As supporters will know we have been involved with the Choose Youth alliance from the beginning. At this moment the alliance is considering the adoption of a manifesto – received this week – which would direct its activities in the coming period. We are asked to comment upon and ultimately in the New Year to sign up to its contents. In this context we would welcome your responses as a matter of some urgency. Use the Comments facility or mail Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org
Choose Youth – Our vision for a new youth service
What is Choose Youth?
Choose Youth, an unprecedented alliance of over 30 voluntary youth sector organisations and trade unions promoting the rights and entitlements of young people participate in quality universal, open access youth services and youth work. We see these services as an essential part of our democracy throughout the UK and a vital component of lifelong learning and civil society.
What is youth work and why is it important?
Effective youth work provides many opportunities to support and extend the formal curriculum and encourage a greater readiness for learning in the classroom. It can also improve the life chances of individuals, taking them beyond the constraining contours of their neighbourhood by offering new experiences in the arts or outdoor adventure; by encouraging volunteering; by helping to develop the skills and attitudes needed for employment and for adult life; by giving young people the chance to learn how to relate better with each other and to different adults in safe and challenging environments. All these are features of good youth provision, made by a variety of bodies, from Girl Guiding to street-based youth workers, from faith-based organisations to housing charities.
Youth work as a professional educational practice uniquely inspires, educates, empowers, takes the side of young people and amplifies their voice. Unlike other interventions with young people it combines these elements in a relationship that young people freely choose to make with their youth workers. From this relationship a curriculum of learning and activities is developed that build on the positive and enhance social and personal education. The youth service is therefore the only public service that young people themselves have helped to build and its disproportionate targeting for cuts has symbolised an erosion of opportunities for young people generally.
Britain led the world at one point in developing modern youth services. We have a lot of excellent practice to build on.
What are the benefits of youth work?
Universal services need to be protected as they play an important role in ensuring youth workers can support young people towards targeted provision. Young people who use universal youth services often face challenges in their lives and value the support and expertise of youth workers very highly, with youth workers very often being the only trusted adult in their lives. Young people have consistently told Choose Youth how they believe that youth services can either prevent them from undertaking harmful behaviour or provide them with advice so they can make informed decisions about their lives. All communities and generations benefit from good quality local youth service provision, and young people make a positive community contribution when supported by constructive services.
Youth work helps young people explore boundaries between reasonable and risky behaviours. Youth work contributes significantly to early intervention and preventative services thereby reducing the incidence of young people in need of highly targeted intensive and expensive services later on. Raised self-esteem, greater understanding of the value of collective decision making and democratic engagement, together with the development of communication skills and wider experience and knowledge of the world and social issues; the creative and constructive use of leisure time and discovery of talents are all well documented results of young people’s active involvement in youth work. So too are the benefits of youth work in raising academic standards in school and college.
The period of youth is one of discovery and the formation of enduring values and beliefs. Neither school nor family life alone or together fully form the adult. The exploration of ideas and values amongst peers and with supportive, trained youth workers greatly contributes to this process also. Youth is a period of life to be enjoyed and to have fun and foster a curiosity for new experiences and tolerance. Our youth service has played a great but often unsung role in these areas.
The Audit Commission report into the benefits of sport and leisure activities in preventing anti-social behaviour by young people estimates that a young person in the criminal justice system costs the taxpayer over £200,000 by the age of 16. But one who is given support to stay out costs less than £50,000. Other comparative costs include:
£35,000 per year to keep one young person in a young offender institution.
£9,000 for the average resettlement package per young person after custody
The comparative advantages and expenditure savings that can be made by a fraction of these amounts wisely spent on the youth service has been analysed many times.
A vision for youth services
Our vision is for a new national legislative and political commitment to creating a quality universal service for young people aged 11 – 21. This service should be protected in statue by dedicated ring fenced funding managed by a new national partnership body allocating resources to partnerships in local authority areas that bring together all youth service providers. This funding should be combined resources made available to the National Citizens Service and the former (2009) Youth Service funds that were dissipated into the Early Intervention funding streams.
This service should be provided by a core of JNC qualified workers working with trained and supported volunteers, with one full time nationally qualified youth worker for every 400 young people.
A ‘licence to practise’ system for all youth workers, based on appropriately and independently validated qualifications is needed. This will take into account the different levels of intervention from volunteer to youth officer. This license should accompany a defined programme of continuing professional development to increase workforce skills and promote better multi-disciplinary working. The term ‘youth worker’ will also require protection of title to protect the public and ensure standards.
A well-funded youth service promotes social inclusion, encourages partnership working, assists young people at risk, gives young people hope and aspiration and is cost effective. Choose Youth estimates, along with all previous professional calculations of resource requirements, that for just £350 a year per young person, all young people could have access to youth work services in their immediate locality.
The creation of a National Youth Service Advisory Board to distribute funding to local youth service parternships should be an immediate priority. This body will oversee not just resource allocation but professional and service development and relevant research.
Local Youth Service Partnerships would:
- Provide strategic leadership for services to young people across local authority departments, public bodies and voluntary youth organisations;
- Ensure the active participation of young people in the specification, commissioning, governance, delivery and scrutiny of services;
- Plan to meet local ambitions for young people by securing coherent youth support and development opportunities in the maintained and voluntary sectors, following a thorough analysis of needs and based on robust partnership arrangements;
- Produce annual youth development plans.
A permanent service wherever young people are
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 (s6) places a statutory duty on local authorities to secure access to positive activities for young people, as well as seeking and taking account of their views in the development of services. This Act has been largely ignored by government and local authorities. Choose Youth believes that this Act should now be extended and applied. New statutory powers should:
Specify the key elements of a statutory youth service.
An explicit set of standards for each element of a local ‘youth offer’, including information, advice, volunteering , activities and how young people should have a say, so that local authorities are clear about their duties and outcomes can be judged;
Establish clear arrangements for internal quality assurance complemented by regular external inspection and reporting by Ofsted;
Rigorous action to raise the quality of poorly-performing services;
Britain is renowned for its ‘youth culture’ and the immense contribution young people have made to society through arts, learning, science and industry. Such progress was immeasurably assisted by the creation of the post war youth service. This service contributed greatly to the rebuilding and refashioning of the economy and society.
A similar opportunity for this generation of young people to make a lasting influence on the future direction of our country is needed and a revitalised and properly resource youth service is critical to this. The contribution of young people needs to be properly valued. On the basis of broad experience of the organisations within Chooseyouth and the young people who inform our organisations, we are confident that the principles underpinning the vision outline above can be fleshed out in highly cost effective detail.