• My comment to Devon youth services review consultation

    28th April 2014 | News | Claire
  • Devon’s youth service is cherished by young people and their parents and operates on a system of voluntary engagement that forms the basis of an extremely effective preventative service.

    The service has, at its heart, the respect agenda. Young people attending youth centres are encouraged to be respectful in relationships with each other and in their conduct generally. 

    Many of the young people I have spoken to have formed strong attachments with their youth workers, who care about their jobs very much and have a unique role.

    It is a different role from teachers and parents. They are trusted non-authoritative individuals that young people can confide in, about issues sometimes that are of huge significance. 

    The role of the youth worker in these circumstances is to help the young person to resolve their issue, before it mushrooms into a huge problem, which may cause emotional damage to that young person, or end up police action.

    Hundreds, if not thousands of young people have been helped to resolve difficulties and have avoided a crisis moment, or much worse, a wrecked future – because of the vital role and input of the youth worker.

    There is an agreed uniformity of approach across Devon County Council’s youth service, so that young people in Devon know what to expect when they confide in a youth worker.

    Importantly, ongoing anonymised records are taken of the category of problems that young people report, in order that the issues that are worrying the youngsters of Devon
    are monitored. This is absolutely vital and is also information that other services, such as the health service, can use to plan their own work.

    If the current proposals are implemented, provision will be hit and miss, with different approaches to different problems in every location, depending on who is running the service, (if there is a service) how well trained they are and whether they can handle the difficulties that they are presented with.

    In other areas of the country youth services have been removed and far from having a neutral effect, young people have suffered as a result. There is evidence to support this.  George Downs MYP has the details.

    I echo the sentiments of George Downs, who points out that until the social problems that are prevented by the youth service, are measured, it cannot be properly valued or assessed in terms of its impact.

    The service is cherished by young people and their families. A professional, determined and co-ordinated campaign was launched the very weekend that the proposed cuts were announced, and a petition with a massive 7000 signatures, has been delivered to Devon County Council via a protest march on Saturday 26 April. 

    There have been passionate demonstrations at many of the consultation events and one 15 year old girl has told me how she cried when she was told that her local youth centre may close. 

    Young Devon campaigners have also created and uploaded to Youtube, a powerful photo montage, overlaid with messages about how much the service means to them.

    Several community safety partnerships across the county have also objected to the proposals for closing youth centres.

    They point out, quite rightly, that it will lead to an increase, not only in anti-social behaviour, which will put strain on an already stretched police force, but also the respect agenda that the youth service works to, is likely to be lost.

    The community safety partnerships believe that problems like domestic abuse, alcohol and drug misuse are likely to rise.  A reduction in freely available education about online safety, may well cause an increase in online bullying or online risk taking behaviour.

    Gerry Moore of the East Devon community safety strategy points out that the Devon youth service is much more than a universal service. He says that youth workers will carry out street outreach at ‘hot spots’ of anti social behaviour and that their presence on the streets at these locations has a calming and positive effect.

    Devon’s youth service is a tiny proportion of the council’s budget. Yet it has such a huge positive affect on young people’s lives – and on communities as a whole.

    The likelihood of this proposal saving money in the long-term is remote and is much more likely instead, to fill up social worker’s caseloads. Either that, or police time.  Those young people who don’t end up under the care of a social worker or get in trouble with the police, may well just quietly fail to cope, with their education and future prospects, seriously compromised.

    Don’t be tempted to think that a “targeted service” which is likely to lead to stigmatisation of those who attend those centres, is the right way forward. 

    Please please, think again on this.  And remember that prevention is better than cure.

    Photograph left to right: Mel Beer, George Downs, Alfie Weaver, me.