Change in the Irish economic environment has always had a significant impact on the YOUTHREACH programme at every level. The increased labour market activity of recent years resulted in shorter waiting lists for entry to YOUTHREACH programmes and a client group with greater support needs than previously reported. Latest indications suggest that waiting lists are once again showing an increase in numbers while the need for a more specialised and individualised approach remains.
A raft of recent legislation including the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999, Education (Welfare) Act 2000, Education Act 1989, Vocational Education (Amendment) Act 2001 and Children Act 2001 are about to impact significantly on programme operation and the quality of provision at centre level. The Qualifications (Education and Training) Act specifically requires that a provider of a programme of education and training shall establish procedures for quality assurance for the purpose of further improving and maintaining the quality of education and training that is provided. The Education (Welfare) Act requires that all children of school going age shall receive a certain minimum education while the objectives of the Education Act include the promotion of best practice. The Education Act also outlines the role of the Inspectorate not only in recognised schools but also in centres of education. The functions of the Inspectorate include the evaluation of the organisation and operation of centres of education and the quality and effectiveness of the education provided. YOUTHREACH centres wishing to become day centres under the Children Act are subject to inspection for suitability by the probation and welfare service.
The notion of quality, standards of good practice and accountability are further promoted in a range of national policy documents such as The White Paper on Adult Education and the National Development Plan. The YOUTHREACH 2000 – A Consultative Process report as well as the recently launched A Consultative Report Designed to Contribute to the Future Development of Senior Traveller Training Centres, highlighted the concern among stakeholder groups in relation to the provision of quality education for early school leavers.
The YOUTHREACH programme was established in 1989 and at the time of its inception centres were encouraged to develop programmes which were locally designed and based on the specific needs of the client group in a particular area. Although implementation guidelines were outlined in the YOUTHREACH Framework Of Objectives document, they were of a general nature and therefore did not limit the innovative potential of the programme. What resulted was a programme which is very diverse in terms of delivery and which continues to evolve according to economic, demographic, policy, structural and legal change. Despite the diversity which exists across the programme between and even within the various strands it was clear from the outcomes of the exploratory phase that practitioners can identify common elements of good practice which had not been documented prior to the YOUTHREACH 2000 consultative report and which have now been further clarified through the consultation process of the Quality Framework Initiative.