Trusting, open and voluntarily established personal relationships between youth workers and young people have been central to youth work since the 1960s, and youth work’s educational traditions emphasize an optimistic and hopeful account of youth and young people. Recent changes in public services, broadly associated with neo-liberal political ideology, have led to a policy departure from youth work’s informal educational aims. Youth workers are increasingly required to adopt a more instrumental approach to achieving auditable objectives, typified by targeted work with so-called at risk young people. The paper argues that this broad shift undermines youth work’s educational centre of gravity and moves it from a broadly expressive to an instrumental register, threatening youth work’s distinctive educational and social identity.
Keywords: Youth, Policy, Professionalism, Education, Audit, Managerialism