Seeking out the gift of authenticity

Seeking out the gift of authenticity: Heather Smith argues that developments in youth work are undermining authentic relationship. She suggests that if we do prize relationships over targets and do truly care about the people we encounter, it is possible to take personal responsibility to seek out the gift of authenticity.

contents: introduction · the aims of youth work · the nature of relationship · professional relationships in a public world · authenticity · is accompanying enough? · bring yourself · conclusion · references · links · how to cite this article


As a youth worker experiencing different relationships with young people, what has been central is my commitment to care. This commitment involves placing the welfare of others as a priority and not making decisions or judgements in a ‘detached’ capacity. This is not always easy and often involves a high investment of time, energy and emotion. But it is something that I see as worthwhile, even if only one young person benefits from the relationship.

As a practitioner I am concerned about the direction in which youth work is heading especially the lack of emphasis placed on the valuable nature of relationship. This article is a representation of what I believe to be the key conceptual elements of community and informal education and how I see this relating to my experience and practice. My concern is that of keeping humanity in relationships constructed within the informal education sector.

The essence of informal education lies in the informality. It is part of our everyday lives and for the worker it is about being in everyday situations with people and seizing learning opportunities as they arise. Smith (2000) argues that informal educators, ‘spend time with people in everyday settings’ but that they also ‘create opportunities for people to study experiences and questions in a more focused way’. He highlights the point of spending time with people before engaging in more focused learning. From this I begin to conclude that relationships come first in informal education, they are what inform the informality of the learning. Informal education is not about imposing a curriculum but about people learning in a way that is right for them, without the restrictions placed on them by a formalised structure or curriculum. Key to the nature of this learning is the voluntary nature of the relationships formed and the learning engaged in.

The process of informal education takes place in a great many settings and groups, all of which offer valid examples of informal education in practice. However this article is concerned with youth work as informal education and many of the examples and experiences related herein will pertain to the youth work in which I have been or am involved personally. The background of my experience is within both the statutory and voluntary sector.

The aims of youth work

The National Occupational Standards for Youth Work document (NYA 2000) offers a standard set of guidelines for youth work qualifications and recruitment processes and new contracts. The standards can be used to set performance benchmarks and [page 20] as a means for developing and evaluating training (NYA 2000; ii). With this document the NYA aims to ‘represent youth work in it’s entirety and not the specific contribution of individual youth workers.’ (NYA 2000; ii), indicating that ‘Youth work is conventionally understood to be, at it’s core, about young people’s personal and social development’ (2000: iv). The report also goes on to emphasise that youth workers need to encourage young people to be ‘critical and creative’ about their experiences of the world and should be concerned with how the young people feel, not just what they know and do (NYA 2000: iv).

The occupational standards document identifies one key purpose of youth work: ‘to work with young people to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, and enable them to gain a voice, influence and place in society.’ They highlight six key aspects that are thought to enable the key purpose, they are summarised as:

a) Build relationships with young people.

b) Facilitate young people’s learning

c) Enable young people to organise and take responsibility for activities

d) Work in accordance with core values of youth work

e) Plan, manage and develop youth work

f) Support and develop effective, efficient and ethical practice (NYA 2000: xvi)

The layout of these key aspects suggests that the relationships formed are the underpinning factor of any work done. Nevertheless we see the concern shift from maintaining these relationships towards planning and managing young people’s experiences. It appears from this model that the relationships of youth work are formed not on the basis that being in relationship with each other has intrinsic value, but rather in order to guide, explore and manage the experiences that young people have. This contradicts the view that informal education relationships are voluntary and are about an individual directing their own learning in a way that is appropriate for them. What the NYA is suggesting is something very different. In this context it is appropriate to ask whether the direction that youth work is taking is really concerned with informal education.

The National Occupational Standards are not concerned with the contribution of the individual worker, but rather with the general aim of youth work. However, this does not mean that in the reality of our everyday practice workers are free to let these relationships develop naturally because the National Occupational Standards provide a basis for contracts and for monitoring the performance of the [page 21] youth workers. Planning and managing elements are always included in any youth work programme or initiative. I take an agency where I worked as an example. In that agency, there was a service level agreement designed to create a partnership between a funder and the agency. The agency agreed to provide a certain level of ‘service’ in return for funding. This already indicated that more is required than simply being in relationship with the young people. Such agreements shape youth work practice.

In their simplest form, service level agreements may be useful requiring each party to document their focus and responsibilities. This provides a level of accountability, but at the same time the spontaneity of youth work is taken away or marginalised. Through service level agreements agencies agree to provide proof of their work, which is symptomatic of an age of increasing materialism, but how do workers prove that they have relationships with young people? Proof of the quality of human interaction is hard to achieve, so agencies are instead asked to provide quantitative evidence. Consequently, numbers become a priority for the agency and so youth workers are constantly aware of the fact that ‘bums on seats’ is a large factor in securing funding. The quantity of participants attending is prioritised rather than quality of the work and the relationships within it.

The notion of relationship is complex and when discussed in youth work literature, professional integrity, the notion of boundaries and the ethical issues involved in building relationships are included. In practice when building relationships, youth workers have to consider factors that make demands on their time, such as structured session times, paper work and staffing commitments. I highlight this because it can be these commitments that reduce face to face contact with young people. With all these factors, both theoretical and practical, it is difficult to remain to be open and honest, when openness and honesty have to be in accordance with a certain way of being, that of the distant professional worker client relationship. It is this encouraged distance that causes concern for me as a worker.

I believe that to actually be able to support a young person through the often complex process of adolescence workers need to be able to be real and provide a steadiness of presence, in order to begin to reach an authentic relationship. This is something that I aim to do within my work but definitely something I found easier before I became a senior youth worker. The acceptance of such a post meant that my time was not simply concerned with the young people but with writing ‘achievable targets’; securing adequate numbers and ensuring the staff team was working as a cohesive unit. My priorities had to change, and as much as I fought against it, it was the time given to my face to face contact with the young people that diminished. [page 22]

It is for this reason that I want to focus on examining the notion of authentic relationships, firstly exploring the nature of relationship and what characteristics make it an authentic experience. To then bring the discussion into the area of informal education I consider how, and if, this type of relationship can be achieved in the context of youth work.

The nature of relationship

Before examining relationship in the context of professionalism and authenticity, it is important to first establish the meaning of the term ‘relationship.’

If we explore the notion of relationship in our everyday setting, we see that relationships occur between individuals and involve a connection. The level, depth and type of connection can vary, but may include elements of the physical, emotional and spiritual. The term ‘relate’ can be turned into a variety of phrases, all of which suggest a connection. Using this idea of connection I will further explore how this manifests in human interaction.

This connection allows us to get to know each other and to build up a sense of belonging, both in the public and private worlds. Perlman takes the concept further; she defines relationship as ‘a catalyst, an enabling dynamism in the support, nurture and freeing of people’s energies…’ (1979; 2). It is something that Storkey in her book The Search for Intimacy would describe as ‘a need which lies deep in the human psyche for the security of being loved just as we are’ (1995; xii).

In A Way of Being, Rogers (1980), describes his marital relationship as ‘…an increasingly deep communication of hopes, ideals and aims…’ (1980: 31) and his relationship with fellow academics a ‘mutually trusting’ (1980; 32). Both descriptions offer a similar theme; relating to people is about trust and communication. He says, ‘interpersonal relationships best exist as a rhythm; flow and change, then a temporary quiet; risk and anxiety, then temporary security’ (Rogers, 1980; 44). Even professional relationships are about connecting with people, not working on them.

The differentiation between the public and private can often cause tension for many practitioners. How far are we able to support and nurture young people with the constraints and expectations of a ‘profession’? What relationships exist in the professional world of the client/worker arrangement and what connects the people involved?

Professional relationships in a public world

The idea that youth work should be seen as a profession has been given much thought and publicity. This can be evidenced through the talks and seminars held surrounding the possible identification of a code of ethics for practitioners and the establishment of a regulatory body (NYA 1999). It is clear that the arena of youth [page 23] work wants to be recognised for its specialised knowledge. Revealed within this recognition is the expectation that the use of specialised knowledge in tackling ‘social ills’ guarantees a positive outcome but with the unpredictability of the human condition how can anything be guaranteed? Furlong (2000) makes a similar point. He argues that what is expected of the teaching profession is operation on the high level of a specialised knowledge, but in reality:

Rather than inhabiting the ‘high ground’ of professional certainty, they have to work in the ‘swampy lowlands of everyday life, facing situations that are complex and messy, defying easy technical solutions. (Furlong, 2000; 18)

This is also true of youth work practice. It is not within the ‘high ground of professionalism but in the ‘swampy lowlands’ that we engage in relationships with young people encountering what Perlman (1979) describes as ‘emotionally freighted interplay’.

Relationships forged under the umbrella of youth work are rarely done so because of the intrinsic value of being with one another. More often than not there is an agenda, whether it be to reduce street crime by giving the young people somewhere to go, or tackling the latest moral panic. The presence of a specific but not always explicit agenda suggests that what is wanted is product, evidence that this specialised body of knowledge is having an effect on society. This is something that distinguishes the professional relationship from a ‘normal’ or non-professional one.

Allocation of time and involvement dictate how and when the interaction between the youth worker and the young people takes place. Many youth centres have set sessions for set ages. Contact with the young people outside of these times is rare. It is not discouraged, yet the time structures in place for different sessions, activities and meetings leave little room for ‘extra curricula’ contact.

An appropriate question to ask here is where the allocation of purpose, time and involvement comes from. In this context it is worth exploring recent policy papers. In Transforming Youth Work, Developing youth work for young people the DfEE attempted to ‘highlight successes, challenge weaknesses and set out objectives for youth work.’ (DfEE, 2000: 3). This document was released in conjunction with the beginning of the Connexions Service, and highlights the importance of youth work if Connexions is to succeed. In it, the DfEE proposed that the aim of the youth service is to keep young people in ‘good shape’ (DfEE, 2001: 13) and that ‘Youth workers will play a key role in keeping young people in good shape’ (DFEE, 2001: 14). This is identified as being done through youth workers taking a professional role and identifying areas of a young person life that are in ‘poor shape’ (DfEE, 2001:14). [page 24] (See, also DfEE 2002).

This pre-set course of action is troubling if the youth worker considers the work to be about spontaneity; seizing opportunities when they arise and getting to know people through what they allow the worker to know about them following a natural process of encountering. Of course such an approach entails working with a set of variables many of which are not quantifiable, the most prominent being the unpredictability of human nature. Government reports and directives are contrary to this process. They seem to be an attempt to remove the unpredictability, to homogenise youth work practice, to make it quantifiable and easier to manipulate.

For a service provision to be identified as good value for money by government, the purpose and outcomes have to be clear. Extracts from an OFSTED inspection included in Transforming Youth Work identify poor practice,

Despite clear progress, reasonable levels of achievement among young people, and a recent successful track record in managing external projects, resources are poorly deployed, the quality of youth work is too variable and the service still lacks a consensus about its overall direction and purpose. It currently therefore offers barely satisfactory value for money. (DfEE, 2001:10)

Though it may be the case that the young people are achieving a great deal as a consequence of youth work interventions, what is mainly required is that workers demonstrate clarity in direction and outcome. All variables have to be managed, in order to offer evidence that the work is proceeding in a consensual direction. This is not a recipe for diversity!

This theme is reflected locally, for example in Southwark Council’s Best Value document,

…the Youth Service is an improving service, however if it is to achieve consistent improvement and move to upper quartile performance, it will need to be managed with greater rigour and direction. (Southwark Leisure, 2001: Fig 2.1 .2)

It is apparent that professional relationships are seen to be concerned only with value for money, identified through clear direction and a measurable outcome.

This does not tie in well with the notion of a caring profession whose primary concern is supposed to be the well being of young people. If we examine Perlman’s identification of a good relationship as being one which, ‘provides stimulus and nurture by which both persons involved feel sustained, loved, gratified, given to, helped and freed to experience their selfhood and to realize their potential’ (Perlman, 1979: 24), the [page 25] reconciliation of these two perspectives is not possible. How can a relationship form itself at its own pace incorporating love and nurture, if we have to clearly identify direction and purpose even before the initial interaction has taken place?

The need for direction and targets within youth work is partly a consequence of the fact that these relationships exist within the public domain. Exploring the notion of authenticity and how youth workers can incorporate integrity into their practice, may begin to indicate whether it is possible to achieve authenticity within these public professional relationships.


To understand the meaning of ‘authentic’, we can explore things within everyday life that are regarded as authentic, be it a friendship or a material object. Something is identified as authentic because it is, ‘real or true; being in fact what it is claimed to be; genuine’ (Cambridge International Dictionary of English, 2000). This encapsulates the essence of the concept; authenticity is about something being exactly what it claims to be.

The initial exploration argued that relationship is about connection, trust and communication and for Perlman (1979) it is about nurturing, loving and feeling gratified. So if we marry ideas about authenticity and relationship, it is possible to understand that an authentic relationship may be one wherein love and nurture can exist, but the essence lies in the realness and genuineness of the experience. This has implications for relationships in informal education. The constraints of the ‘profession’ and the attitude of the worker have an impact on whether the relationship between worker and young person is authentic or not. ,

Rogers highlights the idea of a ‘client centred’ approach, arguing that it is often the client who knows the best way to proceed. By appreciating people for who they are, a value is placed on them as a person rather than just a client. It is this that Rogers argues is the worker’s ‘operational expression of her essential confidence and trust in the capacity of the human organism’ (Rogers cited in Kirschenbaum and Henderson, 1990: 309). Rogers also explores the idea that the ‘facilitator’ is more likely to be effective in assisting learning if they enter into the relationship being themselves. He argues that this involves, ‘coming into a direct personal encounter with the learner, meeting her on a person-to-person basis’ (ibid: 306). What Rogers is arguing is for a ‘realness’ on behalf of the worker, not a ‘front or façade’ (ibid: 306) but a genuineness in who they are. He carries this idea into the realms of education. Smith identifies a strength in Rogers’ approach to education which can be found in the focus he places on relationship. He quotes Rogers, ‘The [page 26] facilitation of significant learning rests upon certain attitudinal qualities that exist in the personal relationship between facilitator and learner’ (Rogers cited in Smith (a), 2001: 3).

From this point it is possible to explore the authenticity of relationships within youth work, from the stance that the authenticity may begin with, or be linked to, the attitude in which the worker approaches the relationship.

For many, the location of the relationship, i.e. whether it is in the private or public domain, may inevitably affect their approach. For example the levels of tolerance and loyalty in a relationship may be far greater in the private domain because a higher value may be placed on personal relationships. Yet it is this placement of value, or lack of it, that may begin to have detrimental effects on ‘professional’ relationships, causing a breakdown in connectedness.

Rogers is not suggesting that ‘working’ relationships should be approached in the same way as our private ones. What is being argued is that ‘professional’ relationships should be regarded as valuable both to the worker and the client and that the worker should appreciate the value of being authentic within this. This has implications when informal educators or youth workers begin to develop relationships with young people.

Is accompanying enough?

The above question can be considered in relation to the notion of ‘accompanying’ defined by Christian and Green (1998). Their popular book, Accompanying Young People on Their Spiritual Quest, occupies the middle ground between strict secular informal education and Christian youth work that uses a strong evangelical approach. It combines the notions of spirituality or faith together with informal education practices such as mentoring. ‘Accompanying’ is understood as a process or relationship that is about one person joining alongside another, just to be with them. It is not about the mutuality of experience, but about one being the ‘accompanist’ and the other the ‘accompanied’.

Christian and Green argue that the ability to accompany is found in attitudes and skills rooted in humanity, (1998: 27) involving more emotional energy than a friendship (1998: 26). The reason for more emotional energy is that accompanying is not a skill that can be learnt but a skill that comes from the grace and compassion central to the accompanist’s being (1998: 6). Christian and Green highlight the importance of the accompanist’s character. Although processes such as mentoring and supervision can be learnt and experienced, these are secondary. The primary importance in any accompanist is their central being. This model of a youth work relationship could be one way in which to achieve authentic relationships within informal education. [page 27] Because the skill of accompanying is found within the accompanist, this type of ‘care’ cannot be achieved without genuineness of character; ability to care is more about a way of being, rather than a skill that can be learnt. Christian and Green seem thus to present a relationship that offers the space to be real and genuine in experiencing life. But can accompanying really be seen as an authentic relationship?

Answering this involves both questioning the realness of the situation and the validity of the experience being described as a relationship. The authenticity of the experience is not called into question as much as the idea of the experience being a relationship, because it is the genuineness in the care that brings to the forefront the notion of accompanying in the first place. If mutuality of experience is integral to the definition of a relationship, it may not be possible to class accompanying as an authentic relationship. To explore this I will offer my own experience of accompanying.

In my early teens I joined a church youth group that was run by an older married couple from the church. During my time as a member of the youth group I turned to them to talk about various issues that many teenagers go through. They provided me with time and space to explore my feelings and make sense of things. I felt accompanied by them. As I moved on through my teens, they left the youth group but I continued to see them. The seeming experience of accompanying began developing into an authentic relationship. Through the natural process of time, a friendship began to develop. Now the experience is no longer just about me; it is about us, and the support and love we have for each other as human beings. In retrospect I cannot describe what I experienced in my early teens as an authentic relationship because the focus was on me and my development and growth, not on a relational basis of give and take.

It is important to acknowledge that such a movement from worker/client relationship to a supportive friendship is not always appropriate. For example, many relationships built on a counselling structure would not have the room or scope to develop to this level. I also acknowledge that between young people and youth workers there are often experiences that are built on the authority of adult over child. This is inevitable and frequently necessary, but the idea of accompanying includes the inevitable condition that once mutuality of support is experienced, accompanying must end. If the concept of accompanying had been applied to my experience I feel that I would ultimately have lost out on knowing two people who have had a large and important impact on my life. If the experience must stop when it achieves mutuality, despite its authenticity of emotion, accompanying cannot be used as a basis on which authentic relationships in informal education can be built. [page 28]

Can youth workers become friends with each young person, or are authentic relationships rare and therefore more special? It is nigh on impossible for a youth worker to develop an authentic relationship with each young person whom they know in the context of their work, just as it is impossible for any individual to develop a special bond with each person they meet. Nevertheless, this ‘specialness’ creates a need for workers to be aware of, and seek out, opportunities that provide a glimpse of our ability to build, and be part of, an authentic relationship. (See friendship and informal education).

In my own practice I encountered one particular young woman, and feel that we have begun to build a solid foundation of a lasting relationship. This has happened not only through our interaction in the youth club, but through the extra time spent together. For example I walk her home after each session. These seemingly insignificant pockets of time created a bond, a time when she could share things with me without the judgement of others around her. At this stage there is not the mutuality or reciprocity that appears in authentic relationships, but the potential was there. There was an unspoken bond and a sharing of space, but not something that I could name or quantify. Buber calls this interaction, ‘the sphere of the between’. He highlights what that ‘something’ may be, ‘when a human being turns to another as another, as a particular and specific person to be addressed, and tries to communicate with him through language or silence, something takes place between them which is not found elsewhere in nature’ (Buber cited in Hodes, 1973; 72).

The experience of relationship in this sense is about ‘one’ relating to another as ‘one’, not about labels or roles. This is what I hope to achieve as a youth worker and a person.

It may be possible to use the idea of the authenticity of care which is present in the concept of accompanying, and integrate it with an experience that works towards the notion of a mutual relationship rather than away from it. To move the discussion on to explore how authenticity may be incorporated into relationships in youth work it is first necessary to accept, that to a certain level, authenticity of care is there for the youth worker to bring and that, ‘If we are not in youth work because of our love of our fellow men we have no business there at all’ (Brew cited in Smith (3)2001:1).

If realness and genuineness in the ability to care is central to their being and motivations, workers need to explore how we weave this into their ‘professional’ relationships. [page 29]

Bringing yourself

In The Courage to Teach (1998), Palmer explores how professional teachers can include their personal identity in their work; and the benefits of doing so. He argues that ‘good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher’ (1998: 10). Palmer indicates that in order to achieve integrity in the work it is necessary to bring self to it. Weaving identity into teaching involves the importance of remembering and acknowledging why the work was personally attractive in the first place. Keeping this at the forefront and linking it with the authenticity of care, may provide a foundation from which an authentic relationship can grow.

The idea is not without problems for any practitioner. Palmer suggests that people who engage in something they care about and bring themselves to it, become vulnerable (1998: 17). Criticisms of their work can be seen as criticisms of self. It is this fear, he argues, that divides people, the fear of a live encounter where we may hear something we do not want to (1998: 36/37). Yet this fear of losing identity through a conflict of ideas can also help workers to grow and develop both as practitioners and as people. The threat of uncertainty creates in us a need to be adaptable

This is directly applicable to my field of work. I am in my job because I care, for people and I can identify with Palmer that this, at times, leaves me feeling vulnerable. This is not always a positive experience and can sometimes leave me far from intact. But I would argue that it is this acceptance of vulnerability and expectation of live encounters that keeps me from ‘stagnating’:

Stagnation is the state chosen by teachers who are so threatened by students that they barricade themselves behind their credentials, their podiums, their status, their research. (Palmer, 1998: 48)

It is possible that the avoidance of stagnation in our work is achievable by simply bringing ourselves.

However, the wider picture may offer more challenges to our caring for young people. Even if they manage to hold on to the authentic voice of the ‘teacher within’ (Palmer, 1998: 29), workers may face the obstacle of the need which the world has for objectivity. This notion of objectivity is central to the idea of professionalism and encourages distance between professionals and clients, or between youth workers and young people.

There are written and unwritten codes of behaviour within youth work. Written codes of practice such as Child Protection policies stipulate emotional and physical boundaries that should exist between adult and child in professional care agencies. [page 30]

These are there for the protection of the children in our care, which is a positive thing. But on the flip side these boundaries can be taken to the extreme and youth workers can be left feeling that any physical or emotional interaction they have with young people may be misconstrued.

This is an example of that genuine fear which causes the divisions between people in the public world identified earlier by Palmer. This fear carries into the realms of our professional judgement. The professional concern is that making an objective judgement about someone’s life may not be possible if an authentic relationship has been formed.

Notions of genuine emotionally fuelled connections between individuals pose a threat to the use of technical knowledge and we return once again to the ‘swampy lowlands’ of human interaction. Yet this, I have argued, is what working with people is all about. The grey areas are what keep us on our toes, they are the ‘live encounters’ that we both fear and expect.

The messiness of human interaction, to which sure-fire objective, technical solutions cannot be applied, is often what attracted people to working in the field of informal education. Yet this attachment to humanity is often actively avoided in professional practice. Is it possible that by keeping people at arms length and in specific categories, avoiding really listening to them and trying to understand them, makes it easier for ‘professionals’ to rationalise and justify the decisions and judgements they make which affect people’s lives?


The aim of this article was to explore the relationships between youth workers and young people. All of the issues raised and discussed have their relevance, but do not provide a blueprint for the future.

When I began my youth work training, I thought I would somehow get the answer to how I could make a difference in the lives of the young people I worked with. I guess I had a bit of the ‘rescuer’ syndrome. How I feel now is very different, I don’t want to rescue anyone; I just want to get to know them. But in a world where targets must be met and society constantly presents a desire to see people rescued, I don’t know how possible this simple act of getting to know someone is.

Exploring the concept of accompanying brought to the forefront the notion that care is, or at least should be, central in youth work relationships. This highlighted the reality that because the limits of the experience are defined, mutuality and reciprocity present in truly authentic relationships are often pushed to the margins. Ensuring that there is a balance within our relationships is therefore difficult. Being aware of the issue [page 31] can go some way to address it, yet it is important to acknowledge that awareness is only valuable if it has an impact on action. So for me, being aware that there is the danger of openness, honesty and mutuality being marginalised in my youth work relationships, helps me to seek out the rare times when it can emerge.

Palmer’s work has had an impact on how I understand what I do, and has gone some way in explaining why the work I am involved in impacts upon my emotions and the way in which I interact with people. Accepting that vulnerability within the work is necessary and inevitable can go some way in keeping a level of realness in our interaction with people.

As workers, acknowledging our ‘professional’ knowledge is important; we shouldn’t deny what we know. Yet hiding behind it simply alienates the very people we wish to know. It is essential that professionalism, and the social distance implied or involved in this, doesn’t undermine the creation and sustainability of relationships in youth work, especially those that have the potential to become truly authentic.

But something needs to change in youth work if authentic relationships are to flourish. In particular the move towards a particular understanding of the professionalisation of youth work that has caused the need for targets; boundaries and set ways of relating should be questioned. It is possible that youth workers wanting public acknowledgement for the difference they make has had the negative consequence of putting obstacles in their way causing a breakdown in them connecting in a truly authentic way with young people.

It is important that youth workers are aware of the impact that directives from both central government and other funding bodies can have on their relationships with young people. We need the courage to speak out when the impact is negative on what, after all is central to the activity of youth work as informal education. What I have come to realise, however, is that if we do prize relationships over targets and do truly care about the people we encounter, it is possible to take personal responsibility to seek out the gift of authenticity.


Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2000), Cambridge International Dictionary of English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http//

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Furlong, I. (2000), ‘Intuition and the crisis in teacher professionalism’, in The Intuitive Practitioner on the value of not always knowing what one is doing, Bucklngham: Open University Press.

Hodes, A. (1972) Encounter with Martin Buber, London: Bowes and Bowes.

Kirschenbaum, H. and Land Henderson, V. (1990), The Carl Rogers Reader, London: Constable and Company.

Palmer, P. I. (1998) The Courage To Teach, Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Perlman, H. H. (1979) Relationship, The Heart of Helping People, London: The University of Chicago Press.

Rogers, C. (1980) A Way of Being, Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Smith, M.K (2001) Carl Rogers, core conditions and education, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education, http//

Smith, M. K. (2000) Introducing In formal Education, http//

Smith, M. K. (2001) Josephine Macalister Brew and Informal education, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education, http//:www.

Storkey, F. (1995) The Search for Intimacy, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Department for Education and Employment (2001) Transforming Youth Work, Developing youth work for young people, London.

The Salmon Youth Centre and the London Borough of Southwark (Youth Office) (Draft plan 1999 Service Level Agreement, London.

Southwark Leisure, (2001) – Best Value Youth Service Action & Improvement Plan, London.

National Youth Agency (1999) Ethics in Youth Work, Discussion Paper, Leicester: National Youth Agency.

National Youth Agency, (2000) National Occupational Standards for Youth Work, Leicester: National Youth Agency.


Heather Smith is currently producing study material for the YMCA George Williams College distance learning courses.

Acknowledgements: This article was first published in Youth and Policy 77 and reprinted here with the permission of the writer and Youth and Policy.

The picture ‘A password key?’ is by Max (TJ) and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence (Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic) – flickr –

To cite this article: Smith, H. (2002) ‘Seeking out the gift of authenticity’, Youth and Policy 77, pp. 19-32. Also available as an article in The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education,

© Heather Smith 2002