Ok, more from “The Conversation” held last Friday in Birmingham.

Only Young Once. This is Labour’s policy document – I don’t want to make a political statement, but it does lay out some of the challenges for the youth sector going forward, but also highlights the impact of the age of austerity,

Public spending on youth services in England has fallen by £1 billion since 2010, a reduction of 73%. Over 750 youth centres have closed their doors since 2012 and 14,500 youth and community worker jobs have been lost since 2008.

Labour, “Only Young once”


Services across the sector have taken a massive hit in the last decade, there is no other way to talk about it. This is the context within which agencies, voluntary groups, churches and anyone else trying to serve young people are working.

Read “Only Young Once” [here].

Terms and Conditions Survey. This was my own research, so I could talk here for AGES about it – but – helpfully, others have summarised and pulled out some of the key stats. Youthscape produce a regular “Research” digest – of their own research, but also as a way to curate what others are doing. In the latest issue – which you can read [here] – on page 3, there is a brief interview with me where you will find the key information about the report.

Can I just make it clear – while the research has been done, the work continues! Certainly, within the Church of England, there is a desire to take the survey information and look at how we can improve the situation for those who are employed in lay ministry roles. I hope to be part of that conversation and I won’t rest until we see change – what do I mean by change? I mean an environment where salaried workers can focus on their calling (which 74% of our salaried workers would like to see meaning until retirement) without worrying if they can make ends meet; I mean line management and supervision that gives our workers confidence that their churches understand the work they undertake and want to support them in it; I also mean, recognition beyond the local church where these specialist ministries are valued and given the profile they rightly deserve.

Assessing the Impact of Paid Workers. This piece of research was carried out by Leslie Francis, David Howell, Phoebe Hill and Ursula McKenna. David presented it on behalf of the others. To sum it up,

On average the presence of a paid children, youth, or family worker added seven young people between the ages of 5 and 18 years to the total weekly Sunday attendance, after controlling for the weekly adult attendance figures.

Abstract, Assessing the Impact of a Paid Worker


You can read the full abstract [here]. I was reminded of the work done by David Voas that was called, “Anecdote to Evidence” – essentially, what we – as those who work in children’s, youth and family ministry already knew – we make a difference!

Professional Values in Youth Work. Finally, among the research presentations, was this absolute gem from Dr. Helen Gatenby.  What is awesome, is that you can read the entire piece of work from Helen – it is [here] as a PDF.

I’ve quoted this before, but in relation to what we discovered in listening to Helen’s presentation, It seems apt to mention it again,

We see the world not as it is, but as we are


So true! Helen explores professional values in youth work by interviewing students at the beginning of their studies and then interviewing them again, when they are some way through. To summarise many of their thoughts on values and their own ethics and understanding, they begin with . . . “I know what I believe and why, these are my values.” . . . to, “I thought I knew – but I knew nothing.”

The challenge comes, which I think is true for all of us – in youth work or any ministry – what happens when our “perceived” values rub up against actual circumstances, young people in all their delightful exuberance and mess and unpredictability? “Values” and how they underpin our practice, can become a moveable feast!

However, growth happens when we acknowledge this tension and we grow as practitioners when we recognise the dissonance at times between our stated beliefs and our practice.  Those are my thoughts on the professional values – but you might spot different things, read the whole paper!

I did have a thought – related to what was presented on this topic in particular – how is our mental health and wellbeing impacted when there is tension and dissonance that we don’t address? Then, thinking further, what if – once trained – youth, children’s and families workers, continued to be reflective practitioners, continued to write journals and think theologically about their work? It’s not enough to do this because we have to for an assignment – considering our values, revisiting them regularly with reflective practice tools seem to me to be essential for us to continue to grow.

Questions arising from the day. So many questions – not enough space or time to ask them all (or begin to seek answers), so I’ll try to focus on what I think are the most essential ones. Yes, that is probably pretty subjective, but I think these matter ::

  • Are developments on standards and competencies in youth work moving in tandem? No – they aren’t! By that I mean, it is all very well for the colleges and training institutions to be considering how youth workers are shaped and formed for ministry – competencies, values, good practice etc. Yet, alongside this drive for improvement, there needs to be something reciprocal happening with employers.
  • Are the right people in the room? It is probably true of a lot. Who is considered “key” is thought about and acted upon by those from the institutions delivering the training. Yet, we send the trained workers out in to – certainly in terms of the church if they go in to youth ministry – a poorly equipped and trained leadership (namely church leaders).
  • Emotional and Biblical literacy? There were some general questions around these topics. We are in a highly complex time for engaging in youth work – holding together good youth work practice, the desire to make disciples and the need to be missional to the 95% of children and young people who have no contact with the church. How equipped for life are the students as they begin their training? No assumptions can be made about general biblical awareness and – increasingly – emotional health. More needs to be done on this.

Do leave comments below, let’s continue the conversation . . . !