains but and we have to then share this with others, maybe even ‘young’ leaders, or teach others on an academic course. And so, for your benefit, I have tried to come up with 12 commandments of basic youthwork practice.

  1. Youthwork is about young people – but its not just about them, but putting them as the primary recipient and creating participatory agendas around them as central is part of it, yet it is about them in and part of their communities and how young people access, reject, use and change aspects of their local community for their or others good.
  2. Youthwork is about creating spaces for education through conversation – it is about conversation with them included and respected in them.
  3. Youthwork is about developing relationships –that help young people to learn, to use their talents and pursue collective and community action
  4. Youthwork is about negotiation and participation – with young people who are principle dialogue partners in the negotiated conversations
  5. Youthwork is about respecting young people and also the communities they are in and choose – it is about group work
  6. Youthwork is about challenging young people – not about just giving them what they want – its about negotiation
  7. Youthwork is about politics, because it in itself is political and young people are politicised- young people are given respect and trust – this is political in itself. Young people are marginalised through media derived policies and taregtted through an underlying current of neoliberalism. Challenging this is political.
  8. Youthwork is about opportunity- not outcomes- our strategies are to create spaces that expand possibilities, not reduce to youthwork to a process of enabling young person to get from A to B.
  9. Youthwork is about Hope and belief – that young people and ourselves collectively can and do enable something new to occur through the relationship.
  10. Youthwork is about taking risks- it is not risky in itself – because that says something about the believing the narrative of young people (to be dangerous etc) – but it is about taking a risk with young people.
  11. Youthwork is about being a youthworker and being a role model – not perfect, but persistent in ongoing learning, and maintaining a critical awareness of the world around, that young people themselves are also part of. Its about temperament, attitude and also about modelling professional boundaries, personal boundaries especially time off.
  12. Youthwork is about improvisation – its about the being ready for anything – but also being ready in the opportunities created to enable young people to take positive steps and changes. If we have a toolbox of resources that are to be ‘ready to use’ in case – not pre determined to use at all costs.

 

I have avoided, or at least tried to avoid using words that have become acknowledged as the ‘Values’ of youthwork – such as equality, as participation, as empowerment – because whilst they are implied in nearly everything ‘basic’ youthwork is all about – they are open to considerable interpretation, and at times need themselves to be challenged and critiqued, and their current use might not be what the intention of them was. Empowerment a case in point. So, instead, I have tried above to focus on the practices of what basic youthwork might be about, so that these are the starting point for developing further practical ideas, and activities for training others, optimistically so that youthwork has a conversational future.  Each of these 12 things might need breaking down further, and often things like communication skills, group work development, conversation, risk assessment, strategy, power, leadership and management are all part of all of these in different ways. It is not always the case the if we get the basics right we get everything else right, because sometimes in youthwork there is no one ‘right’- and why 12 basics might be better than 6, because youthwork practice can be broad, unwieldy and open. It is after all in many ways a continual conversation that includes conversations.  Critical conversations, hopeful conversations and inclusive, participatory conversations, but conversations none the less.

Anyway – Starting right- or at least trying to put words to what we might already do, What might else be included in the 12 basics of youthwork practice? – what are we trying to be about?

10 reasons why young people might prefer detached youthworkers

This evening I have been delivering detached youth work training to a group of volunteers in churches in Hartlepool. During the evening, one of the more common exercises i do, is to think about the positives and challenges of detached youth work from our perspective as prospective deliverers of it. The usual aspects emerge, challenges include the weather, unpredictability and lack of control, benefits, meeting more young people, no need to ‘supervise’ buildings, cheap, flexible. However, i left wondering, and some of these thoughts emerge from the conversation this evening, the following question; why might young people themselves prefer to interact with detached youth workers? in contrast with building based clubs & activities. Yes i know detached youthwork can take a number of guises – but in general why might young people prefer being interacted with supportive adults in this way at this time, compared to others.

  1. They are in control. They can control the length of time the interaction occurs, ending it by ignoring the worker, or moving on themselves, they control whether interaction can happen at all.
  2. They can construct an interaction and relationship with a supportive adult- that may not know anything about them previously- so its a potential blank slate for them to construct and disclose the type of person that they might want to be seen as, outside of a school, family or other network. They can be seen as they want to be. Showing and comparing themselves in one space to that of them in another – “Im not like this at school….”
  3. They meet the person in a space they are comfortable- maybe more comfortable than the workers- they might be more at ease.
  4. They know it might only be a short burst of interaction, so for some they have nothing to lose and dive in with many questions or disclosures, for others they have nothing to gain so choose not to.
  5. They know theres little the worker can discipline them for doing, even swearing might not be condemmned, so rule braking isnt a conversation in that space.
  6. They can show off with something they like doing, ie football, skateboarding – because thats where they are.
  7. They can dictate the ongoing development of the relationship by not always having intense conversations, or being in different groups on others, they dictate its pace and development, again something they might prefer.
  8. They can be seen in environments where they might be showing strengths and natural gifts, that might be invisible in school structures, and a good detached youthworker will identity and enable these to be developed
  9. They know that they might be the sole reason the youthworker is there.
  10. They have the safety of their friends with them. But a detached youthworker in certain circumstances can also help them feel safe. (its what young people in Perth commended us as detached project for helping them feel, in a busy city centre environment)

Maybe there are a few more than this – and some will be relevent to centre based youthworkers too, it just occured to me that young people might prefer detached youthworkers and if this is the case why might this be. At the moment – the rate things are going young people might prefer any youthworker at all. but thats another story.

fellow detached workers- anything else you would add to these?

 

 

10 things detached youthwork is very good at

In response to the 10 misconceptions about detached youthwork of a few weeks ago, here are 10 things that detached youthwork is very good at:

  1. It build relationships with young people that have the added bonus that both parties can walk away.
  2. Because the youthworkers go into the space that the young people are in, detached workers dont have to worry about equipment or buildings, and just focus on the actions, conversations and body language of the young people
  3. Detached youthwork gets youthworkers out of buildings, and seeing something of the real lives of young people, how they interact with peers, in their chosen space, maybe with their families nearby, its sees them in their chosen context, not just spaces that are socially orientated by systems, adults and structures.
  4. Detached youthworkers will nearly always become in contact with young people whom have gripes with other services aimed at young people, such as schools, job centres, social workers, or even other youthworkers – and give young people opportunity to negotiate building a more effective relationship with someone who meets them on their terms.
  5. Detached youthwork gives adults an opportunity to dispel fears about young people.
  6. A Detached youthworker might not be able to meet every need of every young person they meet, but its often because of the nature of the voluntary relationship that a young person may have the first conversation about it.
  7. Detached youthwork allows for the adult to be a learner in the space with young people, to share space with young people in the outside, to be involved in the activities of young people whether swings, football or skateboarding.
  8. Detached youthwork provides the opportunity for great conversations with young people – even on the first time of meeting a young person.
  9. Detached youthwork starts the process of enabling young people to see adults differently in the same way that it gives adults & youthworkers the chance to see young people differently
  10. Detached youthwork is possible in a range of contexts, city centre, town, community estate and parks.
  11. A detached youthwork session can be successful seeing lots of young people and having many conversations or one group of young people and spending an hour with them, all of these moments are about building conversation, continuity and rapport with young people.

Oh yes theres, 11. Detached youthwork goes beyond the boundaries, sometimes of time, of number and mixes in the margins where other people often fear to tread. Its where Friere would say that it starts with young people and asks them to cooperate in personal, social or community reflection & action, rather than invade their culture to take away their power.

Theres probably a few more….

 

Forgetting what we do, remembering who we are- detached youthworkers

One of my reflections from the FDYW conference over the weekend was highlighted a session led by Bernard Davies in which the group were encouraged to critically reflect on an actual story of a piece of detached youthwork practice, provided by one of the group. It was described as a process of ‘socratic dialogue’ in terms of method.

What was interesting, was that although many of the group could identify the change that took place with the group of young people, and how the workers worked, different to police, as that knowledge, understanding of the young people increased over time. It seemed apparent that a group of 12-15 youthworkers couldnt actually articulate or identify the educational process that occurred between the youth worker and group of young people over a given period of time. Yet also it was strange that the example chosen veered towards a more welfare approach, whereby young people, who were originally ‘targetted’, were eventually helped to get CV’s, lesser ASBO’s, but along the way built up rapport and relationship with the workers, which included meals out and centre based work.

The example of this session seemed to provide an illustration of the conference, in that as detached youthworkers, it was very easy to say what we’re not, ( police, social workers), what we dont want to be ( police, social workers), what agenda’s we dont want to take on ( ::, ::) , what surveillance or data collection methods we dont want to have to process, although without doing so in most cases many will be faced with job losses. Yet at the same time, there was a lack of stating, creating or cultivating a sense of what it is detached youthwork is all about, and stemming the tide of change. Even if it is ideal world, even if the frustration is culpaple, and believe me, the freedom to practice almost ‘ideal’ detached youthwork, in a place where there is almost no young people on the streets  is hugely frustrating also.

Do we know what we are?

We are different to social workers, teachers, police and health, because we see young people differently; as Humans in their own right, with potential, as social beings living in communities and families, often harmed, not just harmful. We see them as individually unique and part of the community.

We want to work with young people, with them as the primary client, in their social context- meeting them where they are at – as that is where the magic happens, that is where relationships occur that allow for genuine support, learning and welfare. That is where different, positive, purposeful and respectful relationships occur between a ‘professional’ adult and an individual or group of young person –  a type of relationship that any teacher, social worker or police officer will find hard to get, that is what makes us different, distinctive and of value.

We seek to educate with a young person at a level appropriate to them (not a preset curriculum), and journey with them in this process of learning, to discover new experiences, taking them somewhere new, in attitude, reaction, place or value somewhere where they hadnt thought of going before, but now have someone to show and go with them.

We work according to values, and are people willing to be vulnerable, honest and reactive to the young persons needs and interests, often standing with them, when society might say otherwise, to make sure that they receive justice, help, and a voice.

We measure by knowing that something happened when we met that young person today, a smile, a spark or a question, something moved that purposeful relationship further, an acknowledgement made something new happen, a moment of rapport. A question or story which mean that we mean something, the sharing of a chip or a handshake to pertain to acceptance- these arent the stuff of forms, data or computers, this is the stuff of life, relationships and growth.

So what are we, yes we are detached youthworkers, trained and professionally equipped to do this, to be intentionally informal, to depart from uniforms, formality and targets, to performs actions of community cooperation and education with young people, to journey, live alongside, care and respect them- as they are. 

 

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