Four teenage girls making heart shapes out of their fingers
Liverpool's Young Inspectors meet Birmingham Youth Voice

BLOG: Youth work – behind the “magic curtain”…

This week is National Youth Work Week. In this blog, Yvonne Maddocks team manager, targeted support, targeted services for young people, pulls back the “magic curtain” of what youth work is and reflects on the invaluable work that is done in Liverpool to support young people…

Ask most people what youth work is and they will probably say providing activities for young people. Some may even know about the wonderful youth facilities our city is lucky enough to have, while others may even have experienced attending a youth club in their younger years, having fond memories of residential trips and other activities they might not have otherwise had the chance to do.

This is what people see but what really goes on behind the “magic curtain” is much deeper. Youth Work is the process of engaging with young people to facilitate their personal, social and educational development and enable them to gain a voice, influence and a place in society. Youth workers help young people to engage with their local communities whilst taking account of cultural diversity. They support the young person to realise their potential and to address life’s challenges critically and creatively.

Youth work by its definition is both universal and targeted. To this end in Liverpool, we work closely with our voluntary sector partners to provide a universal offer such as youth clubs and street-based work but we also provide targeted one-to-one referral work.  

This work is based on the voluntary engagement (as with all youth work) of young people who have specific needs and or are facing varying challenges due to circumstances which are often beyond their control.

This is no easy task. Many of these young people have felt let down by other professionals and many struggle to initially articulate their thoughts and feelings other than acting out in a way that is seen by many as “anti-social”. Youth workers believe all behaviour is a form of communication; we just have to listen to be able to understand. It also takes time, which we see as investment in the young person, and patience as the young person can often test the resilience and resolve of the worker to see if they really are there for them. Youth workers often work in parallel with social workers and other professionals such as colleagues from the youth justice team.

The youth workers’ skills lie in their ability to engage a young person so that they can build trust and a rapport with them. When they feel safe they can begin to repair relationships and move on to other tailored work.

Diversity and equal opportunities is paramount to what we do and an excellent example of this is our SPLICE project. SPLICE’s aim is to provide a fun, social, youthwork experience for young people who have additional needs, a disability or are vulnerable in some other respect. 

Listening to young people one-to-one is so important, but so is helping young people get their voices heard and respected more widely.

Our Young Inspectors are a brilliant example of this. Empowering change for their community and Liverpool as a whole, they work to make sure that young people’s voices are heard throughout Liverpool and that services meet their needs. This year alone they have taken part in an exchange with their counterparts in Birmingham as part of legacy work for the Commonwealth Games and were invited to work with the World Gymnastics Championships on developing activities for the Fan Zone – they were and always are a credit to their city and their communities.

They have also been planning and supporting a Child Friendly City Question Time event at Liverpool Town Hall tonight (November 9) to mark national Youth Work Week. About 100 young people will be talking to a panel of city leaders, including the police, voluntary sector, cabinet members and director of children and young people’s services Steve Reddy, about issues that affect them.

Our work with young people whether its targeted or universal, not only supports them but also supports us. We become better at what we do thanks to the young people we listen to so it’s over to them for the last word:

“The youth worker helped me with staying safe on the internet and with managing school as I find this hard. School is still not perfect, but it is better than it was. It has made me realise more about feelings and how to deal with these.”

“My youth worker worked with me around relationships and dealing with these in a healthier way. I get on better with my family now and still use the ideas my youth worker showed me to stay calm.”

“My youth worker has helped me completely turn my life around. When I first him I was facing homelessness and was all alone in the city. I was not sure what to do or how I was going to live. With support from the youth worker I am now settled in accommodation, doing well at college and looking to go to university. I feel more mature, on top of things and generally in a good place. The youth worker was the only person to give me the support I needed on my terms. He was a lovely person who you can trust as he genuinely cares – thank you.”

Liverpool Waterfront