Youth employment has caught the attention of public health professionals. As a result, several studies were performed over the past decade documenting the patterns, scope, and effect of work among youths in the United States. This information offers insight and viewpoint related to the contemporary state of youth employment. Adolescents possess many positive traits such as energy, enthusiasm, and a desire to take on challenging situations. Such traits may lead to reluctance to ask questions and the tendency to perform tasks beyond their physical capabilities, thereby resulting in injury. Moreover, young workers are not likely to demand improvements in working conditions or pay because they are typically naïve about their lawful rights and owner’s accountability for workplace health and safety. These characteristics place young workers at risk for injury and illness and must be addressed by occupational health professionals.
Youth work has traditionally considered youth as a period of ‘being’ as much as of ‘becoming’ (Davies 2000). For youth workers, the ideal is to affirm the positive aspects of youth’s combined plus individual identities, to enable them to better understand their present. From this viewpoint, they support constructive and reflective understanding in the here and now so as to craft futures which by definition cannot be pre-planned. Therefore the governing philosophy within youth work is one of ‘processes rather than ‘result’. This does not mean that aimed results are not accomplished, but that they cannot be presumed. Conventionally, youth work is holistic and youths are regarded as in terms of their humanity rather than their issues or ‘deficits’ (Wylie 2003, 23).
The youth affairs area has undergone a significant transition in terms of types of issues central to the area and the characteristics of the people working in the area in current years. In order to gain information on a broad range of social and legal issues associated with youth service provision we currently surveyed more than one hundred youth workers throughout Western UK (see White et al 1990). Undertaking a study of this nature required us to be sensitive to the broad range of issues occupied in trying to determine who is a “youth worker” and what kinds of activities can be included under the title of “youth work”.
Unfortunately, there has been much confusion over the question of what is youth work, due partly to the historical growth of this kind of work over the last century (Ewen 1983; Maunders 1984; Westhorp 1988; White, 1990a). The difficulty of defining youth work is also due to the apparent reluctance of many consultants to stipulate a definition of practice simply because to do so inherently limits or restricts who is or is not seen to be occupied in youth work. One result of this has been that debates and discussions over the definition of youth work have generally been inconclusive. This is primarily because attention has tended to focus on the seemingly amorphous and notoriously transient boundaries differentiating youth workers from other people who work with youths, rather than placing greater emphasis on the core attributes of contemporary youth work practice. The very nature of youth work means that there will be slippage across any definitional boundary. Nevertheless, the establishment of the uniqueness or singularity of youth work in relation to other forms of practice is essential at an analytical level if we are to speak in more precise terms about youth work as constituting a distinct form of social practice.
Any definition of youth work must contain elements of both “exclusion” and “inclusion”. That is, it requires a set of criteria that differentiates youth workers from others, while still allowing for divergence within the group defined as youth workers. The actual practice of doing youth work lends itself to diverse interpretations of one’s role and the particular social, political or economic needs a worker is attempting to address.
In one sense it can be said that anyone who works with youths can be considered a youth worker. However, an all-inclusive characterisation such as this would mean that teachers, doctors, lawyers, parents and many others could be considered youth workers as well. It should be clear from this that the adoption of a definition of youth work which refers only to the relationship between adults and youths is not particularly helpful in assisting us to pinpoint the main features of what may normally be considered youth work. At the same time, the criterion of age (whether seen in narrow or broad terms, but generally limited to over 10 years and under 25 years) is central to the definition. It is on the basis of the age of the main target group, for example, that many former CYSS workers now do not see themselves as youth workers in that, under the aegis of the Skillshare programme, the service cuts across age boundaries and in some cases may rarely involve youths individually, much less as a group.
Youth work is perhaps best defined in terms of:
- Target group (youths);
- Precise ways of working with youths (content of practice); and
- Self-identity of consultants.
The content of youth work practice has varied over time in terms of predominant focus, and, at present, varies considerably in terms of precise types of service provision. For instance, in the early part of the century the primary objective of youth work was to provide recreational outlets for youths. This work was carried out mainly by organisations such as the YMCA, the YWCA, the Scouts and the Girl Guides. In the 1940s, much youth work reflected a concern with questions of juvenile delinquency and the need for welfare provision. Over the last 20 years or so it has concentrated on issues relating to such things as youth unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Today, the position of youth work under the broad welfare umbrella in essence precludes teachers, parents and the uniformed youth organisations from being seen as “youth workers” at a broad social intervention level, although certain individuals within these categories may in fact adopt a youth work orientation in their work with youths. That is, the content of practice has altered over the years, reflecting modification in the circumstances of youths, and alteration in the affiliation amid the welfare nations and those persons and assemblage working with these youths.
One consequence of changing material conditions and shifts in state policy has been a redefinition of youth work in accordance with the practices of contemporary social welfare systems, rather than through reference to traditional leisure and recreational agencies and activities. While occupationally youth work exists within the context of the welfare system, as evidenced by current funding arrangements and state policy priorities, the practice of youth work is often associated with community growth concerns, plus more narrow forms of “welfare work” (Omelczuk 1987: White 1986). This is illustrated by the fact that in terms of content of practice there is a strong view among consultants that while the target group can be fairly easily identified and specified, the approach of youth workers is not precise but generalist in nature. Accordingly, recreation workers and youth trainers (e.g. Skillshare workers) may not always be considered to be youth workers in so far as youth work attempts to consider the numerous needs of the youth rather than concentrating on any one facet of their knowledge. That is the case even where a particular service may be organised around a precise purpose (for instance lodgings or drop-in centres), since the conception of service provision generally extends beyond the immediate purpose of a particular agency.
A key distinguishing feature of current youth work-in terms of both other occupational and community groups, and in relation to historical precedent – is the identification of workers with a precise area of practice. This has been fostered by the relatively current setting up of “youth affairs” area structures. Some of these, such as the various Youth Affairs Councils, trace their origin to government sponsorship and official state recognition and financial support. Other bodies and institutions which have helped to solidify a distinct youth work identity include youth work training councils, industrial awards for youth workers (as exists in Victoria), and during the last decade the emergence of a number of academic courses oriented to the training of youth workers (with qualifications ranging from associate diploma through to honours degrees).
The basis for a definition of contemporary youth work may therefore be summarised in terms of the age and circumstance of the target populace: the “welfare” context and orientation of youth work practice; and the growth of a shared identity via the emergence and consolidation of relevant training, industrial and academic bodies in the youth affairs area.
Within the parameters of this general description of youth work there are, of course, considerable variations in terms of the profile and activity of consultants. In addition to differences between workers according to criteria such as age, income background, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, experience and educational background (and the distribution of people within youth work in accordance with these personal characteristics), there are marked differences in terms of:
- Work situation government or non-government agencies; doing paid or unpaid work; secure agency funding and job positions or short-term funding arrangements and job contracts
- Work location metropolitan or country; different venues or sites of youth work activity (e.g. clubs, centres, offices)
- Work focus street work, lodgings projects, drop-in centres, research and report writing
- Ideologies conservative, liberal, radical; professional, career oriented or activist
- Processes group work or individual case work; informal and formal meetings and groups; cooperative or hierarchical work and service arrangements
- Aims self-growth, character building, political, education pertaining to youths; campaigns, advocacy and lobbying in reference to youth and social issues
- Youths court ordered or voluntary involvement; homeless, unemployed, or cross-section: young women and/or young men: youths from different ethnic and cultural groups; disabled youths; rural and/or city youths; students, workers, the poor.
For research purposes, our concern was to develop a working definition of youth work in order to examine issues centring on the relationship of youth workers and youths to legal processes and the legal system. A critical examination of this relationship provided us with insight into the substantive practice of youth workers as this relates to a precise facet of their daily tasks. The study also revealed interesting findings regarding the experience and qualifications of youth workers, plus the characteristics of the users of youth services. In the process of devising definitional boundaries of youth work practice for the purposes of our research however, we became even more aware of the pressing need for further research and theory on the political, ideological and economic role and position of youth workers in British society (van Moorst 1984; Westhorp 1988; White 1990a). A body of literature on these questions is slowly starting to emerge in this country, but it is clear that much more work needs to be done in this area.
The go-between ‘life stage’ approach of ‘youth’ policy opposes the political essential to generate more proficient public services through a procedure of targeting social segregation. Connexions is apparently a common service, but from the start it has been aimed much more rigorously upon those youths recognized as ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET) and there are requirements that it should be aimed in this respect as well. This policy disagreement translates into further pressures in youth work exercise (Bessant 2004).
Restricted resources mean that youth work is in exercise an aimed service, but such objectives are self-defined. The principle of universalism lies as core to this exercise. This ideal conveys the casual, social, informational approach based on deliberate participation. Through a procedure of dialogue and social assurance, youth work programmes are planned to support cooperation, friendship and association between youths who decide to participate. This vision is obvious within British youth work theory (Jeffs and Smith 2002).
The relationships established between youth workers and youths are completely voluntary and agreed upon (Davies 2000; Davies 2003, 8). Although they inevitably raise questions of power, these relationships are made within a value base that stresses justice and equality. Power is a matter of professional self-consciousness, to be used always for the benefit of the youth. In this sense, the best relationship abstains from the likelihood of competition, domination or reliance. It confirms that youths and youth workers work equal in terms of their common humanity. Thus, the professional, subjective and the personal, ideal factors of the youth work relationship are intertwined.
The interpersonal subtext can never all youth works relationship to be discussed in a professional language. Certainly there have been youth workers who have broken their professional authority to create unsuitable or abusive relationships with youths. Others have found it difficult simply to distinguish between the personal and the professional. This issue was pointed as a feature of some of the initial ‘experimental’ detached projects. The personal factors of the youth work relationship consist of important factors of risk. As a result, there is a trend to talk about the significance of ‘relationships’ without identifying what this means in exercise.
The youth worker must admit compound and diverse viewpoints, otherwise the authenticity of the relationship with the youth is undermined (Smith 2002). Genuineness entails that youth work cannot be reduced to ‘delivering a service’. Services and results are essential but they are only elements of the picture. Exercise is a perceptive act in which suppleness and frankness are critical.
Bauman (2003, xii) debates that ‘relationships’ have been swapped with ‘networks’ in contemporary society. This theory can exemplify the tensions facing youth workers. Connexions is a form of networking par excellence. It presumes equality and agreement between linked professions and requires only the skills and know-how from workers that will aid the best results for ‘clients’. ‘Relationship’ is not suitable here. The youth’s plan is suitable but only with reference to the accomplishment of predetermined results of education, employment, training, and eventually, ‘citizenship’. This structure not only imposes upon the honour of the youth work relationship but redirects from the likelihood of developing inter-professional approaches which focus on the needs of youths.
The lack of an actual exercise language is implicated in the obvious willingness of youth workers to take on every job related to youths and also in the theory that youth work can be mobilised in favour of, or as a facet of any other facility. The uncertainty of the limits of youth work guides to prospects which are often unsuitable and which workers on the ground are then forced to manage.
Youth Work Time
If youth workers were to declare the truth of their exercise accomplishments, they might seem supposedly very little. This may be one of the obstructions to the growth of an explicit language of professional exercise. Because of the building of ‘youth’ as ‘issue’, concerns about ‘relationships’, issues with funding and the truth of their own low status, youth workers have been inclined to overstate the short-term accomplishments of their work. This state is not likely to be enhanced by the current stress upon achieve targets and measuring results.
Wylie (2004, 27) argues that: ‘In a youth populace of 10,000 it is surely not unreasonable to expect that 450 might hope to get some form of accredited result’. This may be so. However, relationship-based youth work does not measure success in these terms. Official recognition is an accomplishment, but it is only the destination of a process of assurance. In the short term, real accomplishments can seem minutely insignificant. For example, many youth workers talk of the significance of supporting a youth to make eye contact (Redfearn 2003, 12). Youth workers must move at a velocity suitable to youths.
Youth work results can be rather subtle in the short term but workers are uncertain about how to confirm the long-term effect of their interferences. Conservative accounts recommend that youth work has an effect which attains realisation in adulthood (Smith 2002). However, until there is horizontal study evidence to support untrustworthy accounts, it remains hard to make the case. Current accounting measures put in nothing to this area of understanding.
Youth work, precisely detached and outreach, is time-expensive. Workers often find themselves stretched too thinly, with anticipations far in surplus of their ability. What these workers found most offensive is what they called the ‘fire fighting approach’. Triumphant interferences call for tolerant, constant and long-term work not only with aimed youths, but also with others who are part of the landscape of their lives. This requires a more kind and open-ended understanding for the scope of interference.
We mentioned at the start of the paper that youth work might superlative be explained in stipulations of the age of the target group, precise ways of working with youths, and the self-identity of consultants. While the debate over the nature of youth work will undoubtedly continue for quite some time, the overall findings of our research highlighted certain aspects of youth work practice which warrant our immediate and close attention.
First, the quantitative nature of the study (Omelczuk et al 1987) is useful in putting numbers on such things as the educational qualifications of youth workers, the main client groups of particular types of agencies, and the differences and similarities between various youth services.
Second, it is clear from our findings that the target group of the respondents to our survey did not represent a cross-section of youths in British society. They tended to be predominantly poor, subject to violence in the home or on the street, very often homeless or transient, and unemployed. This puts paid to the conception that youth can be considered as a simple, homogeneous category, in terms of life experience, nor can youth work of the kind that we have described have any real substance outside the context of a welfare type of provision.
Third, any discussion of youth needs (as indicated by user populace and type of service provision) and youth work practice (as shaped by welfare concerns and the consciousness of youth workers regarding the nature of their interventions) must also take into account the impact of state funding and policy on youth service provision. Our research appears to show that, within the context of existing government guidelines regarding priority targeting (such as young women, non-English speaking migrants and Aborigines), these particular categories of youths are being excluded or have lower participation depending on the service provided.
There is prospective for youth work to play an important role in the lives of youths. Though, the policy structure pursued by government inclines to acclaim its secondary rather than its primary accomplishments. Policy anticipations do not inevitably run against the targets of youth work involvement and many youth workers are in consideration with the need to offer sound counsel, planned support and expertise assistance to the needy youths. However, there are critical characteristics of exercise which lie behind the likelihood of achieving such results and these are relational rather than instrumental. Accounting for the quality of authority within a series of relationships with personal and groups of youths in their social background does not sit simply with a requirement to record results and accomplish attributed results for aimed groups.
The shift towards ‘recorded’ plus ‘accredited’ results is a move towards recognising that there is something within youth work that requires self-definition. Nevertheless, it is expected that such recordings will be build as per institutionally shaped criteria and that they will be interpreted as a ‘lesser’ result than official recognition. Unless youth workers themselves are capable to build up a language that articulates exercise in their own terms, it is probable that even recordings will not be a success to imitate the priorities of exercise.
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