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"Disaffected Young People are attractive commercial products for youth workers" owever, one critical aspect still gets up the noses of those who are training to be youth workers. Status, or at least, recognition.

The aftermath of the Bradford disturbances brought about the usual array of commentators proclaiming reason and passing judgment on those involved. What was interesting, however, was a quick glance at a letter in the Guardian from a retired youth worker-turned man-of-God. He proclaimed that this was the time for a Royal Commission in to the future of the Youth Service. At first glance, it took me by surprise to see the words 'youth and service' in any national broadsheet. But after the mild hysteria, I began to think - haven't we been here before? 

In 1981, for example, extra money and resources were literally hurled at youth workers in what can be described as nothing more than keeping Black young men off the streets and out of trouble. These 'disaffected' and 'disenchanted' and 'excluded' and (oh, well the list goes on now doesn't it?) YOUTH are attractive commercial products for the youth service. You only have to look at the Tory's last ditch attempt at frightening the country. The amputated members of society's mainstream - those YOUTH again no less - doing drugs, setting fire to cars, raping girls and attacking older women. They remind us that the country needs us and values us. Provided, we do the job right and keep the kids out of trouble.

Now, the curious thing about all of this is that when we go to our training courses, and speak of Marx and conflict, and about change and about analysis - we are very quick to condemn the social control mechanism of youth work. We sit back in our lectures planning world change, with a little bit of humanistic self-growth for young people. The collective might of the anti-oppressive practitioners builds until it engulfs any feelings that youth work is nothing short of the solution to inequality.

What a load of bull.

You have to realise that this would sound fine, if people actually went outside and acted even remotely like revolutionaries. I'm the same, no preaching here. As soon as the practice begins, we sell young people to funders like a collection of faulty goods. One by one, we can profess our commitment to making them right again. We have now gone one step further and open handedly accepted Connexions without any objection - after all, we can already hear the project purses ringing to a new sound of flushing money. A whole 20 million more Mr Blunkett? Oh my!!!

Its a crappy position to be in really, isn't it? Empowerment is tosh, participation ain't gonna be all that voluntary any more. As for equality and education - well, only if we can get to the targets on time.

The frank truth is that wherever your values lie, and whatever you make of your practice, you've got to admit we're a funny bunch. Our statement of purpose is, at best, weak and at worst, misleading. Our place in statue is nothing more than a whim towards leisure and keeping the YOUTH out of trouble. Yet, our training and development encourages greater things.

If I have a chance, I'd ask the government to think seriously about the Bishop of Barking's letter. Not simply because we're having riots and uprisings; that would be as hypocritical as all the selling we do already. Rather, lets take a harder look at the service and its future. A statutory base for youth work is the very start. Base levels of funding to be secured above the paltry 0.4% (or whatever it is) of education spending, together with a serious reconsideration of recruitment and retention of youth workers. Firmness and accountability should become common practice in the profession, ensuring a first class service that is committed to young people.

It all sounds a bit like money, doesn't it. But there's more to it really; youth work needs to know that its valued, and appreciated. We shouldn't be called upon in times of riots and national moral panic. We should have consistent and coherent support - and at the very least, a realization that, actually - we love working with young people.




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