Youth Work Core Purpose, Principles & Practice




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


The aim of this research is to create a theory of youth work that explains the distinctiveness of the phenomenon known as 'youth work'; and provides a framework for making decisions about practice and the training and development of youth workers. It does so by investigating two central questions - 'What is youth work?' and 'What do youth workers do?' and seeks to answer these in terms of an understanding of the purpose of youth work and its underlying philosophical principles. The research builds on the premise that youth work is a distinctive form of work with young people, which makes a particular and positive contribution to their lives and development. However, a clear understanding of youth work's contribution can only be achieved through an appreciation of its core purpose, as opposed to descriptions of the forms which the work takes (e.g. club-based, detached work), the methods it employs (e.g. discussion groups, outdoor activities) or the groups of young people with whom it works. The research has employed a qualitative methodological approach based on a combination of 'interpretive' and 'critical' perspectives, a commitment to anti-oppressive practice and set within a clearly stated ethical framework. Given the research's principal interest in the meanings and interpretations that people attach to their experience, the research method adopted for this investigation was active interviewing wherein the interviewer 'converses' with respondents in such a way as to offer alternative considerations and help to create the "meanings that ostensibly reside within respondents." (Holstein and Gubrium 1997) Interview data was analysed utilising thematic analysis and comparative analysis with relevant literature. The findings of interviews with 32 youth workers and young people in 15 locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland demonstrate that despite the wide variety of youth work settings, contexts and young people being worked with, there is nonetheless a remarkable consistency in respondents' sense of youth work's purpose, its principles and underpinning values. The outcome of this research is a theory of youth work that clearly states 'what youth work is', 'what youth workers do' and the implications of these for youth worker training. The hope is that, in the context of the Transforming Youth Work agenda, such a theory will contribute to: • Re-affirming and re-vitalising youth work as a distinctive practice in informal social education work with young people • Supporting the appropriate contribution of youth workers and the Youth Service to the Connexions Service • Highlighting the challenges for youth worker training and development in the future.





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