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Youth Work during COVID-19

Youth Work during COVID-19

As we are now approaching a year and a half into the pandemic, the pace of work and need for strong leadership have not lessened as we navigate our way back to ‘normality’. We are all hopeful that we are now beginning to emerge from the worst effects of COVID-19 and, as such, planning for recovery is already well underway. In making a contribution to this, I continue to work with a wide range of partners such as Welsh Government, the Wales Principal Youth Officers’ Group, Education, Health, Housing, Social Care, Social Justice, and the voluntary youth work sector, putting frameworks of guidance and support in place for the youth work sector itself, listening and responding to the needs of youth workers and young people and weaving the contribution of youth work into the priorities of other sectors, where relevant.

Youth work’s positive contribution over the past 16 months has been recognised by Estyn, amongst others “Local authority youth workers played a significant role supporting vulnerable children, young people and their families…Youth workers are highly skilled at building relationships quickly…Youth workers already used technology to communicate with young people…” (p.30, Estyn Thematic Report, January 2021). Given the unique relationship between a young person and his/her youth worker (one which focuses on the young person, is voluntary and based on trust), this level of engagement with families (via greater access into homes, albeit mostly virtually) has, in the main, been a positive consequence and perhaps even revelatory in some areas. This has been the case for youth workers and some other professionals but particularly so for parents and carers who were previously not aware of the detail of the work which goes on between a young person and his/her youth worker – they have, in the main, been amazed at the level of support and amount of learning and development that takes place.

As I write, Wales Youth Work Week (23rd – 30th June) is taking place. The theme this year is Expressive, which is very apt given the oppressive nature of the recent necessary lockdowns. It is great to see settings begin to reopen and young people emerging with enthusiasm, ideas, and creativity, but it is even more pleasing to see young people setting their own agendas and influencing and designing provision again.

I am also part of a group shaping the first Leadership & Management programme in youth work for 15 years. The programme has been funded by both the National Academy for Educational Leadership Wales and Welsh Government and it is hoped that it will pilot early in the Autumn term. Whilst a need for the programme was identified well before the pandemic, it will no doubt play a crucial role in the sector’s contribution to our rebuilding process.

Tim Opie, Lifelong Learning Policy Officer (Youth) with the Welsh Local Government Association

Tim Opie is currently the Lifelong Learning Policy Officer (Youth) with the Welsh Local Government Association, a position he has held for 15 years. The role includes covering a wide policy remit within the Lifelong Learning, Leisure and Welsh Language Directorate, including Youth Support Services and a variety of areas of policy which impact on young people aged 11-25 years.