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

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

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

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

The increase in knife crime in London

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

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

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

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

The government may have the tiniest slither of a point.

Only a tiny slither.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IDYW: A 16 point pledge to Re-imagining a new youth service in the UK

I am sharing this statement of purpose from In defence of Youthwork on this site, Tony Taylor has on many occasions shared my reflections on youthwork and faith, it is simply right that for young people in the UK that a coherant informal universal youth service is established, and done so on the basis of the 16 statements agreed at the recent IDYW conference. Please do engage with the statements and join in with the campaign all details below, a healthy and sustained youth service might, just might be one answer to some of the issues facing young people in the UK. Even if you read this blog as someone from a faith perspective, a joint desire to instil good youth practices in the UK should be a positive ambition whatever your perspective on youthwork or ministry. Anyway – here is the statement below:

Find below the 16 Starting Points, which reflect our IDYW interpretation of the rich debates held both under the ‘Is the tide turning?’ banner and at our March national conference. We hope that you will find them useful as a reference point, as an aide-memoire, in the diversity of meetings you’ll find yourself in during […]


What do we expect teenagers to be made of, a substance tougher than steel?

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I saw this quote doing the rounds on Facebook today. Excuse its language. But dont excuse its sentiment.

On one hand we could argue that young people in the 80’s and 90’s didnt have it too badly – and I should know i was one of them. Politicians got headlines for peace deals, climate change caused action, peace was a hopeful reality i large parts of the world. There were EMA grants, nearly free higher education, still a general reality that post university meant employment, house prices were going up, but a 2-3 bedroom house in areas north of sheffield might still be ‘only’ £40,000. And the rest.

And so, those who grew up optimistic in the 90’s, maybe had it too good. or too easy. Previous generations had it easy in comparison. Even those in the 1990’s, at least they had hope. In the main.

Fast forward to today. All the things that might have been an issue for teenagers in the 80s or 90s are still there, but multiplied. There’s double the advertising on TV with its 40 extra channels, online and on screens – with all the worry about life and expectation this causes. The News is an always open door to constant fear. The financial cut backs are extraordinary and yet the expectations on young people are higher – or shall i say the expectations on schools to be performing and have high performing pupils is greater than ever. To the point that those left behind and being actually left behind, left out and notionally excluded. When outcomes and targets rule, then humanity and inclusion falls way short.

Then there’s the cut backs on all the funding for young people to actually get support to cope in this situation. mental health and social work budgets slashed, and open youth clubs eradicated all together. And it is left to the voluntary and faith sectors to pick up the pieces, but doing so whilst also competing for funding and being in a similarly perilous state. (whilst the budget for HS2 or trident is secure seemingly).

So – where does that leave the young person? – Does society view them as the victim in all of this? the oppressed even. 

Nope. If anything the young person is to blame for all this. Those bloody millenials ruining it for the rest of us. Generalise and blame thats the strategy of the media, but initiate self reflection on the current holders of power….

Blame the phone, not blame society that created that need, or the adults who foisted it into existence and made implicit demands on parents to pay for ‘an essential’.

So – what do we think young people are made of to cope in all of this? 

Well – not enough resilience for one. (hence all the resilience classes)

Not enough confidence ( hence all the ‘self confidence classes’)

And yes, these are needed. And not just for the teachers.

as if its all an individual young persons fault. Young people are having to cope with so much more than ever before, and doing so without the hope that things will improve. Society expects young people to cope within all of this. Its not surprising that so many struggle. What if it wasnt just about coping and surviving as a young person.

I wonder if young people might collectively rise up and challenge, critique and get passionate about the systems that are causing so much damage to them and their peers.

Things that help a young person, Goals, Self worth (ability + competance), Purpose and Value (Bryan, 2016) – if any of these start to be affected, then they will start to struggle. So, therapy might help to help a young person talk through coping through these. But fundamentally the sources of these things need to also be dealt with. Blame Neoliberalism, but a new system needs to be created – one that is more human/humane, and the rest. But if a young persons purpose and value is wrapped up in ‘things’ or ‘image’ or ‘popularity’ – then its no wonder that they are stressed, worried. But that isnt new – the only difference is the current speed of change or intensity. The main difference is fear caused by the news, inequality between rich/poor, deficiencies in the education system (especially 16+) but also the efficiency drive, and also limited hope economically – where only the strong might survive…

What might young people be expected to be made of?

Filters that are sensitive to fake news

Resilience to cope with oppression, abuse and uncertainty

An internal buoyancy to be able to react positively to fear

An innocence of humanity to see beyond divisive politics

A Hopefulness of spirit to maintain motivation in school

A self confidence to be both an individual and like everyone else

To be able to glide effortlessly through being a teenager, ready packaged and prepared for the ‘breeze’ that is ‘being an adult.. or alternatively – does any of this really change that much…

Teenagers – Adults, we might need to learn about how they cope with it all, we might need the same lessons. Well pretty much anyone working within ‘people’ related jobs has had to sharpen up their armour in the last 10 years. Coping working with humans and enabling their flourishing in a neo-liberal world, from teachers, nurses, social workers, youthworkers (if any are left) – all subject to ridiculous efficiency, cuts and demands, outcomes – all to the exclusion of breadth, inclusion, time and care. All to the exclusion of the purity of professions and vocations and just bad management and policies. Its no wonder young people are blamed, for to say that society has a responsibility – might mean funding those who work with them properly.

Surveying the landscape

I am writing this from the 2013 Federation of Detached Youthwork conference (FDYW) in which i am with other detached youthworkers from across England and Wales ( as no one from Scotland could make it) who have gathered to listen and learn and share. The theme emerges and is repeated of stories, anguish and pain of the demise of not only youth services across the country, but also the curtailment and restructuring of detached/outreach youthwork within the statutory sector. I guess theres no surprise in this. However, its a painful reality that many detached youthworkers are having to reframe their work around not just anti-social targets, or NEET targets, but also within integrated services and the so called ‘problem family’ mandate of the current Tory government. And as a result youthworkers with the title ‘detached youthworkers’ are having to :

  • only work with ‘named’ young people
  • be sent round to specific ‘houses’
  • work with the family as well as the young person
  • Find young people that no one else has been able to

Essentially becoming more outreach social workers, working with an even tighter remit that the connexions/NEET/ASB mandates previously.  Now this isnt the same for all the youth services detached youth work out there, but the cut backs seem to have been severe. It may be that detached youth workers have never been very good at being able to frame their work around informal education, human flourishing or changed behaviour, given that evaluating this on the streets would be almost artificial to do. (one worker has been given a check list of 25 aspects of a young persons life to go through with them, whilst on the streets, so that someone somewhere can input this into a computer system) Yet the value of prescence, of non judgemental approach, of conversation, trust and a supportive adult(s) changed, improve and enhance groups and individual young people, and do this is in a way that almost no computer system could calculate. Strange how sometimes human interaction is mysterious and unquantifiable- we are more complex than forms, targets and systems

We have been encouraged this weekend to consider that this challenge to detached is nothing new, that the misunderstanding of the role of detached existing at the time of the albermarle report (1960), the warnings then for young people in society, who would have no informal education & support remain today, especially whist much work both government and voluntary sector funded is so outcome and target led. 

One of the stories of hope is that there are examples of good practice out there, and good youthworkers whom are having to bend the rules so that young people benefit from a youthwork approach, despite the pressures made on staff by management/funders/police etc, but its a shame that detached youthworkers are needing to work subversively at times so that young people are ‘met where they’re at’ and not because they appear on a computer somewhere as a hotspot.

The opportunity is out there, as whilst i have been in the minority, ie non council worker , it has become more that evident that detached youthwork, with an educational pedagogy, with a conversational, genuine ‘relational’ approach may/will only soon be delivered by community based christian youthworkers, in/with churches and community groups that have the insight/willingness to value and invest in working with young people in this way.

When the last person who is delivering ‘youthwork’ in the youth services shuts the door and turns out the light – will these churches and groups be ready to take back the baton from the state- they once held anyway?  maybe some will be, but those groups with ‘just’ an outreach or conversionist approach to christian youthwork/ministry might not have the tools to be ready to respond to local needs, and surely by being ready the church’s mission ,amongst young people outside of its building, has the potential to happen? and be done in a way that is acceptable to the community, is value based, educative and transforming.

So, community based christian youthworkers, get ready. Lecturers of Christian youth and community work prepare your students. There is no greater opportunity than this to develop and invest in young people in the community, as unfortunately the state is reducing its inclusive, broad youth services. The landscape is bleak out there and it will be young people who will lose out the most. The church already has the most ‘youthworkers’, soon it might also have the most community based detached youthworkers too.

If you are interested further in the federation of detached youthwork, please visit http://www.detachedyouthwork.info/, for details of 52 youthwork projects who are actively involved in streetbased work from a christian and youthwork approach see http://www.streetspace.org.uk/Streetspace/Home.html