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Youth services: our last line of defence

It’s International Youth Day this Saturday (12th August), a day dedicated to celebrating our young people, their achievements and contribution to society. This has got me thinking about young people and the services available to them. The summer is a particularly busy time as we face a huge demand for free and cheap activities for young people.

Youth services have a vital role in our communities. The early intervention and prevention work that we undertake with our young people plays an invaluable role in their lives. These services help young people build trusting relationships, experience positive activities to boost their confidence, improve their resilience, and can also help them with their education and to develop skills for the future.

Local authorities across the country are working hard to protect preventative and universal youth services from cuts because removing these vital services will just create issues further down the line. Yet despite the positive outcomes, and the popular demand for constructive activities, youth services in the UK have been subject to deep financial cuts as a result of ongoing austerity policies. In 2010/11 local government spending on youth services in England was £1.2bn, by 2013/14 it had fallen to £712m (a 40% drop).

Such short sighted cuts are having an impact – both social and economic. Last year a UNISON survey of youth workers across the UK identified that 83% of respondents believed the cuts to youth services had led to increased local crime and anti-social behaviour.

In Nottingham, we have a manifesto commitment to ensure that ‘there is a range of positive activities for children and young people to enjoy in every part of the city’. Our challenge is to continue to deliver this manifesto commitment even though our resources are shrinking. We’re doing this by smarter working; becoming increasingly outcomes focused and resourceful with our assets such as community venues. Here’s how we’re doing it:

  • Our play and youth service is integrated within our Early Help offer and we make use of a variety of citywide settings to deliver activities which can reach and support children and young people
  • At weekly sessions, young people engage in positive social, creative and physical activities whilst learning something new through a themed project or AQA accreditation. Accredited learning celebrates achievements, develops positive aspirations and gives young people experience of success whilst they learn. Young people’s learning is measured through self-scaling at the start and end of the project and last year 67% reported being more confident in their understanding of the topic. The AQA accreditation will provide a more objective measure of outcomes
  • We have a seven day a week offer for young people at our city centre MyPlace provision ‘NGY’. During the daytime, the venue focuses on targeted provision and in the evening has open access provision with facilities including a dance studio, music studio, a gym, counselling and health services and a dedicated provision for LGBT young people
  • We also deliver training across our workforce including training to raise awareness and knowledge of self-harm and early intervention strategies, mental health first aid training to increase our workforce capacity to intervene early to build young people’s resilience and substance misuse training to help colleagues be aware of emerging risks and provide direct support to young people
  • We have also introduced a Young People’s Panel chaired by our Early Help Team to help us identify young people at risk of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour and create plans to support them to engage in positive and diversionary activities.
  • For families who are thought to be at imminent risk of breakdown, where children face being taken into care, our Edge of Care hub coordinates planning and access to a range of evidence based interventions such as Multi Systemic Therapy
  • We work closely with the NSPCC’s Protect and Respect Service that supports young people who have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation. As a direct consequence of feedback from young people, who use that service, we now encourage young people and their families to attend strategy meetings, where the risks of sexual exploitation are discussed to aid their understanding and ability to manage the risk. I strongly believe that young people should be involved in the decisions that affect their services
  • Our Youth Offending Team run knife crime awareness sessions in schools and recently local police officers have said that these sessions have been responsible for a reduction in knife crime.

I am a strong believer in the great work of our youth services and the real and long lasting impact these services have on young people. It is vital that we champion and invest in the work of our youth service to protect it from the harshest cuts but it is a real challenge to continue the provision when budgets are being cut. In the battle to promote early intervention, youth services are our last line of defence to prevent greater social and economic problems. Our response should not be to slash these services but to ensure every penny is being used to reach and engage the right children with the right interventions at the right time in their young lives.

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