Route Mapping for Youth Workers
We stand in the edge of something new, not a temporary change, not a small tweak but the beginning of a new way of living. A whole new world, to borrow a line from Disney. What do we as youth workers need to know about the way ahead?
We are all grieving, it’s being talked about in many youth work and/or mental health spaces recently but it bears repeating. Grief is a powerful emotion that must be felt and expressed, to bottle it up or deny it does us no good at all. We are mourning the loss of plans and programmes for this year, we are mourning the loss of physical contact, the necessary changes to usual friendship patterns, the lack of annual events being celebrated. We are lamenting the loss of life of those close to us or the collective loss of many thousands of lives all over the country whether they are known to us or not. Engaging with people online has become the norm but also utterly exhausting, whether it’s through constantly watching yourself on Zoom calls or going through social media taking in people arguing about everything from racism to the wearing of facemasks to the motivations behind the actions of government to the introduction of 5G and onwards until it’s difficult to know what you really think about anything!
Mourning is not only the appropriate response, it’s a necessary one. Loss is a part of life, death is a part of life and we should be guiding our young people through this process of grieving.
Our young people have had nearly all their social connections disrupted or broken. They were used to being in a building with around 1000 other young people on a day to day basis, with all the strong connections that builds as well as the weaker ‘smaller’ interactions with those who were more of an annoyance than a friend. Now, if they see one friend once in a week that’s a good thing: since lockdown began my 14yr old has seen his best friend twice and one other friend once. It’s so far from what they have been used to that they are going to need support and guidance to restore these relationships and others. How about your youth groups? Have they all been interacting over video calling? Have all their bonds been strengthened through this time or have you seen a drift away from each other?
Mending these key relationships with one another and with trusted adults is another key area where our young people need support and guidance.
With the impact of the coronavirus having been so sudden and radical in March this year we have all had to transform our ways of working. Some youth workers have been furloughed, others have found themselves working a different job because church teams have required technical support in setting up online services, others have kept up with offering support via video conference calling or even by providing resources on a weekly basis. The ability to adapt and modify has never been more useful! When we began it felt like this was just temporary, a change to fit the current circumstances so that we can return to ‘normal’ more quickly. As time has gone on it has become clear that the coronavirus will be with us for a much longer period than initially thought and that we are going to have to make modifications to our youth work pattern that are more permanent.
As furloughed workers return, as those who have been involved more in the technical provision of church services reach a point where you are able to return to a more youth focussed role, I implore you, youth workers and ministers wherever you are based, to make one key modification to your work that will absolutely transform the way you work:
ask the young people what they want and then provide it
That’s it, many of you are already doing it I know but I also know that many are not. There have been so many words written about this key principle of youth work that I don’t feel I need to add to those here. You can look up any of the youth ministry books by the likes of Sally Nash, Nick Shepherd and Tim Gough or the writings of Jeffs & Smith on Infed for more about this – and if it’s a new thing to you, please do look them up.
We must bring our best to this work because as we navigate this different landscape, our young people, more than ever before, need us to step forward, to support them in this new normal, to be their guide into this new way of life.