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the youth service alternative to connexions in wales

The ‘Extending Entitlement’ report in Wales recommends the growth of Youth Services.  John Holmes compares this to developments around Connexions in England.

contents: introduction · extending entitlement · partnership · youth work as association · conclusion · references

ladder project

The impact of the new Connexions Services in England will be of critical interest to students of the development of youth work and Youth Services in Britain. Bernard Davies (1999) concluded his recent history with the speculation that it could herald the end of the Youth Services. A potential valuable basis of comparison is current Youth Service development in Wales.

Extending Entitlement

It is only in recent years, with increasing devolution from the London Parliament, that Wales has been able to develop and implement its own policies.  A significant area of difference, following the 1997 New Labour election victory and the subsequent referendum on devolution in 1999, was in the area of youth policy.  The Policy Unit of the new National Assembly commissioned a study to look at policies with young people.  The report Extended Entitlement: supporting young people in Wales, published in July 2000 drew considerably on the views of young people and, unlike many reports looking at significant agencies involved with young people, it put considerable emphasis on the Youth Service.

Many of the themes of the report were the concerns of New Labour: around low achievement in schools; the risk of social exclusion; and the need for partnership work between agencies.  This was not surprising as the Welsh Assembly was dominated by the Labour Party, although the cabinet includes Liberal Democrat AMs (Assembly Members).  The original First Secretary of the Assembly, Alun Michael, was closely associated with Tony Blair (too closely for some who failed to support him in 2000, when he lost his post) but also was a youth worker in Cardiff prior to becoming a MP.

For whatever reasons the Extending Entitlement document not only gave greater emphasis to the Youth Services, but appears to do so because of a different emphasis than that in the English Connexions documents following Bridging the Gap (1999).  There was less emphasis on the weaknesses of young people, more on the weaknesses of the agencies working with young people.  There was less on intervention to rescue young people failing to achieve in education/training and work, and more on the entitlement to better quality provisions for young people.  The focus groups with young people from a wide range of backgrounds all came up with one common, if not unsurprising, theme. Young people wanted to have places where they could meet, without undue interference form others.

This did not mean an endorsement of youth clubs, which were often seen as inadequately resourced and too controlled by adults.  However, the writers of the report did hear the message that young people wanted places and times when they could be themselves, rather than being cast in the categories of low achievers, young offenders, young people at risk of abuse or STDs etc. It would seem that this is where the Youth Service was seen as of relevance in its attempt to see young people as whole people, as people with much to offer and even more potential.  Despite this the Youth Service was seen as weak both in terms of quantity and quality, and in failing to sufficiently work in partnership with others.

Partnership

The conclusion, however, was not to force a marriage between the Youth Service and the Careers Service as in England, but rather to require each of the 22, often small, unitary authorities to draw up partnership plans involving young people, with the voluntary sector. Also included were a range of other services working with young people. The target age range here was 11 – 25 years, and not 13 – 19 years as in the English Connexions Service. The Welsh partnerships will be considerably smaller and locally based then the English Connexions partnerships. (It has to be remembered that Wales is a country of under 3 million people.) Also more reliance is given to the public sector in Wales, through local authority Chief Executives and Youth Services, to lead the partnership whereas Connexions partnerships would seem to signal a considerable shift to the privatization of Youth Services (Gibson and Price 2001).  The central role of privately-owned careers companies in Connexions will almost certainly change the culture of the youth work that comes within its umbrella. In Wales there has been a clear commitment from the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Jane Davidson both to community schools (as opposed to the privatization of many specialist schools proposed by Estelle Morris in England) and to JNC pay and conditions for youth and community workers (JNC being rooted in the local authorities).

Youth work as association

The extent to which these plans will actually make a difference to young people in Wales has yet to be seen but it is clear there is a significantly different mood within youth work in Wales.  There is much talk of growth, of services, of numbers of workers, of training and some concern that targets are too ambitious given the time scales.  It may well be similar to the Albemarle period in the 1960s when it was recognized that a small, weak service had to grow quickly, and become more professional if it was to be recognized by bigger, more established partners.  It is acknowledged that this will not be easy, and there are the usual doubts about resources, but there is clear confidence gained from the recognition in ‘Extending Entitlement’ that youth work should be valued as a universal service, voluntarily entered into by young people. There remains the belief in youth work as association rather than on individual work, and a trust that through the process of association that outcomes will still be achieved. The pressure is on the Youth Service in Wales to build stronger links with other agencies and partnerships (e.g. Youth Offending Teams) so that young people can easily be referred to others rather than change the fundamentals of their own practice. There does not even seem to be the same emphasis on moving to detached youth work which exists in England, which often reflects the pressure to target those at risk of social exclusion.  There is even the chance that legislation will provide youth work with a firm statutory base, a goal long sought after in England but proving elusive.

Conclusion

Whilst there has been much talk, with some justification, of Wales leading the way in UK bodies (e.g. Rapport, 2001) the outcomes against which youth work will be judged in Wales will not be that different to that in England.  Increasing social inclusion, more young people succeeding in schools and/or training and getting jobs, fewer young people involved in crime and substance misuse will be expected.  Whilst many involved in youth work baulk at their success being measured in these terms, it will be interesting to see which model of delivery will be more successful in these terms.  Will it be a Youth Service working in partnership with others as in Wales, or a Connexions Service that involves youth workers in new frameworks as in England.

References

Davies, B  (1999) History of the Youth Service in England, Vol. 2, Leicester, Youth Work Press

DfEE  (2000) Connexions:  the best start in life for every young person, London: The  Stationery Office

Gibson, A and Price D (2001) ‘How Youth and Educational Services in the UK are being privatised’ in Youth and Policy, 72 pp 50 – 63

National Assembly for Wales (2000) Extending Entitlement:  supporting young people in Wales, Cardiff, Corporate Policy Unit. http://www.wales.gov.uk/subichildren/content/report/english/cover.htm

Social Exclusion Unit (1999) Bridging the Gap, London: The Stationery Office

© John Holmes 2001.