Premier Special Reports: Youth work

Speak to most church youth workers and they will say their job or, 'calling', can be the most exciting, challenging and rewarding career. Yet many churches across the UK are wrestling with the challenge of connecting with young people in our society.

Part One

Fewer teenagers are linked with the Church community than in previous generations, yet many of the pressures they face today are greater.

Jamie Cutteridge is a youth worker at Milford Baptist Church in Milford, in Surrey.

He's also an intern for Premier Youthwork magazine and tells Premier's Marcus Jones the challenges many are now facing.

LISTEN: Jamie Cutteridge

The rise of social media has brought with it a new way for youth workers to engage with young people.

Youth worker Tom Carlisle has been at St Matthews Church in Oxford, for just over a year.

He says the Church, on the whole, is doing "relatively well" in its approach to youth work but he does feel it isn't taking into account how the interests of young people are changing.

Because of the vast audience people connect with on networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Tom feels youth workers need to not shy away from meeting in small groups because that's still the only way solid relationships and foundations are built.

The Church is struggling to get young people through its doors and is now finding itself competing with social networks, television, video and computer gaming.

This is where the role of a youth worker is so crucial to the future of the Church, but many have become so disillusioned with church politics and "bums-on-seats" targets they end up feeling so disheartened and discouraged they end up walking away from the job.

Sarah Jones is one example. She was a youth worker for about 18 years with the Assemblies of God and the Methodist Church.

She's now a stay-at-home mum but had a passion to see young lives change so felt church youth work would give her the perfect platform for this.

But as she tells Premier's Victoria Laurence she soon realised that wasn't the case.

LISTEN: Sarah Jones

Sarah Harris was also a youth worker, like many who get into the role she was passionate about young people and wanted to help guide them.

Over four years she worked for an Elim Pentecostal church, an Anglican church and a United Reformed church.

She imagined young people would be the priority and as a youth worker her opinion would be respected and trusted.

But she says numbers quickly became important and she felt the needs of young people became irrelevant.

Now training to be a social worker, she still wants to work with young people and tells Premier her reasons for not wanting to work for a church again.

LISTEN: Sarah Harris

Despite those leaving the profession, there are still thousands and thousands of youth workers in UK churches; the exact figure is unknown because a lot of employed youth workers are supported by an army of volunteers.

Adam Wedd is one of the thousands still passionate about the job.

With seven years’ experience he says he soon discovered being a youth worker also involves standing up for young people in church and taking some knocks on their behalf too.

He currently works at Bookham Baptist Church in Bookham, Surrey, and feels a successful and happy youth worker is one who is supported and says it is "essential" everyone helps out.

With youth unemployment hitting a record high and with escalating university fees young people can be forgiven for feeling like their prospects are bleak.

The issues facing many young people today bring with it a new challenge for many churches as they think about how they not only recruit a youth worker, but also give them the relevant training and support in the role to meet the needs of young people today.

Donald Esson is the Youth Pastor at Victory Christian Centre in Glasgow, and Area Youth Director for Assemblies of God in Scotland.

He spoke to Premier's Victoria Laurence and explained why it is important youth workers keep their training fresh and up-to-date.

LISTEN: Donald Esson

The former editor of Youthwork magazine Martin Saunders once said: "Over the last twenty years the Church has done a fantastic job of recognising the need for youth workers.

"Now it’s time the Church took a serious look at the needs of youth workers."

In order for this to be achieved the National Charter for church youth workers was set up. It's a set of seven promises churches make about the practices and principles they will use in employing a youth worker.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain welcomed the initiative hinting that it would change the culture and practice of employment of youth workers.

Revd Ian Bunce, Head of Mission Department for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, speaks to Premier's Marcus Jones about the importance of churches loving their youth workers.

LISTEN: Revd Ian Bunce

The riots last August saw the worst civil unrest for decades and led to tens of millions of pounds of damage, dozens of injured policemen and wide-scale looting as gangs of youths went on the rampage through London and other major cities.

Two questions asked at this time were: 'What has led a generation to violence?' and 'what should the Church response be?'.

The Labour MP for the London constituency where the riots began this summer has warned of a repeat of the violence.

David Lammy, who is a Christian and represents Tottenham, says the deep-seated social and economic problems facing inner-city areas could get worse in 2012.

He tells Premier's Sarah Johnston there should be a renewed effort to help disaffected youths and the Church can't shoulder the entire burden.

LISTEN: David Lammy MP

The Church of England's Youth Council has told Premier it has been looking in detail at where the Church is failing to engage with young people.

Chair Kat Witham said: "It's not something that we would like to dictate, but we'd like to encourage people to work in different areas, to reach young people wherever they are."

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have both added their voices to the importance of youth work and young people.

In their New Year messages they urged people not to give up on the younger generation.

The Catholic pontiff said young people were key to securing a future of hope, despite what he called "shadows on the horizon of today's world".

And Dr Rowan Williams said even though the UK experienced "angry" and "lawless" scenes in the UK during the summer, young people can "flourish" with the right love and support.

Part Two

Young people are facing an uncertain future and mainly through no fault of their own.

Government cuts are slicing through youth services up and down the country and there are concerns this could have an impact on church-based youth programmes.

A study, conducted by the Confederation of Heads of Young People's Services, estimated £100m will be cut from local authority budgets for young people in England by March 2012.

Susie Mapledoram, Youth Officer for the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, tells Premier's Sarah Johnston why youth work is essential and the government is letting young people down by cutting back on services.

LISTEN: Susie Mapledoram

Back in October 2011, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, showed how important he considers youth work to be by adding his support to a campaign to save some of Kent’s youth clubs facing the axe.

And in his New Year message he called on people to recognise how their actions can help improve society.

He said: "Being grown up doesn't mean forgetting about the young.

"And a good New Year's resolution might be to think what you can do locally to support facilities for young people, to support opportunities for counselling and learning and enjoyment in a safe environment.

"And above all, perhaps we should just be asking how we make friends with our younger fellow citizens - for the sake of our happiness as well as theirs."

East to West is an organisation giving support to vulnerable and at risk young people.

Thirty per cent of its funding comes from statutory authority but the charity says it's already seen a drop in this.

Its CEO Andy Burns tells Premier's Sarah Johnston government cuts are hitting them hard and the government will be to blame if there's more social unrest.

LISTEN: Andy Burns

The Church of England Bishop for Southwell and Nottingham Rt Revd Peter Butler shares the same worries and says government cuts show disregard for those who are vulnerable.

LISTEN: Bishop Peter Butler

Susanne Rauprich is the CEO of The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services.

Premier's Sarah Johnston asked her whether she thinks the government should be working more closely with Church-based youth work.

LISTEN: Susanne Rauprich

In December, the government made an attempt to appease those disgruntled by the amount of cuts it was making to youth services.

It produced a report called 'Positive For Youth' which calls for a "new partnership approach" between businesses, charities, public services, the general public and young people to provide more opportunities and better support to our teens.

The Methodist Church welcomed this as well as making a large investment in its own Youth Participation Strategy, which aims to get young people involved in the life of the whole Church, and involved in decision making at every level.

Jude Levermore, is part of the Children and Youth team and Sam Taylor is the Church's Youth President.

Ms Levermore says the government should be using the skills and expertise of Church youth workers.

Premier's Marcus Jones asked both of them how they feel about target driven youth work.

LISTEN: Jude Levermore

David Lammy MP for Tottenham, where last summer's riots began, believes local authorities are 'suspicious' of Church youth workers.

Mr Lammy, who is a Christian, feels councils are too secular in their approach.

He tells Premier local councils should now take advantage of Church youth work to provide a better service.

He said: "Of course local authorities should be leaning on the churches and it concerns me that there are local authorities still in the country that are wholly secular in their approach to these issues and deeply suspicious of a church that is actually wanting to outreach into community, and that is unacceptable."

Premier did contact Children's Minister Tim Loughton for an interview but he declined. He also refused to comment on what the government's plans are, if any, to work more closely with Church youth workers.

However, the Department of Education did give Premier this response:

"We are passionate about creating a society in which young people can flourish. We welcome and acknowledge the strength of the voluntary sector in creating the best possible environments for young people.

"We believe that the highest priority should be given to early intervention to help the disadvantaged and vulnerable young people who most need additional support. We're giving as much money as possible to local authorities and giving them the freedom to decide how they can use it best to meet priority needs in their areas.

"This includes over £2bn of funding through the Early Intervention Grant to help local areas meet the priority needs of children, young people and families".

The riots last August led to the reputation of young people in our society being at an all time low.

The rioting fed into the national habit of being suspicious when groups of youngsters were on street corners or outside shops and bus shelters.

But rather than jump on the "aren't they all irresponsible rioters" bandwagon the Archbishop of Canterbury called for a different approach.

He said even though the UK experienced "angry" and "lawless" scenes in the UK during the summer, young people can "flourish" with the right love and support.

But what is the right way to go about achieving this?

XLP is a urban youth work charity based in London. It was started in 1996 after a stabbing in a school playground.

Chris Henriette is its borough leader for Southwark. He's been involved in youthwork for 10 years and has worked in both Church and secular environments.

He tells Premier's Marcus Jones it's crucial now more than ever that youth workers are given the go ahead to also get alongside those who don't necessarily go to a church.

LISTEN: Chris Henriette

Youth for Christ is a charity reaching over 250,000 young people each month, including those who don't attend Church.

Its National Director Gavin Calver says the government's ignoring the needs of young people by not engaging with Church youth workers.

He tells Premier's Marcus Jones now is the time for youth workers to rise up and grab this "unprecedented opportunity".

LISTEN: Gavin Calver

Dave Wiles, Chief Executive of Frontier Youth Trust, echoes Gavin Calver's comments.

He talks to Premier's Marcus Jones.

LISTEN: Dave Wiles

The Pope's visit to the UK in 2010 proved a massive boost for youth work in the UK.

Building on this the Catholic Church is bringing out a document this year titled 'Called to a Noble Adventure' which will outline the vision for youth ministry for the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Revd Ian Bunce, Head of Mission Department for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, tells Premier the direction he feels youth work should go.

LISTEN: Ian Bunce

However, because of a lack of funds there's concern youth workers will end up stretching themselves too thinly and that more churches will opt to combine youth and childrens work.

Jo Griffiths, Centre Director for Cambridge Centre for Youth Ministry, tells Premier's Marcus Jones how the role of a youth worker could change.

LISTEN: Jo Griffiths

Paul Fenton, Prinicipal of Oasis College in London, tells Premier's Marcus Jones his thoughts on churches employing someone in a dual role.

LISTEN: Paul Fenton

Budget cuts within denominations could also bring about significant changes to the way Church youth work is carried out.

The Church of England is believed to be losing its National Children's Officer and its National Youth Officer to be replaced by a 'Going for Growth Advisor'.

This re-structuring is being called "ill-advised" and a petition to stop this from happening has been launched.

A statement from the Church of England's Board of Education said: "Going for Growth, the central programme for children and youth work, is being refocused to deal with 21st century demands.

"To refocus successfully needs funds to be released for positive work to be carried out. After careful consideration, the decision has been taken to bring together the two roles of youth and children's officers and use the funds released to pay for effective work programmes".

The Church's Chief Education Officer Revd Jan Ainsworth said there is no question of cutting resources for youth and childrens work and to deliver the Going for Growth plan, which was passed by Synod in July 2010, had found the need for different kinds of expertise and skills.

In a recent edition of Youthwork magazine Robin Rolls, Director of the Archbishop of York Youth Trust, wrote "perhaps then we need to re-think what we say about young people and what we even as youth workers believe about them.

"Things have changed and youth work is more about releasing, training and inspiring rather than teaching and telling? Or perhaps it hasn't, and isn't.

"What is clear is that we as youth workers have a real task on our hands to enable positive stories about young people to be heard and valued".

Our current climate has brought with it a tsunami of jobless young people and many more waiting in the wings wondering what the future holds.

So it seems the Church is perfectly placed to make sure this generation is not lost.

The Bible has many examples of children becoming great leaders, the most famous being Jesus.

And Jesus has a passion that no child be lost:

Matthew 18:12-14 NIV

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Proverbs 22:6 NIV

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Premier Youthwork magazine reader profile

2009

Salaried full-time: 50%

Aged 20-29: 52%

Over half female

Youth work qualified: 39%

2011

Salaried full-time 57%

Aged 20-29: 48%

Over half male

Youth work qualified: 52%

DENOMINATION BREAKDOWN

Number of full-time salaried youth workers

Church of England: 2,000

Catholic: no figures given

Methodist: 650

Baptist: 300

URC: no figures given

By Premier's Victoria Laurence (additional reporting by Marcus Jones and Sarah Johnston)

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