Doing it for the kids, but which ones?

It’s chic, cutting edge and no think tank is seen without one this
season. What is it? Why, “a grand vision” for social care , of
course. There appears to be an army of policy wonks beavering away,
unaware (or choosing to ignore) the fact that seismic change on
this scale, using existing tools, is akin to guiding the QE2 into
harbour relying on a toy tug boat.

What many of these visions share is the desire for social work to
move from crisis intervention to prevention. Admirable in intent
but will ministers really be attracted to policies in which the
results are very long term and undramatic: the boy or girl
continues to be OK? No targets met; no toughness displayed; no
rates of reduction to trumpet at annual party conference?

The national launch earlier this week by Kids Clubs Network of Make
Space, a campaign to generate 3,000 young people’s clubs by 2015,
gives a measure of the extent of the cultural shift required.

For years, youth club facilities have been shamefully cut back. The
Make Space campaign hopes to reverse the trend. Initially backed by
£2.5m, controversially provided by Nestle, under boycott
because of the company’s promotion of bottle feeding in the third
world, it’s hoped government money will follow. In the initial
stages, Make Space will provide £5,000 as a start-up resource
and offer advice.

The aim, says its director Harris Beider, is to provide a club in
which activities and a “chill out” space as well as support are
available (If only the young could enjoy themselves without always
having an adult – even one dressed in Diesel jeans – hovering to
dispense “support”). Beider says he sees teenagers as assets not

Yet the politics of funding dictate that the project has a
depressingly familiar and pessimistic ring. “Teenagers are
boredÉ vulnerableÉ at risk of drifting into crime…”
reads the launch invitation. Presumably, one day, should the new
“vision” become a reality, praiseworthy organisations such as Kids
Clubs Network will seek resources employing the positive argument
that ordinary, untroublesome teenagers, deserve something to do and
somewhere to go outside the orbit of adults, as part of their
normal social development.

For now, however, government money flows more easily for “crisis”
projects which marry youth with crime reduction and teenagers with
antisocial behaviour. The good guys get next to nothing. Is it any
wonder the young have a bad name? Or that tomorrow’s “vision” is
treated so sceptically today?

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