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The range of work with young people
The range of work with young people

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2 Describing practice

We start our description of practice by highlighting three issues that provide a background to our discussion. These issues demonstrate that work with young people is not a fixed concept which looks the same everywhere that it takes place.

  • First, you may already be aware that what we call ‘work with young people’ takes place in a wide range of different settings. This can be exciting as it might alert you to possible opportunities that you have not previously come across. It can also be confusing as you may start to wonder what these different ‘settings’ have in common and whether any general conclusions can be drawn.
  • Secondly, there are differences in the work between different localities, for example, differences between urban and rural work. In particular you may notice differences of approach between different countries, such as the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and between the nations of the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Governments within the UK have become increasingly devolved, with local decisions being made about issues such as education or health provision, and this means that work with young people sometimes varies in emphasis within these different nations.
  • Thirdly, work with young people changes over time. This might be due to different expectations of young people within society or changing understandings of their needs and interests. Work with young people can be seen at different times as a way of managing their behaviour, providing a safe environment within which they can prepare for their role in adult life, or offering a means of support into or through faith. As we write this course, the context for work with young people continues to change. A change of government can bring new priorities, but so too can other events. For example, funding for work with young people is being reduced at the time of writing due to austerity measures, and increasingly being concentrated on targeted work with young people.

These three issues suggest that work with young people is always ‘contextual’. The practice in detail relies on the particular setting, location and time within which it takes place. However, despite these differences, all of the settings that you are likely to encounter share a concern for the welfare and well-being of young people and, because of this, it is possible to draw out some principles that you can apply to situations with which you are familiar.

The first activity in this course aims to help you to build on your current awareness of this diversity by searching the internet to see what is available in your local area and comparing it with the range of facilities in another area of your choice.

Activity 1: Finding out about youth settings through the internet

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

The aim of this activity is for you to use the internet to find out what kinds of settings might be available for young people in your local authority area. First of all, find the website for the local authority that provides services for young people in your area. This is often a unitary, city or county authority rather than a very local district authority. You can usually find the website quite simply by typing the name of the authority into a search engine. Once you have the front page of the website for your local authority, type ‘youth’ into the search box (you can also try ‘young people’ if using ‘youth’ does not seem to reveal much) and see what links it comes up with. When we did this we found links such as youth offending, youth and connexions service, youth centres, and voluntary youth work. Click on any links that look interesting or useful and see what information you can find about the kinds of settings that are promoted on this site. If you have time we would also recommend that you try two more activities:

  1. Repeat the exercise with a neighbouring local authority so that you can compare and contrast the settings within the two areas.
  2. Try the exercise again with a search that uses words such as ‘young people’, ‘adolescent’ or ‘teenage’.

There is a great deal of variety among local authorities both in the availability of services for young people and in the design of their websites. If you do not find very much information from your own local authority website, it might be useful to compare it with that of a neighbouring authority, or some other authority known to you.

Make a note of your findings.


When we carried out this exercise towards the end of 2012, we searched on the website for Ealing Council in West London. The following link takes you to the results of our search for the word ‘youth’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Our search provided links to the youth and connexions service, youth offending, youth centres and voluntary youth work (among others). When we explored youth centres further we found descriptions of different centres with a wide range of activities. Here are two examples that we found at the time of writing. These may have changed – they may even have ceased to exist – by the time you read this, but they illustrate the kind of information that you can obtain from an internet search.

Bollo Brook Youth and Connexions Centre

This is a statutory youth centre in the South Acton estate that specialises in arts-based youth activities. Boasting extensive recording studio facilities and quality film-making and photo-editing equipment, it is used for a wide variety of projects with young people. This specialist work is complemented by an extensive programme of socially educative, recreational, and advice and guidance-based activities. The centre is also used for daytime programmes with young people who are not in mainstream education, delivered in partnership with other voluntary and statutory sector organisations.

W13 Youth and Connexions Centre

The centre focuses on inclusion work, providing a varied weekly programme including a session for young women and a music production and dance session. It also offers fashion and textiles for aspiring fashion designers. It is the base for the service’s disability project; the project develops opportunities for young people with disabilities and provides support to individuals and groups.

We also explored the ‘Youth and connexions’ link and found a page on youth projects. We found these for example:

Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE)

DofE offers young people a challenging adventure that is rewarding, fun and exciting. They will be able to meet new people, learn new skills, develop physical fitness and make a difference to their community. They can undertake programmes at three levels: accredited bronze, silver and gold awards. Gaining the DofE’s award can benefit young people’s employment prospects and assist applications to college and university.

Horizons Education and Achievement Centre

Horizons is part of Ealing social services’ Leaving Care programme in partnership with Ealing Youth and Connexions Service. The centre offers young people in care, and those who have recently left care, a ‘safe space’ where they can get support whilst in the process of leaving care. In an informal and relaxed environment young people can share experiences, and seek information, help and advice in order to plan and prepare for independent living.

Participation project

The Participation project leads in developing the service’s work in young engagement – where young people can influence decisions made about future services – by involving them in the democratic processes. It has worked with and supported young people to develop Ealing Youth Action, the borough’s youth forum, representing the voice of young people. Young people can also champion the views of their peers by becoming the Youth Mayor and national representatives at the UK Youth Parliament.

Your Zone

Your Zone provides a safe space for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or unsure of their gender or sexual identity to meet and socialise. It runs programmes to enable young people to develop the skills to make informed decisions and choices, and offers one-to-one information, advice and support.

At the time of writing there appears to be plenty going on in Ealing – there seems to be a lot of provision and the council organises their site in a user-friendly way. We looked on a number of different council sites and they were all very different, so don’t be disheartened if your chosen site appears to bring up less information. We suggest that you try looking at a variety so that you get a clearer idea of what is on offer in different places. Sometimes we felt the activities on offer reflected a ‘local’ flavour. For example, Bristol links youth and play while in Edinburgh youth activities are linked with ‘Community Learning and Development’ and Cardiff has a link to ‘Welsh youth work’.

This activity, of course, tends to show mainly the facilities and services provided by the local authority. For example, the Ealing site’s ‘voluntary youth work’ link simply directs us to information on how to become a voluntary youth worker – it does not tell us anything about young people’s activities that are provided voluntarily. If we could see the whole range of settings and facilities in more depth it is likely that there would be even more variety as it would include private youth organisations, those within the voluntary sector and those linked with faith-based organisations. If you are interested you may like to try searching for some of these but we suspect that this will be a more complex activity because of the range and diversity of such organisations.

In the second part of the activity we suggested searching using different words to represent ‘young people’. If your experience is similar to ours you will find that a new set of links appears when words such as teenage or adolescent are typed into the search box. This activity gives a practical example of the different ways in which words can be used to shape understanding. We suggested initially searching using the word ‘youth’ because on most sites that seems to produce a wider range of activities for young people. When we tried searching using the words ‘young people’ some of the sites directed us to sites for ‘children and young people’ apparently as a generic grouping – and much of this information was about policies rather than activities. ‘Adolescent’ and ‘teenage’ produced a further group of links. The first of these often directed us to mental health sites – this seeming to be the preferred terminology in health and psychology as it suggests a ‘developmental phase’ of human life. The second seems to be primarily used in relation to ‘teenage parents’ – possibly to emphasise the relative youth of this group.