Youth services in Wales ‘hindered by lack of information gathering’

MAJOR areas for improvement in local authorities’ delivery of youth services have been highlighted by a report. Research by Estyn found that a lack of common practice in the use of management information systems in local authority youth services across Wales was hindering the development of services.

The issue is detailed in a document published by Estyn, called Management Information in Local Authority Youth Services, which states more needs to be done to analyse and evaluate Welsh councils’ youth services.

Maggie Turford, the Estyn inspector managing the project, said councils needed to collect data to enable them to assess the impact their youth facilities were having.

She said: “In schools we have lots of data on young people’s attendance, behaviour and grades and that data enables you to plan for improvement. Although local authorities are doing that, they don’t really know what young people achieve in a wide range of other, less formal areas.

“It means that when they’re planning for resources for services like Duke of Edinburgh’s Award schemes and youth clubs, they don’t always have a process that gathers information to assess what’s needed. There’s some really worthwhile activities going on, but if you don’t know how well that activity is performing then you don’t know how to spend the money to make it better.”

Mrs Turford said collecting data with regards to young people’s participation and achievements was particularly important for youngsters at risk of exclusion from school or offending.

She said: “We don’t always know how well they’re achieving and it means there’s not always enough information to help the probation service to plan better.”

The report also called for improved communication between youth services, social services, local education authorities, voluntary sector groups and other organisations focusing on young people.

Mrs Turford said the lack of data and assessment of youth services meant money could be wasted by duplicating services while other needs remained overlooked.

She said: “The big picture is really making sure local authorities know where their young people are, what they’re doing, what services they’re accessing and what they’re getting out of it. That way, we can measure whether any services have a good impact.

“It’s all right having a youth worker working with a school teacher, that obviously has benefits, but unless you have that link at a high-strategy level, you’re not going to get the resources you need and you’re not going to be able to plan.”

The research was carried out by Estyn inspectors, who met with principal youth officers, local authority officers and youth workers as well as analysing other youth services reports.

Estyn’s report included six anonymous case studies on local authority youth services, of which only one was praised heavily by Mrs Turford.

The report concluded with a series of recommendations for the Welsh Assembly Government, local authority youth services and local partnerships.

Estyn’s chief inspector, Dr Bill Maxwell, said: “It is clear that there are some major areas of improvement for local authorities’ youth services if they are to meet the aims of the Welsh Assembly Government’s flagship policy, Extending Entitlement.

“Better use of effective management information systems, improvement of the collection and analysis of relevant data and more informed evaluation are just some of the steps all local authorities should take to ensure they fulfil their role in improving young people’s access to support, services and opportunities for education, training and employment.”