passing time: a report about young people and communities

This Institute for Public Policy Reseach (2003) report prepared by Laura Edwards & Becky Hatch explores how young people talk about their community and the activities and support they want to see provided out of school. It argues that providing good services and activities for teenagers is vital for building strong communities. We reproduce the key findings below.

contents: preface · key findings · how to cite this piece
cover: passing time - IPPRThe research for this report was carried out in Tile Hill, Coventry in the summer of 2003. It provides a snapshot of the situation facing young people at that moment - and some of the implications for government policy in England.

One of the significant conclusions reached is that a 'new' profession is needed that combines youth and community work, social work, adolescent mental health services and careers services to provide more holistic services. The writers link this to the model of the 'social educator' (more correctly social pedagogue) in continental Europe (especially Germany).

The complete report can be downloaded from the Institute of Public Policy website: in Acrobat format. (Please let us know if you are unable to do this). If you do not have an Adobe or Acrobat reader it can be downloaded from Adobe.

links: social pedagogy · transforming youth work · the connexions strategy · youth work · mentoring · community development

Key findings

Messages from Government about young people can be confusing. At  times young people are pictured as empty vessels waiting to be filled with useful information and skills in order that they may be productive in their adult life. At times they are depicted as vulnerable and in desperate need of protection. And at times they are characterised as thugs and potential thugs whose actions infringe on the rest of the community. The message of Government policy – whether it comes from the Department for Education and Skills, the Children and Young People’s Unit or the Home Office – needs to add up. It must be underpinned by the notion that young people are many things but we are interested in them not just because they will be adults one day in the future but because they have rights now and deserve good serv­ices and support.

Early intervention is vital – but so too are ‘later’ interventions. There is growing consensus around the role and value of early intervention in improving children’s life chances and reducing inequalities. Early intervention must be complemented however by ‘later’ inter­ventions for young people in their teens. By the time young people reach their teens the job of interrupting a cycle of, for example, poor attainment, problem behaviour or low self-esteem may be harder and less appealing than a ‘fresh start’ with younger children, but the job is no less important. Encouraging young people to aspire to achieve more and enabling them to tackle the issues and problems they face in their teens must be seen as part of a continuing process of improving life chances and tackling social inequality. Without raising the stakes communities can become defined by a group of young people with little sense of their capacity to change either their area or the opportunities open to them.

Provision for teenagers can be patchy, unreliable and inconsistent. Providing activities and opportunities for young people consistently tops public opinion polls when people are asked what they would most like to see improved in their area. Activities for young people have come to symbolise a solution to many of the problems that communities face including crime and safety, drink and drugs and anti-social behaviour. On the ground however services and activities for young people often fall short of public expectations.

Modern youth clubs that combine activity with support and advice are in short supply. No national strategy is in place to revive the often tired and out­of-date centres that are currently available and in use. There is a need for the modern, social and friendly spaces that young people want. The Kids’ Clubs Network ‘Make Space’ campaign is making good progress in this area and sets out a positive vision of what a youth club should aim for. However, Make Space alone is not enough to effect the sea change in provision for teens that is needed. Funding and staffing are both major issues. Funding can be short term and project-specific or simply not enough. There are already concerns about where the new money promised by Government for the Youth Service is to come from. The increase also comes after years of under-funding. In terms of staffing, recruiting skilled youth workers can be difficult, particularly to work in communities which are in real need.

New types of professionals are needed who can apply a range of skills and knowledge when working with young people. These will be people who can gain the trust and confidence of a young person and have a range of options available to support them. If the focus of youth work is primarily on increasing educational achievement or on providing diversionary activities to keep young people out of trouble there is a danger that the underlying causes of low expectations and problem behaviour are not tackled head on. A new profession might combine youth and community work, social work, adolescent mental health services and careers services to provide more holistic services for young people. This is a role that is filled to an extent by social educators on the conti­nent. Connexions personal advisers were developed with the vision of a more rounded service in mind yet, in its early years, evidence suggests that education and work goals are prioritised above social and emotional support. Whether it can achieve a more rounded service in the future is unclear. Part of the chal­lenge is in breaking down professional boundaries (for example between the Youth Service, Connexions and social care providers) and recognising the shared agenda of supporting young people.

Young people need a stronger voice in communities and in the provision of good services. Young people need to feel part of their community and take responsibility for both its problems as well as its assets. However they often feel that they are typified as a problem, a nuisance or simply not a priority. Perceptions of young people as perpe­trators of anti-social behaviour need to be tackled head on. Most young people do not commit crime and want to tackle anti-social behaviour as much as other members of their community. There is scope to experiment with new relation­ships and dialogues between young people, the police and other service providers to develop local level solutions to anti-social behaviour. Developing roles for young people as managers, advisers, governors, auditors, fundraisers and volunteers in community level services should also be a priority. There is also scope to develop civic service for young people; pilot projects like the Young Volunteer Challenge launched by the DfES are to be welcomed.

There is some way to go to develop policies and services that add up to a serious commitment to young people, not just in their early years but well into their teens. A ‘Sure Progress’ or ‘Sure Futures’ programme for teenagers would echo the Sure Start model and could be a way of building momentum and commitment to providing consistent and effective support, intervention and activities for teens. Such a programme would emphasise the need to tackle the root causes of why young people can underachieve and see themselves on the periphery rather than at the heart of communities. This might include prob­lems at home, drink and drug use, bullying, depression or peer pressure. A ‘Sure Progress’ of ‘Sure Futures’ programme would combine activity with a range of support, advice and interven­tions, potentially including a role for parenting support for parents of teens.

How to cite this piece:  Edwards, L and Hatch, B. (2003) Passing Time: a report about young people and communities, London: Institute of Public Policy Research.  Key findings are available in the informal education archives:; full report:

© Institute of Public Policy Research 2003
Reprinted here with the kind permission of the Institute of Public Policy Research
 First placed in the archives: December 2003