social work

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Looking At The Role Of A Youth Worker Social Work Essay

This assignment will attempt to look at the role of a youth worker and identify what is meant by the term youth, and how youth work has changed over the years. Followed by a look at how the delivery of services to young people has changed, in response to the growing influence of technology and communication between adults and young people. Furthermore, it will look at the historical changes of youth culture, the meaning and effects of ‘moral panics’. This assignment will conclude by looking at the different methods and roles of a youth worker and the current services available to young people today.

What does one we mean when one says youth, how does one indentify youth; these are many questions one must ask themselves when talking about a particular group of people.

It is important to understand that when one is identifying a group of people the label is appropriate and positive, rather than a term that is used to identify negative images of that group of people. The term’ youth’ has many negative connotations attached with it and is very much used by the media to describe youths as “unruly” and “out of control”. This then reinforces people’s stereotypical view of young people and widens the gap between adults and young people. Griffin (1993) cited in Young (1999, p.22) describes ‘youth’ in two ways, either in terms of ‘youth as trouble’ and therefore in need of control, or ‘youth in trouble’ therefore in need of protection.

Although both the terms ‘young people’ and ‘youths’ are the same the former has no negative images attached to it, rather the opposite, it shows young people as being talented, hardworking, skilled people and part of society. Furthermore, the negatives of ‘youth’ imply young people as out of control, lazy, dirty, violent and most likely to commit crime, almost a menace of society.

Oxford dictionary (2005) defines ‘youth’ as: ‘a period between childhood and adulthood’.

The term youth worker is difficult to pin down and give one definition as it has many different meanings. This can be for example, working with a group of people in youth centre, meeting young people in their own environment, one to one work or acting as an advisory figure for the young person. To truly identify what a youth worker is, it is important to know how youth work has emerged and reinvented itself to keep up with its changing client group.

Hall (1965) cited in Jeffs and Smiths (1988) defines youth work as provision of opportunities for ‘informal education, social intercourse and the creative use of leisure through membership of a group’

It is important to look at how youth culture has changed over the years and how these changes have impacted on engagement with young people. Different groups emerging throughout the years, such as, Teddy Boys, Hells Angels, Skin Heads, Mods and Rockers, with these groups emerging there were various labels attached, furthering the gap between society and its young people. The term “moral panics” was established from the work of Stanley Cohen. He describes its characteristics as ‘a condition, episode, person or group of person’s who become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’, Cohen (1987, p.9) .He goes on and describes how the mass media can sell these issues as a national concern when in fact these matters may be resolved within the local community. In the 1960’s the Mods and Rockers were viewed as a huge threat to law and order by the general public, but this image was created and perpetuated by the media, making them appear to be a fearful and violent group of people.

The Albemarle Report in 1960, cited in article, Smith (1999, 2002) would be the key to developing and structuring the youth service, changing it forever. The report went on to identify clear objectives and commitment to working with young people, giving the youth service a framework in which a service could be delivered. The report gave the aims of what the youth service should be, including association, training and challenge.

Following the Albermarle report, the aims of the youth service core objectives should be training, association and challenge.The report would change the way in which services for young people would be delivered, and would now become part of any other public service funded by the government. A huge amount of money was spent building youth centres, clubs, and the focus and commitment was towards engaging with young people.

This was largely a success up until 1970, after which the number of young people attending youth centres dropped considerably. There were many factors for this decline; one was the rapid changes in the home life of young people. With the increase of technology, many young people had access to other means of enjoyment and entertainment. Many homes now had television sets, video players and computer games, which meant they would remain in their homes. Other factors for the decrease were parent’s fear of young people going out late in the evening and young people were now using other means to socialise and meet people, such as educational settings.

The decrease of young people attending youth clubs continued throughout the 1980s and 1990’s, but youth work was still high on the government agenda. The condition of buildings was worsening and becoming less attractive to young people. The government was reluctant to invest further funding restoring or building any further youth centres, especially with the decline in young people accessing the services. This became a very depressing time for youth workers who were unable to sustain numbers and were often left to deal will things alone and without any support. The final shift to try and keep the service from disintegrating, was made, when there was a move towards issue-based work and the importance of outcomes. This was further enhanced with the development of accreditation and alternative education programmes. With the new changes and expectations the criteria for funding changed focussing on young people at risk of some kind, rather than a generic service for all young people.

Smith (1999,2002) The Labour government were to further this approach when they came into power in 1997, they went on to push the idea of delivering s service for young people rather than looking at the youth service. This bought many changes and we saw innovations such as Connexions introduced in 2001, a pilot scheme which aimed to keep young people in education, training and employment. This bought further changes as new titles such as personal advisors emerged making the role of a youth worker more varied. The focused was to remain the same keeping young people in either education or for them to be moved towards vocational training and apprentices, incorporating training and earning together. The Connexions programme although seemingly was seen as a success, the publication of The Green Paper in 2005, cited in Smith (2005) showed a growing detection of the schemes failures, as young people continued to have the existing social problems which were never addressed by the youth services.

A study carried out by The Joseph Rowntree showed that in 2006 there were 75,000 young people, who were faced with homelessness, (Youth Homelessness In UK.2008) furthermore, earlier studies reported by the Rough Sleepers, produced by the Social Exclusion Unit, showed that in 1998, a quarter of street homeless were aged between 18 and 25. Rob (2007). This again shows that a youth worker will be faced by many challenges when working with young people, including dealing with young people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues.

Historically many methods have been used to deliver services to young people, including, detach work, outreach work, one to one or centre based work. Detached work has been around for many years and has proved to be very effective way of engaging young people in their own environment. This work can be often confused with outreach work but is different as it is voluntary which give the young person total control over how much or little they would like to be involved, and is not attached to any centre.

Burgess, M and Burgess, I. (2006) describes the following as a definition of detach work. The core values stated by the federation for detached youth work are as follows; a relationship with young people remains voluntary, the services should be tailored to the need and the power must remain with the young person, rather than the worker. Workers will go out to various places in and around the local community trying to engage young people; they will usually start by going out in pairs to ensure the safety of the worker and young people. Once a relationship has been established then very often one to one work will take place, discussing issues relevant to the young person and their local area. The worker will make reports after a certain period of time of engaging with the young person. The report will help the worker to identify a framework in which they can work with the young person, setting out aims and objectives. Not all youth services use this method of working with young people, however over the years it has proved to be a successful way of identifying and resolving issues faced by young people in their local area.

Outreach services are an extension of an organisation for example, a youth offending team, youth centre and drugs projects. The objective of this work is to encourage and engage with youths that have disengaged with services or are at risk of becoming problematic. This may be because of the area in which they are living in has been identified as an area with a high level of youth crime. Although this work is not service user led, it has many positive aspects, often these young people do not have a platform in which their issues can be addressed, and an outreach service will help with both, individual problems and problems within the local community. However, it must be said, that the service is not always voluntary involvement for the service users, therefore may not always be an effective way of engagement. Other methods such as centre based work, one to one and issue based working have both positive and negatives to them, but they do help youth workers reach out to young people. Cortazzi (1993) cited in Young (1999, p.6) states ‘youth workers do not merely deliver youth work; they define it, interpret it and develop it’.

It is important to acknowledge that a youth worker’s role is unique, challenging and vital to young people. Adolescence is a time of huge changes and transitions and a youth worker’s role is central to this, not only because their work is aged based, but because they will be part of a young person’s life at a point when a young person will be going through the transition from childhood into adulthood and or from being dependent to becoming independent. Fergusson (2004) cited in Hayden (2007) describes his analyses of transitions to adulthood for some young people as being trial and error. This shows that not all young people have developed the skills and resilience techniques that are essential tools for a well balanced transition. It is well documented that young people will display some problematic behaviour at some levels, whilst going through their adolescent years but this will usually correct itself. However, according to Barlow (1999) cited in Hayden (2007) 30 to 40 per cent of anti-social behaviour in young people is due to poor parenting and lack of family engagement. Farrington (2002) cited in Hayden (2007) carried out a survey of 400 London males from the age of 8, they were interviewed a number of times until they reached adulthood. The risks identified by this study showed that anti-social or problematic behaviour amongst young people was more relevant where there was poverty, family stress, truancy and community disorganisation. Farrington (1996) cited in Hayden (2007), argues that by providing protective measure such as, an affectionate relationship with a parent, structure and supervision, good level of discipline and having an interest in a child’s academic studies, this can reduce any risk of disengagement or anti-social behaviour.

Therefore the role of a youth worker cannot be defined to one area of work as role is varied and large; youth workers will deal with young people with a catalogue of issues, concerns and problems. These can range from family breakdown, lack of trust, drug and alcohol, mental health, crime, homelessness, lack of coping strategies, young person in crisis, confidence, self esteem and lack of motivation. A youth worker will wear many hats whilst working with the young person, from being a friend, a parent figure, an advisor, an advocate and a person who shows the young person they matter. These are some aspects of the role of a youth worker, and some of the issues which are dealt with by youth workers, making their role challenging, exciting, frustrating and very rewarding.


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