This blog post by Michael Bracey, NYA acting chair, was originally published in Children and Young People Now magazine.
The way we fund and deliver youth work has changed. Over the last few years virtually every area of the country has seen services restructured, and in many cases, funding reduced. The way this has happened, with hundreds of local councils making their own decisions about what to fund has meant youth workers are now doing very different things depending on local priorities.
The year ahead for these reformed services, regardless of who delivers them and what they are being asked to do, will be one where commissioners are increasingly looking for evidence of impact and value for money.
Good youth workers have always been able to do this. They manage to strike the right balance between creativity, innovation and securing improved outcomes and have many passionate supporters in the community who understand the value of what they are doing.
But not all youth workers are good – and this is the real challenge for youth work as we go into 2016. If youth work is to arrest its decline then the focus now needs to shift from structural change to improving quality.
For youth workers and their managers, this means taking direct action to tackle poor performance. Those colleagues who are not up to it or who don’t think they’re accountable to anyone other than the young people they work with, need to change quickly or be moved on.
And for government, the ask has to be for investment in workforce development. Cash strapped local authorities will struggle to find the money to spend on training the next generation of youth workers or supporting good youth workers who could make an even greater contribution with just a bit of help.
In the face of increasing demand and reducing resources, children’s services need to find new ways of reducing the need for higher end, specialist services though more effective personal and social development programmes. We also need to deliver on our commitment to develop more child-centred services where children and young people’s voices are heard more clearly than in the past.
Good youth work is well placed to contribute to both these aims – but it’s is in a fragile state. Local and national government, our delivery partners, youth workers and of course young people need to work together to make the year ahead a turning point that sees the youth work re-established as a highly valued, high quality and powerful part of children’s services.
National Youth Agency