Review – Delivering Good Youth Work

Ingram, Gina and Harris, Jean., Delivering Good Youth Work, A working guide to surviving and thriving. Russell House Publishing, 2001 ISBN 1 898924 97 X. pp152.

Any book part authored by a former Union Treasurer must have something going for it and the specialist publishers Russell House have a knack of hitting the right button at the right time. As more people are drawn into the increasingly broad family of services for young people and finding the youth work method particularly apt, this book will provide a stimulating source of support. I remain uncertain as to whether this is most likely to be the volunteers and part time staff, and new unqualified personal advisers, or whether experienced full time staff will gain greater insight. I think the former. I think on balance the seasoned worker will have gone beyond most of the suggestions made hear, though they will find them useful as refresher tools.

In the book’s four sections the authors take on understanding the world of young people, what constitutes good youth work, how to manage yourself and how to manage others. The first two sections draw heavily on what people are increasingly returning to and what I will describe as traditional youth work models as developed in the seventies. This is not bad thing as there remains a lot of untapped strength in our past that is relevant to today.

The last two sections adopt an individualistic approach to survival at work and extract various personal survival strategies from their systemic and political contexts. Stress avoidance for example is not really seen as something that employers and unions can negotiate a solution to, but as something that can be avoided by some adaptive behaviour. In the same way membership of a trade union is not listed as part of a worker’s support mechanism but as part of their system of accessing information. Ethics are seen also as a result of personal beliefs rather than professional consensus. Management is seen very much as an individualised relationship with the manager. It consequently gives bad and skimpy advice in relation to dealing with discipline and grievance. The view of a potentially kippered worker surviving in isolation is one that keeps coming back. As the union has shown, personal survival without collective action in a trade union is difficult. Personal survival strategies only go so far.

Throughout the book we are treated to a variety of diagrams to illustrate key concepts and ways of seeing. These are useful in the way that flip charts or nowadays powerpoint presentations are useful in training sessions. They provoke reflection on your own practice and without being prescriptive enable the reader to repattern the kaleidoscopes in their own heads or in staff team discussions. The book resembles to some extent a psychologists ‘how to think’ kind of manual and if workers could only get more self reflection time it would be a useful addition to that process.

The book has ambitious aims to help workers analyse their situation and provide insight into understanding the forces that shape the lives and minds of young people and their needs, planning to meet those needs, designing, delivering, monitoring and evaluating learning needs, recording and publicising our work, managing and building a youth forum. In the process the authors reflect on time, stress and boundary management and building a support network. It’s advocacy of various forms of professional practice is based on the laudible principle that we should seek to retake control over our professional lives which have become swamped with bureaucratic procedures and external assessment agendas and targets. The insistence on being clear and methodical is important. CYWU’s case load continues to arise from situations where workers have simply slipped into various unclear working practices as a result of losing sight of job descriptions, poor management and a boundary - less commitment to helping young people. Survive with this book. Thrive through active union involvement.

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