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Members of the House of Common’s Public Accounts Committee believe that reducing investment in youth offending prevention schemes to make short term savings might be a false economy as the cost of rising youth crime will far outweigh any money saved

Yet with plans to abolish the Youth Justice Board afoot and youth services up and down the country facing severe cut backs it has felt like these warnings were not being heeded. Until now.

A national programme that every year helps 50,000 young people from deprived communities steer clear of crime, drug and alcohol misuse has just had £10m worth of funding confirmed for the next two years.

So what has Positive Futures done differently? During this age of austerity, why would government make such an investment in this youth crime prevention programme for 10-19 year olds? The answer is hard evidence.

But evidence is an issue the youth sector has struggled with over the past few months. The chairman of the Education Select Committee inquiry in to young people’s services recently accused providers of failing to explain the difference they make. Graham Stuart MP said the lack of good quality evidence was weakening the sector’s case for government funding.

For the past ten years Positive Futures has focused hard on recording evidence of its impact. Young people’s achievements are tracked through filmed interviews, photos and artwork, plus case studies telling their personal stories, backed up with hard statistics around the qualifications and jobs they’ve gained and associated reductions in crime.

Latest figures show improved engagement amongst 70 per cent of participants with over 10,000 gaining qualifications and almost 30,000 achieving other positive outcomes including gaining employment, volunteering and returning to education.

The emotional and social benefits of the programme are recorded through a monitoring system that charts the progress of every young person. Project managers record how youngsters interact with peers and staff, the contribution they make to a session and their individual achievements.

This evidence base helped secure funding by giving the Home Office a detailed oversight of the programme’s impact at both micro and macro levels thanks to a sophisticated monitoring system developed by Substance, the social research co-operative that is currently responsible for the evaluation of Positive Futures in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University.

Substance is now piloting a new and enhanced model of impact monitoring, called Views, with four Positive Futures projects that it hopes will replace the traditional ‘tick-box’ approach to evaluation. This new model of proving value is rooted in the day-to-day experiences of frontline workers and service-users, making use of young people’s feedback, interviews with their families, and diaries kept by mentors as well as the data captured in the course of planning and organising contact with participants.

In the past, evaluation has been viewed by front line agencies as a bureaucratic burden, a distraction from the work itself and something ‘done’ to them by funders to justify government policies. By embedding data-capture mechanisms in routine processes, the dynamic between funder and project manager and staff changes, prompting a higher quality of impact information.

Ultimately, this new model opens the potential for a shift in how commissioners, funders and public service providers understand and evidence outcomes and social value. This is more important than ever as public service leaders are faced with difficult decisions about what to protect and what to cut



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Written by Tim Crabbe   
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 00:00
Last Updated on Sunday, 17 April 2011 18:05
 

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