A perspective piece by IYW Council Member Esther Horner-Aird

Last week the sector received a huge boost with the publication of the Youth Work Curriculum, spearheaded by the National Youth Agency (NYA) and brought together by Lead Associate Liz Harding. The document, devised throughout the Covid pandemic (also worth noting, during the lockdown) has brought the values and principles of youth work, the cornerstones of youth work, the youth work process, praxis and inspiring evidence from the field. This was done in a bid to support the sector to do what they do so well, with confidence, with encouragement and with self-belief. Central to the Youth Work curriculum, are young people, who will be the heartbeat, the life and most importantly the main beneficiaries of the impact from this piece of positive action. Young people must, and always will, come first.

I believe that the Youth Work sector has felt a lonely place for quite some time, especially for those professionals who are working outside of what I would call, a safe youth work environment. By this I mean working in challenging physical environments such as the Secure Estate, and within differing disciplines such as Youth Offending. A decade of cuts across the country have led to the decimation of youth services. On October 5th 2020 Unison published a report where they stated in recent figures (2016 – 2019) that almost 900 youth-worker jobs have been cut and that in excess of 160 youth centres closed their doors. Since 2012 around 4500 youth-work jobs have been axed and 760 youth centres closed permanently. These figures are gut wrenching, they are dangerous, and they send panic waves through the sector. Things need to change to save our profession. Short and long-term strategies need implementing to take this fight to the decision makers. I believe that there are many people out there doing just this.

The Youth Work Curriculum will mean many things to many different people. I cannot, and do not wish to, speak on behalf of others so I will share with you, how I feel this document will influence my practice.

Firstly, as a strategic leader for a national youth work organisation, Kinetic Youth. This document will form a sound base for every conversation I have with commissioners, partners, and colleagues. I will use this document to show that we are accountable, we are professional, that we work within professional guidelines, principles and ethics, that we are part of a national infrastructure, who are being funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), to ensure we are being accounted for when they make the decisions that affect young people across the country. I am responsible for over 40 members of staff in the Kinetic team and this document will help us secure the funding to ensure all our staff are paid on the JNC pay scale, that they are recognised for their expertise and that they can deliver their services without fear of knowing where their next wage will be coming form.

Secondly, as a manager, I will use this document to bring together our teams of youth workers. Some of whom are new to the sector and starting their youth work journey, some who are professionally qualified and lead others to excel in our discipline. I will use this document to inspire them, to remind them that they deliver youth work, they deliver it effectively, they deliver it within an alternative setting to that which was once considered the only environment to deliver and that they deliver it in under very different circumstances to their colleagues in other settings. What they deliver is youth work and they are making a huge difference for young people in doing so.

Finally, I will use this document as a youth worker. I will work with young people, to ensure that they know what they are entitled to from their youth work service. I will support young people to understand the document, working in partnership to devise activities, rewrite the story, quality assure their services, disseminate the programmes and, more importantly, own the document from core all the way out.

The Youth Work Curriculum is more than just a piece of paper, it is a lifeline to the sector and one I will be grasping with both hands.

Esther Horner-Aird is Director of Policy and Performance at Kinetic Youth Ltd as well as a Council Member at the Institute for Youth Work (IYW)