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Targeted versus mainstream youth work – what are the issues?

Many people wonder if inclusion should be an aspect of all youth groups or if youth organisations should have groups that target particular young people in order to effectively and appropriately meet their needs. For example, groups have been set up to work with asylum seekers, young people with a disability, Travellers, young people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual etc.

Best practice says that both types of groups have a place and the important consideration is to meet the expressed needs of the young people themselves. Young people will often say that it is important for them to have time out with other young people who share their minority identity as there might be specific things that they can do or discuss together with more ease and in an atmosphere o safety and trust. Sometimes it is also about having some time together for long enough to build confidence before joining a mixed group. It is equally important for young people to be able to join other community-based youth groups so they can fully take part in their own community life. In more rural communities specialist, targeted groups won’t be able to exist due to smaller numbers so the onus is on the mainstream youth groups to be fully inclusive.

Even where a targeted group exists these groups must also be open and inclusive as identity is never based on a single identifying feature. A disabled person will still have an ethnicity, a gender, a sexual orientation, an experience of school, of health, etc. and may prefer to spend time with others on issue or theme based work such as drama, or sport rather than on activities determined by how others might label or perceive them. Safety and trust ultimately means being confident to participate fully in life. Allowing cliques or discrete groups to develop to the extent of exclusion is not healthy for society or young people themselves.