VEC Youth Office to co-ordinate, support and develop youth work in County

Youth work in Ireland received a long awaited boost with the advent of the Youth Work Act in 2001. This is an important piece of legislation, ensuring, as it does, that the process of youth work is deemed of sufficient importance to have a place in the statute books. But how does this translate into benefits for young people on the ground? As a result of the Act, all 33 VECs in Ireland have recently appointed Youth Officers. Their task is to co-ordinate, support and develop youth work provision in the county. The Roscommon VEC Youth Office is now located in Castle Court House, Roscommon Town. From this base, the VEC will endeavour to support those involved in youth work service provision (volunteers and paid workers), assess young people’s needs, identify gaps in services and promote good practice in the sector Youth work is a very valuable process in society and can have far reaching effects. The Youth Work Act has defined the process as ‘ providing a planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young persons through their voluntary participation and which is: complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training; and provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations   This definition has helped the sector shake off the sometimes held view that youth work is ‘only going on trips’ or ‘only playing games’ with young people. The fact is that youth clubs, youth groups etc can help young people learn about themselves, others and society, through informal educational activities which combine enjoyment, challenge and learning. Youth leaders seek to promote young people’s personal and social development and enable them to have a voice, influence and place in their communities and society as a whole. Given the widespread changes in Irish society in the past twenty years, an investment in  youth work will have long term benefits for our communities There are many different youth organisations in the county – with different activities, programmes, groups etc on offer. They work with different age groups and have different priorities. However, all would be expected to subscribe to a common set of youth work values including: working with young people because they are young people and not because they have been labelled or are considered deviant; starting where young people are at and respecting their view of the world; helping young people develop stronger relationships and collective identities; respecting and valuing differences; and promoting the voice of young people These values, amongst others, provide a bedrock on which to build sustainable, exciting and innovative youth services. Our young people deserve no less. The world they inhabit is significantly different to that of their parents and this needs to be understood by those involved in working with them. On the other hand, their needs are, in many ways, the same as those of the generations gone by, the same as those of young people the world over – the need for safety and security, for challenge and new experiences, for praise and recognition, for responsibility, for someone to listen without judgement The VEC Youth Office aims to support and develop existing youth work provision in County Roscommon Youth within the framework of quality practice. Youth work is primarily concerned with working with teenagers (young people aged between 13 and 19) but may in some cases extend this to those aged 10 to 13 and 19 to 25 – the Youth Work Act stating that youth work providers should give ‘particular regard to the needs of young people between the ages of 10 and 21 years and to those who are socially or economically disadvantaged’ Work with young adults is also very important. ‘Young adult’ is a term typically used to describe young people who have passed legal age of a child (18 years) and are in the early stages of adulthood. In many ways, this particular group have as many needs as teenagers – they are free to do whatever they want but may yet be unsure about many things in life. The youth work sector can respond to the needs of this group in a different way to that with teenagers. One method that has had some success group is ‘mentoring’ – a method of youth work that matches a young person with an older advisor or guide, one who can offer wisdom and direction. Even though they are legally adults, young people at this time of life may appreciate a thoughtful and sympathetic outside view on issues that affect them The Roscommon VEC welcomes ideas and input from all parts of the community in relation to youth work. In due course, the Youth Office will organise training, workshops, seminars etc for youth leaders and workers, with the purpose of sharing knowledge, increasing skill levels and empowering young leaders. As we move into the new millennium (seven years having already passed), a number of questions arise that may be worth considering in relation to this subject: How can society tap the huge amount of energy, creativity and goodwill in teenagers and young adults? What options are there for young people who have moved on from the traditional youth club experience and are seeking new social outlets? How is our society meeting its obligation to provide young people with purposeful, appropriate initiation rituals into adulthood? With the rate of volunteerism dropping significantly, how is our community going to meet the social and recreational needs of young people? Roscommon VEC hope to raise these and other questions in the coming time. In spite of decreasing volunteer involvement, increasingly complex needs of young people, competing interests for the time and attention of young people and their families, we still need to invest in our young people. Youth work, if properly resourced, can certainly respond to this challenge.