Youth Work Theory

There are at least five principles of working with young people, depending on who you read. However broadly speaking these are the ones most agree on:

  • Participation
  • Inclusion
  • Empowerment
  • Informal Education
  • Valuing the individual

Participation is a key element of your youth work practice. If your young people are not participating in the planning, facilitating and evaluation stages of the work then, according to youth work theorists, it isn’t good youth work practice. You’re likely to find that they might be engaged for an initial period but this enthusiasm might well peter out as time passes. Those who stick around are likely to be those who do participate, either by invitation or by sheer full on perseverance!

Inclusion is critical because all youth work practice should seek to include all. As Christians this is hopefully what we aspire to in any case but is your youth work truly inclusive? What about your building, is that accessible to the partially sighted, or the wheelchair user? What about young people from a variety of cultures, do you include those from black or other ethnic minorities? Is your team a diverse one?

Empowerment is a term we’re probably all very familiar with and again, perhaps we are already actively encouraging our young people to make their own decisions about life and faith. BUt as our education system falls more and more into a ‘spoon fed’ culture it would be easy to have that rub off on our youth work practice. We need to be giving our young people the tools to succeed rather than simply telling them what to do or believe.

Informal education is the framework that our youth work sits in. We find ourselves teaching the young people in our care in a way that is informal, unexpected and often utterly mindblowing. It’s the beauty of this context that we can make our plans, create our resources, play games and the young people will learn, perhaps not what we intended exactly, but they will learn.

Valuing the individual, one of the most amazing things about our faith is that we believe in a God who values every individual who has ever lived and who is living now. He cares enough to listen, to send his son, to answer our prayers and to walk with us through everything that life throws at us. This is a small glimpse of what we can offer our young people, albeit in a human and therefore limited kind of way! But, that kid who always disrupts your activities, the kid who comes and monopolises one of your leaders all night, the one who turns up drunk or high regularly, the argumentative one, the one who always responds with enthusiasm, the one who always says he’s going to turn up but never does, these kids are ALL valuable because they are human beings, loved by God and we need to find a way to make a connection, to engage them, to show them that they are loved.

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