OUTREACH WORK WITH STREET CHILDREN AND YOUTH: LEARNING FROM FRONTLINE YOUTH WORKERS IN NEPAL

S. Rana

University of Minnesota (UNITED STATES)
What does expertise in outreach work with street children and youth mean and how can we evaluate and teach such expertise? One way of understanding outreach work and its expertise is by learning from the experts in the field. This is the focus on this paper. Drawing on data collected from qualitative interviews with outreach workers in Nepal, this paper describes how frontline youth workers do street outreach and what they teach us about expertise and practice wisdom in social work and youth work education.
Outreach youth work is critical for addressing the social problems of street children and youth. There are many street children and youth worldwide. In Nepal, it is estimated that there are approximately 5,000 street children and youth in Nepal (CWIN, 1998), although this statistics is dated. Many of these street children and youth are not in school, abuse substances, experience physical and sexual abuse, have HIV, and are engaged in various kinds of income-earning activities, such as vending, stealing, sex work, and so on. Their everyday lives and their presence on, as well as use of, the streets has long been a concern among humanitarian and human service providers and policy makers across the world and also in Nepal. Several initiatives are underway to address this social problem of street children and youth. These initiatives focus on preventing “the street children phenomenon” as well as responding to the needs of the millions of children and youth who are already on the streets. Outreach workers comprise a critical part of this response.
In Nepal, outreach workers who work with and for street children and youth are employed mostly by non-government organizations (NGOs) under various job titles, such as social worker, field worker, outreach worker, informal educator, etc. They work mainly on the streets but may also work in drop-in centers and transition homes. In these settings, outreach workers provide services aimed at promoting the wellbeing and healthy development of these street children and youth and often with the goal of reuniting them and their families and having them leave the streets.
This paper describes multiple ways of doing outreach work with street children and youth in Nepal. The first part of the paper discusses social constructionist’s conceptualization of experts and expertise, according to which expertise can be developed through experience and successful socialization into a particular community of practice. The second part draws on knowledge, skill, and expertise of frontline outreach workers to describe how street outreach is practiced in Nepal. The concluding part discusses what frontline outreach workers teach us about the importance of integrating practice wisdom in social work and youth work education.