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 the 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, as well as the National Youth Agency‘s attempt last year with Transforming Lives: Youth Work Stories. But unfortunately all this just dances around the edges.
We are gradually getting better at talking with each other and sharing expertise through opportunities including this blog site and the ever expanding Creative Collisions annual event. But the question remains how do we educate the media, the policy makers and the general public of the intricacies, values and impact of youth work and what is lost and risked by a massively reduced service.
The starting point must be with youth professionals getting as much press and social media coverage as possible about the work they are doing, and the evidenced impact they are having. As London Youth like to say #GoodYouthWorkWorks, but we need everyone to be as certain of this as we are.
So whether you’re a blogger, a podcaster, a writer, a photographer, a film maker, an artist or just tend to stand on street corners yelling at passers by……..start SHOUTING loud and proud anyway you can about youth work!