Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Committee for Employment and Learning
Youth Works Programme: Briefing from Opportunity Youth
The Acting Chairperson: We now have a briefing from Opportunity Youth on its Youth Works programme. We welcome Mrs Anne-Marie McClure, the chief executive of Opportunity Youth, Mrs Kathleen Grego from the Youth Works programme, and Mr Jordan Dillon and Mr Ryan Harkin, who are young participants in the programme. We are a bit under pressure for space. You are all very welcome.
Mrs Anne-Marie McClure (Opportunity Youth): We are absolutely delighted to be here today to present evidence to the Committee in Derry, the old city with the young heart. It is a fact that Derry probably has the youngest population in any city in Europe, and, in the year that it is, it is great that we are showcasing some of the wonderful successes of young people.
Opportunity Youth is a regional voluntary organisation with headquarters in Belfast. It is 20 years old this year and became regional 10 years ago. So, it is 10 years since we started delivering in this city. We deliver under three main areas: employability, and Youth Works comes under that strand; justice; and health, under which we have services that deliver drug and alcohol support and mental health support to young people.
Youth Works is an initiative that is funded by the International Fund for Ireland through the Department of Education (DE) and managed by the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is additional moneys. The pilot scheme started in 2011 in north Belfast, and, because of its success, it was rolled out across the cities of Belfast, Derry, and Newry and its environs. Different voluntary organisations are commissioned to do different work, and we were, thankfully, commissioned to deliver Youth Works in Derry. Our first cohort has just completed the programme, and we are moving on to our second. The funding ends in December.
With us today is Kathleen Grego, who will tell you more about the operations of the programme. We do not want to tell you too much, because we want to leave plenty of time for our young participants to speak. Kathleen will tell you about the successes of the first cohort, and then Jordan and Ryan will tell you about their experiences. I would like to finish with some key issues, and we will then answer questions.
Mrs Kathleen Grego (Opportunity Youth): Thank you. We started with our first cohort of 24 young people. When those young people came on to our programme, we realised that we wanted them to succeed, that they had the potential to succeed and that the best way for us to engage them was to get involved with them and to meet them in their homes. So, from a very early stage, we tried to tie their parents or their significant carers in so that we had a lynchpin. If the young people were not turning up or if something was going wrong, that meant that we had a parent whom we could phone or contact to ask what was happening. We found that to be very successful, and our young people's parents were really behind them and tuned in from the start.
Within a few months of our programme starting, three of our young people left for employment. The beauty of Youth Works was that we could still support them individually to make sure that they could sustain the jobs that they had taken. We were able to work with them and the employer and resolve any issues. One young man got a job delivering fruit and vegetables. He was a very active, very hyper, young man, so it suited him perfectly to be out and about doing all the things that he loved. The other two were young girls who moved into the retail sector, which they really enjoyed.
Two of our young people, unfortunately, moved to Enniskillen for family reasons, and there was really nothing that we could do about that. We got them support through a different programme but not Youth Works. Of the 19 left, all completed their eight qualifications. They got six Open College Network (OCN) qualifications, which all sit on the qualification framework, and they also got their essential skills in literacy and numeracy.
As well as that, we ensured that they got to do some fun stuff to try to develop the links between mental health, emotional well-being, employment and all the things that you can do outside that. So, we did a fantastic art project, as well as having drama and physical health and emotional well-being events. We tried to bring our young people to as many City of Culture events as we could to show them that they had a part to play in the city and to show them the events that they could take part in. We appeared in Joe Mahon's 'Lesser Spotted Culture' programme, so it was lovely for our young people to see themselves on television. That was really nice.
Three of the 19 people we were working with have since got employment. The other 16 are moving into further education, training or employment. I know that you have all those statistics in front of you. Intensive mentoring is a key aspect of our Youth Works programme. Very early on in the project, we realised that our young people needed to be broken into small groups so that they could get as much out of it as possible.
We also provide intensive one-to-one mentoring, which deals with all the work that they are doing, the barriers that they face and the ways that we can help them on a one-to-one basis to break those barriers down so that they can achieve what they need to. About 90% of our young people report that they are more confident about themselves, which is really important. In addition, 86% are more committed to getting their qualifications and moving on and getting more qualifications. A total of 65% now understand how their destructive behaviour holds them back from moving forward with their lives, and 92% report a raised awareness of their culture and respect for other people's cultures.
We took premises on Bishop Street to be neutral and to have our young people in the city centre as much as we could. We did not have any problems with our young people. Religion did not bother them. What bothered them was how other people perceived them and that they could not get a job or an education. So, from a very early stage, they mixed well and have since become friends and go to each other's homes. There is no difficulty with that, thankfully.
I will now ask Jordan and Ryan to speak so that you can hear their stories, because I think that what they have to say about the programme will be better than anything that I can say.
Mr Jordan Dillon (Opportunity Youth): I want to talk a bit about my life before, during and after starting Youth Works. Before I started Youth Works, I did not care about my life or my future. I was always in trouble with the police. I was taking drugs every day, living by myself and lying around doing nothing. I was not bothered about a job, doing a course or anything.
My lowest point came when I was kicked out of my house and then kicked out of my flat. I was under close watch by the police, under threat from the community, made to attend Youth Justice and was described as a danger to others. I began to worry about my own safety, so I started to carry a knife for protection. My girlfriend finished with me, and I became really lonely and even thought about killing myself.
Nothing changed for the first few months after I started Youth Works. I was then sent to Belleek for a week-long residential. That gave me time to get away from Derry and from drugs. It gave me time to think, and I decided that I wanted to change. So, I began to go to Youth Works more often. The one-to-one mentoring sessions showed me how I could change and that how I was living was affecting my friends and family. The mentoring made me see how bad things were getting.
Before, I did not care about going to secure accommodation, where I would be locked up for 23 hours a day. The mentoring sessions made me see the light: I could go to Youth Works, get qualifications and change my life. I then started to go to Youth Works every day. I kept my head down, did my proper work and was really trying for the first time in a year and a half. I started to see how well I was doing. Two weeks before Christmas, I stopped using drugs.
My mentors made me feel that there was an alternative and that I had wasted chances. They also made me feel that there was still hope for the future and that it was not too late to get back on track. My mentor told me that, if I wanted to change, I had to stop taking drugs and to stop fighting. Having someone explain it made it a lot easier to understand. I started to get back on track. It was a bit of a struggle at times, but any time that it got difficult, there was always something to keep me going.
I finally decided that I was not going back to the way that it was before. At Youth Works, I started to make new friends who could support me. The staff gave me places to go that really helped as well, such as the Gerry Rogan Initiative Trust — GRIT — and the Drug and Alcohol Intervention Service for Youth — DAISY). I learned about peace and reconciliation — the real meaning of it. I met people from other backgrounds who had similar problems to mine, and I began to understand about other religions. I kept my head down and started to understand that getting qualifications could give me a good future. Youth Works has changed my whole life. I know that the mentors and staff really care about me. I know that I deserved and earned the money that I made for finishing the course. I also know how close I had come to getting a job. I have now been accepted onto a driving theory course with Derry City Council. I have applied for loads of courses and jobs. I have applied to the tech. I am doing a summer scheme with the Youth Justice Agency. I am at the second stage of an interview with Derry City Council. Next week, I will start volunteering in a youth club.
I have been off drugs for eight months. I feel brilliant — the best that I have ever felt. I feel a real sense of achievement at finishing the course, which pushes me every day. I rarely drink alcohol. If I do, it is not much — not enough to get me drunk, anyway. My relationship with my girlfriend is back on track. My relationship with my family is the best that it has ever been. I paid tax for my motorbike and put it through the MOT with the money that I got from finishing Youth Works. It is great to know that I paid for that with money that I earned. Youth Works has really changed my life.
The staff are brilliant and very supportive. The sessions are in small groups, so you get more time for them to explain things so that you understand them. The people at Youth Works cannot do enough for you. The people who work there are the best that you could ask for. I feel as though I could turn to anyone at Youth Works for help because they really care. I got seven OCNs and my essential skills in literacy and numeracy. They took me to cultural events that I never would have gone to before, which opened my mind. They led me to other opportunities as well, such as with Derry City Council. I feel a real sense of achievement. At our celebration day for finishing the course, my family came to support me. It felt great to make them proud. I think that Youth Works should run for longer because it helps many young people like me. It has changed the lives of everyone who has done it, not just me. That is because of the effort that Youth Works staff put into everything.
I now understand that I also have an interest in youth work. I want to help people who are in the same place as I was. I have recommended Youth Works to friends of mine, and it will change their lives just as it has changed mine. Youth Works has made me feel, for the first time, that I have a future ahead of me. I want to do youth work to help people like me and to become a mechanic.
Mrs McClure: Well done, Jordan
Mr Ryan Harkin (Opportunity Youth): Before I started going to Youth Works, I was getting into trouble with the police, drinking a lot and taking drugs almost every day. I was shy and did not even want to think about my future. I was at another training programme, but I ended up leaving it because the people who worked there were bossy and difficult to work with. A friend recommended Youth Works to me. At first, I was nervous about going because I did not know what the people would be like. When I first came through, I realised that the people there were just like me, which made me feel more relaxed. The staff who worked there were dead on. They really listened to what I had to say and gave me more attention and support than any teacher or anyone else ever did. The mentoring programme was helpful. Along with drama, it was good for my confidence. I began to think that Youth Works was OK. I made friends in the group. I found being there to be a good laugh. Having things to do, like going on residentials, was really good. I have stopped taking drugs and drinking as much. I have calmed down and stopped getting into trouble with the police. I thought that it would be amazing if I could get my qualifications. Since going to Youth Works, I have a lot more confidence. I have made new friends. I have completed six OCNs and got my essential skills in literacy and numeracy. I learned how to be part of a team at the residentials. The mentoring has enabled me to see things clearly. All the staff there really listen to you. You feel like you can say whatever you want and that that is OK and that my opinion really does matter.
Also, the pay helps me to live from day to day. You get to do things that you would not normally do, like going to the gym and doing some art. The OCN on drug and alcohol awareness made me see what I was doing with my life, and if I needed it, Youth Works was very good about referring me to other organisations and other programmes.
At the Youth Works celebration day, I got an award for 100% attendance, which made me happy and my mum proud. I have a second interview coming up for a job with Derry City Council.
In the future, I see myself having a job and having my own house. I do not ever want to be on the dole. I want to work in business or IT. I am even thinking about moving to another country. I am a godfather and uncle to my brother's sons, and I want to be a good influence on them.
Thanks to Youth Works, I feel that I am on my way.
Mrs McClure: Well done, Ryan. Thank you.
We cannot speak any louder than the young people. The other young people on the programme have similar stories to tell. They all have ambition, and they all want to be productive. They all want to be a part of Northern Ireland society and to move forward. I think that Jordan and Ryan did really well today. I am nervous, and I am probably old enough to be their granny. I really have to commend them for telling their stories. We had to edit those stories because some of them were quite involved. They have to keep themselves safe with respect to the information that they are sharing and that is being recorded.
The funding for Youth Works ends in December,and that is the problem with additional funding. I have to say that the resources given to Youth Works were much greater than to any other programme that we deliver. It costs around £5,000 per young person. The programme lasts 26 weeks, so that is quite a lot of money. However, the service is intensive and is 24/7 in parts so that young people feel that they can contact the staff. The model is youth work; it is not training, as we know it in the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). In DEL, training is delivered through a teaching-and-learning framework. These young people, who have fallen between the safety nets, require a different approach, and we believe that approach to be youth work. We employ three youth workers and two essential skills tutors who have come from a teaching background but prefer to use a youth work approach. That is quite a big team. All the essential skills learning is achieved through one-to-one teaching, so that is where the intenseness lies. These young people have already tried to improve their essential skills through groups and in classrooms, but one-to-one tutoring worked. This was not a tick-box exercise for competence; they actually achieved that. We have assessed young people with level 2 and level 3 essential skills to find that that is not their competency at all. There needs to be a check on those things.
We have demonstrated an exceptional success rate. That has also been the case with all the providers of Youth Works, not just Opportunity Youth. It is important to note that the intensive nature of the approach and all the different aspects of support are there for the young people. As I said, I have no difficulty with the teaching-and-learning framework. It is great, it was great for me, and it was probably great for a lot of the people who are around the table. It is great for the motivated and great for the gifted, but it is not for everyone. That is why it is important to look at different approaches. We feel that the Department of Education probably has a big responsibility here, but we sense that it should be an investment through DEL and DE. It is an opportunity to move forward, and, as structures start to merge, it is a joint investment for these types of young people. I sit on the NEETs advisory group, and I know that a lot of money has come through DEL for the NEETs strategy, and that is laudable. Obviously, Youth Works fell outside that. We were developing this pilot as we were given the opportunity to apply for the collaboration and innovation fund. We feel that it is important that DEL is aware of this initiative and its success.
As I said, Derry has a growing youth population. The interesting thing — this is important for DEL and the NEETs advisory group — is that we still do not know how many young NEETs we have in Northern Ireland; we still do not know how many are core. We heard Derek and Owen talking about the numbers: 56 from every school. We still have great difficulty in engaging hard-to-reach people. Where are they, and who is holding on to them? Putting young people through the churn is not the way forward.
We feel that we can lower the unemployment rate. Today, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment again announced an increase in our unemployment rates and in those who are unemployed for over a year. We still have a lot of work to do.
We often look to the UK and Europe for models of good practice and success, but I think that we have a model here that we could demonstrate to the rest of Europe. We feel that there is an awful lot to learn from our success, particularly with essential skills. I know that DE has put in money for essential skills in primary and post-primary schools, but it did not connect with Youth Works to find out or learn from our successes. So there is always a bit of disconnect between Departments and in Departments.
We really believe that young people in the north-west need to benefit from the City of Culture celebrations. As Ryan and Jordan said, through Youth Works, they were introduced to things that would have been outside that. It is not just about the music and Radio 1; it is about a legacy for young people to move forward and to see a future for themselves, particularly in this region.
We are very keen — I know that Ryan and Jordan are very keen — to answer any questions from the Committee. Aren't you, lads?
The Acting Chairperson: First of all, on behalf of the Committee, thank you very much for coming along. It is important that Committees go out to constituencies because it enables local groups to showcase and present good practice, and we have certainly seen good practice here. I suppose that it has been painful for Jordan and Ryan to come along here to tell their stories and to give witness and testimony to how they have moved on. We all know that if you get young people at the right moment and at the right time, you can plant a seed to get them to step forward and move on. I am delighted that both of you have seen the positive side of things and that you now want to give something back; both of you talked about working in youth work and possibly youth clubs. So again, well done. It is delightful to hear about young people who have come out of a dark period in their past and who now want to progress in a much more productive and constructive way.
As the group goes forward, I presume that funding for Youth Works is through a DEL-related funding stream.
Mrs McClure: The funding is actually through DE and the Youth Council for Northern Ireland; that is very much additional funding. The programme looks at employability, which is obviously a DEL responsibility,
The Acting Chairperson: When we carried out our NEETs inquiry, we looked at best practice in Scotland and Wales and saw that there was greater collaboration and a greater sense of joined-up working there, which I do not think that we yet have in Northern Ireland. That is not a criticism of anyone. I think that, because of the voluntary coalition Government, it makes it more difficult. It is easier with a single government in Scotland and Wales. I am not going to ramble on. We want to assist you as a project going forward, but we can discuss how to do that at a later stage. Jordan and Ryan, how did you become involved in this project? What made you take that step forward to become involved in Youth Works?
Mr Dillon: In what way?
The Acting Chairperson: How did you become involved in the project?
Mr Dillon: I met — [Inaudible.] — in town. He was handing out leaflets and telling people exactly what you get and how you go through it. It sounded like something that I would be up for. He said that it is not about classes and that you would get one-on-one mentoring. I went and tried it, and, at the start, I did not really care. When I got my head down and we started going to cultural events, going away for a couple of days and doing group work, I really enjoyed it. It opened my eyes to how much I enjoy doing youth work. I have now started volunteering.
The Acting Chairperson: Very good. What about you, Ryan?
Mr Harkin: I had friends there. It was recommended by a friend who was going there at the start. He put me onto it.
The Acting Chairperson: More importantly, I hope that the two of you have bright futures. This Committee, along with others, wants a legacy of the City of Culture, and there is huge anticipation about what will happen for our young people. Employability is vital in going forward and trying to get contentment for people. It is therapeutic when people are working and are not sidetracked by drugs or alcohol, which can cause young people to be much more marginalised. I will move on to other members.
Mr Lyttle: I am really grateful for the presentation. Anne-Marie, you are a real inspiration in the work that you do and the language that you use, and it has been a pleasure for me to be up in Derry this morning. The phrase the "old city with the young heart" really captures what I have been feeling all morning.
The Acting Chairperson: Is that your old heart or your young heart?
Mr Lyttle: People are making me feel younger up here today. It is really great to hear from you, Kathleen, about the integration as a result of the work. It is a real inspiration. Jordan and Ryan, it is really good to hear from you. I am speaking at an event later today about masculinity. It is Men's Health Week, and there is nothing more important in being a man than having the courage to change direction and to make sacrifices and work hard when people around you are not doing that. So, fair play to you, and well done for the hard work that you have put in and for taking the opportunity to get ahead with the guys at Opportunity Youth. I wish you every success in everything that you do. If I can help in any way, I would be glad to do so.
You mentioned collaboration, the innovation fund and the social investment fund. I am happy to help you to explore whether those funding models are applicable to your work, and I hope that that is the case. We have alternative education provision, but alternative training provision is slightly less well developed. A key recommendation of the NEETs inquiry was the importance of mentoring and one-to-one engagement. I am keen to find out what I can do to help with the good work that you have been doing and to keep our hearts young.
Mr Ross: I have a couple of questions. Of the young people who went through the programme, three left to gain employment. The bulk of them have gone on to further education. You said that it is about youth work and trying to re-engage in that form of education. Do you track those 16 individuals to see the outcomes?
Mrs Grego: Yes; we track every individual on the programme. We will not simply put them into training and say, "There you go"; we will support them through that transition. Although we have started cohort 2, we have not get rid of cohort 1; they still call in and check in. Ryan and Jordan and another six of our young people have been interviewed by Derry City Council for its pathways to employment programme. We prepared them for that. We supported them through the interview and will support them again for the second interview and, hopefully, stay with them when they start that process. We will touch base with them every month and call them back after three months and six months to see where they are and what they are doing. The beauty of our organisation is that we have a lot of other services that can help young people with different issues. We are not precious; we work with everybody. If we know that an organisation will help our young person, we will direct them to that organisation.
Mr Ross: That is useful. The second question is about that follow-up and keeping in touch with people. Ryan spoke about how he wanted to be a good inspiration to his nephews. The idea of role models is important to all of us. Small businesses have role models for what they aspire to be like, and, as politicians, we will all have role models in the world of politics. I would suggest that, around this table, we probably all have dramatically different role models. Do you have a formalised role model or mentoring system so that young people who have been through the scheme can talk to their peers in that sort of buddy system?
Mrs Grego: When young people come on the programme, they are assessed and are assigned a mentor, whom they work with for those six months. For some young people, it is about meeting them once a week; for others it could be about meeting them every day. For some young people who perhaps have emotional health or well-being issues, it may be more intensive, but they are all assigned a mentor.
Mr Ross: Is the mentor of a similar age and has just been through the scheme?
Mrs McClure: No. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) undertakes youth work evaluation, and it has had some interim feedback. One of the interim feedback recommendations is that the programme should be one year long; I do not particularly agree with that because we have shown success in six months. Another piece of interim feedback is that ETI does not believe that peer mentoring is the way forward. It would prefer that mentors are professionally qualified. That is where they are coming from. That said, Opportunity Youth was built on peer education as a youth work approach, so we clearly see a role for those young people to volunteer, if they want to, and we will offer them those opportunities in our organisation or support them to deliver that in other organisations. It is interesting, but that was clearly one of the pieces of interim feedback. ETI felt that mentoring support should be professional and solution-focused. Now it sees a role for peer mentoring, but not for it to be delivered entirely through peer mentoring.
Mr F McCann: Many thanks for the presentation. I have some experience and knowledge of Opportunity Youth's work in my constituency of West Belfast. We spoke this morning about the considerable number of people who are not touched by any NEETs strategy. Your work with young people who would otherwise not be touched by it is certainly a shining example and offers a way forward in trying to deal with the issue.
I will pick up on what you said about people stating that mentors need to be from a professional background. I know quite a number of youth leaders who offer more possibilities to young people and are recognised for their leadership qualities without having a professional tag attached to them. Many young people are attracted and encouraged by that to go on to different things. Does the funding that you get go through the central base of Opportunity Youth and is then divided out, or do you have more localised applications for funding streams?
Mrs McClure: For Youth Works?
Mr F McCann: Yes.
Mrs McClure: The funding comes directly from the Youth Council. It is restricted funding just for Youth Works for this area. We deliver it in Derry city, but we recruit from the wider north-west, so it is restricted funding. That said, there is some flexibility around reprofiling that budget, but it is restricted funding, and very little of it comes back to the core. It is all programme delivery costs.
Mr F McCann: Like Chris, I think that all members of the Committee will take up the mantle of trying to do what they can to protect schemes like this.
Mrs Grego: All our staff are professionally qualified youth workers, so we agree with you that youth work has a massive role to play in helping the young people whom we work with to develop and grow.
Mr F McCann: [Inaudible.]
Mrs Grego: Exactly. We see Youth Works as the way forward. It is definitely how we engage our young people and help them to achieve and to believe in themselves.
Mrs McClure: Again, it is back to what Alastair said about role modelling and role modelling in your own community. Our experience in Youth Works is about how those communities have blended. There is a big push on the peace and reconciliation side of this programme, but there was no challenge in that for us. That was interesting. The young people came from what were considered to be different communities, but they blended very well because they had a lot in common — more in common, perhaps, than they might first have thought.
Mr F McCann: Sometimes, professional organisations come in. They are employed on a nine-to-five basis and they then leave, but most major difficulties happen between 5.00 pm and 9.00 am the following morning. That is when youth leaders come into their own. They are on the streets, working with different groups of people. They offer those opportunities that professional organisations do not.
Mrs McClure: We deliver that 24/7, but that is added value. We would never get funding for that.
Mrs Grego: It is very difficult to get our staff to turn off their work phones. I got a phone call last night from one of my staff about a young person whom he was working with. I asked him why his phone was turned on. Then I wondered why I had asked that, because I knew why his phone was turned on, which was the same reason why my phone was on. All our staff are more than happy to help young people and families at times of crisis.
The Acting Chairperson: No other members have questions. Anne-Marie, Kathleen, Jordan and Ryan, thank you very much for coming along.
Mrs McClure: I want to say one last thing, Pat. How do you translate the effort that these guys make? What does that mean? To me, their effort, and their route from A to B, is similar to somebody in a grammar school going to Oxford or Cambridge. It is the same effort and the same focus. We need to align that into language that people understand. These guys worked really hard, obviously with support, but it is to their credit because they put their heads down. They got their OCN qualifications and essential skills, which was not easy for them.
Mrs Grego: Ryan had 100% attendance. He never missed a day. It is a real achievement for young people who have not been engaged in education, employment or training for a long time to come on to a programme and not miss a day. He got a special award at our celebration event because his 100% attendance was amazing.
Mrs McClure: Kevin Campbell, who was the mayor at the time, was at the graduation, and he presented certificates to the graduates. I wanted them to wear gowns and mortar boards, because that is what they do in America. I know that they do not get everything right in America, but I am just saying that that is what I think they do well.
"Opportunity Youth" is the name that Barack Obama gives to America's young people who are not in education, employment or training. I love that. It is not about negative labels but positive, good, wholesome labels. Americans get that right. I will finish with that.
The Acting Chairperson: Ryan and Jordan certainly were the focus of the presentation. On behalf of the Committee, I acknowledge the immense contribution that youth workers make. They have made a contribution in this small country, throughout the Troubles and now during the legacy of the Troubles. They have helped young people to progress through adolescence, which is most difficult. If you wish, you will have an opportunity to talk individually to members. You can focus on areas that you want us to progress or on areas on which you want us to advocate for you. Take that opportunity at lunchtime. Well done, and thank you very much for attending.
Mrs McClure: Thanks, everybody. We really appreciated it.