Policy Update: a positive agenda for young people

May 30, 2016

In consultation with members Ambition has been developing a position paper on the future of a youth offer. Ambition members representing local authorities participated in discussions with representatives from the Local Government Association (LGA) and Directors of Children’s Services, informed by the government’s Life Chances strategy and Centre for Youth Impact. This was hosted by Ambition Ambassadors Natascha Engel MP and Tim Loughton MP.

This paper summarises key points arising from that consultation and will inform further work and future events with the wider membership, drawn from the voluntary youth sector and supporting organisations.

A local authority perspective

Youth services are both educational and recreational, defined as “educational leisure time”, supporting participation in education, improving community cohesion and reducing anti-social behaviour. Targeted services are designed to reduce offending, substance misuse and teenage pregnancy.

However, the discretionary nature of the funding means that such services may not be “reasonably practicable”; this is being severely strained with another round of budget cuts for local authorities, which have fallen disproportionately on youth services, with a knock-on effect to voluntary sector funding of community provision.

The discussion identified a number of elements which are critical to providing a youth offer which would have the greatest impact on young people.

Life Chances

The government’s Life Chances strategy is based on “a life cycle approach – one that takes people from their earliest years, through schooling, adolescence and adult life”.

There needs to be greater recognition of the characteristics of adolescence where development and progression is unique to other periods in a person’s life, noting brain and physiological phases are cyclical not linear. Progression through developmental phases cannot be accurately related to the age of individuals, as they can be in child development. Therefore, services and activities need to be designed and delivered to support these specific developmental phases. See PositiveForYouth Adolescent Development.

Leadership

We have evidence where there is strong, innovative leadership the youth offer can flourish, for example through aligning service outcomes to the local authority’s priorities and evidencing the impact of those services. However, anecdotal evidence suggests this is not consistent across all local authorities, meaning a young person's access to services can depend on where they live.

National guidance of a quality youth offer could support a more consistent youth offer in England. This would support local agencies to understand the components of a quality youth offer, foster consistency across England and provide a framework for areas to develop strategies to impact on local need.

Such an approach has been demonstrated in discreet areas previously, for example as recognised in The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy for England. There is also a clear role for local authority leadership embedded in the government's Sport and Physical Activity Strategy. More recently the design, delivery and promotion of the National Citizen Service has been set out by government in support of youth social action.

A high level strategy or guidance would support local agencies to understand the components of a quality youth offer, foster consistency across England and provide a framework for areas to develop strategies to impact on local need.

Local Partnerships

There is recognition in a number of policy areas where the local authority plays a lead role to secure and manage investment and develop and coordinate local partnerships to support the delivery of the local strategy. These include statutory partners in health agencies, housing associations, schools & FE colleges, Police & Crime Commissioners and Youth Offending Teams. The corresponding challenge is for voluntary and community organisations to take a larger role in partnerships and service-delivery.

This highlights the importance of consistent, high quality relationships – the ‘trusted adult’ – skilled in adolescence across the whole system, increasing engagement in education and health care as priority areas, and in support of a ‘social development journey’ to develop life skills, access to employment and training, and youth social action.

In the case of Maidenhead and Windsor we have seen the role of ‘trusted adult’ (youth workers) based within social work pods improving the engagement of young people and as a result having a positive impact on their outcomes. This can be extended to other targeted support and multi-agency work in priority areas for children’s services, such as Child Sexual Exploitation, Mental Health, Troubled Families, youth offending and the Prevent agenda.

At the same time the impact can be supported by engaging in positive activities such as NCS, character education, sports and leisure, whilst incorporating group work, which encourages peer support, and including activities which allow young people to experience risk in a safe environment.

Furthermore, partnering with schools and colleges for work experience, careers, employment and enterprise can ensure young people not only develop critical life skills but the journey is captured through accreditation and self-reflection/evaluation.

Key considerations

  • National guidance to support a youth offer and effective local strategies
  • A coordinating role for local authorities, with youth voice at the heart of service design and delivery
  • Services designed and delivered to support these developmental phases of psychological and physiological adolescent development
  • Identification and development of evidence of strong, innovative leadership for the local youth offer to flourish, with the potential for joint commissioning, pooled or community budgets
  • Areas where this may shape social impact investment – with the potential to improve life chances across communities rather than simply individuals or particular cohorts

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