Youth Services are a ‘must have’

As a society we don’t value young people enough. When young people ‘hang around’ in the streets most people will think they are up to no good, yet hundreds of youth centres have closed giving them nowhere safe to go. We need to invest in our young people, we need to recognise the significant contribution they make to society in the present as well as in the future.

Youth work can be transformative, it can help young people build trusting relationships, experience positive activities, improve their resilience, and give them safe places to be outside of school. It can happen in a variety of settings, such as youth clubs or faith groups, open access youth work can take place in a mobile unit like a bus or out in the community in a park. During the pandemic, we saw some innovative work to engage and support young people, such as online quizzes, sharing activity packs and walk and talk approaches to support those who were at risk or struggling. Youth workers make a difference in young people’s lives, yet they are an undervalued part of the wider children’s workforce.

Austerity policies have significantly impacted young people and youth work. An estimated 600 youth centres closed between 2012 and 2016, limiting the opportunities available to our young people. Local authorities and youth organisations have done all they can to continue delivering services, including by reshaping services, because we recognise their value and long-lasting impact on young people, but a lack of government funding to support us with this means services have had to be scaled back or closed altogether. It cannot be a surprise to anyone that we have subsequently seen significantly increased demand in specialist and high cost services for young people.

Across large rural areas, provision is spread thinly creating a post code lottery of access. Some local authorities have responded to government budget cuts by refocussing their youth services into a single hub, often in the town centre, while well meaning, these ‘youth zones’ can be exclusionary, most young people will need to travel to access it and there might not be the public transport links to do so, or they may not be able to afford it.

At a time when life is getting harder for children and young people because of rising poverty, increasing poor mental health and long waiting lists for help, now is the time to invest in our young people.

Though there has been some welcome government investment in young people, such as the National Youth Guarantee and the National Citizen Service (NCS), this falls short of what is needed, and the latter has had mixed evaluations in terms of impact and value for money. Youth services need long term sustainable national funding to ensure all young people can benefit.

We should be doing all we can to reach and engage young people and a big part of this is ensuring we have a strong youth work offer that is accessible and available to all young people. Youth services are not just ‘nice to have’ they are ‘must haves’ if we want young people to thrive.

John Pearce, ADCS President

This article first appeared in CYP Now on 24 October - Access to Youth Work: Key policy developments | CYP Now

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