If I hear another person talk about the science behind youth work or the best-practice “research” that has been done I will scream. This pervasive discourse of youth work through a scientific lens, to the detriment of practice wisdom and individuality, will lead to the destruction of our sectors most central ideologies.
Putting people in comfortable boxes has never been central to the work of a youth worker, until recently. To have clear diagnoses, a cookie cutter support plan and a “best-practice” set of interventions is the way of the medical, psychological and scientific sectors. There has been a lot written about the divide between the art and science of youth work with much more over the past decade focusing on the scientific. This does not take into account the the complexities that coalface youth workers deal with on a daily basis. “Becoming a professional when one’s discipline is people/young people requires more than technical knowledge; it requires a way of being that is relational, emergent, flexible, dialogic, participatory, and contextualised“ (Fusco 2013).
Youth work is a flexible, fluid profession. We have historically steered clear of generalising how we work with individuals as it limits our fluidity. We seek to support young people in their context with their individual needs. When we begin to use the frameworks of economic rationalism and the sciences to frame our practice we begin to see people view our practice wisdom and philosophy as weak hokum. Where science seeks fact and answers to problems, we seek to delve into the human condition through questions and journeying with our young people.
There is no doubt that the scientific has bolstered youth work. What we know of brain and psychosocial development has become integrated into our practice kitbag. But, there is a big difference between using the knowledge of a profession and subscribing to its framework and philosophy. If we allow governmental managerialism and our own inadequacies to force us to give up what makes us unique we will regret it.