In my first month working at Spotlight, I spent time at each of our centres to see first-hand the work that Spotlight does. I hadn’t had much experience with youth workers before, so starting off I wasn’t really sure what to expect. However, with each centre I visited I became more inspired by the genuine commitment of our youth workers to building positive relationships and creating opportunities for the young people they work with.
And it looks like I’m not the only one catching up with the importance of youth work. Appropriately in time for Youth Work Week 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Youth Affairs (supported by the National Youth Agency) published its findings from the first full national inquiry into youth work in seven years. Covering issues like the role of youth work in addressing the needs of young people this is a big step towards recognising the important role of people that people like Spotlight’s youth workers play in the community.
So, what did it find?
Youth work can make a crucial difference to young people’s lives in their personal and social development. It can build their confidence and skills, promote equality, challenge discrimination, and champion the positive place for young people in society.
–NYA introduction to the report
The main findings point towards that fact that we need youth work, and more importantly good youth work, now more than ever.
Due to the everyday issues facing young Londoners – inequality, unemployment and crime to name a few – the report highlights that the old attitude of “every generation having it better than the last” is no longer true. Combined with an increased demand for youth services and decreased funding and spaces, this points towards a dramatic reduction in youth services and a stretched workload for youth workers.
While all may sound pretty negative, by highlighting this the report takes a positive step towards solving the problem. As the disconnect between public perception of young people and the reality they face grows, the report represents a desire to move away from the old-fashioned attitude of defining young people purely by negative news stories. Importantly, it includes a commitment to including all young people so no-one is ‘left behind’ by getting them involved and able to make decisions.
With this aim, good youth work becomes an essential part of a community committed to supporting young peoples’ development – especially seeing as 85% of a young person’s waking hours are spent outside formal education.
Central to this, the report recognises, is the importance of creating non-judgmental spaces for young people to be heard which can offer youth work that works for young people.
If you have ever wondered what good youth work entails, the report goes into the principles behind it:
With these high standards, the report highlights the need to invest in the professional development of a diverse workforce, providing easier to access training. The findings also reveal the need to balance between the vital role of volunteers and the need for more experienced and qualified youth workers for majority provisions.
Ultimately, the report concludes the need for a positive agenda and qualified service:
Calling for national recognition of youth work as an educational career supporting young peoples’ personal and social development and so advocating for a successful workforce strategy and a better understanding of the transformative impact of youth work services on young people facing barriers.
This report represents an acknowledgment and valuing the hours and effort youth workers put in. To echo its findings, whatever headlines are in the news today criticising young people, it does not change the fact that every young person deserves to have their voices heard and have their potential recognised. And it is good youth work works that makes this a reality.
Read the full report here.