DEVELOPING A EUROPEAN GATEWAY FOR
YOUTH SOCIAL INCLUSION PROGRAMMES
EUROPEAN PARTNERSHIP CONFERENCE
10TH – 13TH September 2001
Roehampton College, London, UK
Workshop, Wednesday 12th September – Public Sector Initiatives for to Combat Youth Social Exclusion – YOUTHREACH, Ireland
National Co-ordinator, YOUTHREACH
Department of Education and Science
1. Starting Point
I want to start with three brief comments.
The first is that young people’s voice should be heard first, and we need to build mechanisms for their (that is, for your) active involvement into all actions that purport to be in their interest. Too often, we talk about young people rather than to and with them. Involving them in this discourse is a democratic imperative.
The second is that every young person is special and of equal importance – of course, everyone is, but we are talking here about young people.
The third is that what we know as ‘youth’ is a recent concept, coinciding with industrialisation. In addition, as the researcher Esman comments, ‘the form with which we are familiar – protracted, indeterminate, conflict-laden, marked by gross dys-synchrony between sexual and social maturity – is our own cultural property and is by no means intrinsic to human biological nature or necessary for adaptation across the broad span of human social organisation’. We might profitably note this for use elsewhere!
2. Why do young people leave school?
There are many theories. However, it is generally agreed to be ‘a complex process in which a wide range of interrelated variables seem to contribute to the decision’. That said, school related factors are the main reason, and are cited by 60-70% of young people. The Irish authors Hannan & Shorthall found early school leavers to be ‘highly alienated from school’. Other research in Ireland shows that only 4% said they left because they were bullied, 3% for family reasons and 2% for ‘financial’ reasons. 21% had or wanted a job or apprenticeship.
3. What have we learnt from early school leavers?
When we enquire of young people who have left school early why they are so unhappy with their school experience, they give us a number of key messages. They tell us that they don’t feel respected, listened to or valued. They tell us that there are different ways of learning and participating, but that school does not offer them a choice. They underline the need to belong and the importance of relationships, and it is clear that the breakdown of relationships at the heart of most of their difficulties. In research in Ireland we have found young people who have dropped out early but who tell us that their favourite subject was Irish (Gaelic). This is a very difficult language, and there can only be one explanation – it was not the subject they liked, but the teacher, who made them feel accepted and appreciated.
Of course, there are other aspects as well. Some of the young people are ambivalent .. for example, they will complain about their area having a reputation for thieving, but will buy and wear stolen trainers. This is the way it is, and when we launch initiatives aimed at young people who have left early, we have to bear them in mind.
Finally, some early school leavers are people to whom things happen. That is to say, they are not in control of their lives. For example, you may hear a girl say ‘he made me pregnant’ .. as though she had no role to play in the matter.
4. What works?
If we take what the young people say and couple it with what successful interventions teach us, we can identify the following building blocks for success:
Multi-modal programmes, that is programmes that are adaptable and can be taken in different ways; success experiences, client-centred approaches
Learning from doing
Listening, friendliness and respect, but also challenge and structure
MAGIC: mentoring and advocacy
Partnerships; inter-agency initiatives
These are self-explanatory. I will now turn to YOUTHREACH.
5. YOUTHREACH: Origins
YOUTHREACH was established as a programme in 1988, and brought together the European and Irish experience to that date. There had been changes in education in early 1970s, there were the European funded Transition programmes and the concepts that developed out of them, and so on. There was also considerable research into school leaving pattern.
Of course, the driving force was the youth employment crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. This was a key concern of the European Social Fund, which underpinned the programme.
6. YOUTHREACH: the programme
YOUTHREACH is a national programme that is delivered locally. This is an important point – from the outset we agreed that what might work in Ballymun on the north side of Dublin would not necessarily work in Letterfrack, on the Atlantic coast of Galway. We needed an approach that would be coherent enough to unite the various contexts and approaches, but flexible enough to actually meet the needs of the target groups.
Participants are early school leavers – that is, they have left school with no qualifications, or with less qualifications than are accepted as an entry requirement to general employment. 15% are lone parents and 10% are Travellers. Other centres cater exclusively for Travellers.
The programme is one of a suite of responses addressing educational and other disadvantages. Social inclusion is identified as a key national priority, and considerable resources are devoted to its achievement.
YOUTHREACH has four main stands and is delivered in 150 centres. These are usually out of school locations. There is a general emphasis on experiential learning and on building relationships with the young people. Practitioners must balance safety and challenge. Participants have access to national certification – they can ‘top-up’ as well as start from scratch and we have endeavoured to build a system that is appropriate.
I also want to note that the staff make a hugely important contribution to the success of the programme.
7. YOUTHREACH Management
YOUTHREACH is inter-Departmental and inter-agency, which is the core interest of this conference. Two Government Departments are involved in its management. Each delivers through its principal provider network.
Department of Education and Science
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Vocational Education Committees (VECs)
FAS (State Training and Employment Authority)
YOUTHREACH Centres (80);
Senior Traveller Training Centres (30)
Community Training Workshops (45)
The programme’s key objectives can be summarised as being:
independence rather than dependence
sustainability (in education, training, workplace and the home)
active citizenship and lifelong learning
9. Strengths and achievements
I will not spend time describing the programme’s daily life, nor the characteristics of a good centre – I append a brief note on the latter. Rather, before discussing our experience of partnership, I’ll note some achievements.
We have established a genuinely national programme that is flexible enough to accommodate local diversity. We have worked with over 60,000 young people and achieved in excess of 75+% positive placement and progression with them. The certification outcomes have been excellent, though we do not measure progress in these terms unless the participant has identified certification targets.
There has been considerable innovation and development and we think we have a lot to contribute to the national debate on educational disadvantage. The staff are a major resource and the methodology and curricular approach that they and we have evolved represent a significant achievement. They blend practice from education (especially adult education), training and youth work to tailor approaches to individual needs. It is not easy and I constantly salute their capacities and patience.
But we have weaknesses too. Despite our best efforts at partnership, we have had ‘Inter-departmental issues’ to contend with. Sometimes these are cultural – between different traditions. Sometimes they are territorial. But they get in the way. There are also local variations – these are between both management and centres. Variable quality is another issue we must contend with, as is that of divergent approaches. Sometimes this is as simple as two neighbouring centres having different holiday arrangements for the participants.
Inter-agency problems were more common in the early days. But there is no doubt that partnership is difficult. Before examining partnership and YOUTHREACH, let’s have a look at some definitions.
There is one dominant model of public service delivery. It is sometimes called the ‘vertical service paradigm’. In this there is great clarity about lines of management and funding delivery, from top to bottom and back. But it is increasingly clear that this is inappropriate to working with groups that are severely disadvantaged. More recent critiques have proposed a ‘lateral or integrated’ model that links the services, and attempts to ensure continuity of provision to the users.
As to how such integration might work, again, two key models of development have been identified:
Service-orientated: in this model, the emphasis is on linking families (etc) to existing provision through strategies that emphasise greater co-ordination and co-operation;
System-oriented: in this model, the emphasis is on the need for new delivery systems and/or structures to improve effectiveness of both existing and new services. It is concerned with changing the way organisations define, analyse and respond to challenges as well as intervening to change those who are most clearly affected.
12. Partnership and YOUTHREACH
So how is partnership present in our work?
At the level of systems, the programme is a partnership between Education and Training. At the national level, there is also the national co-ordination, the national consultative process represented by the YOUTHREACH 2000 consultation, and the range of actions that have resulted.
At the local level, a ‘District Approach’ is demanded of practitioners (some are better at this than others). By this is meant local consultation, and dovetailing of provision. Centres and workshops are expected to establish local networks of support – sometimes these are established as management committees.
Turning to associated measures, Irish policy has emphasised partnership approaches for over a decade. So, Area-based Partnership Companies were established in disadvantaged areas to co-ordinate and promote actions targeting long-term unemployment. Other partnership mechanisms include Drugs Task Forces, the RAPID programme (integrating public services), etc.
The Copping On crime awareness programme is a partnership between YOUTHREACH and the justice system and we have other similar partnerships in the area of youth arts and youth health.
That said, there are many problems and issues and partnership is a major challenge.
13. A plethora of provision – why we need partnership
Just how badly we need partnership in Ireland is clear when we examine the range of actions targeting young people who are at risk in one way or another. Off the top of my head, I came up with the following, but there are more:
Mainstream services, eg measures in schools – Home- School Community Liaison, 8-15 Measure, Stay in school Initiative;
YOUTHREACH centres, Community Training Workshops, STTCs, Justice Workshops (over 150 in all)
Other FÁS (training) provision
CERT programmes (catering industry); Teagasc (agriculture) programmes, etc
Youth Service projects – National Youth Federation, City of Dublin Youth Services Board, Foroige, Catholic Youth Council;
Probation and Welfare Service Initiatives
Garda Juvenile Diversion Projects
Drugs Task Force Projects
Young Peoples’ Services and Facilities Fund
Leonardo da Vinci, Youth for Europe, etc.
Youthstart and Integra pilot projects
Integrated Services Process
Projects supported by Area – based Partnerships
Local Employment Services
Combat Poverty Agency Demonstration Programme projects
Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation projects (Border area)
Bernardo’s Family Support projects
Neighbourhood Youth Projects
Youth Information Centres
Steps Advice and Counselling Services
ICTU Unemployment Services
INOU centres and affiliates
Ireland Fund projects.
14. Partnerships – Getting it right
In such an overcrowded environment, it is easy for people to lose sight of the reason why these services exist in the first place. So, what are the key messages for getting it right?
Everybody has a role to play
The young person is always the focus
We are providing a service to the target groups, not vice versa
The emphasis is on outcome and solutions
Services should make sense to target groups!
The bait must appeal to the fish not the angler!
15. So, what are the issues that arise?
Delegation: what are the limits that each of us brings to the partnership? Are we able to deliver on what is agreed, or do we have to refer back to a higher authority. If we do, the partnership is greatly weakened
The limit of partnership must be recognised as well as the possibilities. Not everything can be done;
Some cultures are incompatible
Structures are important to partnerships, but so too are discussions and clarifications of policy, philosophy and process
How are needs identified? We say we respond to needs .. but whose needs are uppermost in our minds? Ours or theirs? And needs defined by those who hold power, whether economic or otherwise, won’t be the same as needs defined by those without power;
It follows that I am an advocate of active participation strategies that establish partnership with target groups, I which they are equal players. Hence the idea of a round table – a round table has no head, ie no hierarchy or power relationship.
I have similar views on consultation – this is a much abused word. We need to be clear that we ascribe to it the same meaning;
These considerations lead us to a key question: who initiates and why? How are objectives agreed? Are we clear on these?
Collaboration is not and end in itself – what matters is what works!
16. Advice – organisation
Involve as many as possible (and I mean possible);
Adopt a round table approach (see above);
Agree on common objectives;
Include and involve end-users;
Ask not what your institution offers, but what young people need.
17. More advice – On process
Believe in what you are doing;
Joint projects build understanding – train together as much as possible;
Be clear – vagueness leads to insecurity, so talk straight;
18. Final words of wisdom
Don’t fix the blame, fix the problem!
If you can’t agree on everything, establish what you can agree on, and do it.
Encourage creative opposition – only dead fish float with the stream!
Appendix: Characteristics of a good centre
Focus on holistic development of individual
Quality and effectiveness review
Safe learning environment
Openness, honesty and trust
Process that is both participant-centred and participant-led; Open feedback
Staff who facilitate and animate and are themselves open to learning