Across the country many of us are now planning how we gradually start to re-open youth provision for our young people. I can’t say we will be getting back to ‘business as usual’ as COVID-19 will be around for some time, and the impact of the virus on young people and youth services will be felt for many years to come. We are aware of the possibility of a second wave and the continued importance of social distancing and infection control measures including good hand hygiene and the likely need for PPE within provision.

At the start of the pandemic I was involved in a discussion with colleagues, from across our sector, in how best we could respond to needs of young people and organisations in light of the emerging crisis. During the discussion a particular issue was raised; that once the crisis was over, there was a real risk that youth work would not be seen as an ‘Essential’ service for young people. In the immediate days following the Government’s original guidance to work from home, and the subsequent decision to go into a period of lockdown, a list of Key Workers was published by the Government, whom they deemed to be critical to the COVID-19 response. Youth Workers were not on this list.

One way to view this is to ask – why should youth workers be on such a list? After all we are not an Emergency Service. However; we have seen examples of where youth workers are stepping in and supporting delivery of emergency food parcels in local communities. Whether or not this is ‘youth work’ is debatable, and possibly the subject for a further blog post anyone? 

Another way to view this – is to consider why youth workers were not included on the list, and what we need to do as a profession, to be recognised in the same category as social workers and teaching staff? 

The recently published ‘Out of Sight?’ Vulnerable Young People report highlights the scale of young people’s needs which have increased or been caused by the pandemic, and calls for a clear exit strategy for young people who are likely to be included in the early stages of release from lockdown measures. The first recommendation in the report states:

  • Youth services are a vital life-line to vulnerable young people. Youth work must be classified as an essential key service.

The All Parliamentary Parties Group on Youth Affairs Youth Work Inquiry, published on 4th April last year, highlighted the need for Youth Worker registration in the final report. The fifth recommendation in the inquiry report on workforce strategy, states that:

  • To be effective, a register of youth workers should be developed and support both professional development and a probationary period similar to Newly Qualified Teacher status for teachers.

Throughout the current crisis I have witnessed many qualified youth workers being furloughed by youth charities, as they strive to protect and secure their future work with young people, or redeployed to other jobs from local authority youth services. If youth work was seen as an essential service would this be the case?

For too long the sector has fought not to be seen as a ‘Cinderella Service’ and to build an understanding we don’t just play ‘pool and table tennis’. Within the sector there is agreement we are indeed an essential service for young people and arguably will be even more essential as we emerge from the current crisis and beyond. The challenge is building and communicating the evidence base to support our claim to be an essential service, and I would argue that a vital part of this is the work the Institute for Youth Work are undertaking on the youth work register. I would encourage colleagues to join us on this journey and help classify youth work as an essential key service.

Kevin Franks

IYW Council Member.