It is said that to persuade ministers of the importance of youth work we have to be able to show them our worth in the language they use. ‘Output’ is one element of that language, along with ‘targets’. Graeme Tiffany described to us what that leads to: only getting involved with the easiest group of youths on the street, cause it’s more likely you’ll reach your target with them. He calls it the pistacchio effect: skipping the pistocchio nuts that are closed, as his mother used to do, to only go for the easy open nuts. Not him, he prefers to grind them open with his teeth.
Another term is ‘economic impact’. How much do we save by investing in youth work? How much revenu does youth work directly produce. No, not in the long term or indirectly, but short term and clearly visible before the next election (which in Belgium is every year nowadays.) Apart from not readily available data, as shown by Miriam Teuma, my question to you is: in what field should we situate that economic return on investment?
In my youth mouvement there were 15 000 leaders, all unpaid voluteers, 80 000 members (chidren and youngsters). What revenue would you like dear ministers?
How about the days and hours of unpaid volunteering? 15 000 leaders, who on on average 3 days per week spend time for their movement. Translated in what is legally alowed as a forfaitary fee for volunteers in Belgium of 30 euro a day, that’s 23 400 000 euro a year you don’t have to invest for only one of the hundreds of youth work organisations.
Although the weekly activities of youth movements go far beyond child minding, you could also translate their time spent in an hourly professional rate. They spend an average of 15 hours a week for their movement, that would give us 152 100 000 euro a year you don’t have to invest. Or for parents just for the weekly activities a fee of 515 euro a year they don’t have to contribute. I don’t have to tell you that if education is your favorite buzzword for our activities, the wages of our teachers are even higher…
This isn’t even counting the conntributions to local communities made through helping on community activities of participating in youth councils. It isn’t counting the fact that studies show that participating in youth organisations, highly stimulates participation in adult organisations and communities. It isn’t translating the social and practical skills the experience in youth mouvements provide you with, where employers don’t have to invest in anymore by (on the job) trainig, or just enduring less performance while you gain experience. It isn’t translating the experience of organizing, taking responsability, taking charge that make you more apt for leading positions in teams, companies, society…
And if you really can only degrade us to prevention there are also studies that show for every euro spent on youth work, you can save 3 or 4 euro spent on intervening later in that childs life.
But maybe we should be measured culturally. It seems you don’t have any problem in providing massive funds for metal plates on the floor or non flying flying machines as long as they can fit in the SMAK. So how many ‘works of art’ do we have to let our 8 year olds produce in an art and crafts activity to get those funds?
Andy Demeulenaere is coordinator at Jeugdwerknet vzw, a Flemish organization that collides youth work and internet. Every day he will write about how he experiences the conference.