A pioneering project to help homeless and disaffected teenagers cope with independent living and undertake training courses has proved a success.
The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders believes that up to 76,000 16 and 17-year-olds are not taking part in any education, training or work. Many have problems with accommodation and, since most are not entitled to income support, can become extremely vulnerable as a result.
The charity says that particular problems exist for those people who have recently left care or custody, who were school truants or have their own children, because they find it exceptionally difficult to succeed in work, training and education.
The Youth Choices programme, which is being pioneered in Tyneside, offers 16 and 17-year-olds support and encouragement to prevent them becoming excluded from society.
Nacro's director of services, Mike Stewart, said: "Unfortunately, many 16 and 17-year-olds remain homeless locally and nationally. A more sympathetic, flexible and individual approach to the training needs of those young people, as we have achie-ved with Youth Choices, would pay dividends for their personal development and society as a whole."
In the first phase of the project 200 young people were contacted, of whom 88 went into training, employment or further education and another 56 actively considered youth training.
This demonstrated that housing problems were an important factor in preventing young people from training.
The second phase specifically addressed housing needs. Co-ordinator Helen Cairns said: "Many people find it hard to budget on their own. Responsibilities for rent, bills and budgeting for everyday living expenses often prove too demanding and tenancies may fail if appropriate support is not available.
"Nacro's solution is to provide packages tailored to individual needs, which combine training with personal skills for independent living."
Special 12-week courses covered a wide range of subjects concerned with independent living, including welfare rights and benefits, budgeting and bill management, nutrition and basic cookery skills and tenants' rights and responsibilities.
Students also received "taster" courses of vocational training in a range of subjects, intended to help them choose which YT course they might take. This second phase made contact with 112 people, most of whom had housing difficulties.
Assistance was also offered to 70 outside the formal course, 77 per cent of whom were ex-offenders.
Suitable homes were found for all participants, with the help of other local agencies, while 35 young people - of whom almost 70 per cent were ex-offenders - took part in the full course.
All but one of the participants went on into further training, further education or work, while four gained nationally recognised qualifications.