Inspection agency says young people in isolated communities are still missing out on support. James Graham reports
Youth services in Wales are still failing to meet the needs of young people in rural areas. Reports by the inspection agency Estyn into young people's partnerships (YPPs) in Powys and Monmouthshire said both authorities struggled to cater for those living in isolated communities.
In April, Estyn found similar shortcomings in Cynon Taf and Torfaen, although Carmarthenshire was praised for attempting to tackle the problem.
Estyn said Monmouthshire's services are generally good, easily accessible and administered by youth workers who build positive relationships with young people. But it found that those living in villages did not have access to the same resources as their peers in towns and urged the YPP to ensure these needs are met.
In Powys, where half the population lives in scattered villages or on isolated farms, Estyn said young people had cited rural isolation - compounded by poor public transport - as a concern.
The Powys YPP wants to improve transport links but its own mobile services are restricted.
The Estyn report said: "Provision of mobile services and workers to staff them is limited. This means the partnership can't extend these services into isolated rural areas."
Estyn also identified gaps in support services for young people with disabilities and in the opportunities for people to improve their Welsh-language skills.
Both authorities received grade 4 for the effectiveness of their leadership and strategic management, indicating there are shortcomings in important areas. The agency said Monmouthshire's strategic plans are not clear enough, there is no overall quality assurance system, and it needs to improve the monitoring of its budgets.
Powys suffers from poor communication throughout the partnership, said the report, which also criticised it for having some of the "most under-developed referral-based services for children and young people in Wales".
There is limited access to mental health support and little or no screening of young people's mental health needs through the local youth-offending team, said Estyn.
However, Powys was praised for offering a "wide range of activities that engage young people", and was singled out for specific initiatives such as the OASIS (Our Advice Shop in Schools) project, which trains young people to work with their peers.
Powys declined to comment on Estyn's specific findings, but said in a statement: "While the overall grades are somewhat disappointing it's important to note that the report supports our opinion that there's a high level of good quality youth support being offered in Powys."
Malcolm Morris, Monmouthshire's head of schools improvement and a member of the YPP, accepted Estyn's criticisms and said attempts were being made to improve rural transport.
He said: "I have no difficulty with Estyn's views. Some things are being done successfully, but that doesn't mean to say other areas don't need developing."
As for the problems with leadership and management, Mr Morris said: "In a partnership that works with so many agencies, and so many of them on a voluntary basis, it's always going to be a big challenge."
Courtney Taylor, the acting assistant chief executive of the Wales Youth Agency, recognised problems with rural provision but said authorities were "doing their best with the finances they have".