Interview: What future for youth services in an age of austerity

As a youth worker one of the organisations I have had a long term relationship with is the National Youth Agency, always an important resource and advocate for youth work and young people. They will be hosting two challenging youth work focused fringes at conference, so I took the opportunity to interview Fiona Blacke, their dynamic and outspoken CEO.

Q: How have the cuts impacted on youth work across the country?

A: Young people need access to youth workers and high quality youth work, and that offer continues to be made, whether via professionals, part timers or volunteers. With the government taking less of an intervention role, Local Authorities are having to provide leadership.  Hard decisions are being made and in the midst of that challenge some creative solutions are emerging. In some areas the whole service has been outsourced with councils supporting the work through market making and building capacity in communities. In other areas they have outsourced their  provision and kept services like early intervention in-house, there are lots of different models. There are also social enterprises emerging. However, this is not necessary sustainable, and there are some places where it is really bleak.

Q: What has the NYA’s response been?

A: Well, we are developing an Institute for Youth Work – led by our Education Training Standards Committee which represents the whole sector. it will give youth workers a voice and greater credibility.

Through the Local Government association we offer councils a package of tailored support to remodel services. Our fear is that where local authorities have gone for slash and burn, with no recognition of the protective nature of youth work, there will be a long-term impact. We are in the process of developing tools to capture the impact.

Q: So what would your advice to Local Authorities be? 

A: Councillors know that communities value youth work- they need to look sensitively and creatively at how they can continue to work in partnership to make a good local offer

Q: And what are the risks if we fail to continue to provide youth services?

A: My fear is that we risk creating a lost generation, witnessing a growing disparity between those whose families can support them and those who can’t. There is a generation who are untouched by any services and we need to do something about that or we will pay for it as a society. Last year’s riots show that, whilst there was an element of criminality and opportunism,some of it was because those young people felt abandoned by society. I think this year with the wet summer, we got off quite lightly.

Q: So for those who are interested in hearing more about the work of NYA, what will you be doing at conference?

We have an invitation only breakfast roundtable on Monday 7.45am in the Youth Zone, “Hard Times: Greater Expectations – Transforming Local Services for Young People “. NYA is already working with a third of local authorities in England and this roundtable will explore the role and leadership of elected members (which NYA sees as crucial) with myself, Cllr David Belotti, Dan Rogerson MP and Simon Wright MP. Looking at how thinking differently can help we will be discussing approaches that work. Places are limited but if you would like to attend please contact Jonathan Hopkins [email protected]

And Monday evening our open fringe “A Good Education : Paying a Premium for Young People to Succeed” exploring the role and contribution of  youth work in schools and family intervention – for example the troubled families initiative;  with myself, Christine Blowers NUT, David Ward MP, Baroness Sal Brinton, and Linda Jack FPC. This will be in the Youth Zone at 18.15pm.

Q: Finally if you had one message for LDV readers, what would it be?

A: We only have one future investment worth making and it’s our young people, so we have to be their champions.

Many organisations working with and on behalf of young people have fringes at conference – details of the Youth Zone on page 38 of the conference directory with details about speakers in the diary. For more information contact organiser [email protected]

* Linda Jack is a member of the party's Diversity Engagement Group

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  • Linda Jack is also Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Bedfordshire.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but as soon as the Lib Dems / Conservatives came to power, didn’t you cut the central grant to local authorities that funded the Connexions Service? I’m not aware that it has been replaced, and the parlous state of employment for young people is evidence.

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