A Journey of Discovery – Detached Youth Work

When asked to write a short blog about the value impact of detached youth work I thought it would be interesting to explore value. Value could be seen as just financial but for the content of this blog I will interpret value in terms of social benefit and professionalism. Thompson (2000: 7) proposes professionalism as the recognition of a specialist approach and the recognition of our capabilities within our work with people.

As detached youth work is a specialist approach in terms of how workers engage with young people. I find this statement relevant for understanding the process that’s involved in producing value via social benefit for young people and wider community stakeholders.

So when we think of detached youth work what do we think about? Detached youth work operates where young people are choosing to be e.g. home, street corners, in a park, in cafes, on line or any other places young people identify with.

Detached youth work aims to build trust and respect with young people in a setting of young people’s choosing Blanch, (2003) suggests,  ‘Trust is closely linked to social capital which has been defined as people’s involvement in associations, networks that link citizens, or shared resources’.                                                     (cited in Hoskins, 2003, 11)

The key to detached youth work is that it builds trusted and confidential relationships with young people in a geographical, demographical, or sociological area of young people’s choosing (cultures and or subcultures etc).

It operates via an understanding that young people consent to the engagement and it’s grounded by a set of values and principles that treat young people with respect. Detached youth workers are not responsible for a building so they can be more responsive to the needs, rights, aspiration and responsibilities of young people.

This is carried out in a young person centred way, two of Davies’ nine principles in his manifesto Davies (2005: 11) also reflects the young person-centred curriculum, which is concerned with process:

• Young people are ‘perceived and received as young people rather than … through … adult-imposed labels’.

• Practice starts ‘where young people are starting’.

Detached youth workers explore this Curriculum of Process, in its approach and delivery. Davies (2005: 11) can be seen as an example of “principles of procedure”. In his manifesto, he articulates principles which define, underpin and guide practice. For example:

• Is the practice seeking to go beyond where young people start, in particular by encouraging them to be outward looking, critical and creative in their responses to their environment?

• Is the practice concerned with how young people feel … as well as with what they know and can do?

There will always be young people that will not and do not access building based (institutions) facilities due to other complexities in their lives e.g. social exclusion due to lack of services or resources, social isolation due to the geographical living arrangements and/or the demographical due to their cultural or sub cultural needs. Flexible delivery in the form of detached youth work can support some or most of these barriers due to its delivery methods.

So we have defined that there is relevance in detached youth work as long as we value the outcomes that it can produce. A curriculum of process is not in line with policy funded outcomes it’s about professional delivery and understanding. What funding wants us to achieve is make the switch from process to outcomes and we need to find a way of influencing the way outcomes are judged, collected or measured.

Some of the value and outcomes that detached youth work can and will achieve is financial savings. You don’t need to run a building so your overheads for delivery can be reduced. Delivery methods can be responsive to young people’s needs, rights, responsibilities and aspirations. And because you’re not running a building then evidence based practice should be a main focal point in providing value. Recording and writing about your work in a productive way can be and should be the outline for recognising outcomes and value.

Just be mindful when gathering evidence and writing reports that it’s done in an ethical way, here is a suggestion from Koshy (2005) suggesting that small-scale researchers should take into account nine objectives for guidance if research is to be ethical. These are as follows:

•             Always obtain consent,

•             Provide copies of your ethical guidelines, [what information will be used for]

•             Explain the purpose of the research, [identifying value]

•             Keep it confidentiality, [confidentiality statement]

•             Share the information you are gathering with participants so they can verify your findings,

•             Seek consent for any interventions needed,

•             Be sensitive to feeling, suggest that the research could aid, benefit and influence others,

•             Be non-invasive,

•             Always share your purpose and objectives with participants.

(Koshy, 2005: 84)

What I’m suggesting here is why not get young people to evaluate you? Make them part of the process of identifying value in our work. Interviewing young people or making short films, taking young people to commissioners or funders to explore the outcomes. The value of your work will always be more powerful coming from the end user than being advocated by you.

Being able to engage with young people in their alternative centres is how you can discover the whys? Here is a brief guide:

Do your Research:

For starters think holistically about the needs, rights, responsibilities and aspirations of young people.

1. Undertake a community profile, geographical, demographical, socio economic information etc. Identify stakeholders, councillors, groups, young people, community assets, etc. Identify cultural and sub-cultural identities, activities of interest, etc. Get out and about, talk to community based agencies / discover your support networks.

2. Find out about funding opportunities, local and national, which will support your work with young people.

3. Be clear about what you are able to achieve, don’t promise the world, be consistent and proactive.

4. Be prepared to work in partnership with others so that you can meet the needs, rights, responsibilities and aspirations of young people.

5. Be clear about who you are when engaging with young people. Look for quick wins so that you are able to build trust and positive association.

6. Discover the interests of young people that you are constructively able to work with. Work from and with young people’s skills, interest and abilities.

7. Be responsive to the situations you work in, plan, organise, undertake risk assessments, identify key outcomes for your work, keep focused and energetic.

Proactive engagement with young people in their Alternative Centres will identify the key interests and shared meaning for young people. It will enable you to be a point of contact for young people when situations and aspirations change. It offers young people the ability to extended networks of support and builds social capital and mobility for young people.

Discovery will be the key to Outcomes:

A. Discover the whys and how’s

B. Discover opportunities for change in perceptions – young peoples and wider community investors.

C. Discover best practice examples that support future funding opportunities, write up case studies, evidence impact – record outcomes, be open to challenge and clear about your methodologies with your partners.

Keep focused and energised and remember why you are doing what you are doing, YOUNG PEOPLE.

This is a short blog post and it’s not my intention to tell practitioners how to suck eggs, it’s about the journey, which is as important to those delivering as is outcomes to those who are funding. Without process there can be NO outcomes. Every journey has a starting point and the value of the journey is not just the end point it’s also the sights you see on the way.

About YouthworkB98

I am a reliable professional youth worker with over 10 years experience working with young people. I work with young people to address their needs, rights, responsibilites and apirations, through innovative solution focused interventions.  I'm a social agent working with young people in the social context of the here and now. Supporting young peoples emotional, social and personal development. 
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7 Responses to A Journey of Discovery – Detached Youth Work

  1. Rachel Day says:

    What a brilliant – well written blog. You’ve inspired me to become better at my job 🙂

  2. Darren Farmer says:

    Loving the picture you have added Matt 🙂

  3. Pingback: A Journey of Discovery – Detached Youth Work | The Youth Sector ... | Youth Work in Australia | Scoop.it

  4. Darren – could we find a way to catch up with regard to NEET intervention Projects, especially with regard to evaluation and evidence based practice.


  5. Darren Farmer says:

    Hi Sue,
    How would you suggest we move forward – you could also check out my blog youthworkb98 on WordPress to find out more. Or you could DM me on twitter @youthworkb98 to discuss further.

    All the best


  6. Robert Sharp says:

    I drew the picture of the ‘alien youth worker’ makes me giggle to see people using the image!

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