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Following National Youth Work Week, Hannah Kentish (UK Youth Commissioner), joins the debate surrounding great youth work.

In the spotlight

National Youth Work week (organised by the National Youth Agency) is a fantastic initiative that puts the spotlight on young people and the support they get outside of the classroom. One of the events held to celebrate the week was Creative Collisions, which saw a whole host of youth-focussed organisations coming together to debate the direction of the sector.

I’ve just started an internship with the Cabinet Office so unfortunately I couldn’t physically make it along to the debates, but I did pay close attention via Twitter. One debate that caught my eye was a panel with young people from the British Youth Council, National Union of Students and Raleigh International, who talked about how great youth work should be delivered and by whom.

Youth services, much of which are based in local authorities, have been cut dramatically in recent years; youth clubs have faced closures and the overall spending on youth services by the Government has fallen by over a third. Cuts to youth services aren’t right; it’s a risky and short sighted strategy that harms everyone, not just young people. But another interesting debate that arose around this focussed on employed, professional youth workers being essential to delivering high-quality youth work. Qualified, local authority youth workers do an amazing job and help young people with the most potential but often the least opportunity. Therefore it’s right that there is a debate about where public money is spent and where it is most effective.

Opportunities for young people

From the Tweets I followed about this debate, it felt like we were setting schools, voluntary organisations and statutory youth work up against each other, which of course shouldn’t be the case. Cuts or no cuts, we young people want a holistic opportunity that allows us to experience different forms of non-formal education and different types of role models – voluntary, professional, short-term or long-term.

I’ve been a pupil. I know that teaching changes lives. But I also know that school is not always where young people thrive and mixing young people from different backgrounds isn’t guaranteed. I am also a Programme Leader for the National Citizen Service; I know short interventions with young people changes lives, but I also know that six weeks isn’t going to drive all young people to their full potential.

And I’ve been a Scout and I’m still a Scout Leader. I know that Scouts changes lives, but I know that we’re far from universal and we don’t yet reach all young people who could benefit most.

For me, a young person and a volunteer, great youth work is defined by a common goal of working to change lives. I’m glad the Creative Collisions debates prompted some serious discussions about priorities for the youth sector; my only hope is that it is with a common goal, and not a false choice that we ensure our generation gets a better deal.

 

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