Saturday, 2 November 2013

Cut the Deficit!

When I trained to be a youth worker about 15 years ago, I was warned against what was called "the deficit model of youth". This was held by governments, officials, teachers, parents and park keepers everywhere. I always took that to mean that we shouldn't pigeon-hole the young.

Today it seems to me that there is nothing more ... deficitful than, on the one hand, our obsession with young people's apparent low self esteem and, on the other, only working with them because they accord to certain definitions, for example being "at risk of offending" (a condition more often suffered by their potential victims, I'd have thought) or "at risk of abusing alcohol" (by occasionally experimenting with it, as we have done for centuries) or "at risk of having unsafe sex" (as if having "safe" sex weren't dangerous enough these days, as anyone who has ever had it with me will testify).

But such targeted work - and very little else - is what youth services around the UK, including mine, are being told to do in order to safeguard their very existence. I thought we had social workers, youth offending teams and health services to do just that. They are welcome to recruit or contract youth workers to help, but they, not we, are the experts.

Youth work is different and almost unique (there may still be a few educators among the teachers out there) in that firstly, it doesn't select but is open to all who wish to have access to it and secondly, it's developmental, not least of young people as moral agents and creative, curious personalities.

If it is remedial, that is a by-product of this work, not its prime purpose. We should try to keep it that way in case, by the time the recession is over, we've forgotten altogether.


  1. The recession will actually END some time?

  2. Of course: so we have time to plan for the next one.