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No quick fixes to helping society’s most vulnerable young people

Posted on 30 June 2011 .
Tags: anti-social behaviour, binge drinking, children and young people, crime and justice, health and lifestyle

We’ve all read the headlines recently about youth gang violence and the worrying news about teenage drinking. But what’s the truth behind theses headlines? Who are these young people and what are their circumstances? Our latest research, for the Department for Education, looks at the complex problems experienced by society’s most vulnerable young people, and how these problems play out in later life.

We identified six groups of young people according to the disadvantages they faced at age 16 - low attainment; not in education, employment or training; substance misuse; criminal activity; teenage parenthood; and emotional health concerns.

The good news is that more than half of young people have none of these disadvantages at age 16. And amongst that group it’s perhaps unsurprising that very few went on to have poor educational and employment outcomes a few years later - in fact over half were still in full-time education at age 18.

But our research also identified two groups of young people who experience a number of disadvantages. We’ve called the first group, the 'risky behaviours group'. This group, comprising 8 per cent of young people, tend to partake in criminal behaviour and substance misuse, and perform badly at school. They are particularly likely to be boys, to be disengaged from school, and be susceptible to bullying. Their outcomes a couple of years later are less favourable, with only one in four in full-time education, one in five on benefits and many still taking drugs.

The second group, which we called the 'socially excluded group' (8 per cent of young people), tend to be disengaged from the labour market having done badly at school, but have also been involved in substance misuse and had emotional health concerns. They tended to have parents with poor health and had often played truant from school. Even fewer of this group were in full-time education at age 18, over half were claiming benefits and one in five had become young parents.

Our findings suggest that these young people require a tailored policy response that responds to their specific situations and helps them navigate the different support services they’re likely to encounter. But how can the Government deliver such complex policy solutions given current constraints on public spending? The research points to some common risk factors, such as bullying, truancy and low aspirations, which may help steer effective policy making.

I’ve presented this research today at the Understanding Society conference hosted by the University of Essex. If you’re attending this conference, you’re conducting similar research or if these findings speak to your experience of working with young people, please do get in touch or let me know your thoughts by posting a comment on this blog.

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