Anne Longfield, 4Children and the youth services black hole

Anne Longfield, of charity 4Children, tells  Amy Taylor why young people increasingly see themselves as being let down by society

The increased investment in ­education in last week’s Budget was welcomed by campaigners but many urged the government not to forget about other services for children. Youth services in particular were flagged up as needing urgent investment.

Interim findings of a national inquiry into young people, published out by children’s charity 4Children this month, back this up. The inquiry shows a social group feeling let down by society and with nowhere to go.

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity, says the recent gang violence and knife and gun crime among young people has to be connected to this lack of opportunities.

“We spoke to about 7,000 young people. What they all said is that there aren’t enough places to go in their communities at times when they need them or offering what they want,” she says.

In response, the inquiry has called for a national programme of new-style youth centres in every community to provide a place for young people to meet, socialise and take part in activities. Longfield says the centres would also underline to them their importance to society.

The green paper on youth services, published in 2005, placed a duty on local authorities to provide positive activities for young people for four hours a week from January. To fund this, the government provided about £500,000 for average-sized local authorities and more than £2m for the largest councils, or those in greatest need, over two years. Longfield says this is to be welcomed but that it is not enough. She adds that, although extended schools will offer some of the services proposed by the inquiry, the extended school model in secondary schools is also “not there yet”.

The inquiry has also called for mobile intervention teams. Longfield says prototypes are already operating in areas such as Southwark in London. They involve social care staff going into communities affected by low-level antisocial behaviour and working with young people in a quasi boot-camp style to engage them in activities.

Both national and local government are guilty of neglecting youth services, says Longfield, with initiatives for younger children, such as Sure Start, taking centre stage.

She says councils’ poor performance is largely due to underfunding by central government with an average of just 17p a day invested in youth services for each young person.

Longfield says: “Sure Start is a high-profile programme supported by politicians at all levels with spending commitments and targets. That’s not the case for youth services.”

With the Budget out of the way all eyes are now on the comprehensive spending review later this year. Once allocations from this have been announced it will become clear whether youth services will receive the attention they deserve.

High hopes for review
The Treasury’s policy review of children and young people had been expected to be published alongside the Budget speech last week but did not materialise.

Instead the chancellor said that there would be further national, regional and local consultations to determine the review’s findings and inform priorities for the comprehensive spending review.

The review has three strands: youth services, disabled children and families at risk and 4Children’s inquiry is feeding into its findings. It is now expected out within a couple of months and Longfield says she has high hopes about what it may offer young people.

Further information
Make Space Youth Review Interim Findings

Contact the author
   Amy Taylor

This article appeared in the 29 March issue under the headline “The youth service black hole”

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