Blog: Gail’s thoughts on the Government statutory guidance review for local youth services

Blog: Gail’s thoughts on the Government statutory guidance review for local youth services

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Gail Gibbons is the CEO at Sheffield Futures, leading the charity to deliver initiatives that support young people. The Government is calling for evidence from local authorities and voluntary and community providers of local youth services, to inform its revision of the statutory guidance on delivering youth services. The review aims to highlight the positive role local authorities can play in the provision of youth services, and ensure the guidance is useful and accessible for all. Here Gail discusses the key themes from Sheffield Futures’ response to the consultation, explores how the current guidance can be improved and urges others to have their say.

We welcome the Government’s call for evidence to strengthen the existing guidance on delivering youth services. The current guidance for local authorities is statutory rather than law. Therefore, the way in which youth services are delivered across the country is hugely variable in terms of quality, type and frequency.

This guidance status has meant in practice that local authorities, in face of wider budget pressures, have needed to significantly reduce funding in this area, as the guidance is viewed as desirable rather than essential.

We have youth services that in some areas have all but disappeared. This is a result of local authorities being so constrained by budget pressures, they have no option but to cut non-statutory services such as youth work, to free up funds to literally keep the streetlights on. This is devastating when we know that good quality, highly skilled youth work keeps our young people safe, enriched and enabled to build positive lives. Young people need this support more than ever after years of austerity has left swathes of the population in poverty, and children and young people even more vulnerable and in need of the vital safety net youth work can provide. That’s why I’m calling for a statutory youth service funded by each local authority area, staffed by highly skilled and qualified youth workers and underpinned by a set of professional standards, with a quality assurance framework based on positive outcomes for young people.

As part of any statutory youth service or guidance, there should be a clear definition for ‘youth services’. The term ‘youth services’ is generally recognised to mean, but not defined as youth work services, i.e. delivered by qualified youth workers, working to a set of professional standards. Without a clear definition, the positive impact of youth work for young people is diluted as services are not legally required to be delivered by qualified professionals to a statutory minimum standard.

The National Youth Agency have made the recommendation that at least two professional youth workers and a team of youth support workers and trained volunteers are required for each secondary school catchment area. This is a recommendation we wholeheartedly support.

Across the country outsourcing of youth services by local authorities to the voluntary and community sector is common, however the current guidance suggests that all local authorities provide youth services in house. This is not the case. In Sheffield for example, the local authority youth service was outsourced to our charity, Sheffield Futures, in 2002. This leads to my view that Government guidance needs to reflect the varied nature of the organisations delivering youth services across the country. It should show an understanding of the challenges the voluntary sector faces and provide guidance that reflects its unique strengths, for example Youth Partnership working.

In our area, Sheffield Futures provides the local youth service ‘Youth Sheffield’ on behalf of Sheffield City Council. In addition, there are a wide range of activities across the Positive Activities and Targeted Services spectrum, delivered by both statutory services and the voluntary sector, as well as private provision such as sports clubs.

As the local lead youth work delivery organisation, with strong links to national and regional youth work networks and professional groups, we are in the process of developing a Sheffield Youth Partnership. This will provide a co-ordinating function for a range of youth work providers to come together to build learning and capacity across our local sector. There are also a number of local multi-agency youth networks at neighbourhood level which meet regularly with the aim of co-ordinating provision in their areas. It is hoped that these could feed into a city-wide partnership, engaging with the local authority and other statutory services.

In conclusion, all young people deserve access to high quality youth services, regardless of where they are in the country. To counter the extreme poverty and associated resultant life limiting issues for all young people, we need statutory guidance that clearly defines youth work and provides minimum standards for delivery, for all sectors who deliver it, including the voluntary sector.

You can have your say and respond to the consultation until Sunday 1 December 2019.

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