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Youth work flaws attacked

Local authority youth services are often no more than children's services with the wrong curriculum, philosophy and programme, one of the country's most outspoken youth consultants says.

Max Cruickshank, a former youth information worker in Strathclyde, who carried out a survey of youth participation in all 32 Scottish authorities,asks: "Child participation is not youth participation. What do 12-year-olds and 25-year-olds have in common?"

His report comes as Henry McLeish, the Devolution Minister, this week encouraged young people to become involved in the Scottish parliament on the back of a series of youth consultations carried out by the Scottish Community Education Council.

Mr Cruickshank says: "By trying to mix such a wide age-group and by providing inappropriate programmes I believe we are contributing to the malaise of the modern child."

Youth work is often criticised for failing to hit its targets and even in the 1970s it was assumed a third of young people did not need youth services, another third took part regardless of the quality and the final third most in need could never be attracted, Mr Cruickshank states.

"The commercial world (including the illegal, multi-billion dollar, international drugs industry) have found no difficulty in ensuring full youth participation in their enterprises, so what I wonder can we learn from that?"

He points out that the young have enormous spending power, "yet we have not found a way of delivering good quality services to them, which they value enough to pay for, when it is clear that many if not most young people can easily afford to".

Young smokers on 10 a day spend around #163;9 a week and the average weekend drug user or drinker may spend double that.

Spending should be increased significantly to help combat youth-related crime which costs an estimated #163;730 million a year in Scotland, Mr Cruickshank says. The cost of crime is 88 times more than spending per head on young people, according to statistics.

"These figures highlight the failure of the punishment as against the prevention approaches to working with young people who are anti-social or in need of care."

Mr Cruickshank calls on adults to trust young people's independence. The rules and regulations that may serve schools well are often inappropriate when the client group are teenagers or young adults, he advises.

"The failure of youth participation projects in the past has often come about because adults hold the purse strings and the power and are often unsure about or reluctant to hand over any power to young people," the report states.

"Unless some real power is handed over to young people they will not believe that adults, officials or politicians are serious about allowing them to develop and create the services that they believe they need."

Young people needed to see positive change in the short term if they were not to lose heart. "Even the most enthusiastic of young people give up and find better things to do if this happens to them," Mr Cruickshank warns.

He backs a range of youth information services and resources to help young people take part fully.

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