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Finding out ‘What Works’ and helping to put it into practice

Jon Yates, Executive Director, Youth Endowment FundI heartily welcome this Final Report of the Youth Violence Commission. The Commission has done an excellent job in understanding and speaking out about the lack of safety that so many of our young people feel each day. For those of us listening regularly to young people affected by the threat of violence it is easy to become despondent. Young people frequently tell me that ‘nothing can make a difference’; that this is ‘just the way it is’. The Commissioners have managed to communicate frankly and honestly the level of pain that many young people feel while also creating a message of hope; a message that says ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’. Those of us with power to make a difference – including us funders – have a responsibility to ensure this comes true.

Leading the Youth Endowment Fund, I feel this responsibility acutely. What then do we do? Our first responsibility should be to get clear on what actually works. We owe these children real solutions; that means solutions that we know work. That is why I wanted to stand up and clap when I read the section in the report stating the importance of evidence and the need for independent evaluation. At times, evidence and evaluation can seem a bit irrelevant. When I am sat listening to young people about friends they have lost, threats on social media, areas of town they can’t go to and ‘beefs’ they can’t shake, banging on about evidence can feel like missing the point. When I am talking to young people about something as emotive as their own safety, obsessing about evaluation can feel like a bit soulless. Surely – my heart says – what we need is more empathy not more measurement.

But in the cold light of day, I always think again. Why? Because these children deserve our best. We wouldn’t dream of giving our children medicines that haven’t been properly tested and the same should be true of the help we give our most vulnerable children. In our country last year, our food companies spent £900m working out what works when it comes to selling food. £900 million. I don’t want to live in a country that cares more about knowing how to sell ice cream than it does about keeping vulnerable children safe. We have to be prepared to spend proper money working out how to protect our children. If we are prepared to research ice cream, we must be prepared to research their safety.

That is why I am excited to work for the Youth Endowment Fund. Founded last year, the Fund has a simple mission: to spend £200m working out what keeps young people safe and spread the news. Those who are commissioning and delivering local services also deserve the very best, they should have the evidence they need to guide their decision making. Over the next ten years, we are committed to spending our efforts and our money to this end. But how should we focus the work? The report brilliantly suggests some key areas: how do we best support children in care? How do we help children who are at risk of exclusion? How do we best support vulnerable children in the early years? What is the best place-based approach to take?

Over the next ten years, the Fund will do all it can to answer these questions. But alone – we will make no difference. Together, though, I believe we have a chance not only to find out what works but to ensure it is put into practice. Why must we do this? To answer the key challenge this report brings home to all of us – to ensure that our young people are truly safe.


This article was originally published in the Youth Violence Commission Final Report (July 2020), available to read here.

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