I was talking with a group of youth work students the other day and we were discussing the different roles youth workers adopt when working with young people. One of the roles we were discussing was the advocate; the youth worker speaking to others on behalf of the young people they work with. As we were talking I started to think about the role and what it implies.
Firstly it is a role that’s needed because the structures are such that the young people in question can’t speak for themselves. Why is this? What is wrong with a structure that renders a member of it voiceless? Can that be a just and fair structure?
Secondly it suggests that power imbalances are at work. The young people are voiceless because someone else has more power than they, and uses that power to silence them in some way. What kind of a structure creates and then sustains this kind of power imbalance?
Thirdly it implies that the young people have some kind of deficit that disqualifies them from speaking. What could that be? Could it be that they don’t have enough understanding? Is their language insufficient? Who makes that judgement? Why does a deficit mean that some are excluded?
I should perhaps contextualise the conversation: we were talking about the way youth workers advocate for young people in church life. The discussion caused me to think again about how the church includes (or excludes) children and young people. The need for an advocate says some very disturbing things about how we view the role of the child in church, but I think it also says some very disturbing things about our churches.
This led me to ask myself the question: What would our churches have to look like for there to be no need for an advocate to speak for children and young people?