This is a chapter of 'Bright Futures: our vision for youth services' – the LGA's long-term vision for youth services and provision.
As local leaders who know their communities best and have a key role in place-shaping, councils are ideally placed to set out the vision and direction for youth provision in their area. This includes establishing what services and support are needed and wanted, how all local provision (not just youth services) supports young people, identifying the outcomes that matter most to young people, and working with partners to find ways to deliver these. Councils may not be in a position to directly deliver or commission all youth provision, however their ability to oversee and coordinate, with the support of all levels of local government, is invaluable.
Consultation with young people and partners is key; a joint vision that genuinely responds to young people will stand a far better chance of being delivered and being successful than a vision developed by the local authority alone. This work should also include the local voluntary and community sector, faith groups, schools and employers, involving them from the very start to ensure that their experiences help to shape the vision and the local offer, and that they can contribute to the delivery of outcomes.
As with other children and young people’s services, the importance of strong leadership should not be underestimated. The lead member for children’s services and the director of children’s services should champion young people, the importance of youth provision and set the direction for delivery in the area. District councils may find it helpful to appoint a ‘youth champion’ to lead this work across all services in their area; this could also be an option for children’s services authorities to help give a specific focus on young people in addition to the work of the lead member and DCS, whose remits are very large.
Many issues that impact on the wellbeing and life chances of young people fall outside the remit of youth services, such as housing, public health and employment, so the whole council – along with district, parish and town councils – needs to be engaged with this agenda to deliver a positive vision for young people. The role of families and the community is also important; local authorities are in an ideal position to set a clear example as to how young people deserve to be treated in society, and make sure that young people and their families are at the centre of decision-making.
Local children’s services authorities have a statutory responsibility to make sure, as far as possible, that there is sufficient provision of educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people aged 13-19 (or up to 25 for those with learning difficulties). A strong needs assessment is vital to ensure that provision is led by service users’ needs; useful tools to inform this include the local Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and the Risk of NEET Indicators (RONI) tool.
Councils already work with a huge range of local partners and have well-established relationships; they also have a statutory duty to promote coordination with the police, NHS services and schools locally for the benefit of young people’s wellbeing. These relationships and duties should be maximised to make sure that partners are working together in the most effective way to make the best use of resources and make progress towards shared outcomes and meeting need. Councils may wish to consider the model used by Partnership for Young London, whose purpose is to:
- connect (providers, funders, young people, partners)
- develop (staff, capacity, leadership, collaboration)
- influence (partners, government, vision).
There is often a significant amount of provision available for young people in any given area, but this information is rarely collated and oversight is often limited at best. Coordinating provision across an area is difficult, particularly where services change frequently. However in order to ensure the safety of young people attending services, maximise uptake and spot gaps in provision where needs aren’t being met, processes should be put in place to attempt this. Maintaining oversight of services will also help councils to monitor the quality of provision so that they can offer support to improve if needed. Supporting partners in genuine collaboration, for example partners redesigning services to deliver joint outcomes rather than more superficial partnership working, can also help to deliver the local vision, with improved collaboration and coordination more likely to lead to better outcomes.
Government has committed £1.26 billion of investment in the National Citizen Service (NCS) scheme between 2016 and 2020. NCS guidance published in October 2017 recognises local authorities as a key partner in the delivery of the programme, and states that “your NCS provider will always work with you to make sure NCS is delivering the best outcomes for your area in a way that is right for you”. The NCS Trust should work closely with councils on the design and delivery of the programme locally so that councils can take advantage of this available funding and provision, and to ensure the scheme supports the needs of local young people and delivery of the local vision. We will also argue for the devolution of a portion of NCS funding to councils to support local provision for young people, expanding the reach of NCS funding from a time-limited programme to ongoing support and an enhanced local offer.
The national context
Local leadership and vision should ideally operate within a framework established by a clear and ambitious national vision for young people. Young people need to know that they are an important consideration in national policy, and that they will receive services to support them towards the same positive outcomes wherever they are in the country. However, there is currently no clear national vision or policy around services for young people, which fall under the remit of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Responsibility for young people is with the Minister for Sports and Civil Society.
Neither youth services nor young people are listed in the Department’s priorities or in the Minister’s role on the departmental website, and we are concerned that this fails to reflect the Government’s stated ambitions and commitment to young people. It also does not give effective or sufficient direction required to support and engage with such a vital part of our society. We consider it essential that youth policy has a far higher profile in government in the future, to provide leadership to the sector and a voice to young people.
Furthermore, where youth services sit with children and family services within councils to ensure integration of services from birth to adulthood, services for young people are currently separate to children’s services and education in government. We therefore believe that the Government should explicitly include responsibility for young people within a Ministerial portfolio, to champion young people within government and ensure coordination of policy across all departments.