There has been a positive response to the limited circulation of the draft Open Letter, ‘In Defence of Youth Work’. As it is we have added a couple of clauses, courtesy of Bernard Davies, to the definition of ‘an emancipatory and democratic youth work’. Our long-lost comrade from the 70’s and 80’s, Roy Ratcliffe, took time out from his work in the Palestinian Solidarity movement to chastise us in the friendliest way for not being bold enough in our declaration. Hopefully in the coming debate we will engage with his criticisms. For now we are going to proceed with a sort of official launch of the Letter at Youth and Policy’s History  conference in Durham. March 6-8. Dependent on the feeling and signatories generated, we will thence circulate the missive as widely as possible. If the initiative gathers sufficient momentum we are keen to organise three low-cost regional one day gatherings, if possible in the same week, to explore together where we are up to and where we might go.



There was a positive response to the Open Letter from many of those attending the Y&P Durham conference. Hence we have set up a separate Blog to support the initiative, which is already sprouting regional meetings.

Go to

Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm  Comments (15)  
Tags: , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Re-blogged over on my site, I also re-saved and uploaded the document as a .pdf file for people like me who don’t like opening word just to read a document. Hope you don’t mind.

  2. […] DEFENDING YOUTH WORK: THE LATEST « Critically Chatting Collective’s Blog – A call for arms against the outcome-based government model of youth work! […]

  3. Mark and Jon

    Thanks for drawing attention to the call to arms and no problem converting the Letter to pdf. In fact I’ve just done this myself [hopefully] on the new Blog dedicated to the Letter and developments at:

    I’m intrigued by your notion that the Letter is ‘a fairly decent introduction to where the whole secular youth work identity crisis stems from’. Is religious youth work exempt from dilemma and doubt?

  4. No it isn’t, but then tagging religious on the front of ‘youth work’ increases exponentially the potential for identity crisis. There is much work carried out in religious organisations which calls itself youth work but is in better defined as church work aimed at young people.

  5. Oh gosh, no religious youth work is also suffering an identity crisis, just the document doesn’t address that directly. I mean, in some places you obviously can’t draw the line, but to use the distinction that “themethatisme” points out, some youth work in churches is better described as church work aimed at young people, and that is suffering from an identity crisis as much as non-religious based youth work. Some of that identity crisis comes from trying to define itself the same way as non-religious based youth work.

  6. TheMe and Mark

    I’m intrigued by the distinctions you’re drawing or not drawing between youth work, church work aimed at young people, religious or non-religious youth work. I’d love you to expand on these distinctions. On the other hand has someone already explored these issues in an article?


  7. I’d be hard pushed to reference a definitive article although Carole Pugh on, ‘Christian Youth Work: Evangelism or Social Action’ is a good pointer to the kind of question I was raising when I was working with the Church of England, particularly when it’s current policy document on work with young people was being debated and sadly subsequently approved. The context was of a rising conservative evangelical politic which moved policy away from the rather excellent and youth focussed ‘Youth A Part’ to the much more introspective organisational recruitment strategy which is ‘Good News for Young People’. Yes even the title is offensive!

    The bottom-line question for me is with what intent do churches or para-church organisations set out on relationships with young people? If it is with the intent of the open ended conversation with a view to determing outcomes by and for the young people then it is youth work. If it is with the intent of evangelisation; furthering the faith, recruiting members, training leaders for our organisation then it is church work which is targeted at young people. My only real contention with Caroles article is it’s polarity. There are many shades of grey between the two and therein the identity crisis.

  8. While such distinctions do merit probably entire books not just an article, this is how I draw the distinction. There is such a thing as youth work, which while suffering an identity crisis is gemeraly recognized as working with young people because they are young people, and probably holding to the four core values. Then there is such a thing as Christian work, where you’re teaching a person to follow God, and doing good things because of God to other people.

    Now, obviously those two things can overlap when the latter is done to yp but Christians working with young people aren’t neccessarily doing youth work as a youth work practitioner would understand it.

  9. Wow, comment snap. I agree with the other commenter in what he says though I come from the part of the church that thinks doing church work with church young people is a very good idea.

  10. I think it’s a good idea too, I just don’t think it should be referred to as youth work.

  11. Thanks to both of you for moving the discussion on. Your thoughts in fact raise a dilemma for me in terms of the ‘Defending Youth Work’ letter. In drafting it on behalf of a wider group I set aside my own particular outlook, which accepts that there are diverse forms of youth work. Whilst the Letter is at pains to lay out the fundamentals of what it calls ‘democratic and emancipatory’ youth work, quite a number of my friends and colleagues would go further and say that this version of youth work is Youth Work per se. It is Youth Work proper. This is understandable in that the definition in the Letter brings together the post-Albemarle liberal person-centred tradition and the politicised work out of the 70s, whether born of Freire, Liberation Theology, Feminism, Black Politics. By and large it is the view of youth work promulgated by the training agencies [even up to the present day?].

    Let me be clear it is the particular form of youth work to which I’ve been committed for 40 years, but in my eyes it’s certainly not the only form of youth work possible. Indeed the contradiction is that in my own experience only a minority of the qualified youth work profession have themselves embraced ‘democratic’ youth work consistently. A majority have preferred to follow a more conservative, even authoritarian model of social control, which is perhaps one reason among many why they have accepted the shift from unpredictable process to predictable outcomes without a deal of anguish.

    In this sense I’ve no desire to suggest that work with young people, which desires to convert them to Christianity is not youth work; that youth work , which seeks to persuade young people to conform to capitalist values is not youth work. However I would want such work to be honest about its intention and I would offer my criticisms of such work.

    Where I suspect we might be close as well as being miles apart is that we believe that a ‘democratic and emancipatory’ youth work cannot impose democracy and emancipation; that it must be about dialogue, process and uncertainty. My belief that we can create together a different world cannot be the work of leaders manipulating their follower. Is it the case that you believe too that the authentic road to Christ is a journey of self discovery that cannot be coerced?

    Sorry if I’m wandering and hope it makes a bit of sense.

  12. It’s the whole problem of “how do you define youth work” again and again I think. On your last point:

    Is it the case that you believe too that the authentic road to Christ is a journey of self discovery that cannot be coerced?

    I’d agree with 96% of that sentence, the word self I’d drop. If Christ is God and knowable, then you can’t come to meet him by just self-discovery. I can’t meet the Queen if the only method is my self-discovery however much she might try and meet me. But yeah coercion is a bad bad thing. No true decision is made by coercion.

  13. Point taken and indeed my use of the notion of self discovery was a bit sloppy. From my humanist perspective I do not believe in self discovery in an essential and isolated sense. The path to understanding myself as best I might can only be taken in conjunction with other social selves. At one and the same time it is an individual and social journey.


    The Youth Ministry Blog above has 3 thought provoking posts up at the moment, titled Manipulative youth Ministries.

  15. Neil

    Serious thanks for this link. I can recommend in particular the post – Manipulative Ministries 3.0. The level of self-criticism and the questioning of norms pursued by Darren puts many youth work practitioners to shame.

    For instance he muses:

    “The truth is that I don’t believe that any youth ministry should be manipulative in any way, however I’m also of the opinion that (almost) every youth ministry I’ve witnessed has been manipulative in some way or form.

    Let’s face it, the very second that we put an outcome to a relationship we’re being manipulative. When we decide that we’re in relationship with this bunch of young people in order to help them stop participating in graffiti, or when we enter into relationship with a kid with ADHD with the idea that they may become better behaved, or when we minister with a bunch of teens who are children of our congregation in order to see them become christian leaders. It’s the addition of that third place that is manipulative. Some people may have a go at me and suggest that this is inevitable, or that it’s not really that bad to have these outcomes, these third places as goals, but I have one serious question to ask when they do.

    Since when has it been so hard to love someone unconditionally, without any outcome other than that relationship in mind? Has it become so ingrained into our ministry models that a purpose has to be attached? When did we start to strategise our relationships so as to get the most out of them?”

    Be you, Christian, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist or whatever, there are more than a few challenging thoughts in there for any youth worker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: