Listening to our young people

By Jenny Coles

| 10 September 2019

A few weeks ago in Hertfordshire, we were really pleased to be one of the areas visited as part of the LGA/ISOS review of statutory guidance for local authority run youth services. Andy and Peter, who lead on our youth offer through YC Hertfordshire, were keen that we did our best to show the value of youth work services and their impact, as well as what we have managed to "save" after major reductions in funding and yet further "remodelling" of services. We believe that it is also part of our "statutory" duty to highlight how local authorities and the voluntary sector are still trying to deliver their youth offer despite a decade of year on year funding reductions.

Probably more than any other part of what is either delivered or commissioned by children services, youth services receive the most positive feedback from young people. To quote a recent local survey, we asked over 400 young people about their experience of using youth work projects and the impact on their lives: 86 per cent said they were emotionally and mentally healthier, 84 per cent said they were more resilient and self-aware and 98 per cent said they had seen some improvement in their lives. I have no doubt that what young people have said in Hertfordshire would apply across the rest of the country. Local politicians also know, both from their residents and their own direct involvement, the huge importance of local services for young people and the value they give to communities in promoting a range of positive activities and preventing anti-social behaviour.

Youth work can make a huge contribution to preventing the very real challenges that children and young people currently face, whether they be in mental health and wellbeing, the rising number of school exclusions, the pressures of social media or criminal exploitation and knife crime. In an interview with ADCS President Rachel Dickinson in Children & Young People Now Magazine, she highlighted the importance of a public health approach to exploitation and how working with young people at a universal as well as targeted level is the way forward. This was also addressed in ADCS's recently published discussion paper on serious youth violence and knife crime which I encourage you to read.

Yet despite this, youth services have borne the brunt of some of the worst funding cuts. Even though some services may not be termed as "statutory", those young people who come from the most disadvantaged areas or have special needs end up losing the services they rely on. Time limited, one off funding streams for a range of specified projects from separate government departments will not address the growing challenges - it only helps those young people who are labelled with a certain "criteria" and does not address the root causes of the difficulties they may be experiencing.

This is not just about the money - I hesitate to say this at such a crucial time for taking every opportunity to highlight the funding and demand pressures facing local authority children's services, schools and the voluntary sector - it's also essentially about respecting what young people say they want and need. They don't have a political voice and are not able to vote so we, as leaders in services for children and young people, are in a unique, and I would say privileged position, to listen, to respect their views and then speak out.

Jenny Coles is director of children's services in Hertfordshire. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website

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