Mirror, mirror on the wall



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Youth work had to handle budget loss in most countries, since the economic crises started. Most painful sometimes in those countries where youth work was already well established since there the budget is big enough to make it interesting for the government to make the cuts. In some countries the damage was limited but in most places youth work suffered in the last 5 to 10 years.

Elsewhere in this Logbook you can read an article from Tony Taylor stating that neoliberalism is the cause of the big cuts for youth work in England (actually the rest of the UK has less problems). I have some thought on this.

In our work with young people, who sometimes are in problematic situations (they are called NEETS, young people with lesser opportunities and more of those political correct terms. I would call them youth under pressure), we know what the first thing we have to work on is. Making clear to them that they have responsibility for their own live. Most of the times they are very angry at organisations, governmental bodies, their parents and social workers. They use this as an excuse for not having to do anything since the “enemy” is not doing what they want anyway.

we are definitely not going to take a hard look at ourselves

One of the tasks youth workers have as educators (yes, we are educators not animators) is bringing them back to reality and often we succeed in that. The purpose of this is to make them active again and by doing so not only solving the problems, which are here and now, but also put them back in the drivers seat.

What is interesting about this is that youth work in times of cuts has the same reflex. It is all the fault of the “enemy” and we are definitely not going to take a hard look at ourselves. The point is that youth work always will be influenced by politics on which youth work has almost no influence. It is called democracy. A majority of the voters wanted to have the budget cuts, plain and simple.

Youth work was not very good in the last three decades in explaining what we are doing and why it is important. Our job was “important”, “all about trusty relationships” and we did “save” young people. No wonder that the outside world looked at us with some healthy mistrust.
Youth work in the countries with the bigger budgets started to get lazy. Youth work starting to attract more and more workers who saw it as just a job and this led to lesser innovation. Youth work did formulate rules, profiles, competence and quality standards. All useful but sometimes we forgot to discuss, analyse and adjust our work, which is very important for a form of work which needs to reinvent itself over and over again

The big cuts youth work had to endure in some countries are of course political motivated but you can ask yourself the question if a different political party would not have done the same. In times of cuts youth work is an easy target. It is quite vague what we do, no young people will put up barricades when the (and often not their) youth centre is closed and society thinks that youth work is a luxury, which of course needs to be cut if we have less to spend.

Is it not time that we get out of our role of being a victim and start working on the image of youth work? Is it not time to make clear that closing down youth services is as stupid as closing down schools?

POYWE is publishing these days the “Declaration of Principles of Professional Open Youth Work”, which definitely is not meant to be another straitjacket for youth work. The purpose is to discuss and re discuss our work, being much more clear on what we do but also what we don’t do and make youth workers again proud on their job.

by Marc Boes (2016)

Marc Boes started his career as a youth worker in 1984 and is today managing director of Stichting JONG and poywe.

Photo Title: © POINT n.e.t.z./Hanno Raifer


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