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How Quality Youth Work has contributed to youth homelessness prevention – Nick Hudd
How Quality Youth Work has contributed to youth homelessness prevention – Nick Hudd

Back in 2019, Public Health Wales (PHW) published a document titled Voices of those with lived experiences of homelessness and adversity in Wales: informing prevention and response. In one of the sections of the document, Preventing homelessness through life course, the authors prescribe two key elements. The first is child resilience – protective factors. Here, they list five key components:

  1. belonging to a community
  2. trusted relationship with stable adult
  3. supportive teachers and youth workers
  4. supportive family
  5. solving problems

For those reading this who already work in the youth work sector, I’m guessing the affirmative nods have already started.

Before exploring some of these elements a little deeper, I would just like to reflect on the second key element referred to; barriers to support. Again, the authors prescribe five significant factors:

  1. not being listened to
  2. fear of consequences
  3. lack of trust
  4. not seeing the person behind the presenting behaviour
  5. the child not recognising the adversity.

I predict such information acts more as affirmation than revelation for those working in the youth work sector and others who engage young people.

This is where quality youth work has the potential to contribute to youth homelessness prevention in a real, meaningful way. Cross referencing the elements reflected on above against our own Youth Work in Wales: Principles and Purposes document offers clarity, should the scene still appear hazy.

I offer this statement, from the publication, as an opening gambit:

“Youth work provides or facilitates: places and relationships within which young people can enjoy themselves, feel secure, supported and valued, learn to take greater control of their lives, and recognise and resist the damaging influences that may affect them.”

Let’s just reflect on the relationship element. Youth workers not only develop the trusted relationships with young people, referred to as a protective factor in the PHW document, but go on to use these associations to support young people to develop constructive relations with their families, peers, other professionals, and members of their community. Another blatant reference to one of the prescribed protective factors to preventing homelessness.

It is already acknowledged that a barrier to support is young people not being listened to, and those in their lives not looking beyond the presenting behaviour. For a young person to feel secure, supported, and valued, as referred to in the Principles and Purposes document, youth workers have to look beyond the behaviour. Ask ‘why?’. Not only afford young people an opportunity to speak, but ensure they are being listened to. Where individuals lack the confidence to do so, then work with them to help address such factors. Again, enter stage left; youth work.

One of the unique selling points of our profession and approach is the fact that we work with young people aged 11-25. This affords us an opportunity to develop our relationships and interventions over a long period of time, based on individual needs. Offering a level of consistency, being that ‘stable adult’ referred to above. I can support this anecdotally.

As a youth work practitioner who has worked in various settings for approximately 20 years, I can testify that some of the young people I currently work with, who are now aged 20+, I started to build relationships with when they were aged 11, attending youth club provisions. Not many professions can boast being able to support individuals through the transition from childhood, right through to adulthood, and into a position of independence.

Having reflected on one unique selling point of quality youth work, I would like to list a few more. Not in an attempt to prescribe the profession as a solution that can cure youth homelessness, but rather as a rallying call to my professional colleagues to highlight our strengths, and in an attempt to inform other stakeholders who we can work collaboratively with.

In addition to the proactive engagement of 11-25 year olds, we also adopt a participative approach - doing things with rather than to young people. Ensuring they feel listened to, empowered, trusted, involving them in the solution, and not seeing them as the problem. We are youth and community workers, and have a rich history of assessing and utilising community assets, recognising the benefits of ensuring young people feel part of where they live, and members of these communities are proactive in helping to develop them.

Quality youth work also utilises experiential learning, allowing those with lived experiences to inform and shape meaningful interventions and exposing young people to an array of learning opportunities beyond formal settings. It embraces vicarious learning and encourages young people to learn from others. Finally, it is enshrined in a rights-based approach, ensuring young people are equipped with the knowledge, understanding, and ability to exercise their rights.

Whilst this article has focused on a youth homelessness agenda, quality youth work transcends so many aspects of young people’s lives. Quality youth work has the potential to have such a positive impact. In order to maximise these opportunities though, we need to ensure we use mechanisms and processes, like the EWC Youth Work Quality Mark, to learn from each other, scrutinise our own approaches, and share good practice.