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

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Different traditions and their influence today

One of the ways that we might differentiate between different types of work with young people is through consideration of the different traditions within the field. Bernard Davies describes a rich tradition of the development of work with young people throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, he says of much early work with young people:

the emergent voluntary youth organisations could … be seen as pioneering an important new expression of the true philanthropic spirit. By self-consciously requiring their ‘workers’ to engage directly and personally with young people, they set out to bind giver and receiver very closely together. Indeed these highly personalised interactions were clearly seen as perhaps the carriers of the moral education to be achieved through youth work. From the very start therefore, and on the grounds that this was how its charitable mission was best conducted, ‘youth leadership’ placed ‘relationships’ at the very heart of its practice and provision.

(Davies, 1999, p. 11)

However, Davies also describes how these ideals were usually driven by a variety of (sometimes competing) contemporary desires to reduce law breaking, increase femininity or manliness, civilise the working classes, develop faith or increase fitness for the military. Over the years provision and modes of working with young people have, as a consequence, developed differently depending on these different aims.

To help us see how different traditions of work with young people still exert an influence today, will be using a number of models. By a model, we mean a simplified, abstract representation of a complex reality, which attempts to concentrate on its essential features and show how they fit together.

The CWDC wheel that we looked at earlier is one such model. Let us note a few important things about it.

  • It is a simplification of reality. Any of the categories it uses (‘outdoors’, ‘health’, ‘creative and cultural’ … ) cover a wide range of organisations and activities, but this model stresses what they have in common by putting them together.
  • So, creating the model has involved making judgements and choices. For example, ‘outdoors’ could have been treated as part of ‘sport and recreation’ or ‘substance misuse’ could have been part of ‘health’ – but the CWDC decided to make them separate categories.
  • Because of this, there are many different models that could be – and have been – made to help us to understand the range of settings that work with young people.

You may find, then, as the course progresses that each model has something different to say about settings for young people, and we need to know how we might make sense of that. It may help if we explain why we are using them. It is not because we feel that any one provides a correct or complete picture of how to visualise the work; it is because we believe that each of them in its own way helps us to think about working with young people.

It is also worth noting that no model is perfect, or beyond criticism – they may omit things that we find important or explain things in a way that we might dispute. You may already have found this with the CWDC wheel. However, they are there to be used and we can adapt them to suit our purposes and to make them more applicable to our own settings and ideas.

The next model that we will look at derives from the work of Sarah Banks, who suggests that, linked with the different traditions, there are three related ‘families’ of work with young people. We have adapted her diagram of these families in Figure 4.

Described image
Figure 4 ‘Families’ of work with young people (adapted from Banks, 2010, p. 7)

The circle on the bottom-left incorporates settings primarily associated with leisure activities, while the upper circle includes settings such as clubs that have an informal educational focus. Settings within both these circles tend to be open to all young people who choose to attend and are usually organised around group activity. However, whereas youth leisure often prioritises the activity and can treat young people as ‘consumers’, youth work is more likely to offer an activity as a ‘vehicle’ for building relationships. The bottom-right circle differs again as it represents settings for particular ‘targeted’ young people (those who are seen as more ‘in need’ perhaps), many of whom will not have chosen to participate. Work in this circle may concern a particular issue (such as health) and often takes place on a one-to-one basis.

Banks does not regard the three circles as representing straightforward exclusive categories but suggests that they incorporate overlaps. For example, sports teams (bottom-left circle) may be linked with a youth work setting (upper circle) or a youth work setting may on occasion work with an individual who is referred through the courts or social services (2010, p. 7), suggesting a link with the more targeted area of youth social work in the bottom-right circle. Similarly, a youth social care setting may take a group of young people on a residential trip that involves outward bound activity – an activity that appears to link more with youth leisure. Despite the presence of overlaps, a model of this nature can help us to understand the ‘family’ of practices termed ‘work with young people’.

Activity 5: Applying the three-circle model

Timing: Allow about 45 minutes

Look back at your notes on Activity 1: Finding out about youth settings through the internet, and try to group the different settings that you found on your internet search within the three circles of the model in Figure 4. For example, participation within a local youth forum would fit in the top circle, whereas a swimming club would probably fit into the bottom-left circle and mentoring within a school into the bottom-right circle. Where the provision seems to fit in between categories make a note of this – perhaps this activity falls into an overlapping space. The aim of the activity is to start you thinking about different sorts of work with young people, with different aims and, perhaps, differing approaches and purposes.

As usual, make a note of your results in the box below.

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Using the three-circle model derived from Banks can help us to analyse the field of practice by dividing the different types of activity into groups which have some similarities. It helps us to identify sub-families within the ‘family of practices’. Inevitably, you will find that some might not fit or might fit into more than one circle. This can be useful to think about in itself, as it reminds us that things are rarely as simple as they appear at first sight – and we will see later on how the practice that takes place within the overlaps, and that recognises more than one tradition of work with young people, can be the most interesting and creative.

When you were looking on the internet at different settings and types of work with young people you may have noticed that it is not unusual for activities from each of the three circles in Banks’s model to take place in the same setting. They may even be happening at the same time. A practitioner may apparently move seamlessly from one to another while a young person involved might find it hard to distinguish between them.

Earlier, in Activity 4: Applying ideas to practice, we read an extract from an article (Davis, 2012) in the Guardian Professional, which described the work of the Hunslet Club, part of the national youth club charity Ambition. Now we can read some more of the article, as it goes on to describe some of Ambition’s other activities around England. It follows on from the claim by Helen Marshall, the chief executive of Ambition, that ‘the relationship between a youth club and a school means that they can help each other’.

To that end, some of Ambition’s clubs go into schools and provide programmes as part of the curriculum. It’s also working with the Department of Education for ways to help youth clubs to get disengaged children re-engaged and a pilot mental health project with Young Devon to prevent mental health issues from escalating.

Steve Crawley, youth programme development manager for Youth Action Wiltshire, agrees that youth clubs play a vital role that schools can’t always provide. Youth Action Wiltshire has 75 affiliated youth clubs and Crawley’s team, which works closely with the county’s integrated youth service, has recently been overseeing a project, Sowing Seeds, to turn scrubland into youth club allotments.

Conservation projects like this are a great way to involve young people, says Crawley, ‘They can see a difference in the work they do. They learn a lot of transferable skills and they learn how to work with each other. And also they’re using basic English and maths to measure out and mark.’

He mentions a kid he’s been working with who didn’t finish year 11 at school but through a project like this went on to complete an outward bound course at college: ‘Sometimes we lose the idea that youth clubs can be a great avenue for learning.’

(Davis, 2012)

In this excerpt we can see how settings within this organisation, which runs youth clubs, engage with mental health issues and schools. We also know from earlier activities that they provide leisure-based activities such as dance and some formal training in construction. This, then, is a demonstration of how different aims can be combined within the one setting.

However, by highlighting different approaches within the three circles we are encouraged to consider more closely the varying histories and traditions of these different ways of working with young people. These traditions can be strong and can be supported by many years of developing shared expertise in a particular way of working – what Etienne Wenger has called a ‘community of practice’ (Wenger, 1998). Examples of this include cooperative approaches in the Woodcraft Folk movement, working on the street in a ‘detached’ capacity or coaching within football clubs. Services or activities can be offered for different reasons and practice within the different traditions can encourage varying ‘images’ of the young people involved, different levels and types of funding, and different expectations of practitioners. These expectations will include training, knowledge and ways of approaching practice.

A young person who takes part in a boxing club, for example, may be seen as someone who will benefit from having an interest and taking part in energetic and perhaps diversionary activity. The adults within such a club are likely to be skilled boxers who may have attended the same club whilst young and have now trained as coaches. They may see their primary task as ‘instruction’, passing on what they have learned, alongside the development of self-esteem and confidence via achievement within the sport. In contrast, young people who receive services within youth social work may be seen as vulnerable or a threat – either to themselves or to those around them. The practitioners within such a service are likely to have two competing philosophies underpinning their approach – that of ‘care’, where the young person is seen as in need of ‘looking after’, and that of ‘control’ where the young person is seen as in need of ‘correction’.

Although it is not explicitly mentioned within the Banks model, many activities that involve young people will have a significant element of ‘playing’ attached to them – youth leisure and youth work both give opportunities for trying things out, for creativity and safe risk-taking. Meanwhile, youth training in the bottom-right circle and youth work in the upper circle (and to some extent youth leisure in the bottom-left circle) both share a tradition of education. However, as explained earlier, youth work emphasises informal education with its interest in personal development, self-identity and political awareness, whereas youth training tends to emphasise formal education, with instruction and an external curriculum.