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Youth policy is reviewed

Critics say service remains short of money and staff. Andrew Mourant reports

Wales's flagship youth policy Extending Entitlement is due to be relaunched next month amid complaints that delivery is falling short of expectations.

When the agenda was announced three years ago, it was considered a landmark by youth work professionals.

It aimed to give all young people aged 11 to 25 access to whatever services and support they needed for personal development. Delivery has been co-ordinated by 22 young people's partnerships (YPPs), one in each Welsh local education authority. They include health and voluntary organisations, schools and colleges, statutory youth services, careers advice, youth offending teams and many more.

An Assembly government spokesman said that the relaunch would highlight the progress made in putting the scheme into practice and take stock. But the youth service remains dogged by claims that it is underfunded.

Chris Jones, principal youth officer for Powys, said: "My big issue with Extending Entitlement is that, for the past couple of years, it hasn't been resourced. The level of funding didn't meet the level of expectation."

He added: "We had proper investment, then funding dried up. It wasn't ring-fenced, it was given to local authorities."

Mr Jones also feels policy has been "skewed by lack of communication between departments within the Assembly government".

Last year the Community and Youth Workers Union (CYWU) called for extra youth workers to match numbers in England, and for more to be fully qualified.

In its Manifesto for Wales, CYWU complained that "youth work is too frequently valued only if based on targets and accreditation systems".

The Assembly government denies the service is being short-changed.

"Expenditure for 13 to 19-year-olds was more than pound;150 per head in 20034, compared to pound;83 in England," said a spokesman. "Numbers of youth workers entering training has increased, with around 150 qualifying each academic year."

One insider claimed the real problem is bureaucracy. "As policy gets filtered through the civil service, it becomes badly distorted," he said.

"I think there's a low level of knowledge of what the service is about.

"While the official line is that the number of qualified youth workers is increasing, those coming out of training agencies are being absorbed into disciplines such as crime prevention and welfare."

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills said:

"There's been tremendous support for the agenda. However, it's important to link messages about individual entitlements to other areas.

"That's why we've endorsed the youth work approach in the context of 14-19 learning pathways and the community-focused schools agenda."

Ms Davidson said youth work has always been a key profession within Extending Entitlement, and that discussions were under way about developing a management qualification route to help staff develop their careers.

Rob Edwards, chair of the principal youth officers group in Wales, said. "I think progress has been made. We're working with the Assembly on initiatives such as training and management information systems.

"It's difficult to recruit youth workers but that's UK-wide. Youth work has changed enormously within the past 10 years: it isn't about clubs and table-tennis bats anymore."

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