NYA is committed to youth work. Youth work is complex series of professional principles, practices and methods which we often describe as the science of enabling young people to believe in themselves and build positive futures.
Youth work takes a holistic approach with young people. It starts where they are at in terms of developmental or physical location (open access or detached/street work) – the relationship between young people at youth worker is entirely voluntary – youth work often only works because of the voluntary relationship. Many professionals work with young people, but principally, only in youth work is it the choice of the young person to engage with the professional.
Youth workers usually work with young people aged between 11 and 25 years, although with adolescence starting younger in the modern age, the NYA recognised youth work from ages 8-25. Their work seeks to promote young people’s personal and social development and enable them to have a voice, influence and place in their communities and society as a whole. It builds resilience and character and gives young people the confidence and life skills they need to live, learn, work and achieve. This approach is at the heart of all of our work.
Youth work offers young people safe spaces to explore their identity, experience decision-making, increase their confidence, develop inter-personal skills and think through the consequences of their actions. This leads to better informed choices, changes in activity and improved outcomes for young people.
“Youth” is the developmental phase between childhood and adulthood. Typically this starts around the beginning of puberty and finishes in late teens but for many young people, dependent on personal, social and economic factors, it can start and or finish much later.
Youth work focuses on personal and social development – the skills and attributes of young people – rather than to ‘fix a problem’. It is an educational process that engages with young people in a curriculum that deepens a young person’s understanding of themselves, their community and the world in which they live and supports them to proactively bring about positive changes.
Therefore youth work needs to be (and be seen to be) transformational, harnessing skills of young people not fulfilled by formal education.
- Where youth work provides a safe place to be creative
- Providing and developing a social network and friendships
- With a trusted adult (who knows what is needed)
Purpose of youth work
Youth work is a distinct educational process adapted across a variety of settings to support a young person’s personal, social and educational development
- To explore their values, beliefs, ideas and issues
- To enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society
- To acquire a set of practical or technical skills and competencies, to realise their full potential
The principles of youth work are supported by reflective practice and peer education, establishing and maintaining relationships with young people and community groups
- Knowledge of how young people develop during adolescence and appropriate support
- Trusted relationships and voluntary engagement of young people
- Understanding how to establish boundaries, challenging behaviour and de-escalate conflict
- The importance of safeguarding in providing a safe environment for young people
When is it youth work?
When is a game of football youth work?
If the person running the football match is doing it because they have a passion for football and wants to improve the football skills of the young players, creating a winning team and climbing the local league, then they are a football coach.
If football is the means rather than the end and the primary focus is the social and emotional development of the young person then it is much more likely to be youth work.
Working as part of a team, taking on leadership roles, taking personal responsibility for their actions, understanding consequences, even thinking about gender roles and diversity issues are all elements the youth worker can explore with the young people through the medium of football. If the young people were interested in dance, cookery or environmental issues, the worker could equally well use these as the hook too.
Youth work values
Youth work is underpinned by a clear set of values. These include:
- Young people choosing to take part.
- Utilising young people’s view of the world.
- Treating young people with respect.
- Seeking to develop young people’s skills and attitudes rather than remedy ‘problem behaviours’.
- Helping young people develop stronger relationships and collective identities.
- Respecting and valuing differences.
- Promoting the voice of young people.
These values are discussed in more detail in the National Youth Agency statement of principles and values, Ethical Conduct in Youth Work. For detailed information on youth work read the NYA Guide to Youth Work and Youth Services.
Disclosure and barring checks
All youth workers must be prepared to give information about any criminal record they might have, even if it might normally be considered ‘spent’. The disclosure and barring service will, on request from employers, check the records of anyone applying to work with children and young people, whether on a paid or voluntary basis.
Having a record does not mean automatic disqualification – some of the best youth workers have a chequered past, and they draw on their experiences in their work.
Employers using the DBS are required to have a policy about employing ex-offenders, taking into account factors such as the nature of the offence and how long ago it was committed. More information on disclosure and barring checks.