Initiative to mend ‘broken hearts’ of England’s teenagers faces struggle

This month saw the launch of 13 new Connexions partnerships, and
for anyone still unsure what the initiative was about, the chief
secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, has spelt out its

It is, he told an audience at the launch of London’s fifth and last
Connexions, a service that helps 13 to 19-year-olds “to cope with
the heartbreaks of being young”.

So how is the scheme faring? Earlier this year, researchers at Hull
University suggested the Connexions service faced an uphill task in
seeking out hard-to-reach disaffected young people.

But Boateng remains upbeat about its prospects.

The government has injected £320m into the service, which is
now just six short of its target of 47 Connexions partnerships
around the country working with the voluntary, private and business

Next year the budget will rise to £420m and in the year after
it will be increased by a further £35m, a measure of the
government’s commitment to the initiative.

But there are already signs that the outreach work needed to make
contact with those young people who have been excluded from school,
or who are unlikely to walk into one of the Connexions centres on
the high street to seek help, may be hampered by underinvestment
elsewhere in youth provision.

Cuts in youth service budgets by many councils have taken their
toll on youth provision in recent years. Earlier this year, the
director of the National Youth Agency, Tom Wylie, urged the
government to increase funding for youth services after the
chancellor’s spending review, saying “the country is only spending
the price of a cappuccino a week on youth services for each of our
13 to 19-year-olds”.

The consequences for the Connexions service of dwindling numbers of
youth clubs are obvious and beg the question how, in the absence of
the traditional way of reaching the most deprived, they will make
the initiative work for them.

Mark Ainsworth, chief executive of the South London Connexions,
recognises the problem highlighted by Wylie. He says: “It isn’t
something that has affected us yet but I am definitely keeping my
eye on what will happen in the future in terms of youth

A national evaluation strategy is planned. This will be carried out
jointly by the Connexions service national unit, based at the
Department for Education and Skills, and local partnerships. The
evaluation is likely to begin after the remaining partnerships have
been launched next year.

The strategy includes annual surveys to gauge the opinions and
attitudes of young people, as well as a study that will track a
group of young people over time to see how effective the service is
in helping them.

Currently each partnership submits monthly and quarterly figures to
the DfES to show how it is meeting the dozen targets set by the
government, half of which relate to education, training and
employment. Until now much of the information DfES collects has
been the same as that gathered from the former careers service,
which consisted mainly of figures relating to how many job
interviews had been set up and so on.

But DfES is now reviewing what types of information it gathers and,
as Ainsworth points out, measuring how one has helped a young
person is not only about whether they have a job or a place on a

This is evident from the broad range of issues on which personal
advisers, who are based in schools, colleges and centres, are
expected to offer help. Although designed to help every one of
England’s 13 to 19-year-olds, one aim of Connexions is to ensure
that society’s most excluded young people – those with multiple
needs who are likely to have suffered more problems than the
average young person – receive the help they need.

But even if Connexions manages to make contact with society’s most
excluded young people in the first place, winning their trust and
respect is never going be easy. For those who may have had little
or no parenting the offer of help from a stranger may be met with
distrust and resistance.

Boateng, who was himself involved in youth work in the 1970s,
acknowledges this as a problem but is confident that it is one a
good youth worker can overcome. “It is a great mistake to say that
just because a young person has been deprived of a parent that they
will reject all adults,” he says.

There is also the problem of maintaining contact with the young
person. The personal adviser can keep track of the contact she or
he has had with each of the young people through a database but
whether the young person chooses to keep appointments with the
personal adviser is another matter.

None of these challenges, though, appears to be deterring people
from applying for personal adviser jobs, in many cases at the
expense of social services departments. Large numbers of social
workers are choosing to leave to take up a job with Connexions,
exacerbating recruitment and retention problems that have in many
areas reached crisis point.

The South London Connexions, says Ainsworth, has drawn its 200
personal advisers largely from five key professional backgrounds –
social services, local authority and voluntary sector youth
services, teaching and what was formerly the careers service.

Lorna Anders is one such former social worker who became a personal
adviser with East London Connexions. She left her job at Lewisham
Council, south London, to take up a post with Connexions in July.
She says: “I was attracted to it because I prefer to work in a
setting where you can give support on a range of issues. As a
social worker I was dealing just with kids for a certain reason.
With this job I deal with a broader range of young people. It may
be that I am helping them when they have a problem with a specific
subject at school or with finding a home.

“It’s early days but I’m really enjoying the job so far. I’ve seen
a lot of life and I can incorporate the many skills I have in the

After a week-long induction course, Anders and seven other people
employed as Connexions’ personal advisers were ready for work. But
for most people wanting to move into this field a national personal
adviser diploma has been established. It takes between nine and 10
months to complete and most people undertake it while on the

At less than 18 months old it is still too early to say whether
Connexions has been a success. But the signs are promising. Data
from partnerships collected by the DfES show that the initiative
has helped some 41,000 people back into education, a job or a place
on a training course.

In all it has made contact with more than one million young people
to help them with many issues that could fall under the heading of
“the heartbreaks of being young”.

Make the connexion

  • Connexions is an England-wide support service for 13 to
    19-year-olds, launched in April 2001.
  • Forty-one local Connexions partnerships have been set up and
    six more are planned for next year.
  • Young people are assigned a personal adviser who provides
    guidance on careers. For those who need it, other types of help on
    issues such as homelessness, drug misuse and sexual health are
  • Personal advisers work in a variety of settings including
    schools, colleges, one-stop shops and on an outreach basis.
  • Connexions joins up the work of the Department for Education
    and Skills, the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor’s
    Department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department
    of Work and Pensions, the Department of the Environment Food and
    Rural Affairs, the Department of Media, Culture and Sport and the
    Department of Health.

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