I’ve been co-authoring a report on a ‘young inspectors’ project in East Sussex. It has been revelatory for several reasons, two of which I’ll mention here.
The project involved training and support by participation workers for eight young people with a mix of disabilities, to carry out inspections of public venues and services. They inspected an outdoor activities centre, the catering service at that centre, a youth centre and a public library. This was the second such programme in East Sussex.
The report describes the significant benefits both to the inspected agencies and to the young inspectors, especially in terms of self esteem, skills and employability. My conversations with some of the young people, and telephone interviews with some of their parents, showed that for most if not all, the impact for them has been transformational.
One young woman hinted that ‘bad things’ had happened to her, and said that she was always ‘very shy in school’ and used to put herself down a lot:
‘Now I’m loud at home, more confident, I don't need any help in any lessons… It's made me feel more special in a way, I speak more in class, I'm more confident in what I do.’
The father of a young man who experienced intense anxieties and phobias, reflected in very low self-esteem, told me that the project had ‘helped him to overcome his fears and helped him to go to places.’ Simple things like having a clipboard and a badge helped his sense of identity enormously.
Two things in particular resonate with the work I have been doing in the east of England with young people looked after (eg).
One is just to do with the inclusive diversity of the group. The age range was from 12 years to about 20 years. I suggest that a bunch of relatively privileged young people, covering that age range, is quite likely to be hard to handle; but not this lot. Just as with the diverse groups of young people looked after that I’ve observed, they are dependably mutually supportive and tolerant. They’re an inspiration and the rest of us can learn from the way they unfussily co-operate to overcome difficulties.
The second point is a consideration of the costs and benefits of a project like this. In our evaluation of work with museums and young people looked after, Martin Dudley and I found that significant personal benefits accrued to the participants, reliably and sustainably, for around £30 per young person per hour. A typical programme in that field might run for say 15 hours, and this is quality, skilled work we’re talking about: in terms of funding, you’d think it was a no-brainer.
The same goes for the young inspector programme. Some of these young people had serious challenges in their lives, which might leave them marginalised and not in a position to contribute to society. The benefits were consistently attained and the risks of failure were low. The estimated cost to the state of providing these benefits was just over £3,000 per young person for the whole programme – and that cost is likely to fall of course as practise and familiarity develop. Even if only half of them establish a participation career and/or become employable and contribute socially and economically, that represents exceptional value.
It’s another uncontentious low-risk opportunity for social investment. What chance policy makers spotting that?