Tool to help youth sector prove its worth unveiled

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Moves to boost investment in youth work have taken a step forward with the publication of a guide to help the sector measure outcomes.

Commissioners increasingly want evidence that schemes work. Image: Phil Adams
Commissioners increasingly want evidence that schemes work. Image: Phil Adams

Think-tank The Young Foundation has created the document to help providers demonstrate evidence of their impact, by creating standardised measurements across young people's services.

It forms part of the work of the government-funded Catalyst consortium, which is charged with helping the youth sector adapt to the changing policy environment.

Bethia McNeil, co-author of the document at The Young Foundation, said: “The framework offers a common language for talking coherently and consistently about social and emotional capabilities and will increase providers', funders' and commissioners' confidence about value for money. 

“At a time when services that most explicitly focus on supporting personal and social development are under unprecedented financial pressure, the framework is a vital step in helping services to make their case and demonstrate their value.”

The document outlines evidence that explains how seven social and emotional traits are linked to improved educational attainment, employment, and health. It also sets out available tools to measure the capabilities.

These seven core "capabilities" are communication; confidence and agency; planning and problem solving;  relationships and leadership; creativity; resilience and determination; and managing feelings.

Children's minister Tim Loughton said the framework highlights the importance of investing early to build these characteristics in young people.

“The framework will help us all to talk the same language, help more providers to demonstrate their impact, and ultimately help more young people to develop the capabilities they need to succeed in education, work, and beyond,” he added.

Susanne Rauprich, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, which leads the Catalyst consortium, said she believes the framework “will succeed in its aim of underpinning social investment work by enabling providers and commissioners to demonstrate the difference they make”.

She added that the youth sector often struggles to provide quantitative evidence of its effectiveness. "By addressing this problem, the framework will open the gateway for new finance and entrepreneurial capacity," she said.


Comment: Bethia McNeil, The Young Foundation

Government, both central and local, is clear that services funded by public money must be able to demonstrate their impact and articulate value. The tightening financial climate has provided the perfect context within which to press this point.

This presents a significant challenge for a sector which has never been called upon to demonstrate its worth in this way. The lack of a quantifiable evidence base for the impact of services for young people, alongside shrinking budgets, has created something of a ‘burning platform’, which is driving action and resistance in equal measures. 

Services for young people are afraid of being held to account in areas where they have little influence, such as young people’s long-term career prospects or health outcomes. There can be a significant time lag between the point at which a service engages with a young person and the point at which these longer-term outcomes may be achieved. 

But services for young people have never been able or encouraged to focus their accountability where they do make the most difference: at the level of personal change. For too long, services have sought to make their mark through impact on positional change: jobs, economic productivity, stable housing and so on.

Providers are not articulating their value through their impact on personal change – building social and emotional capabilities - as they fear they will not be taken seriously.

Funders and commissioners know that this is where services for young people make a difference, but the lack of evidence for its longer-term impact makes them nervous about promoting this as an explicit focus. Investors are also aware that the value is in relationships, but cannot see any examples of where the focus on other forms of monitoring has been challenged.

There is substantial and growing evidence that developing the social and emotional capabilities that influence personal change supports the achievement of positive life outcomes, including educational attainment, employment and health.

Evidence shows that approaches which focus on building social and emotional capabilities can have greater long-term impact than ones that focus on directly seeking to reduce the symptoms of poor outcomes for young people. This is where the true value of services for young people lies. 

The framework of outcomes for young people aims to support progress towards a future in which providers are confident and able to evidence their impact, and where commissioners are confident to supplement their focus on reducing negative outcomes with an equal or stronger focus on commissioning for positive and sustained personal and social development.

We hope that the framework will empower motivated practitioners to improve the quality of their services and demonstrate the impact of their work, and enable commissioners and investors to gather evidence and analyse the difference that services make to young people.

Click here to view the document

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