Research into practice

Sadly, it sometimes seems axiomatic that the young people with whom
social workers often work have such deprived backgrounds that very
little can be expected of them. Damaged and hurt, such young people
are often deemed to have very little to offer the community at

However, many people view all young people like this. Seen as the
grasping generation targeted by the advertising media, the last
thing that they are supposed to be interested in is helping other
people or giving to charity.

At school young people get involved in all manner of fund-raising
and charity events, and often hit the headlines in local newspapers
when they present a large cheque to a worthy cause. But after they
leave school, what then?

A report last year from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation explores the
16-24 age group and asks how these young people relate to charity
and giving.1 The background to this research has been “a
worrying decline over the past 20 years in young people’s
participation in volunteering and giving money to good

The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative techniques.
The aim was “to allow young people to talk about charity and giving
in a neutral setting”. Nine focus groups involved 70 young people
in a wide cross-section of geographic locations in the UK, with
attention being paid to an appropriate balance of gender, age and
ethnic profiles. A quantitive survey was carried out with a
nationally representative sample of 590 young people aged 16-24.
The field work for the study was carried out between March and June

Two main perceptions about charity were uncovered. While it is
certainly not a major preoccupation of young people in this age
group, when asked they demonstrated clear ideas about what
charities do, and “have a favourable view of the charities’ role in
raising awareness and helping people”. Crucially, they believe that
the charity sector “does more good in society than government or
business”, and they seem to have considerable trust in charities
and their ability to do a good job.

These young people, however, had a much broader understanding of
what charity is than the formal organised charity and fund-raising
events. The activities that attracted many of them included things
such as buying Fairtrade goods, giving to people begging on the
streets, donating goods to charity shops, recycling, and becoming
involved in campaigning issues. This suggests that young people in
this age group have a well developed “social conscience” and are
engaged in a wide range of activities that could be described as
“altruistic” or “socially responsible”, thereby marking them out as
“good citizens”.

Many young people in the survey commented that with little cash to
spare, they cannot support charities financially very well, but
would much rather be given opportunities to support them in other
ways, such as through volunteering and being actively involved.
This would help young people “feel more included, valued and
powerful agents in society”.

Maybe this empowerment has something to say to us in our work with
young people. Maybe there are opportunities in our communities for
young people to become involved and to give something to others to
help develop their own self-esteem, and to feel that they have
something of tremendous worth to offer. Highly therapeutic,

1 C Walker and A Fisher, Growing into Giving:
Young People’s Engagement with Charity, Charities Aid Foundation,
2002, go to

Bernard Moss is principal lecturer in social work and
applied social studies, and learning and teaching fellow at
Staffordshire University. Contact:

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