How To Set Up A Detached Youth Work Project

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How To Start A Detached Youth Work Project

A complete step-by-step guide



First of all, before I start to go into the details of setting up your detached youth work project, I need you to understand the importance to distinguish the differences between outreach and detached work. As I found that often majority of the people confuse it with outreach work. I will, therefore, provide a working definition of both detached work and outreach work for your reference so that there are no confusions. This will give a clear direction to your steering group members and also the staff that will be involved in the delivery of the project.

 Outreach Work

I will just provide a simple definition without sounding like an academic, as this is not my aim, I want to make it as simple as possible so that you can have an understanding of the definition of outreach work.

“Outreach work has a specific aim of encouraging young people to make use of existing provision”.

 Detached Youth Work

On the other hand street work also another name you will come across frequently differs from the definition given above for outreach work.

“Detached youth work is targeted at vulnerable young people, which takes place on young people’s own territory such as streets, cafe, parks at times that are appropriate to them and on their terms.

It begins from where young people are in terms of their values, attitudes, issues and ambitions and is concerned with their personal and social development.”

Now that we have an understanding of the to models of work and the differences between the two we can progress on the rest of the guide.

The contents of this article will give an insight into what is detached youth work and more importantly how it progresses. I will walk you through the different steps from design to evaluation. What is important is that detached work involves the whole community so that there is a strong support structure to sustain a good model of practice from the onset.

Detached youth work is popular and has a strong part to play within the informal education system. As sometimes with centre based youth work, there are restrictions as to how much you can do. We will not go into this and maybe I will cover this on my next article or guide. But as you can see from the list below these are some of the benefits of delivering or managing a detached youth work project

  • No responsibility for a building.
  • Agenda is negotiated with the young people.
  • Involves a flexible approach.
  • Requires good support mechanisms.

I have broken down the contents of the step-by-guide into four sections so that it will be more digestible to take in. This also helps to structure the guide so you can always jump right to each section as you like depending on what stage you are at in your own project.


It is fundamental that you spend time understanding this process, as it requires a systematic approach. This will help you to establish a strong and firm foundation for the work. 


I can assure you without a doubt that working on the streets for a sustained period of time will lead to isolation and feeling that you have no support. Therefore it will be imperative that sufficient support is generated throughout the project or service delivery.

I urge you to always have this on your list as high priority. This should also be an essential practice of your organisation. You will need to form a strong steering group who are committed to the cause. This steering group should be committed individuals from a range of statutory and voluntary agencies within the community.

The Following Individuals or professionals should be involved in the steering group.

  1. Young Person (If possible)
  2. Youth Offending service senior Officer with Budget Responsibilities ( YOT)
  3. Youth Service Head
  4. CEO of local business Owner
  5. Resident Social Landlord Senior Manager (RSL)
  6. Metropolitan Police
  7. Director from a Voluntary Organisation
  8. Resident
  9. Social Services
  10. YOU and your senior staff


Now that we have completed step one and identified key stakeholders and members to set up our steering group we are ready to learn how to recruit staff

for the project. Having a balanced staffing means that your project will be on the route for success. You need to pay close attention on who will be the staff members to take this project to another level. You need to look at what key skills are required and needed for this particular role.

I have included the main skills needed to carry out the work for this project I believe is essential. You can also check out my other blog on how-to-build-strong-relationships-with-young-people

Key Skills

  • Organizational
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Maturity
  • Reliability
  • Responsibility
  • Resilience
  • Good Team Player
  • Good Negotiator

Pay good attention to the above when you are recruiting your new staff. Having poor staff will definitely have a detrimental impact on the success of the project and more importantly to young people.

Now that we have selected our new staff it is vital that you allow sufficient time for them to develop as a team and to bond with each other. What you will need to do is organise a series of training which focuses on team building.

An induction process should be identified whereby the team can spend an extended period of time together. This induction period should create space to allow the team to discuss designing a code of practice relevant to the work, and to also discuss any potential dilemmas the work may entail. As part of the induction, it is also an ideal opportunity to discuss the team’s training.

This may include the following skills in the areas of:

Community Profile/Mapping: Detached

(Information, information, information) I cannot emphasise the importance of this, as you will soon understand why. Community profiling or mapping is so important in ensuring you have all the facts and information about the young people and the area you will be focusing on.

I have witnessed many times when I first started in my early days as a detached youth worker trying to find the young people or when they see us, they will go or, I have heard them say “on no not them again”. This was due to poor planning and not really understanding the needs of young people and the community they reside in.

With the right research and information and tools to your arsenal, you will find that the process becomes much easier and more productive before you even made any contact with young people.

Now there is a two-fold to this process which I need you to understand and implement this as this process involves action.

First, you need to gather all the quantitative data available to you from your local council if you’re a voluntary organisation. This will be in the form of:

  1. A population of young people
  2. Gender age
  3. Not in education employment training (NEET)
  4. (IN) Education employment training (EET)
  5. Map of local area
  6. Number of agencies
  7. Crime Rates
  8. Total Number of Secondary Schools

Once you have obtained all the necessary information ensure that it is kept in your folder for future references or induction of new staff members. Make sure you update the information on a regular basis so that it is not outdated.

Secondly, the team or staffs need to visit the area, as this will help them to know the area better and have an understanding of any issues there may be in a different locality.

More importantly, they will have the chance to get to know the local residents and agencies working within the area. If the staff members need to cover huge areas it will be best to break it down into segments so that is easily manageable.

Make sure that the team completes the following, as this action will provide valuable insights and intelligence for the project.

Visit the areas at different times.

Observe the differences in areas such as; is one area more Affluent/run down than another?

How many young people stay in one area or do they tend to move frequently?

Do young people have a specific hangout such as parks, shops, off-licences, and empty houses, schools?

Any other Intel you can gather which will benefit the team and the project.

(Make sure everything is recorded so that you can refer back to it anytime)


Community Profile/Mapping: Networking

This part of the guide is about networking with all the agencies involved in working with young people. It is important that the staff makes contact with other professionals so that there are aware of your presence and more importantly they have a better understanding of the number provisions out there in the targeted area. This will help in exploring the possibility to work in partnership with other agencies to deliver quality detached youth work and eliminating any duplication of service delivery.

It is absolutely crucial to make contact with the police and know if there are any community police officers working. This will help you to inform them of the times and days you will be in the area especially in the winter when it gets dark very early. Your aim is to network with all the agencies and establish as many contacts you can gather and make a database with contact details for future use. Update as you go along so that it does not get outdated.

Community Profile/Mapping: Observation

Once you’re on the streets ensure that you understand the behaviour of young people. You need to observe their behaviour, gender (mix or girls/boys only) small groups or large groups. What are the issues such as anti-social behaviour (ASB), drugs, alcohol and gangs issues in the area? Observe and record your findings. Gather as much intel of the behaviour and patterns of young people so that you have a holistic picture of young people living in the area.

Community Profile/Mapping: Record

Record your entire findings in a database such as excel so that all information stored securely and accessible to relevant people. This will help you to build up understanding and enable you to tailor make your programme according to the needs of the young people once you have made contact with them at a later stage. Discuss with team members and steering group meeting so that this is evidenced for future reference.

This Intel now can be shared with other agencies working with young people in your targeted area. By sharing the Intel with other agencies will ensure that they are aware of the issues if for any reason they are not and help your authority in the field of detached youth work.

Community Profile/Mapping: Compile

Compile all the findings and contact details and discuss with the team on how to develop a programme. Agree on times, days, target groups, and any partnership work. Present your whole delivery plan and timescale of the project to the steering group for approval if necessary.


The following policies must be embedded within your organisation if you’re new.

  • Child Protection
  • Health & Safety
  • Lone Working  
  • Confidentiality



In this section, you will learn how to ensure that you have all the right tools to deliver your project successfully and also ensure that there is a code of conduct in place to safeguard detached youth workers.

Code of Conduct

Before you start making actual contacts it is imperative that you develop with your detached team a working code of conducts. These will safeguard the team in the near future if any legal issue arises. The code of conduct will become a guideline for old and new members when they join the team.

  • Carry photographic identification
  • Dress appropriately
    • Carry mobile phone
    • Always work in pairs
  • Recruit and have a mixed gender of workers
    • Remember you should never put yourself at risk or compromise your safety
    • Use appropriate language
    • Withdraw from young people under influence of alcohol/drugs
  • Be aware of your agency’s policies and procedures
    • Always carry emergency services’ numbers
    • Be friendly and honest with young people
  • Use an approach which promotes dialogue
    • Establish boundaries with young people
  • Adhere to confidentiality when appropriate

You should always remember that when you’re on the streets you may at times be ‘invading’ young people’s space. Never expect to be always welcomed and in some situations, they may not even talk to you. It is fundamental that you understand when to withdraw and back away.

Making First Contact


How you approach and make the first contact with the group of young people will determine if its make or break your relationship with them in the near future. The first contact will involve dialogue with young people, regardless of the dynamics of the group, the make-up, the places they are hanging out.

Sometimes walking up to young people and introducing yourself as youth workers may have limited success. As detached youth workers, you have to be creative to know the dynamics of the groups and use tools to your advantage. Good planning and preparation beforehand will be rewarded later.


Based on the information gathered during the mapping will decide the best possible method or approach to be used when making contact with young people. I have listed a few to help you discuss with your team members. You and your team will be in a better position to know what will be the best approach.

  • Discuss with team members what are the barriers you will face when making the first contact
  • How you will make contact
  • What do the team need to know before making contact
  • What tools you will need and what is available

“In order to work successfully with the most excluded young people, workers believed that they had to adopt a flexible approach, based on voluntary involvement and responsiveness to the needs of individual young people.”

[ 13/09/2015]


“The nature of detached youth work is such that it is essential the boundaries of confidentiality are explicit between both worker and young person (compliant with the child protection policy). Young people may at times assume, given the environment, that confidentiality goes further than it actually does.”

At times it may be expedient to make a ‘tactical’ withdrawal ensuring that an anticipated incident is not witnessed. Phrases such as “If you are going to do that, I do not want to work with you/can not work with you” can be used.

Managers should appreciate that the worker will sometimes only convey such basic information about a contact as to render themselves accountable. If it becomes necessary or appropriate to provide more detail than this then the anonymity of individuals should be preserved.

Outside of the legal requirements outlined in the child protection policy workers need to be frank with young people about what they report and to whom.


I call this phase RONP as it requires you to be more analytical, critical about the work your team and your own approach. This is an ongoing process as it allows you to critically analyse your team plans, sessional recordings, team meetings and more importantly explore what is working and what is not. This will allow you to assess the work in real-time as it takes place so that you can draw on lessons learnt and make necessary changes.

focus and reflect on the following:

  1. Sessional Recordings
  2. What worked
  3. Straightens and weaknesses of the team
  4. Findings from the Mapping exercise
  5. Needs of the group
  6. Training Needs of team members
  7. Impact of Teams behaviour
  8. Impact of individual team members behaviour
  9. what Interventions worked with young people
  10. What barriers or problems faced during delivery

Do not skip this process as this will keep you ahead of your game and provide constant and continued learning for you and your staff members.

Equipped with the knowledge and intelligence obtained from the mapping exercise carried out, you are now in a position to analyse, reflect on what kind of intervention is needed in order, to engage with the group of young people who you made contact with.

In response to the findings, it is in many cases highlights some form of or, more specialised interventions needed. In other cases, you may come across that provisions that might not always be available within the community.

For example, based on the information obtained from mapping you know that there are certain groups or individuals, who may require specialised information.

This will be in the form of substance abuse, counselling or sex education. this tells you that you need to work closely with other agencies who specialise in this field. You will be in a better position to signpost young people who need a more specialised service.



As a detached youth work project, you will need to establish a framework for evaluating and measuring the success. Now this will be one of many challenges for detached youth work projects that you will have overcome.  It is important that you learn how to measure the success of the project so that you can have an idea of what’s working and what you need to improve on.

The process that needs to be evaluated against is qualitative, quantitive and learning outcomes. This type of evaluation will determine the development and growth of the project and also establish what learning outcomes have been achieved by young people.

With this in mind, questions need to be asked about whose values and judgements shape the project?

What to Evaluate

It is important to identify what to evaluate before you develop your plan. Below are some possible outcomes you may want to evaluate:

The impact of service on the youth participants’ learning

The impact of specific service efforts on the community

The quality and effectiveness of related partnerships

The quality of the service experience

The impact of youth involvement on the agency and/or school

The extent and reach of the program

Young people’s perception of the agency and its work and how their involvement in service at the agency has affected them

Structure of your program

Participants’ attitudes

Whom to Involve in Your Evaluation 

You may want to engage the following people in your evaluation:

Planning committee members

Service providers

Agency staff and/or board

Youth volunteer supervisor


Service recipients


Program coordinators

Evaluation Methods

There are many different methods you can use to collect the information you need to evaluate your program. Below are just a few:

Individual interviews with youth, clients, parents, staff, etc.

Group discussions (focus groups, discussions in advisor

committee meetings dialogue nights)

Record review (volunteer assignment reports, youth journals

attendance records, school progress)

Pre- and post-experience surveys of participants and others

Observation and documentation of insights from those involved in your project/program (teachers, youth agency staff, parents, etc.)

Analysis of existing data

Some books that will help you which we found useful.

If you found this step by step article useful please share with others and all we ask in return is to cite and mention us.
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