I am delighted to have been awarded a contract by the Building Change Trust to write an opinion piece on the future of youth work here. I say youth work rather than ‘The Youth Service’ – as I believe the latter should be designed in service of the former.
I have been involved in youth work in a wide variety of roles for nearly 35 years now! Starting as a young volunteer with the Peace People, I ended up heading their youth programmes for several years after college. From there I went to the University of Ulster to work on the Speak Your Piece project, to the Youth Council for Northern Ireland where I was their Community Relations Officer and designed and led the JEDI (Joined in Equity, Diversity and Interdependence) project; followed by 13 years leading Public Achievement until January 2016. So I’ve had roles in the voluntary, statutory and academic worlds – though all of it from the perspective of youth work as a tool for developing good relations, and building a culture of active citizen engagement among young people and between them and those in authority.
I am going to be suggesting that the current home of youth work – awkwardly situated in the Education Authority with the skeletal remains of a Youth Council and no overall representative body for the voluntary youth sector – is a perilous place to be. I am going to suggest a new arrangement, placing youth work (and young people) in the centre of public policy making at both the regional and local levels. The idea will be controversial and will upset more than a few with vested interest in the current structures – but I offer this analysis to stimulate a debate on the role and purpose of youth work in a post-conflict society.
You can read my opinion piece pitch here – and I am more than happy to discuss ideas and options with anyone over the coming weeks as I work toward a final draft of my paper. Kudos to the Building Change Trust for encouraging new thinking in the voluntary sector – I look forward to reading the other pieces they commission, and to the discussion that the papers stimulate later in the year. Please feel free to post ideas below or to contact me on Twitter, Facebook or by filling in the form below. You can also leave a comment at the very bottom of this page.