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Can summer jobs reduce violent crime for young people?

If you look back on your career history, where did it all begin? While your first job is likely to have dropped off your CV a long time ago, the memories of that first pay-packet and step on the career ladder are likely to remain strong – for good or ill! For many, the first taste of employment is a summer job. However unglamorous that job may have been – stacking shelves, waiting tables, mowing lawns – the skills and experience you developed from it will have laid the foundation for subsequent jobs and opportunities, paving the path to where you are today.

I was therefore thrilled to be able to share the news this week that the Youth Endowment Fund is partnering with the Government and Youth Futures Foundation to deliver and evaluate a Summer Jobs Programme for up to 2,600 young people at risk of becoming involved in youth violence and crime.

Our mission at the YEF is to find out what works to prevent children becoming involved in violence and build a movement to put this knowledge into practice. To help us make the biggest difference over the ten years of our endowment, we’ve selected a set of focus areas where we’re concentrating our funding and learning. One of these areas is Positive activities. We want to better understand how constructive activities that aim to develop positive behaviours – such as sports, music and employment programmes – can reduce violence, offending and behavioural difficulties.

Formal summer job programmes are more common in the United States than they are here in the UK. Each summer thousands of young people, typically aged between 14 and 24, will participate in schemes across cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Known there as ‘Summer Youth Employment Schemes’ (SYEPs), they provide young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with short-term paid employment during the school summer holidays (normally around 6 weeks). They were originally created to broaden horizons, improve social and emotional skills and provide routes to future employment. As well as employment, the schemes offer pastoral support and job training.

There have been several evaluations of SYEPs in the US, but the approach has not been tested in the UK. Although the findings are mixed in terms of education and future employment outcomes, they do show a general trend in reduction in crime and violence. For example, at the most promising end, a randomised control trial of a youth jobs and mentoring programme called One Summer Chicago Plus showed a 52% decline in arrests. While it’s important to note that not all evaluations demonstrated such a large effect, you’ll be able to get a more accurate sense of the impact of US summer job programmes when we publish the results of our systematic review in an upcoming strand for the YEF Toolkit.

Talking to young people about what they think can be done to prevent violence, access to meaningful employment opportunities is a recurring theme. Indeed, it was highlighted in the Peer Action Collective’s report published earlier this year. That’s why we’re so passionate about this latest news. With funding from the Government, we have an exciting opportunity to find out whether summer job programmes work to reduce crime and violence here in the UK.

The scheme will launch with an initial feasibility study in the summer of 2024. We’re in the early stages of development and further details will be published on our website in due course.

We look forward to sharing more information with you soon.

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