A Review of ‘All Joined Up’ , 13 years on – how does it fare?

There are some books in Youth Ministry that are light and fluffy. The 10 tools, or 30 programmes, or 50 innovative ice breaker type books. Some book in youth ministry that talk about a particular type of practice – such as Spirituality and youth Ministry, and others on something like Detached, or Mission or ‘what youth ministry’ should be in an ideal world. A few months ago I wrote a review for ‘Unattached Youth by Goetchius & Tash (1967) , a book i regarded as seminal in detached youthwork practice. ‘All Joined up’ has become something similar, or at least has been regarded as such from those who start off in youth ministry in England and venture into a brave world of youthwork and try and piece some of it together – so its less about how it fared, but more – is this even more relevant now than before?

So 13 years ago now, ‘All Joined Up’ launched a series of titles that were developed from a collaboration of a few faith based youth ministry organisations ( YFC, Oasis, Youthwork magazine, Salvation army and Spring Harvest) that were for the emerging practices of youth ministry as it was undergoing a professional turn. Without being too critical, the following titles didnt gain the same traction, at least not for the theorists of youth ministry. Though it seemed at though ‘All joined up’ became a key text for youth ministry in the UK, maybe more so in England, than in Scotland- maybe because youth ministry in the form it took in England didnt shape the discourse in the same kind of way.

So – What about All Joined up – how has it fared, given that a whole teenager has been formed since it was published in 2003, I know, my son was born that year.

Lets go back to the orginal work – What was Danny Brierley trying to say?

20170124_145340_richtonehdr What Brierley did was to set up a dialogue, an intertwining of what could quite easily have felt like separate forms of practice, youth work and youth ministry. Pistols at dawn was the image, however from the outset Brierley is keen to call out the unnecessary dualism, created in part because dualism has at times become a default position in the church, out from which the world is sometimes viewed.

What Brierley realised is that the separate practices of youth work and youth ministry had created their own terminologies, infrastructures, publishers, career paths, training courses and conferences. And from behind the walls of each discipline battle lines were drawn.

Brierley then described the differences between youth work from a contemporary consideration of a few youth work books, good ones though, including Kerry Young Art of Youthwork (1999), though absent from his discussion at this point is a discussion on the underpinnings of youthwork – aside from a brief mention of Values; Voluntary Participation, Informal Education, Empowerment and Equality of Opportunity. How Danny Brierley could construct this chapter, and the whole book, that has references to youth work without mentioning Jeffs & Smith or Paulo Friere ill never know, but never mind.  Brierley also establishes youth work as a spiritual activity.

In his chapter on Youth Ministry he argues that Youth Ministry has been described almost exclusively in Spiritual and religious terms. It uses words like discipleship, proclamation, preparing young people for eternity or mission, and so those in youth ministry might be regarded as being more akin to Clergy, who use the same language and share similar vision, to that of youth workers. Other distinctions of within youth ministry are described as being the methods ( sometimes programmed) , a dogmatic approach to teaching that reflects a dogmatic approach to faith, and young people as recipients of programmes rather than initiators and developers of them.

The position Brierley wants to take is that Youth work is a ‘strong philosophical framework’ in which youth ministry can operate, as one specialism or approach within it. And as he argues, there are strengths to either approach that might support the other. Youth work in its ethics and values can help youth ministry to critique moments of manipulation, of box ticking, of coerciveness and controlling programmes – ‘Youth ministry, (sadly) needs youthwork if it is to be ethical and young person centred’ (p11) – this is somewhat of a sad state of affairs isnt it… that the lens of the ‘secular’ practice is a yardstick for ethical practice in a faith based, and hopefully Jesus orientated practice.  On the other side of the fence Youth ministry can contribute to the conversation about spirituality and young people, challenging self-determination and an over-reliance on person-centred approaches that could be too optimistic of the human condition, though might struggle to contribute in conversations about other faiths and youthwork, and the emergence of Muslim youthwork since 2003 to the conversation about faith in youth work has been critical ( more on faith and youthwork in ‘Youth work and faith‘ by Mark Smith, Naomi Stanton & Tom Wylie, 2015)

Sadly, the phrase that Brierley wanted to catch on probably hasnt. What he called for was a critical combination, a co-existance of Christian youth ministry, and youthwork – to be known as ‘Youthwork and Ministry’ – this didnt really take off, though much of the essence of what he described it as has become known in those who define themselves as Christian youth workers – those who navigate between the language of both sides of the discipline that Brierley describes, but who put youthwork philosophy and education and regard for young peoples empowerment centre to practice. This was evident when groups like ‘Youthworks’ emerged in Scotland – a space for Christians who were realising youth work practice that felt, looked and was articulated different to youth ministry practice.  Despite this, Brierley argues for Youthwork and Ministry to be Christian Mission (to the whole world), to be a designated vocation and calling, and this drive for training and vocation was reflected in the development – though also subsequent reduction- in courses for this.

In the 2 further chapters, Brierly intertwines the concurrent histories of youth ministry and youth work. Most of this has been done before.

Brierley then reflects on the Values of Youth work further, Empowerment, Informal education, voluntary participation, in light of the previous regard for a ‘youthwork and ministry’. He clarifies that without voluntary participation working with young people would not be considered a form of youthwork – there is freedom to opt in and out.

For each of the youthwork Values, Brierley develops a theological reasoning that they are adoptable in youth ministry. Its like the current validation debate about fresh expressions of churches, and if they are valid. What Brierley puts out there is that from a theological point of view the values of youthwork could be argued as identifiable with the Christian faith. So, the same for Informal education ( Was Jesus an informal educator) Equality of opportunity and Empowerment ( thats fairly obvious from the formation of the disciples, but also concepts of God and power, and the ethics of power are thought through)

Brierley then adds to these Values- from Youth work- to consider whether the Christian faith has more to add to ‘youthwork and ministry’ and he develops Incarnation ( being present in location, in attitude and within culture), Fellowship (spending time in groups), Worship (creating, forming and articulating places to connect with God) and Mission (being active in the world to transform it). Some of the language of these would be a challenge to the ‘youthwork fraternal’ – though the principle of being in location, of spending time and also connecting spiritually wouldn’t be. But in a way that’s not the point, the point is that these addition things, or core aspects of the church, if you will, also have a part to play within the framing of ‘youth work and ministry’ . There are a few further reflections to be made.

Brierley does warn that once a guideline, or standard is developed – such as ‘youth work and ministry’ then it can become a yardstick to judge other practices. Ie its easy to identify that police officer might not be ‘doing youthwork’ if voluntary participation isnt open to young people. Yet what Brierley also, from a Christian perspective does is challenge some of the key protagonists of working with young people in the UK from a Christian perspective and holds up a youth work lens to them, maybe even a ‘youth work and ministry’ lens. He is as highly critical of the mass evangelism methods perpetuated by Billy Graham, and still evident recently, in YFC (p 46-47), as he is of the Statutory sector who become engrossed in bidding wars and commissioning processes for funding, who place young people as numbers in a funding game, or in tightly programmed Jobs clubs. So, whilst he wanted to avoid making judgements, he sort of ended up doing so – maybe some of these things are on the edges of youthwork & ministry, but if voluntary participation is an essential….

If there were omissions in the piece, it would be that some of the Theological aspects need updating, it might be a surprise to some, but progressions in theology move quicker than the church… another omission is might be that youthwork and ministry is inherantly a political activity if it develops informal education- for what it does is raise the consciousness of young people to see the world differently – this is political, and maybe even Political. The likelihood is that this practice will cause challenge and offence – for it asks different questions of young people and the structures around them that they engage with.

Whilst it is political, what youth work and ministry will also be is prophetic. it will challenge, and cause reflection, and learning. Some of that has undoubtedly cost people jobs, or caused the structures to reject youth workers for stirring, prompting and provoking.

A call for reflective practice is also sadly absent within ‘All Joined Up’ its pretty obvious that its a requirement, but strange it is lacking, given that in a way thats what Brierley asks of the practice – to critically reflect on its own history, its own values, its own organisations and young people.

So if these are a few omissions, what else might have shifted. Well sadly it goes without saying that Brierleys forecasts for statutory youthwork have in 10 years been underestimated, the kind of youthwork that had a history in the youth service has all but gone, though it always had to adapt to government policy and changes in cultural focus. What has also happened has been a shift in the titles for Youth Ministry – and this was not forecast – in 2003 youth ministry was on a crest of a wave, churches were employing, organisations were growing, funding was obtainable. Now this isnt the case. Not unlike the farmers who diversified after foot and mouth in 2000, youth work & ministry is pushed into entrepreneurial methods to survive – whether thats self employment, running charity shops, consultancy, conferences, part time work – all are common place – and this is a shift.

What has occured, is that there have been open spaces from the youth work sector to those who are acknowledged as delivering similar practice. So there are people from faith backgrounds given space to have dialogue at ‘statutory’ youth work conferences, such as In defence of Youthwork, or the Federation of detached youth work, books relating to faith and youth work have actually been produced. If Brierley regarded there to be walls – i dont see them as evident from the statutory side, in fact id say the communities of these practices have been more than, if not more welcome to critical dialogue from a faith perspective, than often critical dialogue in a faith setting of the practice from within. A similar call for being ‘joined up’ and respecting the disciplines was made by Naomi Thompson in a recent Premier Youthwork magazine (September issue i think), on the basis that if there are two sides to the ministry both are in need of each other at a time of cultural shift, change and reduction.

let me end with Brierleys final directive: ‘The churches buildings are available for use in almost every city and town, furthermore it is able to support young peoples spiritual quest without succumbing to indoctrination. The Church’s work must once again be taken seriously. Youth work and ministry ( Christian youthwork)  serves as a challenge to both the church and the state. The church is challenged to look beyond its walls and to develop effective practice. The state is challenged to drop ideological interventions’ (and this has been done, where a Christian youthwork approach is in practice)  The challenge is for the church to faciliate good youth work practice, never more so than now, beyond its current provision.

The world has shifted, but ‘All Joined Up’ has remained significant, challenging and insightful. It started to broker a conversation, that has been beneficial for those who have sought to be involved in the conversation, and might still be worth getting a copy if you’re a new youthworker or edging into pioneering practices of youth ministry. Its definitely worth having a copy on the bookshelf.

 

References:

Brierley , Danny, ‘All Joined up’ 2003

Jeffs & Smith (eds) ‘ Youth work Practice, 2010

Passmore, R ‘Meet them where theyre at’, 2003,

Smith, Thompson, Wylie ‘ Youth work and Faith’ 2015

Young, Kerry, The Art of Youthork, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do youthworkers make the best youthwork managers?

This is a question that is now a valid one in both the faith and non faith sector of youthwork in the UK. It used to be that it was more likely that a manager in the council youthwork was educated as a youthworker, or trained as one, whereas, due to the newness of the academic side of things, managers of faith based youthwork were less likely to have had experience, or training in youth work – before they became a manager of a project, a programme or an organisation. But this is no doubt shifting. Whilst youth work degrees have become more popular in the ‘faith’ based side of youth work, then it would be expected that some reflection on the role as manager is done, in readiness of for the potential face to face and managerial aspects of the role.

In a way the former criticism was obvious, the youth worker could rightly accuse their manager of ‘not knowing what it was like’ to be a youth worker in a face to face role – not that the youth worker would know at that point what it was like to have to be a manager of youth workers either. But the criticism could be made, and easy at that.

The challenge for the youth workers as managers, and I am one of them, is that i know what its like to be on the receiving end of bad management (a good thing to learn from) – but i am also acutely aware of being subject to changes in an organisation that have disrupted the professionalism of the work and its integrity – because of decisions made about funding, funding streams that then affect the youthworker. When i say integrity, i mean in terms of the cornerstone values of youthwork for the youthworker in their interaction with young people.

Right now, for example, at Durham YFC, and almost every year, there is a challenge to find funding for the great projects that we do, such as mentoring work, detached and open access clubs. Now it might be a personality thing, or a believer in youthwork thing, that i find it difficult or have no desire at all, to affect one of the projects and thus one of our workers roles, just to be able to write or obtain funding. For me, as a former youthworker, am i more concerned that a piece of work is done well, and done in conversation and dialogue with the youthworker (as their manager) than just trying to fit their work into any impact shaped opportunity that a funder might provide. As a former youth worker i would hope that this adherence to values and its professionalism would make for a good reason that a former youth worker could be a manager of youth workers.

On the other hand, when funding might be more of a challenge- does this desire to do something in accordance with principles and values of youth work become a hindrance in the sustainability of a youth work organisation?  should i just play the funding game- be ruthless and keep the organisation going by applying here , there and everywhere – is the respect i would have for my staff that i manage, and the community/youth work values that they have (and i understand) just a hindrance.  Maybe understanding youth work, and its profession, causes me to be hesitant about playing such a funding game, Alternatively making a decision to value the integrity of the practice of good youthwork, done by youth workers in a particular situation is ruthless a decision enough.

It might be that as an organisation where good youth work exists it flaunts with survival in this current time, maybe it will keep its integrity and purpose intact to a point, without baying to funding that shifts its focus, this might be the consequence of a youth worker managing youth workers and the factors that affect their decision making. The first thing they might not think about is funding their own role, management roles, or organisational survival, but taking professional and practice integrity first, something that they know their workers also value too. Managing youthwork with community & youth work values might currently mean alot of tightrope walking…

 

Entering the 10th Year

14th December 2006, that was the day I did my first detached youthwork session for the Sidewalk Project in Perth. Aside from a couple of observation sessions around the town with Allan Clyne two years previous, and one or two outreach ones for Perth Council, that was my first dip into the world, the vocation of detached youthwork. It wasn’t until the end of the January 2007 that the team of us actually spoke to young people on the streets

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Although i took this picture only 3 months ago, Perth City Centre 10 years ago, looked fairly similar to this, Just near Christmas, dark, wet, and i remember pretty cold for several weeks in a row. Just perfect for breaking in to the world of detached youthwork .

Last night, it was our first night out on detached after the Christmas and new year break. Not in Perth, but in Sherburn Village, which amusingly was the place i lived in before heading up to Perth in 2004. So on a cold foggy evening this evening i started my 10th year out on the streets, almost every week since 2006. If you’d have asked me even 3 months before this journey started id have thought you were crazy that id do detached and love it for this long, and what might you say is there to love? The main thing , aside from the unpredictability, is the freedom because of not having to make controlling decisions about the young people. You can just walk away.

And the fact that they wonder why you’re there, unlike school or state functions they don’t know why someone would spend time with them.

And that you walk the same path as them, not just in their shoes but in their time.

That the relationships are truly voluntary and negotiated

That it happens, truly in the borders in between the regular functions of the young person ( home, school, work)

I have got a lot to be thankful for what has occurred since, even to mention all the learning, and reflecting that all the young people, volunteers and organisations have given me. Since then I have had the privilege of sharing the joy of detached with quite a few volunteers, trained 50 volunteers or students, delivered the BAYCWAT module on Detached & outreach for ICC (now SCCM), been involved at the FDYW, and got to know the most determined, passionate, artistic people at FYT/Streetspace who deliver 52 detached projects in the UK, and been able to write up some of the reflections from Perth and other materials in the ‘Here be Dragons’ book.   So I have an awful to be thankful for in the last 10 years, thankful to the amazing volunteers, students and young people for those 5 years in Perth, and the dedication of staff here in Durham for their work here too.

So, i bet you’re asking, what happened this evening? anything to remember my 9th into 10th year by? – well no, a very quiet evening, not surprising, its -1, foggy and damp. Young people were too smart to be out where only mad detached youth workers dare to walk.

 

 

 

 

Is ‘Prevent’ the beginnings of controlling value based organisations?

Following the ongoing consultation by the government in regard to regulating and registering organisations who provide after school and holiday time care, the consultation is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480133/out_of_school_education_settings_call_for_evidence.pdf

Forgive the length of this piece of work, it is based upon my MA presentation on the effect of Government policy on Organisation Governance, which doesnt sound particularly exciting, but a time when this consultation is available to respond to and critique, it might be worth trying to take a long term view of what this government consultation might cause an organisation with strong values to become, and learn from the parallel history over the last 20 years of other third party organisations.

Gann, defines Organisations as: Creatures of their times, reflecting structures- philanthropic with good intentions (1991)

Handy defines a voluntary organisation as “ living communities with a common purpose, made up of free citizens with minds and values and rights of their own (1988:21)”

Handy argues that organisations should develop philosophies of practice which would, in his view, have no need for inheriting  political or engineering references to management and governance (such as Taylorism, Weberism, Fordism), stating that a community organisation should upheld community work values of democracy and problem solving. He infers that voluntary organisations should be more akin to what Morgan (1998) describes as an organisation that Creates social reality according to values, however the metaphor of organisations as an organisms is more appropriate, given that it could be argued that many have had to adapt, and adapt at the cost of their values, identity and purpose. But why has this been the case?

Adirondack on page 4 of Just about Managing suggests that organisation governance is a term for the “big picture, long term and legal aspects of ensuring an organisation is properly run”, and that Management is responsible for ensuring that the work gets done within the governance framework- but essentially that governance and management are different aspects of the same thing.  This is in line with Cornforth who states that Governance is concerned with: “the structures, systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, control and accountability of an organisation”(Cornforth 2004:1 in Billis 2010:72)

Policies are one such aspect of organisational governance, which although helpful, have caused a shift in organisation culture, and an access point to control and regulation by the government. However, in terms of the positives:

Polices are broadly helpful in defining the framework within an organisation operates (Adirondack(192:2005), providing clarity for what an organisation does, and how it does it. They help to create stability, and a base line for good practice. Not every aspect of an organisation requires written policies, but where there might be high levels of risk, or contention/argument, or for the adherence of professional practice, policies are created; notably in areas such as; the employment of staff, safeguarding, lone working, health & safety, and in specific examples values or conduct statements. Within the organisation governance, additional policies are used to identify suitable roles for Trustees, the charitable definition of the organisation itself, such as the constitution, its objects and how it should function legally.

Hussey and Perrin (86-88: 2003 in How to Manage a Voluntary organisation)  also add that Polices bring the visions and ideas created, to life, by describing in strategic and practical terms the outworkings of an organisation.  Policies of practice should be consistent with the aims and values of the organisation, more so they reveal the vision and values through the working documents.

How an organisation makes decisions, how it sets strategy, how its work complies with the strategy, and how it ensures that its performance is effective, safe and accountable.

“A policy is a guideline for organisational action and the implementation of goals and objectives. Policy is translated into rules, plans and procedures; it relates to all activities of the organisation and to all levels of the organisation.” (Mullins, L 537: 2010)

Negative impacts on an organisation governance include: The organisation becomes less about young people/community, and more time in compliance to policy, Young people/Community has less voice and involvement (Ord J, 113:2012)

Yet despite Handys recommendations in 1985, the language of structure, of managerialism, of control, accountability and order has been adopted in the discourse of organisational governance. This is highlighted as Handy (1985) bemoans the changes afoot (in 1985) of organisations that played down the importance of an individual – the gifted leader/manager, in favour of the more impersonal aspects such as organisational structure, control systems and policies, yet he goes on to describe the importance of the person as the manager in the ongoing decisions that they have to make in terms of demands, choices and constraints. (362:1985)

Butcher in Banks (2005) argues that Organisations, especially those supporting community practitioners, need to be thought of more as organisms than machines (p59;2005 (Banks et al)), this causes a rethink of the systems as open (rather than closed structural ones) and interaction with changing cultures and contexts and of growth, and evolution.

Policies themselves are subject to external influence and cultivate a situation whereby an organisation is changed through them; as identified by Butler and Wilson (1990:29) : The overall framework of the organisation and how the trustees, members and other governing body functions, and how the organisation relates to external legal authorities such as charities commission. Yet this is also a two way process, as “the Charity commission inserts pressure on organisations to adopt central control and hierarchical structures”. (Butler & Wilson, 1990:29)

However, The External Pressures on having policies which can be adapted from a central commission, as an adaptive organisation, has caused organisations to shift into a certain direction. As it changes it may become an ambiguous culture, that thinks community and fluid, but has to be governed in an increasingly bureaucratic way (Lewis, D 1999:195)- which has an effect on Values (see above) , Values  which as Mullins (2010) argues are part of an organisation ideology and thus its culture, and thus its outworking.

Butcher in 1993 seems slightly optimistic as he heralds a new relationship between right and left wing versions of post bureaucratic public service provision and democratic accountability. Yet the 18 years since have heralded 4 governments and an increase in control and regulation of organisations, via centralised commission and centralised policy for all participating organisations, using Macdonaldisation and related effective practices to imply a universality to local organisations.

However Somerville in 2011 articulates that there is now the disconnect between the community and the services which once served it, have now been affected by changes in policy, government policy and discourse.

The Governments partnership policy which is borne out of the neo-liberal ideology that promises a reduced state involvement, but high level of control, value for money and quality improvement and as Hart (2015) argues, an attuning of young peoples (or anyones) character to the needs of the market forces. I.e Community safety and employment.

Somerville goes on to concur stating that; “There is a subliminal restructuring in process which could cause community organisation to seek less to serve the actual needs, or be accountable to a local community more than view them as part of a service driven process or a target to fulfil” and concurred with by Milbourne in her article Remodelling the Third Sector (2009)

This will be particularly challenging in the poorer areas where community organisations rely heavily on public funding such as the North east, as greater controls, efficiencies, competition will occur, all having an effect on the nature and governance of organisations.

In this example, The government policy of developing state-private-community partnerships, and doing so with conditioned funding resources, has, through local government contracting, stating of funding objectives, has a direct influence on the procedures, objectives and practice and governance of an organisation.  An organisation which now has to comply with goverment ideology- for funding, and government structures practices in reward for funding, developed hierarchical structures, policies, practices and seeks efficient ways of ensuring outcome orientated practices for young poeple.

In quoting Barnes (2007) Somerville goes on to suggest that the governments policy documents have the power to constitute the language of their policy to fit their own needs, the rules of the engagement and participation – rather than have these agendas set and created by the community, or the community group themselves. In his example; the language of the formal partnership meeting was alien to the language of the community, and that the community often receives help and a service from a community organisation, as Taylor suggests (2003;12) The Community “does not decide the game that is being played; they do not determine the rules of play, the system of refereeing or, indeed, who plays, and the cards are stacked in favour of the more powerful players. In fact they are in the wrong game altogether”

The policy framework of the government could decide upon the legitimacy of those voices and modes of expression, and thus the power to decide whether to take account of the voices expressed. It is deemed a privaledged pathway which is controlled by shrouded knowledge of the path, and many organisations are excluded.

If the organisations that have subtley allowed the permission of the government ideology to affect their very nature, very management, policy, practices and thus have not heed Charles Handys warnings in 1985, and as organisms has been so affected by external conditions that they have become more bureaucratic, more managerial and view communities and receivers of a service and for the purposes of fulfilling a government ideology.

In a move that challenges the notion of Organisations and organisms;  Millar in Jeffs and Smith 2010, akin to Handy above,  argues that  management within Youth work should be representative of occupational youthwork culture of values, virtues and principles towards what Morgan would identify as an organisation that is metaphorically creating social reality.

However, this is also now under threat.

Organisations which have thus far withheld the temptation of public money, and retained strong nature according to values; whether youth and community values, whether values of faiths or none, and attempted to create social reality, for the sake of young people in their place in the community. Yes they may have had to register as charities in central bodies or affiliations, or as charities, but most of these transactions were only for the sake of minimal compliance, or local credibility. They have thus far resisted the heavy hand of new managerialism, outcomes and bureacracy for the sake of community, values and virtues.

Under the Prevent agenda, the Government now seeks to determine in their consultation paper (as above) , that all childcare and after school providers need to register with Ofsted, so that the provider is not only known to the authorities for DBS measures, but also so that the values of the organisation can be aligned to what could be determined as British Values. Yet British Values according to whom, actually thats not the point, the point is that even the organisations that have sought to create positive places and safe spaces with young people, were even spaces that young people flourish in a broad number of ways, and defined their practices in accordance with a range of values; whether Christian values, Muslim Values , youth & community work values and principles, are now under threat from a government that want to control what these values might be. And what could be the result ? – the gradual subliminal shaping  of value based organisations to adopt new managerialism, and further controls and bureaucracy and conduits of government ideology akin to the third sectors organisations who travailed that slope over the last 20 years and the legal threat of compliance.

All done within a discourse of fear, where the reaction is tighter control and regulation for what is deemed a common necessity and common sense, or at least that is what the rhetoric around it might suggest.

Ord (2012) suggests that both policy agenda and leadership agenda- or at least their discourses need to be critiqued and challenged. The policies themselves have power to shape the language and thus the discourse about the work, and bring in the realities of the work that they have to prescribe. Ord goes on to say how this occurs in teaching. Policies including inspections and Ofsted seek to ensure adherence to government policy and this again moves accountability away from the youth and community it seeks to serve. (p64; ord 2010)

So, whilst the rhetoric of the government, and its policies have emphasised the importance of community –stare partnerships  and a reduced state involvement in its neo liberal ideology, the emphasis on control via public bodies like the Charities commission , the rhetoric of social and partnership policy and the world of funding (which accentuate bureaucratic  hierarchical organisations) and no also recommendations of values, of centralised control, regulation and inspection will have a direct impact upon organisational policies, and the nature of an organisation, especially in how it relates to its community, according to its core values.

Yet community organisations that have adapted to changes, akin to the organism metaphor, have found themselves more at risk of becoming conduits for government ideology. Ord argues that any meaningful resistance will come from how organisations such as youthwork are managed within their political context .However now even organisations that have resisted interference (with strong values culture) will be enforced to comply legally with this new policy and adapt local organisational policies and governance as a result, and how might resistance be possible within controlled British Values?

 

 

The quagmire of creating genres in youthwork

Driving back from dropping my kids off at the local church youth group, and listening slightly obliviously to BBC tees, the country hour. Now im not into country music really at all. But as I was listening it got me thinking and wondering about whether the descriptive genre could be utilised within youthwork. And if so, what would they be, and how might they be defined.

In 2008, The Scottish government published a document, ‘Moving Forward’ in it the then government started to consider the role of the ‘use’ of youthwork to fulfil the needs of the government. Also, within it, proponents of youth work were keen to spread the use of youthwork into other agencies, such as schools (curriculum for excellence), police, probation and social health.

In some way, there’s possibly two ‘genres’ there. Youthworkers using youthwork skills to fulfil set aims and agendas, and non-youthworkers using youthwork approaches to fulfil the needs in their professions, reducing youthwork to ‘having a conversation’ without an understanding of the social & power environment of that conversation.

What other genres could there be?

In Cockburn and Wallace (2010) they describe then Scottish youthwork to have three main threads or streams, Liberal (open club type/ value orientated), functional ( with a change intention) and Critical (using the space to challenge status quo’s in society that doesnt favour a young person)- they go onto consider that most youthwork contains more than one strand/theme.

What about activity based youthwork – such as in outward bound activity centres? or Arts/ Drama/Sports focussed youthwork? – might they be considered a different Genre?

Then theres non purpose building – building focussed youthwork – ie that occurs in a faith building, or a school.

Or the youthwork that occurs in the remit of a specific charitable aim, such as youth clubs within mental health charities, Barnados, or equivalents. are they similar but yet different again?

And then Detached, or Outreach type youthwork that occurs not in a building – and depending on its aims or values could be considered another Genre.

Many words have prefixed ‘youthwork’ over the past 20 odd years, some more helpful that others; Rural, Urban, Detached, Faith-based, Christian, Muslim, Voluntary, Jewish, Symbiotic (Passmore 2013), Sacrilized (Nash 2012), Street-based, Centre/community -Based, – have any of them become so clear that those within the profession know what they are? well detached maybe.

And does it depend who is using them? – hence a good amount of confusion.

Whilst there is blurry space around the edges, and in a period of time where clear defined genres for film & music may be hard to find (except repeated ballads on X factor, or Michael Baye movies) , does it matter anyway, and what might be the deciding factors in trying to create genres in youthwork anyway.

After all, to say that a genre of youthwork practice is one thing, might only set it apart, but infer that a practice of youthwork isnt doing that thing. So to say for example that a practice of youthwork is ‘values led’ would infer than ‘non’ values led would have no values, where this might clearly not be the case.

In the past the prefixes have focussed on the setting (centre-based) – the belief of the worker or sacred building( Christian, Muslim) , the approach (detached) , its alignment to a faith perspective (Symbiotic/Sacrilized- which enable a contrast between youthwork done by people of the Christian faith and the much easier to recognise ‘youth ministry’) or whether people are paid or work for the voluntary sector (as opposed to state- thus ‘Voluntary’)

To start off with here’s a few;

Liberating youthwork –  regardless of where it is based upon helping young people be free from constraints, to become freed from aspect of personal, community, educational, social life that act as a hindrance. Based on values of liberation (of the oppressed & liberation theology, and acts accordingly. )

Political youthwork- goes one step further than the above- but challenges at a higher level, in politics &  governance

Mandated youth work with young people – where a youthworker is using youthwork to fulfil mandates of funders/programmes., or have preset programmes.

Youthwork approached ______________ (policing/probation/pastor/church) – where youthwork is a tool in the box within a predefined space in a different profession/vocation.

Might there be others?  or might the top two be considered ‘youthwork’ and the bottom two not anyway…

Heading to Jeffs and Smith (2010) , the aspects that characterise youthwork include; young people, welfare & association, education, voluntary participation and being friendly and acting with virtue & integrity. Most could be complied with every setting – with the exception of voluntary participation. 

So if all of these factors are included then would it be better to not confuse things by using youthwork in situations where all five of those factors arent in play. work with young people yes – youthwork no. But what about young people in a school lunchtime, or in a voluntary space but in a Prison? – would that be youthwork.. i fear im treading into a mire….

I guess going back to the original thought, a movie, book or music is very easy to define as a substance, and then have derivatives from in terms of genre. Is youthwork itself as definable- being as its is a way of working with people in accordance to a number of young person centred values, philosophies and ideals. Might youthwork itself a genre of liberating practice in communities anyway? as a thought to ponder and reflect on.

So, youthwork can be creative, liberating, political and contextual and with the young person, – shall we stick to these. Anything else isnt youthwork at all, its working to or for young people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generation K: Young people whose reality chip is set to fear.

Todays Events in Westminister, added to others cause me to reflect on this post again, one I wrote about 2 years ago: Thinking ‘What does the combined effect of tragedy and technology have on young people?’

Last Saturday, The Guardian ran a piece which talked about the characteristics of a swaythe of young adults aged 14-23/5 which they termed as ‘Generation K’ – you can read the full article here, though some of the highlights include:

“The brutal, bleak series that has captured the hearts of a generation will come to a brutal, bleak end in November when The Hunger Games:Mockingjay – Part 2 arrives in cinemas. It is the conclusion of the Hunger Games saga, which has immersed the young in a cleverly realised world of trauma, violence, mayhem and death.

For the huge appeal of The Hunger Games goes deeper than the fact that it’s an exciting tale well told. The generation who came to Katniss as young teens and have grown up ploughing through the books and queuing for the movies respond to her story in a particularly personal way.

As to why that might be, the economist and academic Noreena Hertz, who coined the term Generation K (after Katniss) for those born between 1995 and 2002, says that this is a generation riddled with anxiety, distrustful of traditional institutions from government to marriage, and, “like their heroine Katniss Everdeen, [imbued with] a strong sense of what is right and fair”.

“I think The Hunger Games resonates with them so much because they are Katniss navigating a dark and difficult world,” says Hertz, who interviewed 2,000 teenagers from the UK and the US about their hopes, fears and beliefs, concluding that today’s teens are shaped by three factors: technology, recession and coming of age in a time of great unease.

“This is a generation who grew up through 9/11, the Madrid bombings, the London bombings and Islamic State terrors. They see danger piped down their smartphones and beheadings on their Facebook page,” she says. “My data showed very clearly how anxious they are about everything from getting into debt or not getting a job, to wider issues such as climate change and war – 79% of those who took part in my survey worried about getting a job, 72% worried about debt, and you have to remember these are teenagers.

“In previous generations teenagers did not think in this way. Unlike the first-era millennials [who Hertz classes as those aged between 20 and 30] who grew up believing that the world was their oyster and ‘Yes we can’, this new generation knows the world is an unequal and harsh place.”

Writer and activist Laurie Penny, herself a first-era millennial at the age of 29, agrees. “I think what today’s young people have grasped that my generation didn’t get until our early 20s, is that adults don’t know everything,” she says. “They might be trying their best but they don’t always have your best interests at heart. The current generation really understands that – they’re more politically engaged and they have more sense of community because they’re able to find each other easily thanks to their use of technology.”

“Ultimately, the message of the Hunger Games is that everything’s not going to be OK,” says Penny. “One of the reasons Jennifer Lawrence is so good is because she lets you see that while Katniss is heroic, she’s also frightened all of the time. She spends the whole story being forced into situations she doesn’t want to be in. Kids respond because they can imagine what it’s like to be terrified but know that you have to carry on.”

It’s incontestable that we live in difficult times and that younger generations in particular may be more acutely aware that things aren’t improving any time soon, but is it a reach to say that fans of the Hunger Games are responding as much to the world around them as to the books?”

And it goes on saying that : “I don’t think that the majority of young readers are connecting to it (Hunger Games) on a political level, but I do think that it taps into their sense of anxiety. It’s clear that today’s teenagers feel a great deal of anxiety, that they’re under a lot of pressure, both internal and external, and that depression rates are rising among teens. There’s a sense that the hyper-connected world can be overwhelming, that there are no clear boundaries any more and today’s teens always have to be ‘on’ – given all that, a girl with a bow and arrow sorting shit out is a lovely story.” (The Guardian)

Forgive the lengthy extracts from the article, but i think its worth considering at length. The emergence of another generation label (following X, Y etc) and the generalisations it makes are of concern. Yet, spend much time with young people, and spend it with them in the space where they get the opportunity to talk about things they want to, and thoughts of fear, worry and the reality of being exposed to reality are common. They are afraid. Fearful.

Now, it might have been said in the past that this ‘Generation K label’ might represent only a small sample of young people, and true, not every young person is a Hunger Games fan. Not every young person has a mobile phone. Not every young person has a despondent view of the future. Not every young person has seen an ISIS beheading on you tube, on their phone, in their bedroom. But many in the wealthy – but futuristically bleak- west can do.

So, what is the reaction to this? On one hand there is a market out there for a shed-load quantity of resources; “reaching gen K”, ‘Gen K church’, ‘Being a Millenial leader to Gen K’s’  – playing catch up to the culture – because ‘relevance’ is what the communication of the Gospel needs- isnt it?  But whats the problem. The problem is that who knows how long this is going to go on for, for, and that any attempt to assess the midset of a generalised view of young people lacks the authenticity of the personal connection. Its been prejudged. And what does relevence do to the message?

In our team meeting today at DYFC, we considered the article and a few other observations from the young people we’re in contact actually with. We agreed about the fear and worry. Mental Health concerns are rife.

The young people in one group wanted to do a session on Cancer, death and ending life well. Bloody hell. If thats not wanting to deal with reality head on im not sure what is. Forget the environmental concerns i had when i was 12.

Yet we considered how that in the prominence of a vlogging and You tube star- young people like having social commentary, like being talked to and with. By someone random. Is that so different to a different version of the comforting humour of the Broom cupboard circa 1991 with andy crane?

We considered how the direct access that young people had of the brutality of life & death – meant that they had limited need for filters. If they want to see it. They can. Everything on the internet is true, especially if filmed. They crave direct, and real. And they might be willing to read 2500 pages of real apolocolypse in Hunger Games, or Insurgent/Divergent.

We also discussed the reality of speed, of user affected choice. That the news is shaped by uploaded phone footage, that Wikipedia is user shaped, and that to some degree young people carry and adapt their own alter ego by way of facebook profile, its user led.

So, what place then for the traditional youth club? Or youth work in a church? Even if the former doesnt really exist, the latter does. What emphasis will ‘being relevent’ for this culture take on?  and by trying to do ‘relevence’ will trying to catch up, or be like, or talk to – come across as. Like the bad controlling parent possibly? But what does any youthwork provision offer for young people- exposed to the reality of life , and exposed to it in between cute cat pictures on their facebook feed.

What kind of youth culture within the church can now protect this over exposed so called ‘generation’ of young people? How many warnings or helpful videos can be produced to give the church enough information to keep up. It wont matter. Like the police on detached, they are always reactionary.

The question is – can we take ‘relevence’ out of gospel intended mission statements, and instead, think what do young adults need, what will they always need, what are they craving?

In 1997 – Rick Bartlett’s report on the future of youth ministry suggested that Authenticity was what was required for Generation X-Y (and this was written pre-Diana’s death, or 9/11), it was the same for Generation X. Its the same now.

As soon as someone is perceived as false, whether youthworker, celebrity, or friend. They are shunned. Autheniticty is the key. Yet Authenticity and Faithfulness have been lost. Lost in a youthwork world of attempting to be relevant. Lost, even if incarnational presence is important, and thats the other thing, if young adults are used to having control in their power of their own online personality, used to choice – what of the way in which they have access to choice in the youthwork they participate in?

Does youthwork that has a value base transcend the desire for relevence?  In working with young people according to values, and in conversation, and with their interests, needs and their education and liberation in mind does that dissipate any need to be relevant. I need to act so that they are important, valued and listened to. I need to be listening to them in local context, and exploring faith with them. The message of love, of Jesus accepting them and they having opportunity to become part of different, real, and at times gory story (have you read the Old testament recently) is possible, starting from, not relevance, but being authentic & present. Do Christian & youthwork values transcend relevance?

What would it mean to help young people to be liberated from the nature of the oppressions they face in the culture created around them? Is that not a better position to take? How can young people be freed? When they feel afraid.

And if they want gore and a relevent real story. Give them the Old Testament & The New testament, Not some passionless, softened down Jesus who wouldnt say boo to a bloody goose. And let them read it no holds barred.

Back to today. I am also reminded that in the tragedy, there is the unexplicable humanity that people show during such tragedy, to help, to watch over, to call for help, to intervene. Stories of humanity need to be shared with young people, maybe that will help. Provide stories of hopefulness. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 ways that youthwork practice might be helpful in the church

Heres a few things that churches in the UK could learn from good youthwork practice, and possibility put it into practice in the whole church community.

  1. Models for reflective practice. Such as Kolb, Argyris & Schon – Youthworkers know these, to their discomfort like the back of their hand
  2. A desire to have ongoing professional external supervision – ie someone to talk to, to be asked questions and continue with conversational reflection (see point 1) and try and continually personally improve, to contextually be challenging barriers of inclusion.
  3. Youthworkers value conversations with people about anything. If thats where mission starts from, and what God is about (cf Vanhoozer 2010), then to understand conversation and true dialogue might be a good God thing.
  4. Youthwork practice is suitable in most contexts – where there is young people..
  5. Youthwork practice is about the authentic embodiment of values with young people, should this be encouraged in the church, with missional action in accordance with Christian values..?
  6. Youthwork practice is educational, its about flexibility and variety of opportunities to learn, and learn from each other.
  7. Youthwork practice is about Human and community liberation and flourishing, it has methods , thinking and philosophy such as Friere, to enable this to be done for the benefit of those oppressed.
  8. Youthwork is about building relationships according to values, and actions that are inclusive, non-judgemental and promote equality and genuine participation  – shouldnt the church?
  9. Youthwork is about working with young people in social contexts in groups – how might understanding groups and group work theory help the wider church?
  10. Youthworkers can be critical, and might help others be critical, and in that critical reflection enable deeper thinking, learning and exploring of issues, or in the church of faith and its complexity.

What if youthworkers ran the church? – what might change about the church? How might youthwork be helpful approaches, philosophy and practice to help the church?