I have just read Jon Jollys post about the ongoing cuts to the services here in West Sussex.
As he rightly points out, it is a challenging and difficult time for all practitioners and managers within the service. The YSDS has already been reduced by £2m and we are now being asked to reduce the service by another £2m by March 2012. The service is currently consulting with residents & young people about these cuts and this closes on the 14th October with the select committee scheduled for the 4th November. Young people from the youth cabinet are meeting with the Cabinet Member and Director of Childrens Services to discuss these changes and input their views and thoughts about the future of the service.
Whilst this is happening we are also trying to bed in the new service which has seen significant changes in the way we are delivering and who is delivering our services. There has been a big upheaval for staff with many (including myself) being asked to change roles and operational areas. Staff are also uncertain of their future and are also being asked to deliver services in new and different ways. They are all working incredibly hard to deliver the best services for young people through these constant changes. Jon mentions the lack of communication and consultation with the community and young people over changes to the night a club opens and the staff delivering it. I agree that this should be the way we are working but have to put my hand up and admit that at the moment the fact that some of the clubs are open at all given the numbers of staff we have is a feat in itself. I oversee a different area of the county and know that I have been involved in making decisions about when we can open a club and who will staff it in isolation to the community and young people. This is partly down to the fact that with the need to further reduce the service is not recruiting new staff, any vacancies are managed internally which impacts again on the number of staff we have available so we are incredibly stretched.
Staff are also feeling devalued as their profession and years of training appear to count for nothing alongside a government agenda that believes volunteers can replace them. With staff stretched to deliver our own targeted and prevention services there is less time to support the voluntary sector as we used to at the very time they need that support to deliver universal services.. They (and communities I talk to) continue to be frustrated by this.
So where are we headed? Personally I am currently reviewing the services I am responsible for with the teams I manage whilst also making every effort to talk to the local communities and involve them in the decisions we have to make. In little over a month we should have a clearer steer on the way ahead which will need more planning and organising.
On a national level at a time of increasing youth unemployment, unrest and lack of opportunity the very services that could support young people are being decimated. It seems obvious to me (and many others across the country in similar positions) that these cuts are happening too rapidly and are unsustainable, by the time the government realises this will there be anything left to rebuild from?
With further reductions in Youth Services I continue to be intrigued by the concept of Big Society and how this is portrayed by some as the panacea to all the financial reductions. Now – don’t get me wrong, I’m all for contributing and volunteering in your local community and believe voluntary youth services are particularly strong. It’s just that basing policy and services on the assumption that people who volunteer will want to do more, with little to no funding and do what we would like them to do has the potential to be either the most amazing idea ever or one that is fundamentally flawed. I tend to err towards the later.
As we move to Targeted Services due to funding reductions we are withdrawing from the universal delivery of generic youth clubs in the more affluent areas of the county. This affects many of our rural villages. With this in mind I am one of probably many who is working with volunteers within local villages to see how they can take on the running of the local youth club. The meeting the other evening was a great example of what individuals are prepared and not prepared to do. The group are really keen to ensure that the club in their village remains open. They want to do as much as they can to do this and want us to work with them to find youth workers. However they are also really clear that they can’t do this without support and involvement from ‘professionals’ who know about systems, policies and how to work with young people. We are able (at the moment) to offer advice, guidance and support and have also pointed them in the direction of voluntary organisations working in this field. However whilst they are happy to volunteer they don’t want to have to take on responsibility for employing staff, health and safety both on and off site….and the list goes on. Members however are equally clear that we can no longer employ staff to undertake youth work in these areas and that all the work is the responsibility of the volunteer groups. Impasse!
In some of the areas under discussion there are small groups of young people who have quite challenging behaviors. The group are aware of their limitations and can’t understand why we are looking to them as volunteers to deliver what they believe is an essential service for young people that should be delivered by those qualified to do so. This resonates for me with what Nick Wilkie wrote last September:-
“Nobody has suggested that our banks, for example, should be led into recovery by armies of well-intentioned volunteers. So surely we don’t think that equally complex social ills can be remedied entirely without professional expertise and full-time commitment?” (See full post here)
Local communities know this, volunteers know this, we know this and yet still we march towards the dismantling of universal services regardless of the potential damage this may cause. In the meantime the local communities and I are still meeting to see what we can create in spite of policy, the Big Society, and other good (?) intentions because we all know that at the end of the day the ones who are going to miss out are those most in need of support, encouragement and opportunities – young people!