We know that youth offending is a complex and deep-rooted issue. The incidents that make the headlines do not happen in isolation. They are associated with a set of background factors – including poverty, educational opportunities, family relationships and community resources – which overlap and interact with each other in complex ways.
Setting up the Youth Endowment Fund
Within the wider debate, there is growing interest in the potential of a public health approach to preventing young people becoming victims or perpetrators of crime or violent behaviour. The Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) is a new fund from the Home Office of £200m over 10 years to tackle the risks associated with children and young people becoming involved in violent behaviour and crime. The Fund represents a long-term, evidence-based approach to tackling the factors which make criminal behaviour more likely. The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) is one of three organisations that will operate the fund in a partnership led by Impetus and with Social Investment Business.
The Youth Endowment Fund is a bold plan to put effective early intervention at the heart of efforts to tackle youth offending. ‘Effective’ is the key word here, which is why it is so important that this fund has been established with evidence and evaluation at its heart.
We know a lot about the risk factors that make it more likely that a child or young person could become involved in antisocial and criminal behaviour. The YEF will allow us, over 10 years, to evaluate a range of services and programmes already being delivered, test new ones, and expand those shown to deliver the best outcomes. If we can increase the availability of effective, evidence-based support for children at risk, and build the skills and strengths (both at the individual and community level) that work to divert young people away from criminal activity, then over time we can reduce the number of young people drawn into crime.
Joining the What Works Network
In this respect, the Youth Endowment Fund is a fantastic example of how much purchase the ‘what works’ philosophy has achieved in policymaking circles. It is testament to the fund’s evidence-led model that it already holds What Works Network affiliate status. And it is a credit to the reputation and impact of the existing What Works Centres that we were able to build a narrative for the new organisation around a model we called ‘EEF-plus’ – an explicit reference to the endowment-based model that has allowed our Education Endowment Foundation colleagues to build and communicate the evidence base around education practices so effectively.
How the Youth Endowment Fund will operate
The Youth Endowment Fund will work in several ways. It will identify, support and evaluate programmes that work with children and young people who are most at risk of involvement in crime and violence, providing funding, capacity-building and evaluation support. It will generate and share new knowledge and practice, with the aim of transforming local and national responses to tackling youth offending. And it will develop a place-based approach, bringing together local partners across the voluntary sector and agencies such as health, education, children’s and family services and the police in a coordinated approach to tackling the causes of violence among children and young people over the long term.
Through robust evaluation of the interventions that we support through the fund, we will develop vital new knowledge of what works, for whom and when. There are lots of services and support out there, some of them widely used, that have not yet been evaluated. This does not mean that they do not work – but it does mean that we simply do not know.
By investing in long-term evaluation, we will find out how far this approach is able to prevent a cohort of children and young people who are at high risk from becoming involved in violence and criminal activity. In these ways, the Youth Endowment Fund is a What Works Centre, through and through.
This is the right approach. As a country, we cannot afford to be providing services and support that do not stand a good chance of making a positive difference. The best long-term response is to reach children and young people long before they ever get drawn into crime. Using evidence makes it more likely that the services and support that are made available now will make a real, positive difference in children’s lives. And creating new evidence builds up our knowledge of root causes and effective responses over time, providing the vital raw materials for those who are shaping the services of the future. By creating this positive cycle, we can deliver greater benefits both within the Youth Endowment Fund’s own work, and beyond.