A young person, or in fact anyone’s, life chances should not be a postcode lottery. Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences should not define them.
However, the recent issues involving the exam results of young people in Scotland and the rest of the UK sadly show and reflect the inequality and attainment gaps that exist between people from wealthier and poorer areas. When systems designed and intended to be “fair and credible” result in in disproportionately affecting young people from areas of deprivation, society needs to stop and take note. Algorithms and AI systems will never get this right while young people from deprived areas continue to be left behind.
We know young people from poorer areas already have the odds stacked against them. Scottish government figures show last year, before COVID-19, only 43.5% of children from the most deprived areas got at least one Higher compared to 79.3% of children from the least deprived areas. Research also shows young people from poor families are also three times less likely to be in a job or course after leaving school. And less likely to keep a job.
Achieving good results at school despite the challenges of living in areas of multiple deprivation can be an important lifeline to having a better life. Young people should be judged on their individual performances and efforts and not the address of their school or family.
A fair and credible system would see individuals from poor areas enjoy a fair chance to earn the same grades as their better-off peers. Instead, this year’s U-turn on moderated results has made clear what we’ve always known – that young people’s chances depend too much on the levels of deprivation they grow up in.
This stark revelation of the role poverty plays in people’s chances should make us take a good hard look at the system that creates it. This is partly about investment in schools, but it is also about investment in communities and individuals. Growing up in poverty creates barriers for people that the better off do not have to face. Removing these barriers - poor mental health, loss of confidence, lack of role models – will support young people to succeed in education.
We also acknowledge school is not the perfect fit for every young person. For those who do struggle as a result of barriers and challenges such as chaotic and unstable environments, school might not be a lifeline. Other pathways need to be available for them.
At Venture Trust we specialise in working and supporting young people for whom school has been a struggle or have left school because they are dealing with issues like alcohol and drug misuse, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues.
The young people we work with first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.
Our personal development and learning support for young people helps them set out and achieve their goals, grow in confidence and stability. We help participants to work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability. These life skills need to be acquired before long-term unemployment and the issues this brings can be tackled.
We will sustain our support when restrictions are eased by restarting our innovative Change Cycle employability programme with our delivery partners The Bike Station and Bike for Good. [The programme has been paused during the pandemic.] Working around guidelines, the elements of the programme will include employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short outdoor residential that has work-related tasks, and biking. In the meantime, our employability team continue supporting young people through digital workshops and physical distanced face-to face meetings to help them into jobs, training, study and volunteering.
We have released our independent evaluation that shows with the appropriate and sustained support young people from deprived areas can find a path that is right for them.
We're very proud of this report which shows the success of our Change Cycle programme - and especially we're very proud of our participants for achieving these results. In the current climate, we know that many young people will be looking for support in getting into work. Change Cycle will continue running to offer this support to as many people as we can reach.
Read the full evaluation report here: Evaluation of the Venture Trust’s CashBack Change Cycle 2017-2020
Andrew Russell is Venture Trust's Head of Programme Performance and Impact
We are proud to launch the independent evaluation of our youth employability programme - Cashback Change Cycle.
A programme that has engaged and supported more than 200 young people from disadvantaged and deprived areas of Scotland move towards a positive future.
With three-year funding from The Scottish Government through its CashBack for Communities, we developed the CashBack Change Cycle (CBCC) programme, an innovative employability programme in partnership with The Bike Station in Edinburgh and Bike for Good in Glasgow. The elements of the programme included employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short wilderness residential that has work-related tasks, and biking.
It was a programme designed to reach those young people aged 16-24 who were not in education, training or employment. This included young people who face multiple barriers to their career progression, such as involvement with the criminal justice system, homelessness, alcohol and drug use, poor mental health, caring responsibilities, a care-experienced background or early social work involvement.
After three years, Rocket Science has produced an independent evaluation report that highlights the impacts of the programme.
It works. That is why we are continuing to run the programme.
There are many agencies getting young people ready for work but most of those young adults already have the soft skills to engage in training or to start working. The people Venture Trust help first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.
They are often dealing with one or more of the following: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues. The majority also have had little or no work experience.
The programme aimed to help participants increase their motivation and self-confidence, develop vocational and employability skills, and support their progression towards work, training or study, increasing the stability of their lives.
The outcomes achieved by young people throughout the three years of the programme show the powerful and positive impact of innovative and person-centred support.
Nearly all the targets were exceeded but more importantly the young people we worked with rode away with a new bike armed with the skills, motivation and confidence to break the cycle of disadvantage holding them back.
Despite youth unemployment figures in Scotland having dropped significantly when the programme was launched, almost 4000 young people remained long-term unemployed because they lack the very basic life skills needed to begin working towards securing and sustaining a job.
Now with the impact of Covid-19 is being felt heavily by young people in Scotland, especially on their future employment prospects a programme like CashBack Change Cycle is never more needed. For those young people who were furthest away from the job market before the coronavirus crisis, inequalities are likely to get worse before they get better. Solutions that include the voices of young people are integral to ensure they are not left behind.
Read the full evaluation report here: Evaluation of the Venture Trust’s CashBack Change Cycle 2017-2020
With the easing of lockdown, we have resumed face-to-face work with participants.
This will be one-to-one and in outdoor spaces observing physical distancing. Our staff are using public greenspaces local to those people we are working with. While initially the number of participants staff can meet will be limited, we have ensured all those who want and need physical meetings will get it.
Safely – under the Scottish Government’s route map – we can start building back better by being there in person.
For many of the people we support the ability to meet their worker face-to-face will be a huge boost to their wellbeing, learning and development. We know being cut off physically from their Venture Trust key worker has proved difficult and stressful. In addition, regular meetings with social workers, addiction counsellors, mentors and community workers could no longer take place in person. This further disrupted partnerships between organisations supporting Scotland’s most vulnerable.
Venture Trust director of operations Mike Strang says:
“The act of social connection – walking and talking, sharing life’s struggles and looking at options to make changes (even at a physical distance) – will be invaluable and beneficial for both those needing and those delivering support. Our staff will offer participants support and guidance, connecting them with services and opportunities in their local communities, and helping them to make and sustain positive changes in their lives.
"Working with a network of local partners, organisations and services, participants will be able to access the best possible package of support and opportunities.”
We discovered during the coronavirus crisis that the impacts, including reduced social contact, self-isolation and disruption of services, had a disproportionate effect on people who were already struggling with complex life circumstances.
In response we adapted so we could continue to be there. We turned our services outside – in, moving from group-based personal development in Scotland’s outdoors and in communities to working with smart technology to reach those who needed help most in their own homes. Phone calls, video chats and text messages replaced meeting face-to-face. And for those who could use those lifelines, help has still been available. This digital service continued to reach more than 300 people.
But we also found that for too many people the capacity to reach help was throttled by data poverty. They didn’t have the kit, data capacity or skills to reach support services. This further isolated and continues to cut off those who need the most help. In response we will continue to advocate and work to alleviate data poverty alongside other organisations, government, funders and partners.
So, as we start to see restrictions lift, we will begin to move towards our ‘new normal’: returning to our core programmes while keeping the best bits of learning from the last three months to build back better. By blending our physical and digital services we can provide the best possible offer of support for those who need it most.
This International Women’s Day, we will be celebrating the achievements and inspiring journeys of the women we support on our programmes and our female staff working in our offices, Scottish communities and wild places of Scotland.
This year on March 8 the theme is “An equal world is an enabled world”.
We are proud to be led by a female CEO, we have women in leadership and management positions across our departments including outdoor training, community outreach, administration and board.
Through our programmes of personal development supporting women of all ages struggling with issues such as long-term unemployment, recovery from addiction, homelessness, isolation, involvement in the criminal justice system in Scotland, and a history of trauma or harm, we are challenging inequality for individuals and their communities.
As an organisation we are also challenging stereotypes, fighting bias, broadening perceptions, improving situations and celebrating women's achievements.
Here are some of the stories from the amazing women we have supported to realise or rediscover their unshakable strength, a voice that deserves to be heard, and power.
Lucy spent ten years addicted to heroin. during this time, she was also convicted of theft and lost her son to care. Her life had hit rock bottom.
Today Lucy is completing a college course and looking to go to university. She is drug free and out of the criminal justice system. And she has access to her son.
Read More: Lucy’s story
Annabelle’s alcohol addiction took her to many dark places: attempted suicide, psychiatric care, hurt family and friends, and her two daughters taken away.
Today Annabelle has her girls back, they have moved into a beautiful home. She has the respect of family and friends, a job that she loves and she is happy and healthy.
Read more: Annabelle’s story
The Scottish Government has released the Criminal Justice Social Work statistics in Scotland: 2018-19
Here is our response to the report.
Commitment to community justice
Venture Trust welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to community justice and believes that it has a big role to play in making Scotland’s communities safer. To make it work effectively the third sector, the courts, and local and national governments need to work together to create a system that is robust, reliable and provides the right level of supervision and support to those on orders. That is partly about making sure there are enough places on community justice programmes to meet demand; it is also about making community sentencing an integral part of our justice system in the same way that prison sentencing is.
It’s About Smart Justice. Not Soft Justice
Community justice does work better than short sentences at preventing re-offending, but it needs to be treated as an equal partner: not just in terms of getting the resources it needs but as an integral part of the system that the courts can rely on when passing sentence. Particularly when dealing with people with more severe problems, getting the right expertise in place is crucial to making the system work. This means investing in specialist providers, but also in ensuring that the system is set up to allow the collaboration and integration between services that will ensure people get the right level of supervision and intervention.
Problem: Short prison sentences don’t rehabilitate
Short prison sentences are enough to disrupt employment, medical care, housing and family relationships, but not long enough to tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour. People jailed for a few months come back out even further from finding a route out of crime than they were when they went in.
We know that many of the people we work with through the criminal justice system have lived through deprivation: poor education, poverty, substance misuse, poor family relationships and mental health issues are all too frequent among our clients. Growing up in poverty, in care, or in traumatic circumstances doesn’t directly equate to ending up in court but these experiences do influence people’s lives negatively, often leaving them isolated from their communities, surrounded by negative influences and feeling unable to take part in society.
Solution: Rehabilitation through personal responsibility, self-confidence and chance of positive role in society
Our work challenges people on criminal justice orders to confront the attitudes and behaviours that have got them here and gives them the capability and motivation to leave that behind and take responsibility for building a better future for themselves and their families.
Through a combination of work in the community and an intense wilderness expedition, we help clients reflect on the choices they make and how these will affect both themselves and others. This is not the easy option and it does not let people off lightly. But unlike a short sentence in prison, we show people new ways to cope with stress and confrontation that help them avoid re-offending.
The best way to steer someone away from crime is to empower them with the tools and skills to make better decisions and to show them that they do have a positive part to play in their community. Building positive relationships, getting away from negative influences, getting ready to get and hold on to a job, and just believing in themselves have a huge impact on people’s desire to build a better life.
Community justice does create safer communities, does break the cycle of offending and does reduce the social harm and financial costs of crime for individuals, families and communities.