A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
In this week’s blog, Patrick Ambrose from Youth work Unit – Yorkshire and Humber looks at some of the buzz words that appear in funding applications and whether it is possible to actually deliver on these doublespeak promises.
Buzz words. Nobody is using them; then suddenly, everyone is using them. Earlier this year Character development and Character Education emerged (re-emerged as it happens – these things go in cycles and it’s amazing how easily we buy into them). At least 600 of us did. That’s the number of applications which were received from organisations up and down the country hoping to obtain a Character Education Grant from a relatively tiny pot of national funding to carry out character-building work with children and young people in a wide range of settings.
Another: Fidelity. This is the attempt to ensure that young people, no matter where they live, have a similar experience of provision. Similar retaining its original meaning – not nearly the same: exactly the same. In the same way, youth workers who receive training, go away from that training and deliver provision in exactly the same way, to exactly the same standards.
Let me start by asking readers to accept the following thoughts in the spirit in which they are intended; an exploration of the possibility of ever being able to really deliver fidelity.
Being able to deliver services equitably is unquestionably a laudable ambition. It is also problematic. Let’s get the clichés out of the way: Whether we like it or not, current provision is the subject of a postcode lottery. Where young people live, really matters. Luck of the draw. If young people live in an area where, for instance, local authority elected members understand and value youth work and continue to fund it, they should enjoy it whilst it lasts. If there is a strong voluntary sector: ditto. If they were born on the wrong side of the tracks: tough. So we are not even starting from a level playing field.
There are also some services which are funded from central pots of money, or which are driven by national or international objectives. Often there is an expectation that those who benefit from its expenditure will receive a consistent, fair and equitable experience, whether they live in Newquay, Northumberland or Norway. Again, laudable, but here the danger lies. In an effort to reproduce the same positive outcomes for young people, wherever they hang their hat, replication and standardisation can rule: Let’s all follow exactly the same programme; on the same day; at the same time and have exactly the same outcomes and experiences.
Providing a strategic framework for delivery is not a problem; after all, we are usually talking about public monies, but where delivery expectations are overly-proscriptive; where funding is too wedded to inflexible outcomes, the spontaneity which is at the heart of youth work delivery can disappear. It’s a risk. It can de-professionalise experienced workers. Fidelity was never in the youth workers lexicon; except where it related to equality. Perhaps it should have been (discuss). Personalised, bespoke responses to real, individual young people, with individual needs, wants and dreams has tended to be the order of the day. It has kind of defined our profession. No script. An ability to move away from the agenda; no ulterior motives. Just me and you, a set of personal and individual circumstances and a willingness to work together to produce good outcomes for you.
Try this test. Ask a young person. The only fidelity they seem to really care about is Wireless Fidelity.
Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire and Humber