Youth services in Wales are in danger of being marginalised and "pushed down the bottom of priority lists", the Children's Commissioner for Wales warns.
Keith Towler says that "shrinking budgets" mean some services could be cut back, and that some young people in Wales have no access at all to "good quality" services.
– Keith Towler, Children's Commissioner for Wales
I meet individuals and groups of young people almost on a weekly basis who are making positive contributions to their communities, be it through volunteering, as a member of a youth forum or a young mayor. These are real role models and future leaders that we should all be supporting and celebrating.
I want to see a national commitment to this agenda that recognises the value of youth work and how it can help young people to overcome the challenges they face, such as lack of skills and youth unemployment.
Too often, I hear from young people and practitioners that youth services are undervalued and swamped by conflicting priorities. Youth services shouldn't be seen as a soft target. I am committed to providing a clear focus on this issue for the remainder of my term as Commissioner.
"Strong strategic support" locally and nationally is needed to ensure the provision and funding of youth services, said the Commissioner. Many of the services he's concerned about are provided by local councils and the Welsh Local Government Association says there's a proud record of high achievement, although it agrees financial pressures can cause difficulties.
– Welsh Local Government Association Spokesperson
We recognise his concerns but it is important to acknowledge the multiple and severe financial strains currently being felt by council budgets. Only last week the Older People's Commissioner was seeking prioritisation for adult services while other lobby groups are also urging similar protections in their respective policy areas. Ultimately budgets are being cut and not everything can be prioritised.
Youth services have consistently achieved a high standard during formal Estyn inspections in recent years, and they have been commended for their contribution to reducing school exclusions, support and guidance on issues such as sexual health, substance misuse and teen parenting, and the provision of high quality training to youth workers. Youth service provision in Wales already reaches a high percentage of young people, and makes an important and early intervention that can help improve their quality of life.