Delivering Outcomes in Community Learning and Development: Current Issues for Outcome-focussed Practice in Youth Work: Full Report

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Youth Work

The issues pertinent to the theme of youth work are:

Measuring success against the intentional and unintentional outcomes

Youth Workers highlighted that the young people they work with can often lead chaotic lives. Although intentional outcomes can be agreed at the start of a project or intervention the nature of work with young people often requires the youth worker to be flexible and able to adapt to the changing needs of the young person. This can result in the original intended outcomes being superseded by a range of unintentional outcomes. This does not diminish the value of the actual outcomes as these can be very positive but does present difficulties in reporting back on the initial project plans and proposals.

The Youth Work sector also identified a potential conflict between the Community Learning and Development values of Empowerment, Participation and Self-determination and the national outcomes.

'The starting point must always be the needs of the young people, this can at times be at odds with the 'Strategic outcomes' set by partnerships. How do we work with young people to ensure they have ownership of the process? Not all of the adult partners buy into the Youth Work approach and value base - outcomes can become adult led.'

It should not be forgotten that Youth Work often supports young people to challenge leaders and decision makers; the outcomes that young people want or expect are not always going to sit comfortably with decision makers.

Youth Work practitioners also identified that due to the nature of their work with young people; group work, street work, short term interventions etc., they have difficulty in establishing accurate baseline information on individuals. This makes it harder to set accurate and realistic targets and outcomes.

Meeting the expectations of stakeholders

Youth Workers expressed some concern that within the majority of organisations there is still a culture of focussing on outputs and not outcomes. Many staff are working to output driven work plans through the process of Best Value Reviews, and under pressure from elected members for quantifiable results. The same culture is also inherent in practitioners; including those newly qualified. Where target setting and number crunching is the priority, there presents a difficulty in focussing on the qualitative outcome approach with young people.

It was also highlighted that Youth Work can be pulled in different directions to meet the needs of the community, politicians and police e.g. Community Safety. The question is how can Youth Work accommodate a flexible approach to outcome-focussed practice but maintain robustness.

The political pressure and attention on young people, both local and national, can lead to a perpetual shifting of outcomes for Youth Work. This in turn can lead to a particular focus on delivering quick-win outputs rather than a focus on longer-term outcomes.

'It is not important at local government level. There is a gap between national and local. Local politicians don't care about outcomes; they are interested in who's hanging about the street.

There is also an issue that within Youth Work there is an over-reliance on continually changing external funding for projects. This stretches partners and leads to a mesh of outcomes being delivered which are not always the important ones for the young people involved.

A lack of consistency is apparent in how we measure outcomes across the board (not just CLD). This is partly due to a range of stakeholders such as HMIe, CLD Partnerships and funders asking for different information. This lack of consistency in how we measure can also mean duplication of effort and consultation fatigue among service users. A key issue for staff was in understanding how their current way of measuring and evaluating their work at grassroots level fitted with the bigger picture.

The sector recognises there are compatibility issues between different systems of reporting and also what is recorded. Participants, practitioners, and managers/strategists all have different outcomes and we need to ensure that these are compatible. One of the more general suggestions which emerged was the need to support staff by introducing a more streamlined tool for recording how outcomes were being met.

Volume of participants and nature of engagement

Youth Work more so than the other priority areas of Community Learning and Development works with a very fluid client group, and there is a constant turn over of young people engaging in Youth Work provision. In addition the nature of Youth Work can range from longer term engagement, to short term projects to very time limited street work interventions.

In addition, the volume of young people involved in mainstream Youth Work puts significant pressure on part time staff and volunteers who deliver the bulk of face-to-face contact. Often resources are not directed at their training and development around recording outcomes, and they have limited time to fit this in. Full time staff have more time but they often face the pressure of balancing the development of sessional staff and volunteers against direct delivery.

Workforce Issues

The make-up of the Youth Work profession being mostly volunteers and sessional staff at delivery level makes outcome-focussed practice a particular challenge. Loose contractual arrangements with volunteers and limited opportunity and capacity for training (both budget and time) can make it difficult to insist on training in outcome based practice. Usually training covers the bare essentials such as child protection.

A lack of capacity and need for training was evident particularly from the voluntary youth sector where resources are stretched. However the issue also extends to local authority staff.

Youth Work managers and practitioners believed that there was not enough linking between staff at strategic, operational and delivery levels to ensure that outcome-focussed practice occurs. Full time staff have the opportunity for development planning, but part-time staff and volunteers often don't have the same time. Support and supervision from full-time staff enabling staff at delivery level to reflect on outcomes is not occurring enough.

Concern about lack of Youth Work input in the development of the Single Outcome Agreements

The Youth Work sector recognised the need to ensure that they were ready to have a more significant role in the development of the next Single Outcome Agreements. Community Learning and Development service plan targets have in places been included in the Single Outcome Agreements but there was little opportunity for consultation with the youth work practitioners or the young people they work with.

Confusion about terminology;

Participants felt that there is now an 'outcome industry' (not just within CLD) which is making outcome-focussed practice more complicated and confusing than necessary. Outcomes/outputs/ milestones/impact: just some of the myriad of terms which are often used interchangeably but with different meanings in different contexts. This issue was reinforced in a number of practical group exercises where participants confused the use of outcomes and outputs.

'We need a simple booklet with the recommended systems to use that can be accessible to all staff members; sessional and part-time workers; and more training on these systems so that everyone understands the terminology and the purpose.'