The Children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes MP, has given a speech to the LGA about positive activities for young people. She says:
Today though, we know that having safe, fun, engaging things for young people to do in their communities is not just nice to have – not an optional extra – but essential for their development.
And any expert in social policy or child development will now tell you that positive activities provide many of the foundations upon which young people’s future outcomes are based…
And these important aspects of development can, in turn, improve young people’s engagement with school; improve confidence and self-esteem; build the resilience needed to say ‘no’ to problematic behaviours such as getting involved with drugs or crime.
Ofsted have published a report on the quality and impact of youth work. In the section on young people as risk takers they say:
Youth work has the potential to help young people test the boundaries between reasonable and risky behaviours. The most effective programmes seen by inspectors encouraged young people to draw on their existing knowledge and experience to analyse the degree of risk in the situations in which they found themselves. For example, through discussion and information gained through youth centres and the internet, they developed the confidence to ask questions and share their views on a range of sensitive issues, such as sex, relationships, alcohol, crime and anti-social behaviour. Discussions and group work often focused on issues identified by the young people themselves or on concerns raised by others, such as parents, the police, health workers or community leaders. In the best instances, young people contributed to debate, learned to listen and felt able to seek out confidential advice and support without fear of ridicule or embarrassment.
They go on to reiterate the point:
The broader findings of joint area reviews highlight on-going concerns where rates of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection and youth offending remain stubbornly high. The use of alcohol is a worryingly persistent feature in the lives of some teenagers. Yet youth work inspection evidence is clear that responsive programmes helped young people to identify, moderate or eradicate their potentially harmful and risky behaviours.
Children England (who were formerly NCVCCO) and NCVYS have been good enough to bring my attention to what looks to be a useful briefing paper they have produced jointly on the government’s drug strategy.
You can download it as a PDF from here, along with other briefings on a variety of public policy issues. Hard copies are also available from email@example.com.
As well as providing an overview of the strategy the paper analyses its implications for the children and young people’s voluntary and community sector (CYPVCS).
Richard McKie, who represents the NYA on the Drug Education Forum and is their national programme manager for health, is given the chance to put his view:
The truth of the matter is that centre-based youth provision will attract young people from a local community, so the levels of risk-taking and health behaviours they are involved with are intimately linked to the demographic make-up of that locality. It is therefore likely to be the case, for example, that the schools serving such communities will also struggle with the same issues and behaviours. To attribute to youth centres – likely to be open only a few hours a week in often under-resourced conditions – the charge of exacerbating poor outcomes is a highly selective misreading, and misses 90 per cent of the context of the lives of those young people.
They didn’t use my contribution, but here’s the statement I sent the magazine at their request:
A recent review of the evidence about effective drug education didn’t find much that we could place a great deal of reliance on. One piece did suggested that some youth workers felt young people might be resistant to drug education messages in a youth club setting, but this wasn’t supported by any empirical evidence.
Indeed the best evidence we had came from the United States, which found that young people who participate in youth clubs or extended schooling had a number of positive outcomes, including avoiding drug and alcohol use.
Youth clubs can provide a positive environment for young people who struggle with formal education, youth workers must be aware of the issues that young people face around drugs and alcohol and actively work to reduce the likelihood that problems will emerge.
Children & Young People Now carry a report on research to be published in an IPPR journal in which the authors – accademics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – argue that centre based youth work can lead young people to use drugs. They are quoted in the piece saying:
Youth centres and projects bringing together young people can introduce them to new peers, therefore they may become more involved with, and influenced by, peers engaged in frequent and heavy drug and alcohol use.
The detached model avoids the potentially harmful social network effects associated with centre-based youth work and other projects that aggregate together ‘high-risk’ individuals and that can potentially introduce young people to a new network of drug-using peers.
As of this moment the article doesn’t appear to be on the IPPR’s website, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before it becomes available.
It will be interesting to see how they’ve come to the conclusions they have as when we were reviewing the evidence for the recent review of drug and alcohol education one of the areas where there was a derth of evidence was around the role of non-formal education. However, one of the pieces that I’ve certainly had some confidence in over the last few years was the US research which seemed to point in the opposite direction.
However, if the research is robust perhaps there should be a rethink on calls to get clubs open on Friday and Saturdays.
The money from the Youth Sector Development Fund will bankroll the work of Kids Company, Speaking Up, Fairbridge, UK Youth and Leap Confronting Conflict. It will be used to help young people with problems such as drug use, homelessness and teenage pregnancy.UK Youth received more than £4m to form 10 youth achievement foundations across England, the first such organisation to provide alternatives to formal education for teenagers who are likely to end up unemployed and out of education. The work will be based on the organisation’s Youth Achievement Awards.
It looks like there’s more about for future years.
Home Office funded research in the North East of England, which found:
There are encouraging signs for the programme. While the baseline data showed a third of the target group had taken drugs – mainly cannabis or solvents – this use was recent, suggesting a clear window of opportunity to intervene. This experimentation rate also supports the decision to combine aims of harm minimisation with primary prevention
The interactive drama workshops – the central component of the project – proved a highly successful way of involving the audience with realistic issues and scenarios of drug taking. Young people reacted well to the involvement of professional actors and also to opportunities to question characters and role-play the effects of characters taking a different course of action.
The drama – in which 15-year-old Tommy is offered cannabis by his older brother and then agrees to buy more for his girlfriend – offered a credible story line and put drug offers and drug taking into the context of the young people’s lives, involving their families, friends and girlfriends/boyfriends. The open-ended approach provided a realistic, effective and enjoyable way of ‘rehearsing’ the consequences of certain choices and decisions. The vast majority of pupils took part in the drama workshop and discussed it afterwards with classmates,
friends and family.
The amount of classroom work following up the drama workshop appeared to have been limited and patchy. Teachers varied in their
skills and confidence regarding drugs education, and their use of a teachers’ pack also varied. The widely differing needs of teachers posed challenges for a standard package of resources.
It proved difficult to attract reasonable numbers of parents for their session, although the extra promotion and recruitment effort some
schools made, such as offering tickets to major local sports events, did produce a higher turnout.
Media and information products were largely distributed as planned, and the high demand for one, the Family Fact File, suggested it fulfilled an existing need for reliable information.
Overall results from the first year of the intervention suggest that drama can be a powerful medium for drugs education, particularly where interventions are not only approved of, but also shaped by, their target audience.
The Findings paper looks at Home Office funded research which is available here. Their main findings are:
The results of the study showed that Youth Workers are best placed to target youths at high risk of drug abuse. Drug strategies that are mainly reliant on school-based approaches and broad in their targeting approach may fail to employ opportunities for tackling the greatest harms associated with youth drug use.
Detached outreach projects may experience difficulty in making contact and establishing trust with young people if they rely completely on the street as a point for contact. All such projects need to make use of venues such as schools, pubs and nightclubs.
Youth workers need training, support and resources to develop the skills to deliver drugs education to young people. They particularly need training to advise on issues of key interest to young people – the effect of drugs and drug use, and the law.
Both centre-based and non centre-based projects are likely to be most efficient when delivering drugs prevention as one component of youth work with drugs-specific projects targeted to young people at high risk of problematic drug use. Outreach is most efficient when targeted to high-risk groups rather than as a means of primary drugs prevention among young people generally.
The Guardian takes a look at the the role of detached youth workers:
Detached youth workers do away with traditional notions of adult authority. They’ll ask a young person what sort of learning programme they want, allowing them to decide what they are going to learn, how they’ll learn it and in what way it will be measured. Everything is done from the teenager’s point of view.
But, above all, what distinguishes these youth workers from others is that they work on young people’s territory: on streets and estates, in arcades, pubs, homes and parks.
Drug and alcohol issues aren’t mentioned in the article, but we know that this is one of the issues that youth workers, where ever they work, can be very effective in raising with young people.
The article does mention the consultation that the DCSF are doing on at the moment on youth sector support arrangements.
This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum.
We welcome comments that are on topic.