Kids are alright

October 15, 2020 1:17 PM
By Councilor Andy Kelly

Teenagers (Microsoft stock images)Teenagers? Don't get me started!

One of my favourite quotes of all time is below. It typifies older people's attitudes to teenagers. See if you can guess who said it or when it was said? (answer below)

"The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up food at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." *

Back in the late 1950's a new menace was born out of the end of World War two. No one had really seen them before, not in these numbers at least. Television was born, National Service ended and popular music became mass market and the new menace was given a name- the teenager.

In the UK questions were asked in parliament, the media cried out about the 'youth problem' and 'delinquency' was fuelled by stand out fashions and the acceleration of media across the country.

In 1960 a breakthrough report called Albermarle recognised the good work that youth clubs had done- often in the voluntary sector or run by local corporations- and recommended the construction of purpose built youth centres for teenagers to hang out, have social and recreational time, play sport, play music, dance and socialise. The stereotype of the youth centre lived on for decades- it still exists- unfairly being branded as the place just to play pool or darts. The quiet revolution and indeed evolution of youth work has developed over the past 60 odd years. Youth work became recognised as part of a young persons education equipping youngsters with the skills and tools they need to make that difficult transition to adulthood safely. It dealt with issue based work, politics (with a small P), health education, relationship and sex education, international work, crisis management and life skills among many other themes on an ever widening curriculum.

Teenagers (Microsoft stock images)The golden thread that ran through this multitude of styles and methods of delivery was a the understanding that youth work was (and is) about building relationships with young people. Professional relationships too, that assessed where each young person was at and made a non-judgemental intervention to improve their lives.

Youth workers often took to the streets too, either to recruit, signpost and invite young people into the centres (outreach work) or to do what they did in the open air without the benefits of a warm dry young centre (detached work).

I haven't worked in a youth centre for quite a few years now. I can only imagine the challenges that youth work faces with the advent of the internet, social media, GDPR, online safety and modern phones.

When we add to that the global pandemic that applies to all of us, its easy to see how many young people would slip through the net and be forgotten about.

However, I have been really encouraged since the Covid outbreak, to see our local youth service taking to the streets and funnelling all of their resources and efforts into working outdoors with young people. In the park, on the street corner, at the shops and by the tram stop. Young people need a youth service and I take my hat off to those workers who brave the British weather to keep providing out local youngsters with the support, signposting and friendship needed to make it through these difficult months. And yes I know that old people are isolated and need our support too, but it's far too easy to forget about our young people who are in need of mental health support, are vulnerable or need some signposting to another agency like a GP, nurse, housing or educational establishment.

The Youth Service has never been a statutory service either. By that I mean a local authority has a legal obligation to provide child and adult social care, schools other essential services. Youth work has never had that protection and it's high time that changed. This generation of teenagers have never had a more challenging set of circumstances, certainly since the war when the very term was first used. Imagine being in this cohort that has had schools closed, examinations decided by algorithm, were locked in at university or faced a global recession and global pandemic.

Teenagers (Microsoft stock images)That's why I take special notice of the work that local authority youth workers are doing in my borough. Rather than mothball provision or go totally online, our youth work teams have channelled their resources into detached work, pounding the (often wet) streets to engage with the kids that need support the most. It will get harder too in the darker months, but youth workers will always have my support as they try and prove one of the hardest arguments in the public sector.

The challenge for youth work will always be "How do we prove that we prevented something from happening?" That by working for a couple of hours with a group of teenagers it has prevented one or more of them from harm, from offending or being a victim of crime, that they learnt about sexual health and didn't catch an STI, that their mental health didn't get worse through isolation or loneliness. The list goes on- but I have always been convinced that the value of good quality youth work far outweighs the costs in not having it. Youth centres are beginning to open again, slowly and under NYA guidance. Youth services can invite up to 15 young people to attend trial sessions under safe conditions as well as very much still out on the streets.

That's why we have made Investing in Youth Services on of our manifesto pledges for 2020/21 in Rochdale and I will continue to lobby for youth services across the country to be made statutory.

We owe it to our teenagers.

* Quote was from - Socrates (Lived: 470 BC - 399 BC)