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Time Lapse

In this week’s blog, Patrick Ambrose from Youth work Unit – Yorkshire & Humber looks at whether youth work has been guilty of being inefficient in the past and asks whether, despite years of cuts, the sector is managing to deliver more for less through creative practice without standards slipping.

We were musing the other week; a group of us. Don’t worry. It’s free and you don’t need a licence to do it. More importantly, as Eric Morecambe used to say, “They can’t touch you for it”.

Following a meeting at which the level of cuts to services for young people over a wide geographical area had been discussed, a group of us were considering how long it takes for the repercussions of those cuts in services to work through a cohort of young people and show up in official statistics in some form or other.  For, if we believe our work makes a positive impact, even subliminally, on behaviour, attitude, social skills and the ability in young people to seek out facts in order make informed decisions, then it stands to reason that if those services are not there for a period of time, a resulting negative impact might ensue. This might appear in the indices of the various reports which are published on a regular basis on a wide range of thematic topics by a wide range of institutions and organisations.

A really good example might be the national teenage pregnancy rates which were published very recently. Despite year on year cuts in services and the disappearance of masses of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) work, the statistics showed that conception rates among under-18s are the lowest they have ever been. In fact they halved from 1998 levels. So what’s that about? Is it that we are just playing catch-up with the results of well-funded work from earlier years? Is it simply that the trajectory was heading that way at an unstoppable rate due to very good service levels in the past and that the results of new gaps in services have yet to work through into the statistics? Or is it that we have subconsciously exaggerated the impact of our contribution to this target over a number of years? (Discuss)

Even more interesting is the stuff that you cannot see in charts, tables and diagrams; the things which, although they are much harder to measure, are central to our work. Instilling values in young people like tolerance and empathy; an ability to perceive and respect barriers and boundaries and the ability to seek to understand and celebrate difference. What will be the long-term consequences of those conversations not happening? The timely interventions which took place quietly and without fuss in our work supporting young people?

To be honest, and trying to be objective, the sky does not appear to have fallen in – yet. The feedback from many providers of services is also that the cuts have presented opportunities for them to completely re-evaluate the services they deliver and be much more effective in what they do, in many cases delivering more, for less. What if the statistics prove that we have been ineffective in the past? Concentrating on the wrong outputs/outcomes? What then are the implications then for future delivery?

Anyone who has been around for any length of time will understand that these things go in cycles. Only time will tell.

Patrick Ambrose, Resource Director, Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire & Humber

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