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:

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?

Detached Youthwork – the last remaining outpost for pure youthwork

Today i paid a visit to a detached youthwork project in County Durham (Consett detached project) to meet their team, discover their history, and find out the things that energise and frustrate them. One of their staff had been doing detached work in the community for over 20 years, in fact had done detached work for the parents of some of the young people currently out on the streets, it was a fascinating insight into long term detached work, long term investment in an area, in groups of young people, in young people individually and yet despite all the work that they had done, trying to make this level of quality work, fit the criteria expected of funders was a desperate and heartbreaking challenge. It reminded me of the recent issues surrounding Kids Company, not the issues, but the lack of funding for good work.

Despite this, it was the same volunteer that said in passing, that what he was doing was the ‘pure youthwork’ – this was said to me by a council youthworker in Perth ages ago, and that was to me working for a voluntary/christian detached project. The commendation and labelling of detached as ‘pure youthwork’ still rings true, and to those of us who ‘get detached’ and also ‘get youthwork, for its philosophy/values and education, we are maybe in a privaledged position, a dangerous challenging one ( to meet ‘scary’ groups of young people on the street) to be the first point of call, to work in the margins, to do irregular shifts, to work outside – all sometimes in the name of realising that these fleeting, but momentous, voluntary, educative and inspiring moments with young people can occur. Its pure youthwork, its maybe the only place left for it, on the streets.

Maybe detached was always this anyway, and now given the reduction in attention given to young people (because people are on phones all the time), and the stretched nature of specialist services for them, detached youthwork because of its relative cheapness, might bridge the philosophy gap in practice from the closure of the youth centres to the hoped for new youthwork of the future, detached keeps the youthwork dream alive.


The Theological Art of Youthwork

“Art gives us a taste of creation and restoration, of the beauty that was God’s original intent for the world. Art that points back to creation and forward to redemption is thus truer that merely imitates our fallen present. The values embodied by art are inescapably religious; art makes theological statements”  (Vanhoozer 1993 (on Calvin), in Vanhoozer 2002)

“Youthworkers do not merely deliver youth work, they define it, interpret it and develop it. It is what youthworkers think, what youth workers believe and what youth workers do in practice that ultimately shapes the kind of experience and learning that young people get” (Kerry Young 1999)

“Works of art that are not remote from common life, that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified collective life. But they are also marvellous aids in the creation of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity.” ( and good?) (John Dewey 1934;84)

“Art re-creates the creative principle of created things” – Boal on Mimesis  in Poetics (2008)

In a way, that final word, Mimesis is something to consider at length, in regard to this whole discussion. If Mimesis is to ‘re-create’ and Youthwork as a performance of art is a mimetic action – then what does the youthworker re-create in their artistic performance. Id say that goes back to Kerry Young, its values, philosophies and beliefs that are re-created as actions in the moments with young people.

In Ricoeur (2010, trans 2013) – in relation to hermeneutics, Ricouer describes Mimesis as not the duplication of reality, a copy, but a Poiesis, that is “fabrication, construction, creation” (p62)- which on one hand he goes on to say that Mimesis is the non-ostensive reference to the literary work, in other words the greek term for the disclosure of a world (ibid). 

If a poem creates a world ( Ricoeur p62) and this requires a language that preserves and expresses its power in specific contexts, what then the artistic youthworker created in a world, using spoken text, language and power in a specific context?

Thus the Youthworker as an artist, could be said to be mimetically creating, or disclosing a new world which is shaped by the philosophy of youthwork; common good, human flourishing, equality, education etc, a world that requires interpretation by young people, or at least understanding of meaning. In 1960 the albemarle report stated that the youth service should not offer something packaged, – a ‘way of life’ a ‘set of values’ a ‘code’ as though these were things which came ready-made, upon the asking, without being tested in living experience..if they feel the need, young people must have the liberty to question cherished ideas, attitudes and standards and if necessary reject them” (HMSO 1960;141,142)

In the way that values shape the art of the youthworkers performance, so it is that young people ask, critique, reflect on the world that is created by the youthworker in that space. It seems a long way from the outcome focussed desire that is put on youthwork today, where it exists at all in this way.

Moving swiftly from the philosophy of youthwork to the re-creation of the performance of the Theo-drama, Kevin Vanhoozer would also argue that this the church, ie the people of the church, are meant to be far from an exact copy of Christ, and a memorial to Christ, they are instead to be an “active mimesis of the body of Christ” – that is to be active worshippers and imitators of Gods grace in gratitude (eucharist) and the reality of the already/not yet presence of Christ in our midst. (Vanhoozer 2010; 410) The Sacraments act as mimesis, a mimesis of word and Spirit, enabling participation in the eschatological action, being drawn into the action, whilst also enacting past events in the present. (Vanhoozer 2005:413)

In considering Mimesis – the artistic re-creation the creative principle, im drawn again to the 5 acts of the Theodrama, as in the first we have the creative acts of God in Creation, second the God who covenants, the third the God of presence, intimacy and specific place in Jesus, the fourth the God who empowers, sends and becomes universal through his Spirit, and fifth the God who restores and reconciles once and for all. For Christian youthworkers, to perform mimetically is to re-create, re-improvise according to the Biblical acts of Gods whole story to his created people, to do theological art, to disclose new worlds.  Disciples who play Christ in new places must therefore be not replicators, nor innovators but improvisers, performers of parables of the kingdom.








Theatrical Martyrdom and the story that goes on…

“Suffering is not a particularly popular or attractive strategy for human flourishing. Churches on the look out for effective marketing strategies for Christian discipleship would therefore be advised to look elsewhere” (Vanhoozer 2014)

The English term Martyr means Witness, Soren Kirkegaard defines witness as “someone who directly demonstrates the truth of the doctrine he proclaims, directly by partly by being the truth within him, partly by his volunteering his personal self and saying; See now if you can force me to deny this personal doctrine” (1996)

Suffering is part and parcel of the plight of the evangelist, the plight of the christian, indeed, the plight of the person – especially those who are fighting for a cause, a belief that the world would be better. Especially those who desire better for others in the face of barriers, be they prejudice, disability, academia, health or gender.

In Faith Speaking and Understanding, Kevin Vanhoozer talks about the Theatre of Martyrdom, how the church, the christian is to be prepared to experience suffering due to the doctrine they profess to, and yet although he is talking about Doctrine in terms of Christian doctrine – beliefs in human flourishing and the transformation of communities might also be as compatible to endure suffering for. Vanhoozer goes on to say “Doctrine ( Beliefs) is never more dramatic when, in the face of various internal and external trials, individuals (and communities) must decide in freedom whose story to enact, which plot to develop”

For Christians the pinnacle of the endurance of Suffering is that of Jesus on the cross, yet there are many others who act in suffering in pursuit of a cause without a deep held belief in Christs act, but yet persevere none the less.

There will be suffering. There will be challenge to undergo because we want things to be different for young people, for the church, and for the communities in which we exist in,  There is suffering where faith is met head on with reality, but that reality is exactly the space of the stage where we put ourselves to perform as martyrs, giving of ourselves, our values in the grand cause of human and community and kingdom flourishing.

There is hope, even in the cry of How Long?  How long for the disciples lasted 3 days, yet the Bible is littered with the sentiment of How long? that doesnt go away, we are allowed to question, to suffer, to feel the pain of others we see around us and bring pleas to God, yet there is still hope. One Victory has been won.

Suffering accompanies the actions of the performance yes, but is it the story we are trying to enact? No, it is of hope, it is of freedom, it is of flourishing and change, of grace, forgiveness and love.  We have a plot to develop, actions on the stage of the world to perform, a stage not always to our liking, but the stage none the less. Lets do theatrical martyrdom.

For Ricoeur; “wisdom fulfils one of religions fundamental functions, which is to bind together ethos and cosmos, the sphere of human action and the worlds order. It does not do this by demonstrating that this conjunction is given in things, or by demanding that it be produced through our action. Rather it joins ethos and cosmos at the point of their discordance; in suffering and more precisely, in unjust suffering. Yet wisdom does not teach us how to avoid suffering, or how to magically deny it, or how to dissimulate it under an illusion. It teaches us how to endure, how to suffer suffering. It places suffering into a meaningful context, by producing the active quality of suffering” (Ricouer 2010 p124)


Values in Detached youthwork

Values, Values, Values, there’s quite a bit spoken of values in youth work, what they are, how they are embodied, who they are for, how they can be attained, visualised and where they come from and what is, isnt, could be or may be a value. This may not be the place to begin a conversation about the changing values of youth work, or the paradigm change in the value based youthwork recently (some might say that youth work has lost much of its ‘value’ orientation instead being redefined through merely functionality). It may be tentative to suggest that the values that underpin youth work stem from individualism thinking that in itself is being deconstructed through post modernism, post structuralism, and a realisation of the infallibility of the human. Possibly then a new horizon of values brought about by a new construction of the human condition, and new dimension of hope and community is required to take the place of the dying embers of pre modern hoped for values, such as democracy, individual freedom and plurality… some of which are being assigned to the post-secularisation bin.

As a detached youthworker, i find the clash of values, rather that the seeking of underpinning values as interesting to reflect upon, something i realised in the practise of doing detached youthwork in Perth over the last few years. Its one that i didnt quite understand until i read, and re read Goetschius & Tash’s seminal piece on detached work and in particular on values ( 1967: 101-103) within practice, and related to the choices young people made, and the expectations of them.

They highlight three distinct areas where standards and values occur; two in the community(high and low) and also the young people.

The Community (high) Values are those in the community set/created by the agencies in the community; schools, police, local government, health, social servs all whom young people interact with or not in one way or another, and include the church, or at least at times , or in some contexts do.  The values determined by these agencies often “made specific demands which included particular expectations, compliance with which could on occasions be enforced by the officials representing the organisations – the school attendance officer, probation, policeman” (Goetschius and Tash 1967)

The Community ( low) are the values in the community as set by the people in the community in families, relationships, outwith the responsibility of local agency, the value system created is more subtle, but more influential as it includes the pervading values that arise out of the family unit, and to a point young people subscribe to it fully in compliance with the local contextual values that they have grown up with, until they are able to reflect upon them….

The Young People:  obviously the values of the young people which are described by Goetschius and Tash as “amorphous, undefined, often contradictory, sometimes complying with the neighbourhood, sometimes at variance with it” For instance these ‘values’ affect the reasons which a young person is; there at all, drinking, not going to school, on benefits, in a relationship, working, driving, swearing or all manner of things, often affected by the dominant community and their values in their life at that point, be it friends, family and/or rebellion of institutional values.

Goetschius and Tash recognised, and i would say that as a detached youthworker some 45 years later, that this triplex of values has such a huge bearing on detached youthwork. It is worth thinking about a few questions in relation to them, however:

1. What about the values of the youthworker and the organisation they represent?  do they fit within those of the ‘high’ community ones, and how should the youthworker be honest about these?

It can be very easy to revert to moralising and judging young people on the streets, and this occurs predominately because the hype is believed about them, yet as Rogers considers, making judgements is a hindrance to being empathetic ( Rogers 1980:154). So, even as we’re out on the streets we can be non- judgemental, but not lack of judgement, its that we realise the limitations and conditioning of the values that we have, though this does not mean that we have to accept wholeheartedly the values of young people. After all its important to be accepted by the young people for who we are in our role, rather than just because we lose our sense of identity/role and play the fool.

This adaptation does not involve mimicry, rather the opposite. We cannot insist enough on the importance of a street worker showing solidarity with yet at the same time a difference from the people they meet. Too many young workers mortgage their integration into the street by trying to imitate the habits, customs and behavioural patterns of the target audience.It is essential to remain who you are. It is in facing differences that real mutual enrichment is possible. (International Guide to the methodology of streetwork 2008)


2. Why might these values be more apparent in detached youthwork than other centre based youthwork?  My response to this is that because the youthwork occurs in the context of the community, and where/when young people are more at ease to express themselves and behave more naturally their chosen space, then this could be seen to be more at odds with the community at large. It is precisely because the young people are being engaged with, with and in their context that it is less acceptable to challenge, moralise or insist upon changed behaviour, when this may be a viable communication, transition, bonding activity for them over a long period of time, such as drinking publically, smoking, swearing. I would say that even the most ‘liberal’ of centre based youthwork will have socially constructed boundaries of acceptability, or code of conduct, and so these values can create a newly shaped social reality for the young person in that space, to become natural and ‘at home’ but maybe not immediately.  So being detached, being on the streets it is the youthworker that has to reflect on their values, whereas in the centre its often the young person who is conditioned to change.. 

One challenge that is often faced is that of role/value identity in detached, or to put it more bluntly ” who’s side are you on?” – in situations of high authority tension this is probably a real concern, and to a large extent in Perth we tried to make sure that the young people did not see us chatting with the police during the work on the city centre, however there were times when we worked with the Police in emergency situations, involving young people. But it wasnt just the police, to be part of any establishment, when to all intense and purposes, many of the young people felt rejected or judged unfairly by the establishments, was something that we had to be careful of, but at the same time want the young people to use and make the most of what the establishments could offer them. Part of the role of being there is to “to help individuals, groups and social institutions understand, accept or reject, use and affect, their social environment.”(Goetchius and Tash 1969:168). For me its a bit like being social double glazing salespeople, where we hold invite young people to see and reflect upon not only their own values, but also our values, and maybe more importantly those of the community around them. We , in our dealings with other agencies, can also hold that same glass pane to help them understand more about young people in their communities.

One of the things i am facing at the moment is the pre conceived notion that because young people are on the streets that they are in need or trouble of some kind, and yet the streets and parks are places exactly for the social gathering of young people, them to have some space away from adults, in groups socialising, have some fun, and yet a value suggested by the community (at large) is that this is a source of trouble, or young people being bored.  If we only stop before we rush out to rescue, condemn or entertain, and just for a moment let young people have open spaces to be, to meet, to chat, in the public spaces, and not judge this behaviour before we get there.

So whilst values change, the conflict of values on the ground, in our communities some of these values are taken for granted, and yet one of the healing roles that youthworkers in the streets can play is seeking to bring understanding and reconciliation from different perspectives in this value triangle.

So whilst values are often ideals, and shape the nature and practise of youthwork, as they should, we should also reflect upon the values and standards embedded in our communities that affect behaviours and actions of young people and seek to provide tools for them, for their families and for the agencies around them, to reflect, be challenged and understand a little more.




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