Testament of youth

Youth Matters aims to do for young people what the
children’s green paper Every Child Matters did for
children’s services by ensuring that all professionals and services
work to address young people’s needs, while encouraging them to
take responsibility for their lives. The green paper’s key
proposals and potential pitfalls are explored below.

One of the most significant changes proposed is
to integrate Connexions into local authorities. The green paper
says: “The document starts from an understanding that, while
existing services – youth services, Connexions, mainstream services
and a wide range of targeted support programmes – have made a
crucial contribution, they do not amount to a modern system of

What the idea entails: For Connexions services in
England to be integrated into the range of local authority services
supporting young people. The commissioning and funding for young
people’s advice and guidance would transfer to councils who would
be encouraged to keep the brand name. Only high-performing
Connexions services would remain separate.

Is this realistic? The demise of Connexions was
anticipated, but it was not expected to be amalgamated into
councils’ work. Although such a move may be achievable, convincing
Connexions’ users of its worthiness may take some doing as it would
bring a service perceived as independent firmly into the remit of

Sector’s reaction: Kevin Williams, national
secretary of YMCA England, believes such a change could lead to
confusion among neighbouring local authorities about responsibility
for the users of the service. He says it may be a problem in cities
where young people cross borough boundaries to go to school or
work. “Some young people may find it hard to access Connexions
services because of where they live.”

At least eight local authorities would pilot
opportunity cards offering £12 worth of discounts on cultural
and sporting activities and other items for young people to
encourage them to take part in constructive activities.

What the idea entails: Subject to the results of
pilots, the government will roll out opportunity cards nationally.
It will top up the cards of disadvantaged 13 to 16 year olds.
Councils will withdraw or suspend the cards of young people who
behave antisocially.

Is this realistic? The problems of financing and
the low take-up of the Connexions card, which similarly allows
young people to collect points and gain rewards, have not
discouraged the government from the opportunity card idea. But much
will depend on the cost of implementing it.

Sector’s reaction: Dan Brown, chair of the British
Youth Council, argues the card removes the government’s
responsibility to compulsorily provide services for young people.
He says: “If a service is an entitlement it should not be based on
building up a points system.” He dismisses the notion of local
authorities sanctioning antisocial teenagers by withdrawing their
card, saying that efforts should be made to establish the causes of
their behaviour instead. Withdrawing opportunity cards will have
little impact on antisocial behaviour, says Williams. “Losing a
card worth £12 is not going to be anything that young people
will be worried about.”

Young people in each local authority to have
control over a share of an opportunity fund to finance the local
projects they want.

What the idea entails: The government will give
every local authority up to £30,000. Local young people would
be able to decide how to spend it, such as creating football
leagues or hiring a venue.

Is this realistic? Councils are used to
administering small grants, although fully involving young people
may be difficult.

Sector’s reaction: Patrick Stewart, senior project
manager of the Dalston Youth Project in London, supports the idea
as it encourages young people to take part in decisions that affect
their lives. However, he is concerned that only the most confident
and eloquent young people would put themselves forward. He adds
that the role parents can play in encouraging teenagers to become
involved in their local communities is missing from the green
paper. The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services backs the
concept, but policy officer Ellie Rose says the sums of money
involved do not match levels of deprivation or the number of young
people in some areas.

The government to legislate to clarify local
authorities’ duty to secure positive activities for all young

What the idea entails: The government would
provide guidance detailing national standards for young people’s
activities. This would include two hours a week of sport and two
hours a week of other constructive activities in youth clubs and

Sector’s reaction: Brown is in favour of young
people having more options in their free time, but emphasises the
need for resources. He says the green paper fails to acknowledge
the work that already exists.

For youth offending teams to work closely with
local partners in children’s trusts and crime and disorder
reduction partnerships; and for targeted youth support teams to
identify young people needing extra support or intervention.

What the idea entails: The Department for
Education and Skills, Home Office and Youth Justice Board have
agreed that Yots should maintain their role of delivering targeted
youth crime prevention programmes “during the current spending
review period”, suggesting it may change after this time. The green
paper is also keen to explore the devolving to councils, working
through children’s trusts, those budgets that support prevention of
youth crime and substance misuse.

Sector’s reaction: There is a link between what
Yots and what children’s trusts are working to achieve, according
to Williams, who says he is not surprised by the proposal. But, he
warns, there must not be confusion about the role of each agency
when doing prevention work with young people. “This option reflects
the government’s difficulty in making a decision about what to do
with Yots. It is not saying it’s going to merge Yots into
children’s trusts but nor is it saying it is going to leave them
alone to get on with it.”

To encourage more young people to volunteer and
become involved in their communities.

What the idea entails: The government is
establishing a new body to implement the Russell Commission’s
recommendations on volunteering. Pilots will also explore the
impact of different types of rewards in persuading young people to

Sector’s reaction: Getting more young people to
volunteer is a realistic goal, according to Maggie Turner, director
of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Award for Young People for
the charity ContinYou. She says: “If volunteering is sold in the
right way and is made attractive and fun then it will appeal to
young people. It is something you can put on your CV.”


There is a danger that all the green paper’s good ideas will
benefit only those young people who are already actively involved
in school and their communities. The challenge the government faces
is how to reach those young people and their families who are the
most disaffected. That is the message the government is likely to
receive when its consultation on the green paper ends on 4

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