Youth work diversion role lauded

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Experts hail youth workers’ skills in tackling violence and call for funding to create ‘trusted relationships’.

YJB chair Keith Fraser: "Youth workers are such an important part of the picture"
YJB chair Keith Fraser: "Youth workers are such an important part of the picture"

Youth work, violence reduction and youth justice leaders came together recently to highlight the crucial role played by youth workers in supporting children and young people vulnerable to criminal exploitation and involvement in violent crime.

At a session on youth justice, crime and exploitation at the National Youth Agency (NYA) youth work summit in November, Keith Fraser, chair of the Youth Justice Board (YJB), told delegates that it is vital for youth work to be involved in the prevention work delivered by violence reduction units (VRUs).

“Evidence tells us diversion has many benefits: reduced crime, better outcomes for children, and removing the stigma of a criminal record,” explained Fraser. “Contact with the justice system increases the likelihood of further offending and the YJB wants to break that cycle.

“Youth workers are such an important part of the picture: they are often the bridge between children and statutory services. The children we speak to talk about the value of youth services.”

Fraser said that the YJB has a youth advisory network stakeholder group which at a recent meeting highlighted building trusting relationships as a key contribution youth work can make to supporting the needs of children in the youth justice system.

“Developing relationships can take time but the benefits are so important,” he added.

Natalie Baker-Swift, head of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire VRU, said “trusted adult relationships” are “vital” for young people at risk of or involved in violence. For example, this could be a mentor with “lived experience to provide holistic support” at a “teachable moment” when a young person is in custody or hospital.

“Youth workers are vital for increasing young people’s personal resilience and helping them access support,” said Baker-Swift.

The Nottingham and Nottinghamshire VRU has recently launched a youth work strategy and youth charter (see below) which has a public health approach to tackling youth violence at its core.

“A public health approach is about seeking to work with communities and not doing things to them,” she added. “The charter is being done in collaboration with health, police, the council, statutory agencies – we’ve got consensus.”

Levelling up

Meanwhile, Kim McGuiness, Northumbria police and crime commissioner, highlighted the links between poverty of opportunity and crime and why the government’s “levelling up” agenda must include youth work in its thinking.

An assessment of youth providers in the North East region that her office undertook revealed a picture of “services closing, a lack of healthy role models and too many young people who had not met a youth worker”.

“If the government is serious about levelling up it is in the life chances of young people that we should be measuring progress,” she said.

She warned that the recent pledge by the Chancellor to release £300m from the Youth Investment Fund to invest in youth work infrastructure “would barely scratch the surface”.

“It is a start, but the money is half the £1bn per year lost in youth sector funding [since austerity],” said McGuiness. “In my youth services report, what united people was the need for more boots on the ground. That is why I support the NYA’s call for 10,000 more youth workers.”

Trania Todd, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire VRU young ambassador, recounted how he had turned away from crime after finding a role model at a boxing club “I was able to look up to”. He called for political leaders to back youth workers “for their selfless commitment to supporting young people”.

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE YOUTH WORK STRATEGY AND YOUTH CHARTER

In December 2020, the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire violence reduction unit (VRU) and the area’s police and crime commissioner commissioned the National Youth Agency (NYA) to engage statutory and voluntary youth organisations in the city and county to develop and deliver a strategic plan that builds consistent high-quality standards of youth work in youth diversion, reduce serious violence, and increase community safety.

The strategy aims to achieve this by “increasing the quality, capacity and confidence of practitioners and organisations that work with young people in the youth diversion space”.

To support this it has worked with the NYA to ensure all practitioners working in youth diversion have access to training pathways that better meet the needs of young people, and that all organisations are signed up to improving the quality of their service and achieve standards in a quality endorsement framework.

In addition, youth diversion organisations are expected to sign up to the principles set out in the youth charter, which covers issues such as respect, empowerment and communication.

Natalie Baker-Swift, head of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire VRU, said: “We are giving youth workers opportunities to access accredited training pathways and implementing a quality mark. Young people deserve safe high-quality experiences from youth workers that are given equitable access to training and support.”

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