The Government has tabled a debate in the House of Commons for Wednesday 24 July on ‘The role and sufficiency of youth services’. Led on the Floor of the House it is a landmark debate for access to quality youth work and services for young people. It follows a year-long, cross-party inquiry led by the National Youth Agency (NYA) to evidence the level of need and impact of youth work.
The role of youth work
Youth work is a form of education that provides peer-group activities and trusted relationships, supported by professionally qualified youth workers and skilled volunteers, harnessing skills of young people not fulfilled by formal education and providing safe places for young people to learn together, and to have fun. There is a great heritage of voluntary provision and local authority commissioned services. The collective impact is to ensure no young person is ‘left behind’. With 85% of a young person’s waking hours spent outside of school and formal education, where the loss of youth services is pronounced vulnerable young people in particular are falling prey to loneliness, poor mental health and fear of youth violence. In areas of investment in youth services, we see a positive commitment to young people’s inclusion in decision-making, community engagement and increased life-skills.
Sufficient provision: access to quality youth services
A key recommendation is for clear statutory guidance that defines a minimum and protected level of youth service. The Government has initiated a review of the statutory guidance, with NYA joining forces with the Local Government Association (LGA) to lead on the government consultation. This is due to report later in the year and should inform local choices and local youth partnerships, to strengthen youth services that meet local needs.
As the national body for youth work NYA is calling for greater clarity and consistency in how the statutory duty is understood and how the guidance is used to support access to good quality youth work. Further research is being undertaken by NYA on what is ‘sufficient’ service provision as defined by statutory guidance. We will look to establish a clear baseline of youth work provision to secure access to youth services. Similarly to the clear structure of professional roles and ratios found in schools – senior leaders, teachers, teaching assistants and supporting services such as specialist teachers or school counsellors – there should be standard expectations on the ratios of professional youth workers, trained volunteers and other professionals with youth work skills. This provides the basis of support from youth services, flexible to meet local needs and scaleable across different areas.
“Youth” is the adolescent developmental phase between childhood and adulthood that brings significant physical and emotional changes. Where help and investment in early years and older people is well-recognised and reflected in public policies, what is missing is coherent and consistent support for young people. The new Youth Charter announced by Government and the opportunity from strengthened statutory guidance needs to provide a clear narrative of what we want for young people and expect of youth services. The NYA has in turn developed a Youth Covenant that local authorities and organisations can sign up to for greater accountability of such provision.
Now is a critical time when voluntary and statutory providers are coming together to make the case for youth work, in advance of the government’s spending review and the development of local youth partnerships to shape and deliver youth serivdes. The NYA Summit is planned for 29 October, 2019 and a national campaign planned for Youth Work Week in November.
*The Government-led debate on Wednesday 24 July replaces Back Bench Debate on the APPG Youth Affairs report, originally planned for 25 July. Please note, for those who had pre-booked to attend the Back Bench Debate and reception this will be rescheduled for the autumn; there is no parliamentary reception or lobby on 24 July.