Most youth workers would claim that the most important aspect of their work is – the process of informal engagement with individual young people and groups which for responsive young people, involves them in a journey of personal and social understanding travelled in their own terms, on their own route and in their own time.
The core purpose of youth work has been defined as the personal and social development of young people through informal education (Merton et al, 2004). Young people are at the centre of youth work practice which is fundamentally concerned with their education and welfare.
There are different forms of youth work including for example, centre based provision, detached work on the streets, outreach work, activities-based and faith-based approaches. The profession is value-driven (Harland et al, 2004) and there are a number of principles with an historical pedigree underlying all youth work practice which distinguish it from other related practices such as social work and teaching (Smith, 2003; Davies, 2005a).
Practitioners and theorists generally agree that the voluntary participation of young people, in their free time, is the principal which most clearly distinguishes youth work from other interventions (Jeffs, 2001, Smith, 2003; Davies, 2005a). The development of negotiated relationships between young people and youth workers, based on mutual respect is a defining feature. In the process of relationship building, the emphasis is upon the active participation of young people. The voluntary principle implies that young people are free to enter and leave youth work facilities and relationships and that they are therefore able to exercise a degree of power in the youth work context (Spence, 2004; Davies, 2005a).
Youth work is underpinned by a commitment to working with an open, potentiality model of young people, beginning with their present experiences, responding to their present needs and enthusiasms, and building upon this to situate their learning within a wider social context. This contrasts with problem-based interventions with individuals which derive from a deficit model of young people and which respond to youth as a ‘risky’ time of ‘becoming’ rather than as a time of ‘being’ (Davies, 2005a). However, it is the deficit model which has been dominant within the social policy developments which have shaped the practice environment of youth work in recent years. This is manifest in a shift away from open, voluntary, associated and groupbased learning towards targeted, individually-based support designed to smooth the ‘transitions’ of vulnerable, ‘excluded’ or ‘at risk’ young people towards successful adult citizenship (Mizen,
2003; Jeffs and Smith, 2002, 2006; Spence, 2007) Ironically, given the focus upon the individual, one of its consequences is a de-centring of the young person in professional practice in favour of a range of specific outcomes for individuals. This implies a fundamental destabilisation of the professional heart of youth work.
Editor's comments - [ The research project was undertaken during a period in which policy decisions made on the basis of assumptions which are in tension with key principles of youth work, were beginning to impact upon the practice environment, forcing workers to adjust priorities and to raise questions about the extent to which their practice was understood or socially valued. ] Reference this?Cryer, J. (Year). This page title in italics. Retrieved date, from <this page's full URL>
In the text: Cryer (year)
Reference : Spence, J. Devanney, C. with Noonan, K. (2006) Youth work: Voices of practice. London: NYA
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