Youth Work research, Youth Justice analysis and Trade Union history

Valuable pieces of research, analysis and history have hit the stands in recent weeks. All of them are significant in their own right, but in addition  provide important material for the In Defence of Youth Work debate and campaign.

  • Bernard Davies and Brian Merton in partnership with the De Montfort University, Leicester have published Squaring the Circle? Findings of a ‘modest inquiry’ into the state of youth work practice in a changing policy environment’. They begin by stating,  one of the starting points for this piece of work has been our personal and professional concern that youth work as a distinctive practice is being written out of the current policy script. They end by pondering , what will the long-term consequences be for youth work of its location in local authority structures focused mainly on prevention and rehabilitation rather than on education and personal and social development? However this is but one conclusion in its closely argued, evidenced and readable pages.
  • Hard on its heels we’ve received An Enquiry into the development of a Continuing Professional Development framework for the Youth Work profession, written by Michael McAlinden, the Training Development Officer with the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. This is particularly welcome as it tackles directly the question of whether youth work is a distinctive profession as well as giving us an insight into the Northern Irish situation. He begins, the development of a continuing professional development policy (CPD) is a priority for the youth service in NI and the rest of the UK. The CPD agenda is currently being driven by the sector skills council (SSC) Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) as part of a project for the whole of the LLUK footprint as laid out in its Sector Qualifications Strategy document. However youth work suffers from a crisis of professional identity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that youth work is at times viewed as something of a ‘pseudo profession’. Fundamental to this belief is the question of professional expertise.
  • Continuing the Irish connection we’re pleased to receive Deena Haydon’s thorough and challenging Background Paper to the Include_Youth_Manifesto for Social Justice in Northern Ireland. At the heart of her argument is the clash between  ‘justice’ and ‘welfare’ strategies. In a ‘justice’-based approach, children in conflict with the law are defined as ‘children in trouble’ and the responsibility of the criminal justice system. The emphasis is on public protection and prevention or reduction of offending, with decisions made through the due process of the law and administration of punishment  to fit  the crime committed.  In a ‘welfare’-based approach, children  in  conflict with  the  law  are  defined  as  ‘children  in  need’  and  the  responsibility  of children’s services (e.g education, health, social care). The emphasis  is on care, protection and diversion  from  the  criminal  justice  system  through  providing  support  to  children  and  their families to help them access the services they require and develop strategies to deal with their circumstances.
  • Finally Doug Nicholls draws our attention to his new history of the Community and Youth Workers Union, Building Rapport a specialist trade union that has regularly punched above its weight. On a personal level I look forward eagerly to getting my hands on a copy. I was a member of the union across a turbulent decade in its history, which witnessed its negotiation of a  rocky path from CYSA to CYWU; its adoption of a radical constitution, which prompted a failed right-wing coup; and its rejection in late 1988 of a proposal to merge with NALGO. It will be fascinating to read Doug’s version of these events and, of course, the earlier and later happenings in the organisation, which has recently celebrated its 70th birthday.

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Rise and Demise of Neo-Liberal Youth Work?

Back in late November I responded to a request from Andy Hillier at Young People Now to provide a possible Opinion piece for the January issue.  I had only 420 words to play with – a challenge for the verbally voluble?! So I had a crack at something on the relationship between Neo-Liberalism and Youth Work, written with the present economic crisis in mind.



Neo-Liberalism totters, drunk on hubris and greed. The unbridled market has failed. There must be another way. As the ideological somersaults continue, what price the future of Neo-Liberalism’s bureaucratic creation, ‘new managerialism’, which has inflicted such damage on Youth Work?

With New Labour at the helm Neo-Liberalism is determined to discipline Youth Work, to make it toe the behavioural line. It imposes the discredited and inappropriate discourse of indicators and outcomes, the endless pursuit of the completed ‘paper trail’. Fearful of uncertainty it introduces the dead hand of the standard and routine. It seeks to police both young people and youth workers, stifling spontaneity and criticism. Possessing no vision of a different world it is obsessed with the micro-management of what it sees as problematic youth. In turn this contributes to a climate of misanthropy, a mistrust of humanity, which informs a uniform agenda of social conformity. Thus it consigns to the scrapheap of history the idea that Youth Work should be volatile and voluntary, critical and collective – a conversation without guarantees.

It may be that this view is now too entrenched to be moved. Obviously as well a significant number within Youth Work have always cooperated with the familiar ruling class programme of social control, dressed today in Neo-Liberal garb. On the other hand to borrow from J.S. Mill, is there a chance that we might be waking from ‘the deep slumber of decided opinion’? To pinch from the new managerial lexicon, is there now a window of opportunity to think otherwise?

Because, of course, there are still brave, often isolated souls pursuing a practice based on young people’s not the State’s terms. And there are promising signs. Organised, dissident resistance is growing. Adult Education, devastated in the name of vocationalism, is reviving at the grassroots. The Social Work Action Network is debating the renaissance of a radical practice. Closer to home the Federation of Detached Youth Work describes its members as neither social entrepreneurs nor social spies, but democratic educators. The National Coalition for Independent Action campaigns to reassert the autonomy of voluntary groups. Indeed such initiatives offer the chance to ‘join up services’ under our own steam.

There is a strong case within Youth Work for an open and independent gathering focused on the unifying potential in Bernard Davies’s eloquent ‘Manifesto for Our Times’. This is not a moment to abandon fundamental principles, although such tenets should always be questioned. It is a moment, perhaps brief, to challenge the dire legacy of Neo-Liberalism. It is not a matter of lagging behind or moving with, but of changing the times.

Tony Taylor [Coordinator, the Critically Chatting Collective]


In the event the piece did not pass muster. The initial response from the magazine was framed as follows: ” I really like the arguments in the piece but I think our readership will struggle to follow the theme in its current form. I think the argument would need to be simplified to be accessible to the majority of our readers.” A touch patronising  to the readers methinks.

There followed a few editorial alterations in respect of the opening few lines that skewed the piece and could not have been written by me. I was understanding and simply said that these were unacceptable – indeed the proposals made the piece less accessible – and that we would have to agree to disagree. In reply YPN commented pleasantly that they recognised I wouldn’t want to ‘dumb down’ my style. And thus ended the dialogue.

Obviously this dismissal of the submission may reflect my lack of tone and style and perhaps my failure to grasp the simplicity of affairs. Ironically though others were far angrier than me about the ‘rejection’, which may be of some interest. Given the article’s brevity, they thought it was literate, accessible, stimulating  and appropriate in the present climate. And they felt the piece may have  been blocked for other reasons than its evident difficulty.

Fair enough, this is no big deal, except that its concluding argument  intimated that there might be mileage in an Open Letter along the lines of the Social Work initiative of a couple of years ago, which itself has led to a significant agitational response from this much maligned part of the Welfare State – see

In this context we hoped that our thoughts  would reach out  to a wider audience if carried in Young People Now.  This is not to be.  Of course we’re not giving up.     Thus we’re venturing the following course of action:

– if you think it’s worth it, please circulate the Neo-Liberal piece as widely as possible.

– in the meantime we hope to put out for comments a possible call-to-arms, a draft succinct Manifesto, which will attract criticism and support.

– if this process is promising, we would be looking to a mini-launch of the Manifesto at Youth and Policy’s History conference at Durham in early March.

From thence, of course, we’re in each others’ hands. For now your comments and indeed encouragement are most welcome – send to

TT on behalf of the Critically Chatting Collective

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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