What Labour has done
Antisocial behaviour and crime
A vigorous approach to nuisance has been combined with making parents more accountable. Home Office measures have included fixed penalty notices for under-18s for firework offences, harassment, vandalism and underage drinking. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 has given new powers to disperse intimidating groups and 1,728 Antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) have been issued to under-18s in the past four years. Families have been given more support through parenting contracts with youth offending teams and 4,870 parenting orders were also issued between 2000-4, requiring parents to attend a programme. Sure Start, Connexions and neighbourhood renewal have tried to tackle the causes of youth crime, while youth justice reforms have included tougher sentencing and electronic tagging.
Health and fitness
Obesity has been fought by the government through the whole-school Healthy Schools and Food in Schools programmes, which include cookery clubs and healthier tuck shops and vending machines. The 5 A DAY campaign urges teenagers to eat more fruit and vegetables while Leap pilot projects (local exercise action pilots) aim to increase physical activity.
The Young People Drug Delivery Plan aims to integrate services across different government departments and provide early intervention and prevention. The Frank Campaign was launched in May 2003 to increase awareness of the risks associated with class A drugs, cannabis and volatile substances.
Some £300m is being invested to improve access to child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) by 2006. The National Service Framework has set improved standards for Camhs, including better staff training, earlier identification, better 16+ provision, and better mental health care for young people in hospital.
KS3 test and GCSE results have improved. Excellence in Cities schools have improved at a faster rate and a £470m programme to improve behaviour and attendance has led to 87,000 more pupils regularly attending school, though a hardcore of truants remains. Education maintenance allowances have encouraged more young people to stay in learning past the age of 16.
The support and careers agency Connexions went nationwide in 2003 and by December 2004 there had been 2.8 million interventions with young people aged 13-19. The agency recently exceeded its two-year target for reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training.
In 2003-4, an average of 245,200 young people in England began apprenticeships – 101,400 on advanced apprenticeships and 143,800 on apprenticeships.
The teenage pregnancy strategy has increased access to sexual health services and contraceptive advice, and has supported young parents. There has been a 9.8% fall in the under-18 conception rate since 1998, and young people in “hotspot” wards are now being targeted.
What the three main parties say they will do if they win the election
The Labour Party
The government has set out an ambitious agenda for improvement in services for young people through the DfES five-year strategy, the Every Child Matters change programme and 14-19 reforms. The strategy includes more integrated children’s services; earlier identification of those at risk; greater choice of vocational routes post 14; and a crackdown on truancy and poor behaviour. Children’s trusts will bring about pooled budgets, integrated working between health, social services and education, and better provision for vulnerable young people. The children’s commissioner will champion rights.
The Liberal Democrats
Charles Kennedy’s party would give young people the vote at 16. The New Deal will be reformed to get more young people into work. A new employment scheme will tailor support to individual needs and 16 year olds will receive the full minimum wage. The skills deficit will be addressed by investment in a new “Colleges for the Future” programme, university tuition fees will be scrapped and grants introduced for those from low income backgrounds. Crime will be cut by more police on the streets, more support for heavy drug users, and acceptable behaviour contracts.
Under Michael Howard, the Tories say they would cut truancy through vocational programmes, increase choice for students and employers, and provide better information for learners. School discipline would be restored and new vocational grants for 14- 16 year olds created. Tuition and top up fees will be abolished. Asbos will be made more effective through better enforcement. About 40,000 more police officers will be recruited and bureaucracy will be reduced. There would be more residential rehabilitation for young addicts.
What the next government should do for teenagers
The multi-agency approach of youth offending teams has been a step in the right direction, says Chris Stanley, head of youth crime at rehabilitation agency Nacro.
“But we still have the highest youth custody levels in Europe,” he says. “We could cut them by 50% without any increased danger to the public.
“About 60% to 70% of young people who are locked up might have mental health or disability issues. We need better access to psychiatric services for young people, but Camhs are overstretched.”
Lack of supported housing also means that courts may choose custody because young people are sleeping rough or staying in unsuitable accommodation, he says.
Nacro believes that Asbos for under-18s were a huge mistake. “There is no evidence that they reduce offending. Often they make it worse because a breach leads to custody. The negative publicity attached to Asbos amounts to victimisation. They were a thoroughly bad piece of legislation,” says Stanley.
Gavin Baylis, senior policy officer for Young Minds, welcomes the additional investment in Camhs, but says more needs to be done.
“Around 11% of 11-15 year olds have a mental health or behavioural problem but only one in six or seven of these have contact with specialist care. We need more training for front-line professionals, including teachers, and even more investment in Camhs.”
With regard to teenage pregnancy, advisory service Brook agrees that the strategy is starting to pay off, but says that sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools is still patchy. With sexually transmitted infections rising rapidly and services overstretched, the charity wants SRE to be a compulsory part of the curriculum and teachers to be better trained.
“There are still parts of the country where a lack of proper sex and relationships education and inadequate sexual health services are letting young people down,” says Jan Barlow, head of Brook.
The National Children’s Bureau welcomes the fact that young people were involved in the recruitment of the children’s commissioner and that services are becoming more joined-up. But it would like to see even more involvement of young people in service planning and delivery.
The British Youth Council agrees that many government initiatives have improved the lives of young people. But BYC wants to see independent youth councils in every area, with powers to influence the work of children’s trusts and the Every Child Matters change programmes. The charity also wants to see young people given a fairer minimum wage and voting at 16.
There’s disappointment that the youth green paper, still unpublished at the time of writing, has not surfaced.
“This has sent a negative message to the youth sector, which the government has tried so hard to engage and work with,” says Clare Oliver, BYC’s Head of Policy and Communications.
“The Green Paper presented a real chance to revolutionise local youth services. Only by engaging and involving young people in society can we build more cohesive communities.”