“This is Youth Work – Stories From Practice” is a collection of stories and essays from youth work practitioners and young people demonstrating the importance of voluntary, open-access, democratic and flexible youth work practice. The collection is published by In Defence of Youth Work and arose from concerns about restrictive, top-down policies and recent funding cuts. Find out more about the publication here.
This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice (pdf) is a new publication by In Defence of Youth Work, supplemented by context and analysis and accompanied by a DVD, aiming to spread the understanding of emancipatory forms of youth work practice. The authors and publishers want the book and video to be understood as starting points for further debate and activity in support of democratic youth work.
The first chapter, setting the scene, describes what youth work is:
“For those involved in doing it, whether voluntary or paid, whatever their ideological differences, there has long been a consensus. It ought to be founded on a voluntary engagement with young people in their leisure time. It ought to be informal and educational, focused on the personal, social and political awareness of the young people drawn to its provision.”
The chapter also introduces the cornerstones of democratic and emancipatory youth work, as seen by the grass-roots In Defence of Youth Work (IDYW) Campaign:
- The sanctity of the voluntary principle; the freedom for young people to enter into and withdraw from Youth Work as they so wish.
- A commitment to conversations with young people which start from their concerns and within which both youth worker and young person are educated and out of which opportunities for new learning and experience can be created.
- The importance of association, of fostering supportive relationships, of encouraging the development of autonomous groups and ‘the sharing of a common life’.
- A commitment to valuing and attending to the here-and-now of young people’s experience rather than just focusing on ‘transitions’.
- An insistence upon a democratic practice, within which every effort is made to ensure that young people play the fullest part in making decisions about anything affecting them.
- The continuing necessity of recognising that young people are not a homogeneous group and that issues of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith remain central.
- The essential significance of the youth worker themselves, whose outlook, integrity and autonomy is at the heart of fashioning a serious yet humorous, improvisatory yet rehearsed educational practice with young people.
The second chapter details the context of the publication, including the underpinning project and the situation of youth work in general, arguing that, in the face of the economic crisis:
“the need to spread understanding of the emancipatory forms of youth work practice […] and to defend the services through which these are provided has never been more urgent.”
The third and main chapter offers, as an alternative way of publicly accounting for youth workers’ practice, twelve youth work stories, reflecting a range of young people’s backgrounds and a variety of youth work settings, aims and outcomes, and illustrating the everyday complexity and uncertainty – the often ‘unfinished’ nature – of the process which so characterises youth work in action. The twelve stories are:
- Holding onto your dignity: Supporting Black young people harassed by the police
- ‘On the boundary’: Three years detached work with a group of young women
- Creative improvisation: A youth work response to ‘knife crime’
- Pen and paper youth work
- The power of graffiti: Detached youth work in a town centre ‘hot spot’
- Getting accredited: Youth work as a virtual trip ‘down under’
- Casual – or informal?: Coffee bar careers advice
- Beyond aggression to eye contact: Struggling for trust in a city centre drop in
- Beyond stereotype and prejudice: Developing youth work with traveller young women
- ‘I wouldn’t be the person I am today’: One young man on why young people need youth clubs
- A modest journey in self-discovery: Reflections on a mentoring ‘resi’
- Surviving, learning and growing: The youth centre as sanctuary.
The publication is beautifully illustrated. Artist and illustrator Jethro Brice details the process in a wonderful blog post and provides an insight into the challenges and solutions that went into creating suitable illustrations – This is Youth Work : The Artist Talks. More context and detail is available on Jethro’s Blog.
Last but not least, here is the accompanying video featuring young people talking about what youth work means to them: