Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

Explaining Youth Work


In this weeks blog, Gill Millar from Learning at South West examines whether people actually get what youth work is or if we need a catchier name to encourage people to start a conversation about the work we do.

There’s an interesting letter from Michael Bracey in Children & Young People Now this week, entitled ‘Youth work needs rescuing not reclaiming’. In it he describes youth work as having been left at the back of the lost property office – ‘largely abandoned like a forgotten umbrella or pair of gloves’. The truth of this struck me as I read the specification for a new ‘emotional health and well-being service’ to be commissioned in one of our South West local authorities.

The authority has consulted with young people who have explained the importance of building on-going relationships with the professionals who will help them, the need to have services in informal settings and their desire to bring a friend with them for support. Sound familiar?

And yet the same authority cut its youth work budgets in half and closed most of their youth centres only months ago. Despite convincing evidence that youth workers were in touch with a very substantial proportion of young people deemed to be at risk in the area, youth work was not seen as sufficiently important to survive the cuts. Only a new commissioned service, apparently, will be able to meet young people’s emotional wellbeing needs.

Meanwhile, I spent yesterday with two of the regions well-established voluntary youth work organisations learning more about Raleigh International’s brilliant Youth Partnerships Programme, where Raleigh works with youth organisations who provide on the ground support to young people as they prepare for a Raleigh expedition and encourage them to keep up their social action once they return. There is no doubt that the experience can be life-transforming for young people, or that the methods that help achieve that transformation can be (but aren’t) summed up as ‘youth work’.

Michael Bracey’s letter draws on the call from Rotherham’s new director of children’s services for a national review to ‘reclaim’ youth work, in the light of the value attributed to the youth work project in Rotherham to tackling child sexual exploitation. But as the massive cuts continue and political parties have no appetite to prioritise youth services in their manifestos I wonder if there is something about the term ‘youth work’ that is just not interesting enough to grab people’s attention?

Those of us involved in the youth sector know what we mean by ‘youth work’, though we all have slightly different takes on the core values/principles. But the outside world doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t seem that interested in finding out. Maybe, if it had a more catchy name the wider world might be more motivated to find out what it means? Like the umbrella at the back of the lost property store, maybe it needs more colour and pattern to be recognisable?

Every now and again we have conversations in the sector about embracing ‘social pedagogy’, then back away for a number of reasons (not least the challenge of pronouncing it). But at least if we were doing something that people had to ask ‘what does that mean?’ we might have their attention for long enough to explain that the method has a lot to offer and could play a much bigger role in preventing young people reaching crisis level by engaging with them earlier and enabling them to develop the skills and confidence they need to deal with so many challenges.

Do we need a rebrand?

Gill Millar

Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West


One comment on “Explaining Youth Work

  1. Carl Bowen
    April 29, 2015

    Call it an Academy, an 11-19 Learning Hub or a Community College, it’s never ceased being a school. Call it ‘Bobby-on-the-beat; Neighbourhood Policing Team, Community Liaison or Police Community Support, we all still know and refer to it as Policing. Simarly none of the re-branding of Youth Work to Connexions, Positve Activities, Youth Engagement or here, Emotional Health & Well-being work has ever successfully out-lived or replaced that long-standing body of practice we all know to be youth work. It doesn’t matter that it’s not sexy, what matters is it’s tenacity – our tenacity! And with more and more young workers seemingly being keen to get their NVQ L2’s and 3’s in Youth Work, guess what … it’s being re-discovered again!

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2015 by in Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West and tagged , , , , .
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