What puts a child most at risk of future unemployment?

Published on Tuesday, 18 September 2012 11:07
Written by Dr Christopher Arnold

Dr Christopher Arnold talks about the success of an early intervention strategy implemented in Sandwell to reduce NEETs and explains why work must begin in schools to boost young people's job prospects

Early intervention has become the by-word for tackling many of the issues that hold children and young people back in life.

The latest figures published by the ONS have revealed that despite a 0.1% fall in overall joblessness in the quarter ending in July 2012, youth unemployment levels continue to rise.  With one in six 16 to 24-year-olds in England now not in education, employment or training (NEET), the need to get more young people into meaningful work has never been greater.

But to intervene earlier, authorities need to know what factors put children in their area at greater risk of becoming NEET in later life. That way, the support they provide can be more effectively targeted when and where it is needed to make a difference.

Early intervention and the critical role of data

We have been doing some early intervention work in Sandwell that has helped us to shine new light on how the problem of youth unemployment can be tackled in the area.

We started by analysing the historical data we have available to us on young people who have ended up NEET in the past. This has helped us to identify some of the key factors that can put a child at risk of joblessness in the future.

This in itself threw up some rather interesting and unexpected results. The data showed us that being looked after, having one parent at home and even prior involvement with drugs are not the most significant factors in predicting a child's future job prospects.

We have found that in Sandwell at least, you are much more likely to end up out of work, education or training at aged 16 if your family has housing issues, you have had attendance or behavioural problems in school or you have special educational needs. Knowing this has been critical to enabling our teams to plan and deliver services to change the trajectory these children were following and improve their life chances.

Improving young people's lives

As part of a wider NEET reduction strategy, we screened pupils in three schools in the area using the agreed criteria. This enabled us to correctly identify over half of those children likely to become NEET three years before they were due to leave formal education.

In the schools we have worked with, the additional services we were able to provide have successfully reduced NEET rates by more than 50%.

The social and economic cost of each 16 to 18-year-old who ends up NEET are estimated to be in the region of £56,000 over the course of their lifetime so the benefits of getting the right support in place at the right time in a child's life cannot be ignored.

A vision for the future

This initiative has allowed us to ensure those children who are at greatest risk of becoming NEET get the help they require while they are still at school. This has been key to improving their chances of gaining the qualifications and skills they need to find work when they leave.

In my view, the early intervention work we are doing in Sandwell to reduce youth joblessness is like installing a fire alarm in a family's home rather than relying on a fire engine to put out the fire once it has taken hold.

To succeed in changing the pathway a young person is on, you must first understand how the journey began.

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