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All-Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs

Interim Report: The Role and Sufficiency of Youth Work

Help and investment in early years and for older people is well-recognised and reflected in public policies, but adolescence – the transition to adulthood – is also an important time for making significant life choices and decisions. Yet all too often public policy and services tend to view and define children and young people by their ‘deficits’ with a focus on having to tackle and overcome challenges and problems, rather than by recognising their ‘assets’ and the numerous opportunities available to them. This is most often characterised by society understanding ‘problems’ and ‘challenges’ in terms of moral panics over forms of popular culture and risktaking amongst the young. There is, however, a disconnect between how the public perceive young people and the reality of their lives; for example, there are positive indications that much risky behaviour is declining amongst young people, especially drinking, smoking and illicit drug use.

Too often we look at the negatives and do not appreciate the positives of young people – a situation that leads to a larger disconnect with services for this group. This trend has been exacerbated by ‘austerity’ and cuts to youth services, which have been especially hard hit. Public spending within Children’s and Young People’s Services is increasingly distributed towards those statutory areas that focus on safeguarding risk and on short-term interventions targeted at vulnerable groups. The reduction in universal (open-access) youth services, in turn, has a perverse effect, with lost opportunities for the identification of concerns and early help before issues become acute.

Overall, this inquiry presents an opportunity to shape youth policy and inform services that reflect the experiences and ambitions of young people. We explore the role, nature and sufficiency of youth work as an essential part of the community fabric that supports young people – their sense of identity, place and belonging, supported in the present and ambitious for their future. This requires a shared understanding and clarity for the role of youth work and contribution of youth services. We conclude that, overall, to be effective, youth work needs to be (and be seen to be) transformational, harnessing skills of young people.