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Cries for help will strain services in crisis

In the North-East, a network of personal advisers has worked with disaffected youngsters for the past year. The project has yielded lessons for the Government over Connexions, which will create thousands of such mentors nationally.

The network, called New Options West, works with Year 10 and 11 students in three Newcastle schools. The advisers come from a range of agencies and work one day a week. Each adviser is allocated 10 young people and interviews their charges in school to get to know them and their needs.

But project manager Andy Gibson says the project is only scratching the surface. "The resources simply don't exist to deliver what young people need. For example, many have brought up literacy as an issue they would like to address.

"There's no agency with the resources to go into a school and do one-to-one specialised sessions. So personal advisers have to do it themselves and we have to find the money."

Andy Gibson believes resources pose a massive problem for Connexions. "They envisage all these personal advisers advocating on behalf of their clients and getting them the services they need," he says. "But most of the providers of services like education welfare, education psychology and a lot of the youth service, are just working at a crisis-management level."

Another pitfall is the quality of the person who can develop good relationships with difficult teenagers. "It is definitely a highly skilled thing to do," he says. "The real skill is relationship building. The rest you can deliver and train and produce resource packs.

"But if they don't have the knack or ability to build relationships with young people who are fairly unhappy with whatever they've had before, then it's no use at all. It's not a skill that people normally train for. At the moment, it tends to be that people either have it, or they don't."

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