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We owe the student campaigners our support.


I was sitting in my local smoky cafe the other day, ignoring a strong cup of coffee which was fast going cold. I listened intently as my colleague reflected on her experiences as a field practice student. 

This person was bullied and messed around by a line manager who was overtly sexist and thuggish. She was left to supervise and line manage other students and felt thoroughly let down. I should have been really shocked and surprised at this treatment, but I found myself just nodding - half angered, half not-surprised. How sad is that? What made the situation even sadder was the courage that a colleague of hers took in advising the sending-University to discourage future student placements at the agency. Two years on, and a new student is there as we speak.

I have been very lucky with two outstanding field practice placements. The first year was spent with a national charity, heaped with resources and buzzing with work. The final year was spent with a brilliant, innovative and creative community centre (with no money, but a lot of human resource). I had a great supervisory relationship on both occasions, and have benefited immensely from the work that went on.

That said, I hear stories everyday about people having bad experiences on placement. Ok, so its not always a corrupt worker who treats staff members badly. Sometimes it can be down to a centre not being equipped to handle the student - money and time being large factors. I hear of students who couldn't start projects because there wasn't even enough money to put up front (statutory sector) and students who are embroiled in disputes around who is to blame when they are assaulted on placement.

The new campaign launched by the CYWU and students (see story) is encouraging. We should all rally behind their efforts, sign up and support this most enthusiastic cause. After years of government under-funding, this Labour administration has begun to realise the value of youth work (i.e. Connexions). Yes, there are strings attached, and for sure, there could be a loss of philosophy. This is bad, but at least youth work is on the agenda after years of neglect.

In response, the government needs to resource training. There needs to be a commitment that placements will receive government funds to make placements a quality environment.

We don't get air time on the news like major government run public services, so it could be that this campaign will be laughed down by Ministers. However, the more people who sign up - the more powerful the impact will be. Equally, and I'm not trying to do the recruitment work here, I think that people should join the union and show that there is a united force behind youth workers, and not just youth work. 

In some ways, it was sad to see such a small turnout at the CYWU student conference. However, the small numbers generated both high energy and commitment. The post-conference euphoria is over now and those students are still eager to start a campaign. We owe them our support.

For more information, contact the Community and Youth Workers Union or us,


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