This week is Youth Work Week

This week is Youth Work Week. For most of my youth work career a pivotal point in the calendar, a chance to celebrate the difference good youth work can make to young peoples’ lives.

This year in some ways is no different, the theme is Fair Chances – how youth work helps young people to brighter futures and the National Youth Agency reminds us of the contribution youth work can make in education, out of school, social action and school to work transition. What is different is the barren landscape that is youth work across the country.

When I started as a youth worker in Luton we had 70 full time workers and hundreds of part time workers in Bedfordshire. Running the youth club in a town centre facility that was open all day and evening, we offered a safe haven and a place to blossom to hundreds of the town’s most vulnerable young people. Not only that, many of those young people were inspired enough to go on to become youth workers themselves.

One of those young people (now in his 40’s) bumped into my daughter out clubbing in Luton a couple of years ago. When he realised who she was she said his eyes filled with tears and he said ‘your mum changed my life’. That was 30 years on.

Now youth work is so diminished, fewer and fewer young people are seeing it as a sensible career choice.

Thankfully there are still pockets of excellent youth work across the country, the flowers blossoming in the desert. You can see examples here on Twitter.

As Lib Dems our policy has always been to see youth work as an important facet of education. Non formal education can reach the parts formal education cannot, but it is an opportunity denied to so many of our most vulnerable young people today. In an age of austerity and cuts, the non-statutory services like the youth service are the first to be walloped. But it is just so short sighted and another example of how public policy is rarely joined up or holistic in approach.

The government has chosen to move youth work into DCMS, a move that is seen as a mistake by many in the sector who still see its rightful place in Education. Rob Wilson, minister for youth work has announced that the government will be publishing a new 3 year strategy for youth work shortly. Let’s hope it shows some insight that has been lacking over the last 6 years.

Sadly the government has chosen to put all its eggs in the one basket of NCS (National Citizens Service). Now don’t get me wrong, my foster sons have participated in it and both enjoyed it. But an expensive, one off, 3 week programme, run by largely inexperienced students, cannot make up for consistent, long term, community based, youth work provision.

I am grateful that there are still so many Lib Dems committed to supporting youth work, special thanks to Mathew Hulbert for setting up Lib Dem Friends of the Youth Service – you can follow on Twitter @LDFOYS – and to Jack Davies, Zack Polanski and others who share his passion. Please join us in continuing to ensure an important element in improving young peoples’ aspirations and prospects, is not lost forever.

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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