By Una Murphy
A quiet professor has challenged the Northern Ireland government to set up a Ministry for Children
Sam McCready is one of the most unassuming men you are likely to meet. Yet if his ideas where taken up by government it might lead Northern Ireland to value children as citizens from the day they are born.
“Who writes the last chapter? If you said that young people wrote the last chapter (of the peace process) we should be investing in them now and giving them the resources to shape our society, he told VIEWdigital community media.
He started out in community youth work on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast in the 1970s. Scroll back to more recent times and the Ulster University’s community youth work department celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special conference and lecture by Professor McCready.
He said: “Across my working life it’s my experience that the complex mosaic that is our youth service found innovative ways to respond to the needs of young people living within a contested society”.
It is the complexity of the community youth work field in today’s post conflict Northern Ireland – with funding with different government departments – which has led to Prof McCready’s call for a Ministry for Children. He also wants to see a more joined up approach by professionals such as teachers, social workers, youth and community workers in local neighbourhoods.
“When I started off working in the Newtownards Road community I started a play group and supported the redevelopment association. I worked with young people and women. When you are working in a neighbourhood it is false to adopt a label called youth work – it is a youth and community type job.”
He said: “People saw me as a neighbourhood worker who set up the playgroup. Having a good playgroup gives a good foundation to the community.”
Nearly three quarters of a young person’s learning takes place outside of schools, Professor McCready told VIEWdigital community media. “Where you have poverty you can’t expect extra teachers in schools to fundamentally change the outcomes”, he said.
“Young people have a lot of time on their hands. They only spend 16 percent in a school what do they do with the other 84 percent of their time?” he said.
Professor McCready added: “The benefit of good youth work is seeing young people as part of the community and young people getting to be part of the neighbourhood. The community is the learning environment and young people need to find their place in that adult world of the community association.”