Give youth work remit back to DfE, children's services leaders urge

By Tristan Donovan

| 02 July 2018

Children's services leaders have called for the Department for Education (DfE) to be handed back responsibility for youth work policy.

The DfE had been responsible for youth work until 2013. Picture: Janaki Mahadevan

As part of an evidence submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Youth Affairs inquiry into youth work, the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) said youth policy has been "cast adrift" from the rest of children's services since moving to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The ADCS noted that youth work is currently not listed as a responsibility of any DCMS minister or as a priority for the department and linked the decline in degree-level youth work courses to the DCMS being in charge of youth work policy.

The ADCS said central government has focused on its flagship National Citizen Service (NCS) initiative at the expense of creating a clear vision for youth work as a whole.

The submission also noted that the National Audit Office questioned the value for money of the NCS, which offers 15- to 17-year-olds the chance to take part in three- and four-week activity programmes, and that its work "does not always dovetail" with local youth provision.

The initiative was also criticised by the ADCS for not doing enough to engage young people in care and those with special educational needs or disabilities. The NCS currently accounts for 95 per cent of central government's direct spending on youth services and the government has pledged up to £1.2bn of funding for it by 2020.

In contrast the ADCS's evidence submission said local youth services funding has fallen 60 per cent since 2010 due to real-terms drops in local government funding and increased demand for statutory support for children's social care.

The ADCS suggested that the DfE is the "most obvious fit" for youth policy but said it could also "sit well within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government". The DCMS took charge of youth policy in August 2016.

Prior to that it had been overseen by the Cabinet Office, which inherited the remit from the Department for Education in July 2013.

The ADCS also said the government should create a "coherent workforce strategy" for the entire children's workforce is "urgently needed" to provide more progression routes for youth workers and prevent people leaving the profession.

Other youth organisations have also used their evidence submission to the APPG inquiry to demand more investment in youth worker training and development.

In its submission to the inquiry London Youth, which represents more than 320 youth organisations in the capital, said the rapid changes in the youth work sector following the introduction of austerity have "left gaps in the training and workforce development offer".

"Youth workers in London are increasingly operating as frontline practitioners for a number of professions outside their own and that they are not necessarily trained to deal with," London Youth said in its submission to the inquiry. The organisation cited mental health support as an example with youth workers often expected to identify mental ill health in young people and support them as they wait for access to specialist mental health services.

London Youth also warned that the decline in entry-level youth work qualifications presents "a threat to the long-term sustainability of the youth sector".

In its submission to the inquiry, UK Youth also called for extra funding for youth worker training.

It added that the sector's rapid shift from largely statutory services to one dominated by the voluntary sector has diminished the training, processes and oversight of the sector that ensured the protection and safety of young people.

"There's a vital need for a long-term strategy with clear outcomes for young people," Kayleigh Wainwright, head of membership and policy at UK Youth said.

"This needs to be supported by cross-party MPs and cross-government departments, and should be developed in partnership with the sector and young people."

She added: "The youth sector is still currently under-invested and whilst information from our network shows that there are some innovative and more sustainable models emerging, more is needed to support the changing needs of young people, including grants, capacity building and other investment forms."

An NCS spokeswoman said: "NCS exists to tackle some of the biggest social challenges in the country. The programme helps participants to develop key life skills, build confidence for the future and contribute to society with a greater sense of belonging.

"In 2017 five per cent of participants had special educational needs and disabilities compared to two per cent of the national average. We are committed to improving this further to ensure as many young people as possible can benefit from the programme.

"Transport costs are covered for the first and second phases of the programme and some of our partners are already working in partnership with local travel operators to provide travel discounts in the third phase.

"For example, free travel is provided to all participants through a partnership with one of our providers, EFL Trust, and First Buses. NCS Trust is exploring how to roll this out to other regions."

The deadline for submissions of evidence to the inquiry closed on 27 June. Between now and September the MPs who are members of the APPG will be holding evidence hearings in parliament and making visits to a number of youth organisations and projects. The APPG expects to report on its finding by the end of October this year.

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