Further to our earlier post re the LGA/NYA conference in London on Wednesday, we can now direct you to the LGA publication, Bright Futures: our vision for youth services. In its words – helping children and young people to fulfil their potential is a key ambition of all councils, but our children’s services are under increasing pressure. This resource forms part of the LGA’s Bright Futures campaign – our call for fully funded children’s services.
Responding immediately Bernard Davies sounds a welcoming note of caution.
A Local Government Association vision – for Youth Services but not for youth work
Any kind of forward thinking for ‘Youth Services’ is rare enough these days, as the present government has again demonstrated by apparently binning its plans to lay out a youth policy. A new ‘vision’ for these Services is therefore more than welcome, not least perhaps when it comes from an organisation with the potential clout of the Local Government Association (LGA). To be even more optimistic, its new paper could even be taken as validation for IDYW posing the question: ‘So – is the tide turning?’
What’s more, this one has some proposals which resonate strongly with some parts of our own current discussion paper:
- It starts from a view of young people as citizens now – as ‘a valued and respected part of the community whose needs and wishes are considered equally with those of other groups’.
- It describes young people’s voices as ‘central’ to any offer to be made to them, including their role in service design and operation.
- It gives unqualified endorsement to their ‘choos(ing) to attend many services on a voluntary basis’ – and to ‘provision structured around their needs locally’, including ‘universal. open access provision’.
- It argues for services to ‘focus on developing the skills and attributes of young people, rather than attempting to “fix a problem”’.
It also takes up some specific policy positions which for the present and indeed all recent governments will sound like heresy. On the NCS for example, also echoing a proposal in our own paper, it suggests
… the devolution of a portion of NCS funding to local authorities to support local provision for young people, expanding the reach of NCS funding from a time-limited programme to ongoing support and an enhanced local offer.
It also wants to see the Government explicitly include responsibility for young people within a Ministerial portfolio, to champion young people within government. And, though it continues to take as a given that local councils should remain the body with overall statutory responsibility for these services, it nonetheless explicitly encourages a search for ‘alternative delivery models’ including ‘Young People’s Foundations (to) bring together the public, private, voluntary and community sector…’
And yet, and yet – in no particular order:
- Why must a paper like this just assume that commissioning is the only way of sharing out public money?
- Why does it not challenge the statutory limit placed on local authorities’ responsibilities as extending ‘only as far as possible’ given how this has been used repeatedly as an excuse for cutting local Youth Services’ funding?
- Why in the whole of the document is staff training considered only in relation to ‘safeguarding’?
- Why, in its wholly uncritical treatment of ‘outcomes’, does the paper never raise the need to develop different methods for assessing these for different practices – and especially of course for an open access, young people-led practice like youth work?
Which brings me finally to the most blatant and damaging absence in the paper: where in fact is the youth work? As such, it gets two passing references in a 3.600-word paper, when for example, alongside ‘youth offending team officers and mental health workers’, youth workers are listed as ‘skilled practitioners’. However, even here, what is highlighted is these practitioners’ purportedly ‘expert knowledge’ for ‘identify(ing) potential issues that require further investigation’ and not the distinctive features of their face-to-face practice. Yet it these which, for so many young people, turn out to be crucial to their actually getting engaged in the first place and ultimately often therefore to their willingness to open themselves up to some striking, personally developmental experiences.
Even amongst policy-makers with such positive intentions and commitments, it seems, turning the tide for that practice has clearly still some way to go.