What is youth work and why do we need it now

Posted 2nd May 2024

In a world of misunderstandings, explore the transformative impact of youth work. Beyond stereotypes, it empowers and fosters resilience, essential in today’s challenges. Discover how it shapes empowered individuals, offering strength and adaptability in uncertain times.

Contrary to popular belief, youth work is so much more than playing ping pong.

When done right, youth work is the vehicle to empower young people to advocate for their rights, to challenge the structures and systems that oppress them, and to provide a trusted adult relationship that can be transformational for young people who don’t have their emotional needs met elsewhere. Youth workers interact with young people in a way which centres them and their experience, often at odds with other professionals in their lives, and this unique way of working is vital if we are to build resilient and independent young adults.

At YMCA Milton Keynes & Northamptonshire, we work on the principle that we all have nine emotional needs which we will find a way to meet either positively or negatively. This is based on the Human Givens approach devised by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell. These nine emotional needs include security, attention, control, meaning and purpose, privacy, community, intimacy, status and achievement. One of the reasons organised crime groups are so successful at targeting, grooming, and exploiting children and young people is because so many of them are not having their emotional needs positively met leaving them vulnerable to the offer of security, community and status that a gang offers regardless of the potential risks.

They also prey on the developmental stage that all teenagers go through. Dr John Coleman shared in his book The Teacher and the Teenage Brain that our brain develops at the same fast rate as it develops from 0–3 years old during puberty. Throw in that the teenage brain is wired for seeking risk and reward and primarily focused on social interactions and how we are perceived by others, and we can see that this is a crucial time to ensure children and young people are getting their emotional needs met in a positive way.

The well documented decimation of youth work across the country has left a gap of positive activity on the ground in local communities that those with more nefarious aims have seized upon. Young people used to have regular contact with a variety of trusted adult role models, but since COVID, more and more young people are choosing to only access social spaces online. There is a place for digital youth work, and this is a growing and exciting field, but there is also an urgent need to see a return to regular youth work sessions in the local community that provide opportunities for young people to develop their emotional and social skills in a safe physical environment with adults they respect and trust.

YMCA Milton Keynes has been very grateful for the support of Milton Keynes Community Foundation, who have provided funding that has enabled us to develop our youth and community offer.

Kat Newman Director of Youth and Community
If you would like to find out more about our work or wish to share your thoughts with me on any of the above, please do get in touch. Email: kat.newman@mkymca.com