Whose night off?

TYA’s detached team were recently asked to present our work and enter a debate about youth work on Friday and Saturday evenings. The seminar took place at Huddersfield University and was well attended by a wide range of organisations from both the voluntary and statutory sectors. I for one agreed nervously to attend being aware that this has proved to be a controversial topic and that TYA’s views on the subject may not be well received.

The seminar began with an introduction from university staff which included some footage from years gone by, which I  must confess to recognising the fashion trend and hairstyles! We then heard from three different organisations including TYA who gave interesting information about the positive work being undertaken with young people on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Lincolnshire IYSS gave a particularly impressive insight into innovative work being undertaken in partnership with the local police. This presentation left me thinking that if this work is truly as successful as it claims to be, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, why on earth aren’t more Statutory services following this model.

After the presentations we broke into discussion groups, which is where it became very interesting. There were some valid arguments against the push for all youth workers to work on Friday and Saturdays and equally valid for the opposite. I have to say that my initial stance on the subject was that we are employed to work with young people and a substantial amount of that work is undertaken in a young person’s leisure time, which doesn’t make weekend work rocket science.  However, the TYA’s team is a detached team and doesn’t face the same hurdles that centre based workers do.

Some workers complain of empty buildings and young people congregating elsewhere to get drunk, other workers complain about large numbers of drunken young people on the premises. Detached teams have a distinct advantage, we don’t have a building to worry about, we can go out and find young people in their preferred social space, we can work with young people under the influence and we can walk away. One thing is very clear, we will never be able to stop young people drinking or taking drugs even if we worked 24/7,  it is part of our culture to socialise in this way be it by adults or young people, the only separation of the two groups is legality.

Based on the discussion content and personal experience my opinion on the subject is that it would be unreasonable to insist that youth centres are forced to open on Friday and Saturday evenings or that all staff be expected to work weekends. Workers personal circumstances differ greatly and while for some weekend work is preferable, for others it is very difficult. One group member stated that experienced workers are leaving the service simply because they are unable or do not wish to work every Friday and Saturday evening, leaving less experienced staff to deal with the problems already highlighted.

For me the centre based work, as with all youth work, should be driven by the young people and if they want specific projects and activities on a weekend we should be there to deliver them with staff who able and happy to do this. Clearly just opening the youth club doors on a Friday and Saturday evening doesn’t work for many, so it doesn’t make sense to do it.

Although the negotiations with unions continue some services have reached a compromise with staff by using a rota system whereby they may have to work one in four or there abouts. I would agree that this appears to be a fairer system for the workforce but how does that affect relationships with the young people and the work being delivered.

The debate continues ………………………………………………….

Gill Arabskyj

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