Youth Work, Power and Brexit: The Impact on Young Roma Slovak People’s Aspirations and Attitudes

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Helen JONES, University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom
Concepts of power and empowerment are central for youth workers. Some interpretations of empowerment focus on people taking control over their own lives whilst others look at addressing inequalities. Conversely Brexit leaves workers and young people alike facing new, essentially disempowering challenges.

In June 2014 tensions between recently-arrived Slovak and Romanian Roma people and existing residents in a South Yorkshire village led to discontent (exacerbated by media reports and right wing activism). Youth workers from a long-established voluntary organisation were funded to employ detached (street-based) methods to work with the young Roma people. They were tasked primarily with addressing the presumed impact of young people from Roma communities’ cultural outlooks on their attitudes to education. They were also aiming to reduce barriers with other residents. The workers developed relationships with young Roma people who began to exert agency and to identify personal aspirations grounded in opportunities in the UK.

Brexit has undermined the young people’s aspirations for their future lives profoundly. Some do not wish to return to Slovakia where they know they will face prejudice and systemic discrimination. The Casey Report (2016) emphasised the importance of integration to foster resilience and combat division in the UK. The young Roma people are keen to integrate but their position in the UK is dependent on parents’ rights post-Brexit. Their position in the country is profoundly uncertain.

Based in data from our evaluation of the work, my paper will look at the extent to which youth work’s response to power is illusory. There are tensions between youth work values such as empowerment in the face of international political decisions. I will look at how youth workers should support young people in their aspirations, however impossible to achieve.