Steph Green, Association Director, reports from her experience of attending the Ambition UK Annual Conference in Milton Keynes held 7th-8th November, 2016:
"English local authority and voluntary organisations working with young people were well represented at the conference. There were also three English MPs and representatives from the Home Office and Youth Justice Board involved. The agenda took a broad view of the health and relationships theme e.g. with PREVENT presented, unchallenged, as though it were a safeguarding initiative.
However, it was great to hear the creative ways that people are using to keep youth work alive within the political environment of austerity. It was less heartening to see just how dependent some work is on funding from the Police and Criminal Justice system and how much time and energy is expended on the behind the scenes work in all the partnerships and funding red-tape.
It was also interesting to see that ‘youth work’ was being discussed as inclusive of, but not limited to 13-19yr olds. Some projects were often targeted
at particular age ranges within an overall span of 8 – 25yrs which represents the shifting sands in policy and practice.
There was a valuable presentation, among others, from Girlguiding UK and the Association of Young People’s Health who drew clear links between ‘disadvantage’ (poverty?) disability, or the sexualisation of young women, and the attendant negative effects on young people’s health and wellbeing. However, I’m sure the same can be said about Islamophobia and racism, homophobia/ transphobia or simply being young in a world which treats young people as not-yet-fully human. The discussion often lacked a coherent meta-narrrative, with little acknowledgement that many of the 'issues' represented forms of oppression that would be bad for anyone’s health!
On the whole the responses to these issues were individualistic, aiming to ‘fix’ young people and promote individual resilience to their circumstances rather than tackling the structural and cultural causes. This was evident in Rob Wilson's (Minister for Civil Society) speech to conference where he states: "I want all young people, regardless of their background or circumstances, to lead independent, fulfilling lives and to reach their true potential. We all know how a lack of confidence, of not feeling good enough, of just not getting a chance, can hold people back and stop them reaching their true potential."
In contrast, Steve Reed MP, shadow minister for Civil Society and Young People spoke at the end of the conference. He was passionate and spoke from the experience of working closely with a youth service as a local politician in Lambeth. His vision still sounded rather like the New Labour joined-up-thinking of old – mixing approaches to ‘fix’ young people and listening to some of them too, but he also seemed very open to looking ahead, working with youth workers in his new role as a shadow minister.
Overall, I left feeling that there is still plenty of life in youth work agencies working within local communities. The energy and intelligence in the field was evident. I also felt there was a need for a more critical space to ask the strategic questions about what and why we are doing the work and the responsibilities we should be expecting our ‘partners’ to take in tackling the issues affecting young people."
You can respond to Steph, regarding this article by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org