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A bridge so far

THE MOST difficult-to-reach members of the Neet group are being coaxed back from the margins of society by a charity that uses media, music, dance, theatre and adventure sports.

Fairbridge, which has Scottish bases in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, believes that going straight into overtly teaching these people basic job skills can be counterproductive in helping them back into education, employment and training.

In Scotland, Fairbridge works with as many as 1,000 young people aged 13-25 at one time - with separate programmes for those under and over 16 - whom other organisations have found particularly hard to work with.

About 60 per cent have mental health issues, while many have poor literacy and numeracy and issues with anger management. They have often dropped out of education and care services, and do not wish to engage with the likes of careers services or social work.

"A key criterion for us is that they are able to come of their own volition and therefore we have to be able to deliver something that they see as relevant and accessible to them," said Tom Watson, director of Fairbridge in Scotland.

"You're not going out and selling a personal development or employment programme - you're talking about things they want to get involved in. We try and engage young people on their own terms. We're not judgmental."

Fairbridge tries to look at all the issues affecting someone's life, but works on the basis that they must also consider what happens after these are resolved.

"We take a holistic approach," said Mr Watson. "A lot of agencies work with a single issue, such as mental health, literacy or numeracy. We try and take that whole spectrum of issues.

"We work in partnership with second-step providers, like the Prince's Trust, so we can get young people to the point where they're ready to get their foot onto that employability continuum.

"We can take them to a point where their chaotic behaviour is stabilised, where they are willing to look forward rather than just trying to deal with day-to-day issues, where they want to take on training and new ideas."

He believes that looking at the bigger picture is crucial to solving the Neet problem, which sees 20,000 Scottish young people aged 16-19 belonging to that category in the long term. That approach appeared to be vindicated by a study commissioned by Fairbridge, which, Mr Watson said, showed that the charity significantly enhanced "long-term potential change" for young people.

"No organisation, if it wants to be effective in the Neet agenda, can operate independently," said Mr Watson. "They've got to have appropriate pathways for young people to progress along."

He stressed that tackling the problem in Scotland is made difficult because funding is stretched and young people in rural areas such as Clackmannanshire do not have access to the same number of organisations as in a place like Glasgow. "Like it or not, we have a postcode lottery."

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