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11 November 2013

11 November 2013

Taken from blog piece originally written for Paul Hamlyn Foundation (http://phfshould.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/help-change-the-narrative-around-outcomes-for-young-people/)

Last week was National Youth Work Week (November 4-10) and I had the pleasure of attending the Creative Collisions Conference which provided a unique opportunity to learn, share and come together to create positive ways to support young people in the UK today.

The conference was jointly organised by Leap Confronting Conflict, The Foyer Federation, London Youth, NUSNYANCVYS, UK Youth and vInspired. It is the first time this group of seven youth sector organisations came together in a joint conference provided unrivalled opportunities to learn and bring our ideas and work areas together to create new ways of working.

Below is a blog I wrote for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation about how we can measure good youth work and how important this will be across the entire sector.

There are many approaches to supporting social justice. Most people would agree, though, that one place to start is by supporting and enabling young people who might otherwise face some form of exclusion. Some of this can happen through school and some through the home or family. But there are also community solutions: spaces where young people learn, have fun and are supported and challenged to develop their confidence, resilience and relationships. These spaces are sometimes called youth clubs. But they also include arts projects – some of whom PHF already generously does fund – sports clubs, specialist projects for refugees, for disabled young people, services operating from broader community centres, or those co-located with schools.

So if you wanted a quick response to the ‘PHF should…’ challenge, I might offer simply, ‘invest in good youth work’. And many of the kinds of places I’ve described could certainly do with the cash: youth work is non-statutory; it is perceived – by some – as old fashioned; it is often led by passionate frontline workers rather than strategic marketers and managers; and if done properly it is not cheap – though relative to many other interventions it delivers excellent value.

Of course, we all know that simplistic answers aren’t always 100% right. The resources available to foundations like PHF are limited too – so even if a decision were made to allocate more to youth work, there would have to be decisions about which projects were worth investing in. And that’s where things start to get tricky. Even in these tough times, some of the leaders of community-based youth organisations that I speak to still bemoan the effort they have to make to describe their work so that it fits neatly into the criteria that they think the funder has defined, and the challenge of reporting outcomes which they actually aren’t all that confident they are – or want to be – delivering.

We hosted a seminar last week at London Youth for an invited group of funders, education policy makers and senior leaders from London schools and youth organisations. It was a rich debate, but two significant strands emerged: one, around whether the outcomes from sustained high-quality youth work could be ‘measured’ in the same way that outcomes in a classroom environment can. And – as importantly – a vibrant discussion about whether we were talking about ‘school-based’ outcomes, or simply outcomes for young people, which schools, youth clubs, outdoor education centres and a whole range of others, play a part in achieving.

The consensus was that outcomes from good youth work can be measured, and that this is a positive thing that will endorse the value of the great youth work that goes on every day in clubs and organisations across the country. The Young Foundation’s framework is gradually being embraced by the sector as a simple but effective model, which demonstrates the impact of youth work interventions on young people’s confidence, relationships and resilience. This is different, but complementary to the ‘harder’ attainment outcomes that schools are focused on, but just as important for all young people.

So when thinking about the PHF challenge, it feels to me like enlightened trust funders have the opportunity to help organisations working with young people to ‘change the narrative’ around outcomes. For too long it has felt like young people ‘either’ attain in an exam based way, or as a (poorer) alternative, they might flourish in some more woolly sense in a non-school environment. This hugely undervalues youth work which has, for well over a hundred years, and in many different guises, supported and challenged young people.

Funders like PHF should of course challenge those in youth work to demonstrate their impact. But they should also trust that if an organisation has a strong vision, great leadership, quality assurance and is seeking funds for a programme which uses a proven outcomes-based model, then this ought to be enough to secure investment.