Acknowledging that time and depth are important features of good youth work practice, the project adopted the term Slow Youth Work to describe holistic processes which place young people at the centre of their development, with subsequent outcomes emanating from the short-term needs and long-term interests of young people themselves. This analysis concluded that what project participants understand by good youth work in fact emphasises features of Slow Youth Work. These characteristics and requirements are as follows:
- Relationship centered. Developing communication and building trust happens gradually
- Inclusive, democratic and open. Engaging with a wide group of young people, reflecting, and celebrating the diversity existing in local communities. Physical spaces are open to all, creating a sense of safety, integration, and ownership where young people participate because it meets their needs and interests. The creation of inclusive, democratic spaces where young people feel ownership is complex work requires persistent effort.
- Planned but uncertain and adaptable; designed through on-going cooperation and communication between youth workers and young people, with work planned according to the needs and requests of young people themselves, while being flexible enough to follow emerging trends.
- Responsive; slow youth work can also be fast! Essentially this means that youth work can be spontaneous and diverge from pre-set and prescribed outcomes and agendas to respond quickly to a problem that comes up for a young person/group and issues that emerge.
- Educational and Developmental; Non-formal educational processes start where young people are at but over time, facilitates their growth and development
- Group based; its education process works with and through groups – through the relationships between young people and youth worker – but also through the relationships between the young people in the group, facilitating peer education.
- Collaborative and contributory; based on partnerships with young people and the communities they are part of and systematic in how it establishes consolidated connections and integrates with other organisations who engage with young people.
- Creative and innovative; Can try out new approaches; can make and learn from mistakes, seeks to learn from and improve practice. Improvements are made over time through youth worker reflection and supervision.
- Sustainable; Youth workers act as a stable, dependable presence in the lives of young people, establishing important relationships which are built and maintained over time. It is not limited to short-term interventions or single-issue agendas.
- Skilled and demanding; – requiring practitioners to acquire knowledge, skills, values, and principles applied continuously in conscious, reflective practice.
- Impactful; The collective impact of these principles in action has a visible positive impact on the individual and collective lives of young people. Young people feel comfortable, listened to, encouraged, and empowered to make the changes they need to make in their own lives, the youth service, their communities, and society.
Taken together, this list of principles communicates youth work as a deep, holistic, youth-centred, long-term process seeking to transform the individual and collective lives of young people. The research also highlights that for these principles to shape practice, certain baseline specifications are required.
The following list suggests frameworks necessary to create the conditions for Slow Youth Work with a transformative potential for young people, communities and society:
- Recognition of the profession of “youth worker”
- Sustainable long-term funding should be provided to allow for continuity and longevity
- Youth workers to engage in continuous reflective learning
- Standards in practice should be developed and maintained
Policy + Practice
- More strategic and co-ordinated efforts are needed to increase recognition of youth work as a profession important for society and to enhance youth work practice
- Youth work needs to be incorporated as a fundamental part of youth policy.
- Youth work evaluations and impact assessments must reflect youth work values and processes.