Youth work and ethics: Why the ‘professional turn’ won’t do

Richard Davies

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Youth work is deemed to require a distinctive commitment to ethical behaviour from the adults involved. This is expressed in the requirements for the initial education of workers, in the subject benchmarks and national expectations for youth workers. A significant influence in this debate is Howard Sercombe. Sercombe seeks a substantive framework for youth work ethics. The project offers clear potential benefits alongside equally great dangers. His platform is an integration of two foundations: a particular definition of youth work and a particular account of what it means to be ‘a profession’. I argue that both foundations are flawed, and potentially harmful to practice and policy. At the heart of Sercombe’s account, however, is a focus on youth work as based on a ‘covenantal relation of trust between youth workers and young people’. This insight, submerged and marginalised, does offer a substantive foundation for youth work ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-196
Number of pages11
JournalEthics and Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2016


  • ethics
  • Sercombe
  • informal education
  • professions
  • Koehn


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