In 1939, Britain entered into war with Germany and so began six long years of conflict and almost two decades of hardship for the peoples of this land. The British Government was, at that time, deeply concerned with the problems facing children and young people, and needed to create a system that would promote the kind of education and training that would, effectively, help combat the growing problem of teenage crime and rebelliousness. At the same time as government ministers were discussing military tactics with their Generals, they were also holding talks with representatives from the country's voluntary youth organisations and local organisation committees and, through the Board of Education, issued two circulars which effectively brought into existence a 'Service of Youth'.
"When war did come, concerns about 'the condition of youth' again escalated. Once more, the adolescent young were seen to be particularly at risk because, in addition to the large number of men who were called up, many women were working long hours in the factories. The air-raids on the large cities, the evacuation of children and the constant disruption of schooling were all recognised as likely to bring major disturbance into young people's lives." (Davies B. 1999)
The first of these, Circular 1486, set out to produce a youth service by building upon the success of others and the already successful, well-established, voluntary youth organisations were to be the backbone of this new programme. The need to have our working-class boys and girls better educated and instilled with the religious morals that had, for so long, reformed the lives of so many young people, was as important now, during war, as it had ever been. Fourteen youth organisations were chosen to spearhead this radical change in policy. Organisations with strong moral and Christian beliefs as their foundations, and programmes that instilled discipline through education and loyalty to the state were given priority. The YMCA and YWCA are just two of those chosen.
The YMCA was established in the mid- 19th century by groups of like-minded young men with strong Christian backgrounds. 'George Williams, along with Christopher Smith, Edward Valentine and John Symons were the architects of the YMCA and pioneers in helping the needs of people like themselves, promoting the improvements in social conditions and learning' (Binfield C. 1973). Likewise, its sister organisation, the YWCA, Was later set up in 1877 by Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts and followed in the same vein. 'The YWCA has its roots in two separate developments in 1855. The first was the setting up of a hostel for Florence Nightingale's nurses, on their way to and from the Crimea, by Mary Jane Kinnaird. In 1857 it was opened up to working girls. Meanwhile, Emma Robarts in Barnet founded 'a band of 23 friends who agreed to meet in spirit each Saturday evening to plead for each other, for loved ones individually and for young women as a class' (Percival 1951). These organisations, along with the other twelve, were the best in terms of what they had to offer and the numbers they could reach, and also, the people who ran, managed, funded and brought public awareness, all knew each other and, moving in the same social circles, were in ideal positions to aid and benefit the interests of their individual organisations.
Whereas circular 1486 consisted of the processes of administration and organisation, circular 1516, entitled 'The Challenge of Youth', focused on the 'philosophy' and 'purpose', and how it should be delivered. The regional organisational committees had, like the individual youth organisations, wanted to retain their independent status and had been reluctant to comply with the creation of a national youth service but, the onset of war brought the need forward and helped create a greater willingness to work together. Youth work would need to have some form of accountability to government. The bringing together of the 'statutory' and 'voluntary' bodies would create a far larger national programme of youth education, giving the voluntary organisation's more power and, because of this, a means of inspection, in order to have some form of control over the 'service', was necessary. By 1944, the circulars had become Acts of Parliament and with this, the formation of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMI), what would later be renamed and re-shaped to become OFSTED, would give government its desired control over the roles and practices of youth provision.
The following years would see the birth of Nye Bevan's National Health Service, giving British citizens (and foreigners) the right to free medical care, and the passing, in 1948, of the Children's Act which 'established local authority children's departments to care for children deprived of a normal home life' (Holman, R. 2008) With a need for housing improvements following the war, the youth service was subject to heavy cuts in funding and, at the same time, tensions were running high in Nottingham and the London districts of North Kensington and Notting Hill. Poor white families competed with poor Caribbeans for housing and from the early 1950s, young White working-class 'Teddy Boys' began to turn hostile towards the growing numbers of Black families in the area. Print this pageFull text >>After two weeks of civil unrest in Nottingham, rioting erupted in Notting Hill and lasted a week, during which, petrol bombs and milk bottles were thrown at houses. 'The nation was generally shocked at the events and the riots sparked long-running debates about racial prejudice, community harmony and the scale of commonwealth immigration in the inner cities' (Bhandhukravi 2008).
With a rise in the number of adolescent teenagers, due to the post war baby-boom, the growing concerns arising from the end of 'National Service' and, in part, the issues of racial discrimination and the afore-mentioned rioting, the government was under great pressure and a way of addressing these problems was needed, and needed quickly. The Albermarle Committee was set up to look into the youth service and how it might better deal with these issues. The resulting enquiry would show that a much needed boost in spending was required in order to rebuild the confidence of youth workers who now felt unsupported and unappreciated, and as a result, weren't able to meet the government's or their own personal objectives. The reports aims were set out..."To offer individual young people in their leisure time opportunities of various kinds, complementary to those of home, formal education and work, to discover and develop their personal resources of body, mind and spirit and thus to better equip themselves to live the life of mature, creative and responsible members of a free society." (Smith M.K., Doyle M.E. 2002). Although the committee still held with the belief that 'Christian' faith-based learning was still significant, it was better, the report states, 'for the principles to be seen shining through work rather than for them to be signalised by some specific spiritual assertion.' (1960: 39).
The role of youth workers was now taken more seriously and a strong emphasis was placed on funding the development of a more elaborate training programme, and to learn from those already heavily involved with youth work rather than government decision makers. "The beginnings of "citizenship" can be seen as much in the subtlety and tact of social relations in a good youth club, even in a tough area, as in straight-forward discussions of good citizenship. These qualities cannot be easily translated into the conditions of public life today, but they are a good foundation for such a translation." (Smith M.K., Doyle M.E. 2002) Society's young tastes and attitudes would again change and, with it, bring further concerns of 'Moral Panic' from the government..."The 'drug culture' of the 1960s led to far-reaching anxiety, and it was widely believed that an entire generation would become 'crazed' addicts. The issue of drugs and music in the 1960s led to the persecution of many pop stars, who were perceived as having a highly corrupting influence upon the youth of the day." (Wood M. 1997).
The Milson Fairbairn Report of 1969 recommended changes... "Youth work should be seen to be present in many places, being concerned with relationships between generations and between young people and their community; it can take many forms and lead to different types of provision, of which organisations and centres are only examples" (D.E.S. 1969), and warned that a change in attitudes of adults towards young people was necessary in order to move forward... "Adult attitudes within voluntary organisations are all too often little different from those throughout society. We urge existing voluntary organisations, therefore, to accept the relevance of community development to their work so that they can become major channels through which the community can find ways of solving its problems."(D.E.S. 1969)
In the early 70's attitudes did change and youth workers were now meeting with young people on their terms and developing 'special relationships' (Taylor T. 2010). Detached work was to play a far greater role in strengthening bonds with individuals within their communities... "The policies informing these initiatives have entailed a shift in emphasis in the work more fully toward targeting specific individuals and adopting what is basically a case management/casework approach. There is a much stronger focus on working with individuals than groups (see Jeffs and Smith 2002: Smith 2003).
However, at the same time as these 'positive' changes were happening, Margaret Thatcher, then Secretary of State, was dismantling the Youth Service piece by piece. She abolished the 'Youth Service Development Council' and... "local authorities preceded over the decade to add to the service's national incoherence by batting it, ping pong style, first into, then out of and then sometimes back into other services such as leisure or recreation (Davies B. 1999)
The 1980's, now with Thatcher as Prime Minister, would see massive cuts in spending resulting in fewer staff and increasingly dilapidated buildings and equipment. Money was drawn away from the Youth Service and local authority resources were relocated and, once again, administered by ministers, and not those directly involved with youth work. Despite the cuts, Youth Workers pressed on and implemented the new 'youth-led youth policy', empowering young people to play a greater role in the projects they were involved in, through 'Social and Life Skills Training' practices.
Bernard Davies, in his 1986 thesis 'Threatening Youth', asserted that 'a coherent and centrally controlled youth policy' had 'gradually but in many respects knowingly been developed' (Davies, 1986) restraining the work of the Youth Service and undermining the needs of the young. This government train of thought would continue right through John Major's term in office and on to New Labour's coming into power. Now with growing concern over state security, brought on by the Gulf War, laws would be changed and approaches to youth work would come from reports made by the governments departments of Criminology and Criminal Psychology, treating young people as potential 'criminals' and 'anti-social animals' rather than 'misunderstood and poorly cared for young citizens'.
"Under New Labour this modernisation agenda has penetrated the Youth Service and youth work more and more deeply. Its vehicle - some might say its Trojan horse - has been 'Transforming Youth Work' (DfEE 2001) the benchmarks for reach, participation and recorded and accredited outcomes set out in 'Resourcing Excellent Youth Services' (DfEE, 2002); and OFSTED's standards and measures of value for money. These pressures have squeezed open access youth work particularly hard... For, again despite its many flaws and limitations, this kind of informal on-demand leisure support and stimulus has always been the form of provision which many, especially poor and 'excluded' young people have preferred - and could afford." (Davies B. 2005).
And so we come to the turn of the millennium and we now see how 'Youth Development', geared towards Institutional training and away from the practices that worked so well following the Albemarle Report, has become a growing concern for workers in today's Youth Service and leaves them asking the question... 'In what direction is English youth policy going?'
"In the longer run the picture may well be different. As centralised initiatives in education and welfare fail to achieve targets, and people remain dissatisfied with what is happening; and as critiques of the 'received truths and clichés' (Wolf, 2002: 256) that constitute government policy in this area mount up, there will be pressure to change. Politicians may even discover that education, and youth work and youth development, have purposes other than to promote economic growth. As for those steadily working away in religious institutions, older youth movements and in community-based youth groups - there will be pressures to adopt a stronger focus on youth development. But surely many will be able to resist the pressure to copy state-sponsored work and speak the language of faith, hope and love." (Smith M.K. 2003).
In closing, we can only hope that a change will come that will give Community and Youth Workers the opportunity to do the work they know 'should' be done, rather than the work 'expected' of them by the demands of government.