Headlines: June 22nd, 2004

The emphasis in street-based youth work with vulnerable young people is shifting from offering longer-term support towards short-term projects where the funding is limited and staff turnover is high, according to the first major study of provision across England and Wales. The national survey was carried out by researchers from the universities of Luton, Durham and Lincoln.The study identified 564 projects that were in touch with 65,000 young people, mostly in the 13 to 19 age bracket, who were also targeted by the Government’s Connexions advice and support service. They found coverage varied widely in different areas. Some of the highest concentrations of the street-based work were in small towns, rather than big cities.

The results show almost two-thirds of those in contact with street-based youth workers were boys, partly reflecting a growing emphasis in policy and funding on crime prevention initiatives. Thirty per cent of young people were not in education and almost a quarter received no income or benefits. Just over a third were living in inadequate or temporary accommodation and 45 per cent had criminal histories. A study of a random sample of 76 young people over three to six months identified positive changes, though the researchers say this cannot simply be attributed to the involvement of a street-based youth worker.

Positive affects included a reduction in the proportion who were unemployed or not in education or training, an increase in regular participation in structured youth activities, a fall in the number known to be offending and an increase in the number in adequate accommodation.

Many of the youth workers were concerned about the effects their closer involvement in crime prevention and community safety initiatives might have on the way they were perceived by young people. They were also worried about the consequences of short-term, target-driven funding on their work. Staff turnover was high, and they believed it had become more difficult to build a long-term relationship with young people and gain their trust.

The report was launched at a conference called Reaching Socially Excluded Young People, hosted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the National Youth Agency.