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Race and Youth Policy: working with young people
Race and Youth Policy: working with young people

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2 How does policy work?

... a strategy implemented by public authorities to provide young people with opportunities and experiences that support their successful integration into society and enable them to be active and responsible members of society and agents of change.

Policy is often considered in terms of a series of directives to be followed or instructions to be carried out; an authoritarian, top-down way of governing conduct; directed ‘at’ and ‘for’ people. But to be successful – that is, to be accepted and implemented – policy must also work ‘with’ people, appealing to the values which they hold and the expectations they have for the future. It must win at least the tacit support of others. Davies describes the process of policy formulation in terms of ‘negotiation’ which is:

particularly focused on and shaped by the values of those involved – by what they see as right and wrong, good and bad.

Davies (2010, p. 9)

Now watch this video about the essentials of youth policy.

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Video 2: Introduction to youth policy
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So, while policy statements represent the views of the people who hold power, in framing policy, its makers are anxious to carry others with them; to persuade less powerful people to accept the assumptions and the prescriptions of the policy direction. Strategies for achieving this often appeal either to people’s aspirations for a better future, or their fears and anxieties about all that is wrong in the present.

Policy documents often look like rational and universal statements which no sane person could easily disagree with; for example, that young people should have rich and fulfilling lives and be allowed to achieve their full potential. However, they only make sense when understood in the historical, social, political and economic context in which they have been formed.

Find out more about the eight standards for a quality youth policy here. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Remember to right-click and open the link in a new tab or window so you can return to the course when you are ready.)

Youth policy should reflect the society which it seeks to serve, young people regularly experience discrimination and labelling simply for being young. This is further compounded by intersectionality such issues of classism, racism and sexism. According to Wanda Wyporska the Executive Director of the Equality Trust:

Divides in society are intersectional in themselves and there is a need to address them or we risk seeing a more divided country, and, as such, we will not achieve gender pay equality.

appg (2019, p. 4)

The Council of Europe (2021) suggest a consideration of the following in relation to the importance of intersectionality:

  • What are the experiences, examples and expectations from the youth field in applying the theoretical frameworks of intersectionality into practice (youth work, youth policy, training, research?
  • What kind of educational activities, tools and approaches on the basis of intersectionality can be applied in youth work and training in the youth field?
  • What can youth organisations, youth workers, trainers, researchers and policy makers do to secure that the intersectional approach is applied in their work?
  • How can youth organisations and other stakeholders communicate and cooperate about intersectionality?

Find out more about intersectionality from the Open University’s Professor Ann Pheonix.

Activity 3: Representations of young people

Timing: 1 hour

Look at one of the programmes or initiatives run by your organisation and try to answer the following questions. If this doesn’t apply to you, have a look online. Some organisations will put their programmes and initiatives on their website.

  • What understandings does this programme convey about what young people are like, what their interests and concerns are, and how best to intervene in their lives to help them become adult citizens?
  • In what ways do these understandings reflect current policies towards young people?
  • In what ways do these ideas about young people influence the practices of the organisation?

You might want to discuss these questions with other people to see how far you share the same views. You may wish to note down your thoughts in the free response box below, outlining the programme you have identified and giving your answers to the questions. Include any significant differences of opinion which emerged from talking to other people. (Remember, your comments in the boxes are only accessible to you and noone else is able to view this information.)

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This activity is intended to help you think about some of the assumptions about young people which are embedded in policies at national and organisational levels, and to see how these can influence practice. When looking at policy, it is important to ask yourself what are the conceptions of young people on which this policy is based?