The Russell House Companion to Working with Young People

Edited by Fiona Factor, Vipin Chauhan and John Pitts. Russell House Publishing 2001. ISBN: 1-898924-52-X. Tel: 01297 – 443948. Fax: 01297 442722. Email: [email protected] pp246. £14.95.

Our tradition in Rapport reviews is to review books that are brill and worthy of consideration, or books that need a good kicking. This is clearly a book in the essential good read category. You wouldn’t dare kick it. But because it is good and it comes from a publisher with a stunning catalogue of must-have publications, we can slip in a few criticisms in our normal savage, but comradely vein.

Firstly, the quality of the content of Russell House publications is always undermined by the crap covers and print quality. The cheapness of the product, combined with their relatively high prices always seems to undermine the huge effort and beauty of the content of many of the publications. This really needs to be sorted by the publisher. But it is not their fault alone. The field could help. If more youth and community workers would start reading more, especially from the RHP list, then the publishers would be able to spend more on producing a good product that would last a lifetime, in an attractive format to rival the weak publications of flasher publishers who can afford flash covers.

The second criticism is complicated. Russell House have an exceptionally admirable record of providing books which help you at work, which offer guidance and support and practical information. Or, they provide books like Kerry Young’s The Art of Youth Work and many others, which eloquently and clearly get to the heart of a matter in such a deep way that nothing else can match them. The publishers have had a knack of contacting the right people at the right time to press exactly the right button and convince us that a definitive and comprehensive statement is being made. Here’s the complication. Expecting this tradition I read the lurid lettering on the cover of this book as ‘The RHP compendium to working with young people….’ In fact it is not a compendium, but ‘A companion.’ What a nice youth work idea. Book as companion. Like a travel guide on a great adventure. Not seeking to be definitive, but helping you when you want to be helped.

Our companions in this book are 37 highly skilled and experienced youth workers who have shared their professional practice with us in short essays
to either illustrate the context in which youth work takes place, the methods of work or the social issues addressed. This sharing goes in all cases beyond the case study. We enjoy some quality reflection on practice and the highlighting of key issues to consider.

Like all collections of individual essays the results are bound to be both uneven in terms of quality and of wide interest. It is a book you can dip into at different times in your career when different emphases of work arise. What it cannot be is a total guide to youth work. It is an extensive guide to what youth work does well and to the different techniques and traditions involved. By implication on many occasions we get an insight into the inadequacies of social policy developments which do not resource our work.

A third criticism always flows from the collection of essays approach. Unless you get the lead practitioners in each area of concern you can never be fully expert or precise. Inevitably, some readers will find both the references and concepts in some sections thin and behind the game. Perhaps the editors should have taken on more of a role in providing the reader with comprehensive referencing and signposting in relation to each area of concern. This could have brought the book fully up to date in all respects. As it is several sections will be seen as limited and behind the sharpest thinking.

At a time when the family of services for young people is expanding and when the number of approaches to work with young people are multiplying by the day, this companion will be a friend to policy makers and practitioners alike demonstrating that youth work is both an art and a skill requiring training, well assessed qualification and plenty of debate and analysis. This companion provides us with succinct insights into the range of youth work methods and issues that make it a distinct form of educational practice. It represents the durability of our work despite all the odds we have faced and demonstrates why all the new policy initiatives will flounder without youth work. It reflects the pleasure, challenge and fun we all get out of working with young people too. Get it. Share it.

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