Promoting the Social Inclusion of Young People: The Role of Faith Communities
A research project of the Department of Sociology.
This project is a partnership between Churches' Regional Commission in the North East and the University of Durham, financed by the Big Lottery Fund, from May 2005 to May 2007.
Many young people are socially excluded from their local communities in a wide range of ways. Frequently, they are portrayed as a problem rather than as young citizens and future adults. Many agencies and groups feel unable or unwilling to engage with them. Faith communities are present in every area in the country. They are acknowledged as key social institutions, with an increasingly recognised potential to involve a wide range of people, particularly those who are socially excluded, in the wider life of the community. We are using the term "faith communities" here to mean worshipping congregations such as local churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and temples. In many disadvantaged neighbourhoods, faith communities are a key resource and sometimes provide the only community building.
However, the dynamics, scope and potential of the work of local faith communities to involve children and young people in the wider community are not yet fully understood. Some faith communities are promoting the social inclusion of young people through innovative and effective social action, such as mentoring schemes or detached youth work. In contrast, others encounter significant barriers, issues and challenges that prevent or discourage them from taking on this role.
The aim of this research is to investigate the role of and potential for social action by local faith communities in promoting social inclusion for young people.
The objectives of the research are to:
1. Gain an understanding of the scope and nature of social action by faith communities with young people in the North East of England.
2. Raise awareness of the ways in which young people are included or excluded in both the faith community and the wider community, and the dynamics of how these relate together.
3. Promote a better understanding of different faith groups by young people and promote respect for religious, racial and cultural diversity.
4. Use young people's and practitioners' views to promote good practice in:
a. Involving young people, especially those who are socially excluded, in the wider community.
b. Effective partnership working between those people from faith communities who are engaged in social action with young people and other practitioners working towards the social inclusion of young people.
5. Empower young people to effect positive changes to the ways in which faith communities and other service providers engage with young people.
The design of this research developed out of a series of discussions and consultations involving young people, youth work practitioners, faith community leaders and researchers across the North East of England. These have been used to guide the research design, which is based upon the following key questions and principles:
- There is a need to find out what is happening and where: the types of work, resources, support, networks, communication across denominations. This led to the inclusion of a scoping exercise as the first part of the research.
- We want to know what works, how and why; what is not happening and why; how do faith communities work to include young people and exclude them. This led us to propose the use of case studies of particular areas and places of worship, to enable in depth qualitative data to be collected.
- It is important that we actively involve young people in the research. This led to the proposal that young people be invited to form a reference group and to undertake training to act as researchers for part of the project. In this sense the research has a participatory element, while recognising that young people's involvement must be agreed with them and may vary at different stages of the research.
- It is important that we work across all faiths and be inclusive of young people from all ethnic groups. This led us to propose that the research be conducted first and foremost within a framework of youth work values, skills and approaches, with an emphasis on respecting diversity, empowering young people, reaching and engaging with young people. The researchers would essentially be practitioner researchers.
- Ultimately our aim is to promote and develop good practice in work with young people. We hope this will be achieved during the course of the research and as a result of the research. This placed the research firmly in the realm of applied research, with an element of action research, while recognising that much of the change that may take place in practice will come about after the project has ended.