Youth Work and Youth Services: Policy context

Derren Hayes
Monday, October 10, 2016

Youth zones provide young people with affordable access to sport, arts, health and employability services. Picture: Onside
Youth zones provide young people with affordable access to sport, arts, health and employability services. Picture: Onside

The Cabinet reshuffle that followed Theresa May becoming Prime Minister in July saw the youth services portfolio moved to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) when the Office for Civil Society in which it resides transferred out of the Cabinet Office.

It is the second time youth services has moved government department in three years, after the transfer from the Department for Education to the Cabinet Office in July 2013. That decision reflected the then Education Secretary Michael Gove's view that youth work was "a priority for local not central government". The recent move to the DCMS appears to have been made to more closely align services for young people with sports and leisure activities.

Since 2013, government youth policy has focused on reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet); boosting social action and volunteering rates; and supporting local authorities to develop new ways of delivering youth services.

There has been no specific youth work policy paper in England since 2010's Positive for Youth. It brought together all of the then coalition government's policies for young people aged 13 to 19 across nine Whitehall departments, and was produced with young people and youth professionals. It summarised the government's policies affecting councils, schools, charities and businesses, and focused on how these sectors could work together to support families and improve outcomes for young people, particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Specific initiatives championed by Positive for Youth included encouraging young people to get involved in youth councils and the UK Youth Parliament, improving access to specialist work-based training for young people at risk of becoming Neet, and linking up schools with the National Citizen Service to encourage participation in volunteering projects.

In addition, it paved the way for the government to invest in testing new ways of delivering youth services, such as the 14 youth innovation zones, 63 Myplace projects, and closer working between health and young people's services following the transfer of public health commissioning responsibilities from the NHS to local authorities.

Positive for Youth also reiterated the statutory duty on local authorities to "secure, as far as is practicable, sufficient services and activities to improve the wellbeing of young people", as outlined in section 507B of the Education Act 2006. The duty also requires local authorities to take into account young people's views and publicise information about what is available.

Campaigners have cited the duty to oppose council cuts to youth work budgets and services over recent years but to little effect, despite the Court of Appeal ruling in 2013 that North Somerset Council had acted unlawfully when it reduced its youth service budget by 72 per cent.

Funding cuts

Over the past five years, the amount of money spent by councils on services for young people has halved, official figures show. In 2011/12, councils spent £877m on youth services, but according to latest section 251 returns, local authorities plan to spend just £424.5m in 2016/17 - a 15 per cent reduction on the £497m spent in 2015/16 (see graphic).

The declines over that period have been consistent, reflecting the pressure councils are under financially and the fact that the statutory duty to "secure sufficient services" is an imprecise definition.

Minister for civil society Rob Wilson has criticised the level of spending cuts imposed by local authorities, but they have been made at a time when overall central government funding for children's services has declined. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) saw its spending fall 50 per cent between 2010/11 and 2014/15. Figures published by the Treasury for the 2015 Autumn Statement also show that the DCLG budget is projected to halve again over the next five years - from £11.5 billion in 2015/16 to £5.4bn by 2019/20.

In addition, over the same period, the amount of government support for the children's voluntary sector has fallen significantly. The voluntary and community sector grant, which funded youth projects among other things, has plummeted from £60m a year in 2011/12 to just £2.25m over the next 18 months.

The funding cuts have led to a significant fall in the size of the youth services workforce. Unison research on the impact of the budget cuts shows 3,652 youth work jobs have been lost since 2012. The number of people enrolling on youth work training programmes has also fallen from 1,470 in 2008 to 793 in 2014, according to the most recent data from the National Youth Agency's annual monitoring report (see graphic). This also shows that just one in 10 graduates now goes to work in a council (see NYA view).



Service response

The spending reductions have led to local authorities reducing the number of services open to all young people, with support becoming increasingly targeted at those deemed to be in "at risk" groups. The most recent figures compiled by the government show that in 2011/12, councils spent £50.5m more on universal services than on targeted provision. But by 2013/14, that had reversed, with authorities spending £18m more on targeted than universal services. The survey of 97 councils by the Cabinet Office also revealed that three-quarters of respondents predicted that between 75 and 100 per cent of their spend will be on targeted provision by 2016/17.

The reductions in universal services has seen hundreds of council-run youth clubs and holiday schemes close or have funding cut. The Unison research shows that since 2012, 603 youth centres have been closed and 139,000 places for young people lost (see graphic).

Instead, limited resources are being targeted at delivering youth work interventions for young people in greatest need - such as those displaying risky behaviour, not in education, employment or training, experiencing housing problems or mental ill health.

Such moves have led to youth workers being deployed across a wider range of council services for children and young people as well as some delivered by other public agencies. For example, Portsmouth City Council has worked with further education providers to target extra support for 16-year-olds at risk of not transitioning smoothly from school to a job, college or training place.

Windsor and Maidenhead Council has embedded youth workers into social work safeguarding teams to support young people in the child protection system. Meanwhile, in West Sussex, youth services have teamed up with the local child and adolescent mental health service to provide more integrated support for young people with emotional problems.

In other areas, voluntary sector organisations have taken on a greater role in delivering youth work provision. In Bristol, charity Youth Moves delivers universal and targeted support for eight- to 19-year-olds in close partnership with the council, schools and police.

However, local spending cuts have also hit charities hard, with Learning South West closing earlier this year and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services also wound up in April, with many of its services and functions transferred to other youth bodies.

In response, trade unions, campaign group Choose Youth and voluntary organisations have created a coalition to lobby MPs to protect youth services.

Delivering differently

The need to make deep funding cuts across children's services has forced other councils to consider more wholesale changes to how youth services are delivered. Some, such as Wandsworth, handed the running of their entire service over to a charity, while others have turned the youth service into a community interest company (CIC) independent of the authority.

A further seven councils have worked with charity OnSide to establish state-of-the-art youth clubs called youth zones. These provide eight- to 19-year-olds, and those aged up to 25 with a disability, with affordable, seven-day access to a broad range of sport, arts, health and employability services.

Since 2008, OnSide has established youth zones in Blackburn, Bolton, Carlisle, Manchester, Oldham, Wigan and Wolverhampton, while eight others - in Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Chorley, Croydon, Preston, Sunderland, Warrington and Wirral - are in various stages of development. The youth charity also has ambitions plans to create 100 youth zones "within the next generation".

Meanwhile, the Office for Civil Society has in recent years provided small amounts of funding for authorities to assess and test new models of youth work provision through the Delivering Differently for Young People (DDYP) programme. Around 20 councils have been supported through DDYP. They aimed to build on the work of Knowsley Youth Mutual and Epic CIC in Kensington and Chelsea, which became the first youth services to "spin out" from council control in 2014. Since then, others have followed - Torbay Youth Trust, Investing in Children (Durham), Youth First (Lewisham) and Young Lambeth Co-operative. Devon is also set to launch its DYS Space mutual in February 2017.

Those areas that have already moved to a mutual model claim that it has multiple benefits, including more flexibility in how to deliver support, the ability to generate income from a wide variety of sources, and letting young people and communities have a greater say in the shape of local provision.

The creation of the Youth Investment Fund will also see 34 of the most deprived areas share £40m to develop their own new ways of supporting young people (see UK Youth view).

The changes to how youth work is delivered over the past five years has seen an increase in contracting - whether for delivering specific projects or entire services. This has coincided with an increased recognition across the youth work sector of the need to provide evidence that services improve young people's outcomes.

The Centre for Youth Impact, which has government backing, is working with a number of national youth organisations to develop approaches on how to best collect and use evidence with the aim to disseminate findings across the sector.

This is driven by the knowledge that with the youth work funding climate unlikely to get any easier, charities, councils and mutuals will need to show clearly how the provision they deliver benefits young people.

UK Youth: Funding can help grow innovative practice

By Matt Lent, director of partnerships and policy, UK Youth

Funding is the most common and controversial topic in the youth sector. With many organisations still reeling from the local authority cuts, will the recently announced £80m injection - split equally between the Youth Investment Fund and the social action #iwill Fund - be enough to transform the sector?

While small in comparison to some other youth sector funding and limited to targeting specific areas of disadvantage, the Youth Investment Fund can, and should, be used to develop the whole of the youth sector's robustness, secure existing provisions, build additional infrastructure and grow the most successful services. This fund is a clear opportunity to leverage additional private and local authority funding, from within the target regions and beyond. Similarly, through private sector engagement, there is a target to grow the social action #iwill Fund from £40m to more than £100m over the next few years, and we should be holding the same ambition for the Youth Investment Fund.

Adaptability has always been key to the youth sector's longevity - from the formation of church-based youth groups at the turn of the 19th century to nationwide volunteer-led projects, through to statutory funded initiatives and the formation of social enterprises. Even with this funding injection, we now need to adapt in order to ensure we remain vibrant and relevant, providing holistic year-round services, based in local communities, able to support young people as they progress through their social development journey, from social engagement through to social learning, social action and onto social leadership.

While there is no doubt that austerity has been painfully felt by the sector and the young people we service, exciting things are now happening in local youth delivery, and we are beginning to witness the liberation of progressive and innovative local and regional youth services. This creative, multi-stakeholder, collective responsibility approach is surely the direction a progressive youth sector needs to be heading. That is not to say we release local and central government from their duty of care for young people - they have a key role to play in both financing and providing infrastructure support - but we can no longer expect them to be the only funder, and nor should we.

We are all collectively responsible for our young people's journey towards a stable adulthood; including government, schools, the private sector, parents and families, and the voluntary sector, and none of us have the privilege of being able to work in insolation.

This change does not mean we need to abandon the values and foundations of our work. We must in fact continue to be youth-centred, and to base our work on the concepts and practice of voluntary participation, equality, empowerment, positive relationships and opportunity creation.

While this additional funding will provide great support to the sector, it needs to be spent wisely if it is to succeed in providing the opportunity to support and direct the youth sector through these difficult transitions, building a well networked, organised and professional service fit for meeting the varied, complex and often unique needs of our young people today.

NYA youth workers add value to different sectors but they must be recognised

By Amanda Fearn, development director, National Youth Agency

The employment landscape for youth workers is undergoing considerable change. Just a few years ago the majority of youth and community work graduates found employment in a council-run youth service. But with the huge reductions in local services these routes have dried up - now it is the destination of less than 10 per cent of graduates.

Instead, data indicates that youth workers are using their skills in a whole range of different sectors - from housing, schools and health agencies to youth offending services and voluntary community work. These jobs utilise key youth work skills, but roles are broader or are focused on specific outcomes, such as supporting children in care.

There is another growing group of organisations unfamiliar with youth work, but who need their employees to understand the needs of young people and work constructively with them. These include training and learning organisations, charities and businesses delivering frontline support services.

Some of the sectors that have welcomed youth work skills have surprised many. NYA has delivered youth work training to a host of Premiership football clubs. To find that the likes of Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal can see the benefit of youth work skills is refreshing. In an environment like football where most things can be reduced to monetary value, it is heartening that understanding and communicating effectively with their young players is prized.

The need for youth work skills is everywhere. Right now young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are in need of adults who are on their side.

With more families raising children in poverty, education fraught with stress, and young people finding transitions to employment confusing and unclear as well as difficult to find, young people are being challenged. Organisations working with them can see they are in need of increased support.

This growing trend is a double-edged sword. To a profession that has felt battered and bruised by years of being undervalued by national and local government, it is hugely positive to see youth work respected in this way.

Yet the role of youth work in these jobs can go unrecognised. If the job does not employ the term and there is no acknowledgement of youth work skills, then it fails to contribute to a better understanding by the public of what youth work can achieve.

In fact, youth work as a phrase is so little understood that it has been increasingly dropped by the youth sector too, something which could have long-term repercussions for the future of the profession.

Even if nationally youth work is rarely mentioned, there are some signs of a come-back at a local level. Surrey County Council recently held a Youth Work Commission concluding that Surrey should continue to invest in youth work. We hope this is the start of the tidal turn, flowing youth work back to the heart of communities.


This article is part of CYP Now's special report on youth work and youth services. Click here for more

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