A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
In my last blog, I shared my first impressions of the Yorkshire and Humber region. My journey continues and this month I have attended a number of nationally focussed meetings, all of which have raised lots of questions…
Is the growth of the voluntary sector through increased commissioning hiding the privatisation of yet another public sector? (I’m not sure it’s particularly hidden.)
In response to commissioning and the change in expectations by funders, has there been a need for the voluntary sector to become more managerial, adopting private sector strategies and practices, and changing its culture to match? It was suggested in Positive for Youth that ‘in return for market reform youth services will see investment’. Has the youth sector reformed and will it be rewarded?
Again, In Positive for Youth it says ‘youth services lack an ability to demonstrate and measure impact’. How do you justify spending on public services while shrinking the public sector, without measures? How do you measure youth work? Answer: introduce ‘outcomes and impacts’, delivered through pre-determined, targeted, project-based programmes supported by short-term funding.
You can’t buy open ended programmes, as this doesn’t fit with the model and takes too long; is too expensive and can’t demonstrate immediate impact. And impact is the difference you make to outcomes.
Some may argue that youth work is moving towards the ‘medical’ model that is used by so much of health and social care – identifying aspects of the individual’s life as a problem to be solved, rather than taking an holistic approach which tries to address underlying social issues and see these as the problem rather than the individual.
If the youth sector has been hit by not just cuts but the need to measure and evidence impact, and if the sector isn’t measuring, are we investment ready and will we be rewarded? Is the reward something we want? Investment is by social investment bonds, social stock exchange and the big society bank.
Payment by results, in stages, impacts on smaller organisations but can cause problems across the board in terms of cash flow problems. Seeking partnerships to resolve this, in turn, can create more issues. It limits delivery and in doing so impacts on the culture and the raison d’etre of the organisation.
Are we relevant to funders rather than relevant to the needs of young people? This raises questions around ethical funding. Do funders reflect youth work ethics or even our own? Do we go into partnership or competition; offer support or go for the tender? Do we unwittingly encourage each other to partake in the race to the bottom? One thing is certain: the newly qualified youth worker will have a very different experience of delivering services to young people than those who have gone before them.
Much debate surrounds the various organisational models available, including mutuals, co-ops, partnerships, social enterprises, limited company and charity status – and which one of these is the best fit for an organisation and the young people it works with.
Furthermore, the rise in the number of youth workers in ‘non-traditional’ youth work settings, such as YOT (youth offending teams), health, housing, schools, FIT (family intervention teams) gives rise to the debate that we may need to redefine ‘youth work’ itself. Admittedly, it could just be that the sector’s wealth of skills and knowledge is now supporting young people in different ways, but that this work is essentially still underpinned by the principles and methodologies associated with the practice of youth work.
Other questions surround the theme of professional development. Do all youth workers, regardless of employer, feel that they should – and could – support students in their professional development? Are all organisations geared up and in a position to offer placements at all academic levels? How can JNC qualified staff support organisations that are willing to take students, but don’t have someone in a position to supervise?
The newly created Institute of Youth Work offers a range of opportunities to practitioners and gives a new voice to the sector, but it unclear if youth workers (regardless of their employer) will take take advantage of these. Does the youth work sector need opportunities to come together more to explore and learn; or the infrastructure bodies to sustain these? Is it willing to contribute financially so this can happen?
If you have an opinion on any of these discussion points – please share your thoughts below!
Patrick Ambrose – Youth Work Unit Yorkshire and Humber