Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Engaging Youth Enquiry

On a similar theme to the last post the Rathbone/Nuffield Review have published their final report of the Engaging Youth Enquiry.

Their research has been focused on young people who are not in education, employment, or training.

To have any chance of helping these young people to meet the learning challenges needed to re-engage with society they have to be acknowledged as a diverse group with diverse needs which must be dealt with in a holistic manner. There is little point, for example, in investing thousands of pounds in an initiative to provide access to basic skills courses, for example, if the most important problem faced by some young people is where they are going to sleep that night.

The paper explores the issues around territoriality:

“Postcode wars”, between people from different local areas, were perceived to be problematic by some of the young people. This was particularly so for older teenagers: for instance, in the case of the nine young men attending a workshop in Hackney, the younger teenagers (aged 13-15) had friends in different areas with whom they regularly met up without difficulty, but those aged 16-19 tended to find this problematic, envisioning conflict if they moved out of their own local areas.

These findings are echo the recent research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the same issues.  The Engaging Youth Enquiry argue:

The increased regulation and sanitisation of risk for young people means that they choose to make their own risks, and these may be divergent with reality. However, given how often such statements were made by the young people who participated, it would appear that dramatic incidents such as these are very real for these young people, with the press reporting of such incidents only serving to reinforce this drama. Hence the need for work with these young people to challenge the glamourisation of the gang and drug-related lifestyle, through education and youth schemes, which acknowledge and respect the life circumstances and aspirations of the young people, and are targeted at young people who are at risk of gang-related activity.

The paper talks specificly about the need to address drug issues with this group of young people:

The following quotation shows how cannabis can become embedded into the daily routine of some young people:

‘Get up at 8ish. Have a cig, come to college, earn some dough, have some weed.’
(M, 16)

Drug use increases the risks for young people in two ways: firstly, that they will be outside education, employment and training and, secondly, that they will become involved in offending. One of the practitioners at the workshop working in this area with young people commented that the focus was not just on so–called hard drugs such as heroin and crack. This is partly because the patterns of use for cannabis users are the same as for heroin users. They offend to get more cannabis, and their whole lives revolve around this particular issue.

The report looks at the school careers of this group:

One of the key findings from our work with young people over the last year is the very pronounced feeling of alienation from schooling so many expressed. Many of the young people certainly have unhappy memories of schooling, and in most cases they do not want to re-engage via an education route: they want a job. However, the reasons for dropping out are far more complex. For many it is not primarily about the school curriculum, or about a lack of vocational learning opportunities, but an inability to cope with the necessary authority structures that must underpin the structure of schooling…

This is not to criticise teachers or to argue against the value of schooling for the majority of youngsters. These young people are challenging – many will readily admit to poor behaviour at school and many are on the margins of gangs, which provide an alternative life style for them.

The report has a great deal more to say, far more than I can hope to cover here, but I want to finish by looking at what it says about the importance of youth work to these young people’s lives.

At the heart of successful work with the young people who participated in the workshops is successful communication. The practitioner workshop in Manchester, in particular, was full of references to the need for effective, unbiased and non-judgemental communication with young people, based on a process of negotiation, and listening to their needs, rather than imposing choices upon them…

Trust is a highly significant factor in the re-engagement of many young people who are defined as ‘NEET’. The building and nurturing of meaningful relationships with these young people by those who work with them, in the education and training sector, but also in the voluntary sector, can provide positive outcomes. The key role of volunteers and detached Youth Workers, and their strong relationships with young people, must be highlighted here…

…youth workers are far more than role models. They actively intervene in the lives of the young people for whom they take responsibility. We were struck throughout the Enquiry by the number of times youth workers, in particular, displayed a deep-rooted sense of active concern for young people and their communities, translated into a willingness to do what it takes to engage the young people in positive activities.

Download the whole report here.

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Filed under: research, risk and protective factors

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