The Shape of Youth Work: A Profession at Risk or an Opportunity for Innovation?

The Shape of Youth Work Report argues that a fresh approach to youth work is needed, and we all need to rely on each other to secure the future of the sector.

Since April 2012, I have been working in collaboration with Youth Focus West Midlands (formally the West Midlands Regional Youth Work Unit) talking to a range of youth work managers from the voluntary and statutory sectors, trying to scope the shape of youth work across the West Midlands.  The Shape of Youth Work Report outlines the findings of the study and suggests ways forwards to help strengthen the youth work sector.

It is clear, and probably not surprising, that youth work has been hit hard by the recent cuts to public services and no longer has one comparable structure across areas.  Where youth work still exists, there has been a move in the statutory sector towards a more targeted approach to work with young people, and a shift in the role of youth workers and youth work managers.  While many of the core youth work skills are still needed, such as building relationships with young people, communication skills and facilitation skills, new ones are emerging, such as one to one working, mentoring, understanding e safety and supporting vulnerable young people.  There appears, however, to be significant gaps in training which was once provided by local authority services which have seen their training budgets and capacity significantly reduced.

The strength of the voluntary sector and relationship between the voluntary and statutory sectors appear to play a central role in ensuring the quality of youth work.  Where the relationship is strong, youth work, while changed, is still able to provide services to young people.

The paper discusses these finding in relation to the future of youth work.  It argues that without strong organisational structures, training or support, youth work is in danger of losing its identity.  It calls for the trend to be reversed by developing a shared approach to youth work which is delivered locally and supported regionally.  It outlines a new model of practice, which increases opportunity for reflection, sharing and reinforcing values and increasing demand for high quality youth work, skills and training.  A vision for a programme of training and support is proposed which is fit for purpose and can help to develop a collective support network, strengthening the profession and increasing demand for youth work skills.

You can download the full report here The Shape of Youth Work Report

I would welcome your thoughts on the report, and would love to hear any ideas you have to help strengthen the identity of youth work.

Nic Gratton