A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
This week sees the release of the Future Models for Youth report, researched and written by Helen Hibbert (Partnership for Young London), Keith Shipman (London Borough of Merton) and Sharon Long (Children England).
The Future Models Project was commissioned by Yvette Stanley (Director of Merton’s Children’s Services), and funded through the Leaders for London development programme to review in detail current planning for youth provision and commissioning in a number of boroughs.
It aimed to provide an overview of the benefits and challenges of the various models, to inform the thinking of the Association of London Directors of Children’s Services (ALDCS) on youth provision.
Given that the data was gathered between April and early June 2012, the report is intended to be a snapshot, offering both a sense of what services were grappling with at that time and an insight into future developments. This means that by the time it was published, some aspects were potentially out of date. We are particularly aware that the Outcomes section does not refer to the Young Foundation’s Framework of outcomes for young people, but this is because it was published in July 2012, so the interviewees had not had chance to be influenced by it at that stage, led alone embed it into their service planning.
It is very likely that if we were starting the work now, the conversations would potentially be quite different from those we had back in April, both about outcomes and about commissioning, as the boroughs make progress in both these areas.
We would also like to be clear that the report is in no sense intended to be judgemental: we were exploring the different ways in which the London boroughs were approaching the shaping of services, in the light of the changes in their policy and funding environments, and we have not sought to compare their effectiveness. For many, it is too early to do so; and in any case, in any survey across London there are inherent differences between boroughs (e.g. size, population, Inner/Outer London, political perspective, etc.) and the report recognises the difficulty of making comparisons in these circumstances. The greatest common denominator was that all bar one were facing a huge reduction in funding.
The review is also unashamedly focused on the provision overseen, delivered and/or commissioned by the local authorities. This is not to deny or ignore the contribution of the voluntary and community sector; indeed, given that two of the report’s authors are from voluntary sector (VCS) organisations, both of which provide support to VCS members, there was no danger of this being an accidental omission.
The report was commissioned by ALDCS, whose primary focus is naturally on the statutory sector, and the role of the VCS was principally considered in relation to the different commissioning processes adopted by the boroughs. It was an interesting and valuable experience to have authors with knowledge of working right across the young people’s sector – and to compose a document for a specific audience (ALDCS and Heads of Young People’s Services) in the knowledge that it would also provoke interest much more widely.
The project – design and activity
The project was established with two main research strands: case studies were completed with 11 boroughs, through telephone conversations and meetings; an online survey was circulated to all boroughs who were not interviewed, with a response from 12. We were really pleased with the response – 23 of the 33 London boroughs provided a firm evidence base from which to draw conclusions, and we are very grateful to all colleagues who gave up their time to be interviewed about developments, or to complete survey.
The report – findings and questions
To provide a structure for our findings, we decided to analyse them in relation to our learning from the Leaders for London development programme, in particular the Social Value Triangle and the issue of tame and wicked problems. Hence, the body of the report is divided into three: the Authorising Environment (the drivers that affect service design and delivery); Operational Capacity (the resources enabling delivery); Outcomes (the measurable value of the services delivered).
The first section considers the variety of drivers (e.g. local politics and priorities, national policy) expressed by the respondents, and found that there was a strong theme emerging of the division between the social care and education paradigms, indicative of who was leading on the agenda in each borough. Under the social care paradigm youth services are of public value when they help safeguard or prevent escalation of families within the system. The education paradigm gives value to youth services in relation to how much they help young people achieve.
The second section is principally concerned with commissioning processes, including consortia and collaboration; capacity building; new payment structures, such as payments by results; TUPE costs of commissioning out statutory services; outcomes frameworks; workforce skills and capacity. It includes recommendations for commissioners, drawing principally on comments from the survey. Probably the most positive and consistent message throughout the review was that youth engagement was embedded across all the boroughs who responded, in a variety of forms.
The third section examined the variety of outcomes that services contributed to achieving. These included reduced rates of youth unemployment; increased participation; decreased first time entrants to the youth justice system; reduced rates of reoffending; improved use of workforce and assets; involvement of community in local service delivery; raising attainment. These reflect the increasingly targeted nature of services for young people, and we hope that the report will stimulate discussion in this area, which has implications for both young people and the workforce.
Questions to consider
We have identified the following questions that we think ALDCS might want to consider, in the light of our findings:
– What do you want youth services to achieve – is it a prevention service or a personal development service? These are not mutually exclusive.
– What model of outcome measure will you require to assess the sector’s ability to deliver on these aims?
– Significant changes are being made – how will you monitor the impact over three years?
– Demographic changes in population size and make up are happening: what youth service capacity is necessary to achieve the outcomes required, and what workforce development to support quality delivery?
– How developed is the wider youth work market locally, and can it reconfigure effectively?
– The youth sector is clearly creative and innovative: how can that be enhanced and maximised?
These questions are intended to stimulate discussion, and are not definitive. In any project like this, the challenge is to keep within defined parameters, so that it doesn’t
Throughout the review we were impressed with the creativity of officers and the variety of responses given the common issues faced by boroughs. We hope that this report will stimulate discussion amongst Directors of Children’s Services, those responsible for youth provision in the boroughs, and the wider youth sector, to keep the profile of youth provision and outcomes for young people high on the agenda in London and further afield.
Partnership for Young London