Something that youth work has never been very good at is shouting, loud and proud, about its achievements. Schools do it endlessly, other voluntary sector organisations do it and businesses certainly do it, but in many youth provisions there seems to be a kind of cultural humbleness attached to what they do.
I suspect there may be a self-fulfilling prophecy at play here, full of self-doubt and uncertainty. Youth work has had a public image problem for decades, often seen as the poorer cousin of ‘education’ by the general public and the media alike. Stop a stranger in the street and ask them what they think ‘youth work’ is and most will struggle to give you an answer beyond the Scouts Association and table-tennis competitions in a rundown old church hall. Perennial images of pool playing teenagers and groups trooping off to Alton Towers attached to every promotional material or article hasn’t helped, and consequently eyebrows are often quizzically raised by ill-informed policy makers about the value and impact of this work.
Youth professionals know that they make a real difference to the lives of the individuals, groups and communities that they come into contact with, but unlike their rich cousin ‘education’, they haven’t, until recently, had much of a means or motivation to measure and quantify there impact, making it very easy for government and local authorities to side-line the sector…..but I digress, back to shouting loud and proud.
I don’t really blame the public, the media or even the policy makers, we as a profession haven’t had a loud enough voice. It’s our responsibility to show others what we do and to convince them of the value of youth work, kicking up a right royal stink whenever it’s challenged.
Finally there does seem to be signs of that growing voice that youth work must have in order to build awareness of the sector and it’s worth, including by Choose Youth, In Defense of Youth Work and The Young Foundation.
And now the National Youth Agency have launched a competition, Transforming Lives: Youth Work Stories, targeted at youth workers and volunteers to make videos about their projects and their youth work stories, with the chance to receive cash and prizes for the best which will be chosen in the autumn.
So get filming, join or start a campaign, write a blog, promote what you do in the local and national press, meet with your MP and Councillors, write letters to your Local Authority, build an amazing website, get on Twitter and Facebook, represent the sector at conferences and events, in short….
……..start SHOUTING anyway you can!