Youth sector fails to prove value

The youth sector is yet to prove the value of its work as pressure on budgets intensifies, the chief of an organisation set up by government to promote early intervention has claimed.

Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), says youth work is struggling to overcome the “evidence challenge” of proving to government and council commissioners that its work can improve young people’s lives.

Most recent Department for Education statistics on spending on youth services by councils show that it fell from £712.6m in 2013/14 to £621.9m in 2014/15, compounding year-on-year falls since 2010.

Oppenheim told CYP Now that youth work is a valuable method of early intervention but needs to prove its case.

“In the youth sector there is a lot of promising practice but the evidence gathering needs more development,” she said.

“One of the issues that has come through in our research into school age and young people’s social and emotional development was that the school sector was good at providing evidence of success, as it is easier for them to measure, as children have to be there.  But it is harder to evidence in youth services.  Young people don’t have to access it and it is also delivered in a far more varied way.”

Oppenheim's comments come little more than a week after Labour confirmed that it has ditched a pledge to make youth services statutory if it is elected to government.  Instead the party has said it would launch a "root and branch" review of youth services.

Oppenheim suggests that the youth sector can act now to make the case for additional funding by making use of surveys so young people can assess their own wellbeing and skill development.  She said they could also use statistics showing drops in levels of crime and antisocial behaviour as examples of success.  She is also calling on the next government to do more to help the youth sector improve the way is evaluates success.

This echoes a call made last year by former children’s minister Tim Loughton for the government to do more to gather research and evidence of success in the youth sector. Loughton said youth services had become a “soft target” for council cuts.

Oppenheim said improvements to evidence gathering have been hampered due to “substantial reductions” to services.  But she said evidencing impact does need not be expensive.

“It doesn’t need to be a large controlled trial but it does need to show the work has value,” she said.

Oppenheim’s comments follow the recent publication of research by the EIF that showed that children and young people with well-developed social and emotional skills have a far better chance of being happy and healthy adults, irrespective of their families’ financial situation.

Its Social and Emotional Learning: Skills for Life and Work publication, which was jointly commissioned by the Cabinet Office and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, also found that supporting young people’s emotional wellbeing was vital to breaking intergenerational cycles of disadvantage.

The EIF is also calling for social and emotional development to be part of teachers’ initial training and for the next government to ensure that improving children’s emotional wellbeing is the responsibility of all departments not just the Department for Education.  The EIF has also worked alongside the College of Policing to launch an online guide last month for police officers on supporting young people.  It is also keen to turn the guide into a mobile phone application that police officers can take around with them.