Youth work beyond the measurement imperative? Tania de St Croix reflects on Youth Investment funding and the associated Learning Project

Youth work beyond the measurement imperative? Reflections on the Youth Investment Fund Learning Project from a critical friend

 

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Tania

 

In this blog, which appears on the Centre for Youth Impact website, Tania de St Croix, Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood at King’s College London and member of the IDYW Steering Group, offers her critical thoughts on the Youth Investment Fund Learning Project, which the Centre is leading with New Philanthropy Capital and others. You can find out more information on the YIF Learning Project at https://yiflearning.org.

Tania begins:

Many involved in the youth work field are critical of the youth impact agenda, particularly its emphasis on the quantitative measurement of outcomes for individuals, and its neglect of process, group work, and structural inequalities. Those of us involved in ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ have argued that the contemporary emphasis on impact and outcomes cannot be separated from its context, the neoliberal ‘desire to financialise human existence’, and its consequences for which practices are valued and who gets to decide. We have claimed that open access youth work is particularly unsuited to outcomes-based management and that open youth work’s future existence is undermined by an emphasis on impact measurement.

She ends:

So what? And what next?
The current approach to evaluating the Youth Investment Fund demonstrates thoughtfulness and attention to the special characteristics and challenges of open access youth work. As a result, the experiences of young people and youth workers funded by this scheme will be more meaningful and less onerous than they would have been under a more prescriptive top-down approach. The YIF Learning Project goes some way towards challenging dominant approaches to impact measurement. Yet in other ways it is reinforcing the status quo: continuing to prioritise the measurement of individual change, converting qualitative elements of youth work (its quality and young people’s experiences) into statistics, and aiming towards a financialised ‘value for money’ analysis.

Ultimately, without questioning the broader context – the basis on which measurement is still preferred by most funders and governments, as a neoliberal tool of governance and control – many of these problems remain intractable. Moving beyond such dilemmas, then, is not merely a matter of creating more congruent impact tools, reducing the data burden, and involving young people and practitioners in the process (important though all of these things are). It requires imagining meaningful evaluation beyond a focus on outcomes and measurement, thinking seriously about the social and political purpose of youth work, and the role of young people in creating change. It involves working with others – beyond the youth sector and beyond our national and regional borders – to challenge the global dominance of finance and investment logic in activities that hold to a different version of ‘value’. While such aspirations may seem momentous, there is nothing to stop us dreaming of a different world, and doing what we can to make it real in our everyday lives.

We hope very much you will read this important response in its entirety.

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What is the Youth Investment Fund? – taken from the website with our link to the identity of the grantees being our only addition or comment.
The Youth Investment Fund is providing new opportunities for young people to get involved in their communities, support their personal development and get the skills and confidence they need to enter the workplace.

The fund is made up of £40 million of government and National Lottery funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Big Lottery Fund.

Funding has been awarded to 86 charity, voluntary and social enterprise groups in East London, Liverpool City Region, West Midlands, Tees Valley and Sunderland, Bristol & Somerset and Eastern Counties over the next three years – find here the names of those granted support.

It will create new youth clubs in rural areas, expand sports projects to build the confidence of young people encouraging them to get active and increase services providing support and guidance to young people.

The Youth Investment Learning Project will:
Design, pilot and implement new data collection approaches for open access youth provision

Develop a shared measurement framework and pilot associated outcomes measures.

Collect and collate data from the grantee organisations

Share learning and methodology

Report findings on ‘what works’ and the impact of open access youth services, including a process evaluation in years 2 and 3

Test the feasibility of approaches to understanding value for money in open access provision?

Provide tailored support and capacity building training to grantees in order to embed impact evaluation within ongoing youth work practice.

The names of the partners to CYI and NPC in the project can be found here.

 

Protecting Youth Work : The Surrey Commission findings

Getting on for a year ago IDYW was invited to give evidence to the Surrey County Council’s scrutiny of the following hypothesis:

Youth work’s funding, commissioning and delivery has no place in local government services for children and young people.

Sue Atkins and Naomi Thompson attended on our behalf, making the case for youth work as first and foremost an open distinctive process-led educational practice, They felt listened to and taken seriously. The full report of the Commission’s research and findings is now in the public arena. I forwarded this personal reaction to Nicki Parkhill, the author and Commissioning Officer [Early Help] with the Council.

Sue Atkins has circulated your exceptional report around the IDYW Steering Group.  And, indeed, remarkably, it is a good read. Across forty years in the work I have rarely met such a thoughtful, well-researched and accessible contribution to the making of policy.

As you might expect, given I am an ageing romantic, my initial reaction is that the report gives too much ground to the outcomes agenda, to the fashionable, but, in my opinion, banal theory of change and the notion of youth work as first and foremost a preventative service.

However it’s easy for me to criticise from the sidelines. The task of writing something that balanced up all the conflicting pressures upon the Council, that weighed up the tactical and strategic possibilities within the continuing neoliberal climate must have been formidable. You have managed this astutely and with some verve.

With great respect for your effort and hoping the report gets the serious attention it deserves.

Multiracial College Students

Find the pdf  here –  youth-work-commission-report-2016

Members of the Commission are keen that the report is circulated widely as a contribution to the national debate about the state of youth work and indeed the government’s claim to be offering us a ‘narrative and vision’ for the future.

At the launch of the report Chris Hickford gave the following presentation, which is an eloquent summary of its findings and recommendations and its conclusion that the above hypothesis is not proven.

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To whet your appetite here are some snippets, that are inevitably not without their contradictions.

Amongst its 15 key findings:

 – There is no doubt that local authorities have a key role in the funding and commissioning of outcomes for young people. Evidence heard by the Youth Work Commission has demonstrated that the delivery of quality youth work, underpinned by the principle of voluntary participation, makes a significant contribution to the most important outcomes for young people in the 21st Century.

– Investment in preventative activity, which includes youth work, achieves better outcomes for young people and generates significant savings when compared with the financial costs incurred should young people need to access specialist health or social care services, welfare benefits or if they enter the criminal justice system at a later stage.

– Open access youth work supports young people’s development through non-formal and informal education. Youth work is especially effective in helping young people explore the wider questions of life such as purpose, fulfilment and well –being and their personal values, all of which are fundamental for ongoing and future success. 

– Quality youth work can happen in a range of different settings. Dedicated safe spaces for young people support improved outcomes through fostering ownership, belonging and a sense of community. Equally, however, youth work delivery in formal institutions such as schools, colleges, children’s services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), enables young people to take up the opportunities available to them and for those institutions to adapt their practices in order to increase accessibility, especially for the most vulnerable young people. The benefit of combining these different methods and styles and the blending of that intelligence will help to constantly improve services and encourage further innovation.

– A coherent and credible approach to measuring outcomes is vital and needs to be invested in. Measuring the impact of youth work is still a developing art but current evidence does show that a pluralistic approach, where young people participate in the research methods, whilst also includes qualitative analysis, is most successful in capturing the impact of youth work.

– An increased role for staff and young people in decision making is important within a commitment to co-production. A youth work service with clarity of purpose and a distinct identity is a significant component of the system needed to enable young people to achieve the best outcomes. 

As for the Commission’s 11 policy recommendations I urge you to read either the full report or the launch presentation and let us know your reactions. Of course it would be invaluable to hear from workers in Surrey about how all this is panning out on the ground.

 

Celebrating Nottinghamshire County Council’s continuing Youth Service Offer

It’s been a sceptical week as the government claims once more it’s going to offer us a ‘new’ narrative and vision. It’s been a long period of retreat, within which it’s almost taken for granted that local authority youth services are finished. It’s a frustrating time, wherein open access youth work is derided and abandoned for not giving value for money. Hence it’s a breath of fresh air to hear of a Council defying what is fed to us as inevitable

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Ta to librarything.com

Celebrating Nottinghamshire County Council’s continuing Youth Service Offer

I thought IDYW colleagues would appreciate a positive contribution from a local authority perspective.

 
Through their long term interest in Youth Work’s contribution to the development of Nottinghamshire’s young People, Elected Members and Senior offices of the County Council have ensured, despite budget reductions across the Authority, that there is a well-developed open access Youth Work offer, young people can be proud of.

 
This situation has arisen through consistent close interaction of young people with Elected Members, where they can ‘tell their stories’ which promote a positive narrative around the life changing outcomes high quality youth work interventions and interaction has achieved for their lives. This has been developed through regular briefings and visits to provision and invitations to high profile set piece events.

 
The Council’s facilitation of the Nottinghamshire Voluntary Youth Partnership has also contributed the continued success of the Youth Service through a robust and constructive dialogue with Elected Members and Offices around quality, value for money, grant aid and avoidance of duplication. This Partnership is supported by uniformed, faith based, Young Farmers, and independent voluntary youth clubs and projects.

 
‘Every Penny that the Council have spent on the Youth Service has been worth it’, Vice Chair of Nottinghamshire’s Children and Young People’s Committee, speaking at the Launch of the D2N2 Youth Work Alliance 15th October 2016.

 
The Youth Service is charged with the delivery of the Youth Offer of high quality, safe and enjoyable positive social education activities outside of the school day. This supports the delivery of the Council’s Early Help strategy for young people through the open access activities prioritising delivery in the communities of highest need. This is not only to ensure the delivery the Council’s statutory requirements under Section 507B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 as it relates the duty to secure services and activities for young people to improve their well-being, but to enhance their current and future life chances .

 
36 JNC Youth Workers work alongside over 300 part-time Youth Support Workers.

 
The Youth Service will deliver open access youth work provision which engages young people in confidence building activities in areas of the highest need through;

  • 31 Young People’s Centres (three in partnership with the Voluntary sector) operating between 4 and 7 evenings per week
  • 4 Mobile Youth Centres operating 4 evenings per week.
  • 3 Youth clubs operating one evening per week
  • Voluntary Youth Work development and support team

 
The Youth Service also delivers enhanced provision for those with additional levels of vulnerability;

  • The Looked After cohort are offered access to safe and enjoyable positive social educational activities through the offer of the ‘Platinum Card’ to gain free access to provision.
  • Facilitate a structure for all young people, through the Young People’s Board and Members of the UK Youth Parliament to voice their opinions and to shape the services provided for them by the Council and its partners. More specialist forums are in place for Young Asylum seekers, Disabled and the ‘No Labels’ Children in Care Council and its six sub-groups
  • C Card and Sexual Health advice (externally funded)
  • Peer led smoking prevention programmes for Y 8 pupils (externally funded)
  • Youth Work in Hospitals (externally funded)
  • Twelve Link Clubs with fully accessible programmes, for young people with disabilities
  • Annual 4Uth Award for Outstanding Achievement to raise a positive profile of the young people of Nottinghamshire

 
For further information contact Pom Bhogal, Service Manager ;
Pom.bhogal@nottscc.gov.uk

 

Tomorrow we will post a complementary explanation of what exactly the D2N2 Youth Work Alliance is.

An exercise in covering up the cracks – CYPN’s evolution of youth work

Bernard Davies responds to the latest sanitised attempt by Children and Young People Now [CYPN] to offer an overview of what’s going on in the world of youth work.

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Children and Young People Now covers the cracks in open access youth work

 
My 13 Oct email issue of CYPN carried a link to a ‘12-page Special Report on youth work and youth services’ entitled ‘The evolution of youth work’ which, it explained, ‘looks at the latest policy, research and practice across the sector’. The paper on the ‘Policy context’ does have some brief history such as the significant recent facts that ‘there has been no specific youth work policy paper in England’ since the Coalition published ‘Positive for Youth’ in 2011; and that when Michael Gove moved responsibility for youth services out of his Education Department in 2013 he did so because in his view ‘youth work was “a priority for local not central government”’. The CYPN papers also give due acknowledgement to the evidence from both the government’s own returns and research done by Unison of the huge impacts on Youth Services since 2010 of cuts in the government’s financial support for local authorities.

 
However the paper also does a good job in both covering up the direct effects of all this on the availability of open access youth work as a state provision and at recasting youth work as any form of work with young people. Even assuming that ‘youth work values’ and ‘youth work skills’ independent of the open access settings in which they have been developed – a claim which within IDYW is emerging as in need of some serious debate – using them to support teachers, FE staff and youth justice, health and social workers apparently provides sufficient rationale for, since 2011-12 reducing Youth Services spending by over 50%, closing 603 youth centres, losing 139,000 youth places and eliminating 3,652 youth work jobs. The devastation of the last few years is OK too, it seems, now that eight OnSide youth zones across the country are up and running, eight others ‘are in various stages of development’ and a total of 100 envisaged ‘within the next generation’; and now we have the Office of Civil Society’s ‘small amounts of funding for authorities to assess and test new models of youth work provision through the Delivering Differently for Young People … programme’.

 
Where the CYPN Report stretches understandings of the work furthest, however, is in its inclusion in its ‘Research evidence’ paper on ‘Youth Work and Youth Service’ of the findings of a study of 4Results Mentoring. This clearly is a very impressive programme. How in the long run, though, does labelling the project as ‘youth work’ help it – or youth workers struggling to safeguard spaces to which young people come with friends by choice and where the informal educational opportunities developed are prompted above all by the interests and concerns they bring with them?

 
Worry not, however. Because in a commentary on the ‘Policy context’ paper Matt Lent, director of partnerships and policy at UK Youth, has some highly reassuring words for us. ‘There is no doubt’, he admits, ‘that austerity has been painfully felt by the sector and the young people we service’. But all that apparently will ultimately be for the best because ‘exciting things are now happening in local youth delivery’ including ‘the liberation of progressive and innovative local and regional youth services’.

 
To which the most polite way I can find of wording my response is: Go tell that to the young people who no longer have a dedicated local space to go to in their leisure time.

 
Bernard Davies
Oct 2016

The experience of open access youth work :the voice of young people

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We’re very pleased to post this link to an important research article by Daisy Ritchie and Jon Ord, ‘The experience of open access youth work :the voice of young people’.

Below is a new link to the article – previous one oversubscribed

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/GRiDJMaZS9HMp4BvwNEc/full

Abstract

This research explores young people’s experiences of open access youth work and identifies what they consider to be its value. The detailed analysis of the data, achieved through focus groups, revealed that ‘association’ was a key driver of engagement. It also highlighted the support system the youth club creates amongst the peers. The young people also valued the relationships they form with youth workers and acknowledge the support and guidance offered to them which better enables them to reflect on and navigate their complex lives. Young people also valued the acceptance they feel from the community developed in the youth space. It provided comfort and reassurance when at times they do not feel like they fit in anywhere else. This research offers a significant counter to the tide of current targeted youth work policy which is resulting in the demise of a provision which, judged by the findings from this research, appears to be highly valued by, and beneficial to, young people.

This research is a small-scale practitioner research which is an: ‘enquiry that is directed towards creating and extending knowledge, illuminating and improving practice and influencing policies in an informed way’ (Goodfellow 2005). It sets out to obtain an in-depth, qualitative exploration of young people’s experiences of open access youth work. The principal researcher had been a youth worker in the youth club for some time before undertaking this research. It was conducted in a small voluntary sector open access youth centre in a deprived city centre location, in the South West of England. The centre is open three times a week; twice for open access youth work sessions and once for a young women’s group. The research utilises focus groups to elicit the motivations behind young people’s attendance and continued engagement with open access youth work, especially when very little material resources are available.

Access to the article is limited so we would welcome responses to its contents. Indeed it would be excellent if somebody could do a summary of its argument. Contact Tony at tonymtaylor @gmail.com if you are so inclined.

In Support of the Provisional Statement of Purpose : Campaigning in Young People’s Interests

CAMPAIGNS – EVENTS AND CONFERENCES

Further to the circulation of the Provisional IDYW Statement of Purpose 2014 to be discussed at conference, Bernard Davies has drafted the following paper as a stimulus to debate.

IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK : CAMPAIGNING IN YOUNG PEOPLE’S INTERESTS

It begins:

Cuts unlimited…
Since In Defence of Youth Work announced itself through its Open Letter in February 2009, the state has increasingly abandoned its responsibility for providing open access youth work. For example, the June 2011 House of Commons Select Committee report Services for Young People recorded survey findings showing that:
– local authority Youth Service cuts were by then averaging 28%, with some authorities cutting by 70%, 80% or even 100%;
– a total of more than £100 million was being cut from local authority youth budgets in England by March 2012, with open-access youth clubs and centres being most affected;
– 96% of 41 heads of youth services were saying that by April 2012 they would either be reducing this provision or stopping it altogether.
Since then Children and Young People Now has carried reports in just the past three months of major cuts largely affecting open access provision in Staffordshire, Nottingham, Croydon, Wandsworth, the Isle of Wight, York, Devon, Essex, Bradford and Wiltshire.

READ IN FULL – Campaigning in Young People’s Interests