For those who are not already aware, Devon Youth Service is one of the few remaining council run youth service provisions in the country, and is facing a death blow: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Devon-youth-service-faces-1m-cuts-end-universal/story-20530795-detail/story.html
This is a joke. Actually – it’s the blackest kind of schadenfreude, that creeps after the Coalition’s not-so-subtle privatisation of NHS and Post Office. The motivations for these acts been highly questionable, with suspect financial involvement. The austerity regime is also highly questionable, and literally cutting the throats of the youth service to make savings that barely make a dent in the bonuses of the financial sector simply compounds error after error.
This is significant for several reasons.
1. There is (conveniently for some) no restriction on calling a provision a youth service. There is a great professional gulf between council based provision and community sourced or Church based provision. I have personally experienced the training and professionalism of the former, and the well-meaning but often inexperienced or idealistically biased efforts of the latter. A young person, isolated and confused, is liable to receive a very different welcome from each. The council based provisions are reinforced by strict practical and ethical guidelines.
2. In the youth service it is the real LIVES of future adults at stake. I have been witness to cases of rape, poverty, abuse, self-harm, cycles of violence, and loneliness which the Youth Service is dedicated to resolve. Don’t just see the numbers on the balance sheet – see the countless lives which are improved or saved by the youth service. Ask yourself whether this 3rd round of cuts to an impossibly stretched provision is an appropriate reflection of how much we value future generations. Also consider how much in resources is liable to be spent on future policing, legalities, rehabilitation and prison services.
3. The youth services have suffered greatly from a difficulty in justifying the good they do, because every life they improve or save does NOT make the media headlines. Preventative services are often easy prey. Do you recall the last time a youth service was nationally acclaimed for their achievements? It’s certainly not because there are none. Recently, extra bureaucratic measures have been imposed, ostensibly to facilitate quality control, but in reality only serving to overwork already overworked staff, and set them up to fail. Even the Youth Centres which have excelled themselves have seemingly nothing to gain from this paperwork.
4. The youth service is publically misunderstood. There was once a time, years ago, when youth services were run by well meaning volunteers and were effectively convenient creches. This has changed dramatically, and yet I have recently experienced leading government officials walking blithely into sessions without warning (violating safety policies), telling us how to do our jobs, and talking to young people (if at all) as if they were a different species. We are not youth enforcement officers. We do not mind-control young people into behaving. We do not exist to entertain young people and keep them off the streets. We do listen, and treat young people like young adults, help them to make informed choices and learn about the amazing world they stand to inherit, good and bad, and support them through the turbulent transition into adulthood. We help them become responsible adults. You may even have met one or two of them yourself, if you are fortunate.
5. I never used the youth service when I was young, but there were times when it would have helped. The youth service is not a plaster for broken families. Your family, I hope, will never need their services. Young people’s lives deserve a quality safety net, not a grimace and a pamphlet from an overworked school nurse.
6. Don’t believe for a moment that the years of experience within the youth service can be replicated adequately by outsourcing. Don’t just take my word for it. Go down to your local Council-based Youth Centre and ask them what they do and how it is going. If there is one left. Tragically, the greatest testament to the worth of the youth service is the voices of the young people they serve, and nobody seems to be listening.