In this latest YOUTH & POLICY article, Naomi Thompson and David Woodger outline the findings of a needs analysis relating to young people, conducted with 426 young people, parents and professionals in a London borough. The findings support a case for open access youth work and some targeted support, with ‘crime and safety’ and ‘mental health and wellbeing’ identified as young people’s most pressing needs. Despite mental health being identified as a prevalent need, respondents did not overwhelmingly identify individual counselling as a key service needed. Youth clubs were identified as the most needed service, followed by targeted support around crime. This suggests universal youth work and other group activity is seen as the most appropriate response to young people’s needs.
It’s hardly surprising, given IDYW’s emphasis on open youth work that we welcome warmly the thrust of this recent research. We look forward to further exploration of its themes.
However you will find below the concluding section of the article.
The survey findings offer clear implications for the types of need that stakeholders think exist for young people and what provision might address these needs. It also offers some implications as to how such provision might be funded. Respondents felt that local and national government should be the main funders of youth services. This supports a case for local authority funding for core work in youth clubs with some programmes or facilities potentially supplemented by grants from trusts and charities. Based on the responses around funding, there is clear overall support for youth services to be free at the point of access for young people.
A broad range of needs were identified and in an ideal scenario, a wide range of needs-based provision would be offered by youth services. In the London borough in which our analysis took place, the most pressing needs identified related to crime prevention and mental health and the most needed provision was identified as youth clubs followed by specialist support for young people engaged in or at risk of crime, violence and gangs.
Specialist support is not necessarily separate from youth club provision as it can be offered as part of a youth club’s programme of activities. However, it can also be offered in other ways such as through detached youth work, in-school, and through targeted, referral-based programmes for those with the highest support needs. There is a call to consider what mental health provision is needed as mental health was identified as a pressing need. Counselling and specialist mental health support, however, were not identified as the appropriate response when asked about the most needed provision. It may be that group support and mentoring within youth clubs and potentially within schools are more relevant forums for responding to this need for the young people. Further qualitative research could add nuance as to how people think the mental health needs young people face can be addressed through youth services. There are also questions to be raised about why specialist mental health services were not favoured by respondents. Firstly, whether the impact of funding cuts to the mental health sector is such that services are no longer accessible or suitable for young people, rather than them not being needed. Secondly, whether certain groups of young people are less likely to trust and want to access these services, particularly those from minority ethnic groups.
Despite ‘crime and safety’ being identified as the highest need, youth clubs were highlighted as the most needed provision by young people, parents and professionals rather than targeted interventions. This supports an argument that people appear to be in support of open access youth work as the most important provision for young people. However, some qualitative research would be helpful in exploring this further. More research is also needed with young people who do not currently access youth services as well as further quantitative and qualitative research beyond one London borough.
Overall, whilst recognising the need for this broader research, we draw some tentative implications for the future of youth work in London and beyond from this study. These being that young people, parents and professionals support the need for youth work and a properly funded Youth Service as the response to a range of young people’s needs including crime, safety, mental health and their broader wellbeing. Open access youth work appears to be championed over targeted services as the key form of youth provision needed.