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We must act now to support our most vulnerable young people

Jon Yates, Executive Director, Youth Endowment Fund

Jon YatesOur new normal feels far from normal. Most of us are struggling in some way. Many of us are parents struggling to balance home-schooling with work. Many of us are freelancers struggling to pay our bills. The best of us are key workers struggling through daily risks to serve those most in need. Nearly all of us are in some form of shock, looking for stable ground. Most of us have started asking what we can do to help.

The charity I lead – the Youth Endowment Fund – has been asking itself that very question. We were not established to fight an invisible foe but a very visible one – youth violence. We were founded to find the very best ways to reduce a metaphorical plague on our streets not a literal one. It would be easy to say that this was not our battle. Easy but wrong. Why? Because we exist to serve vulnerable young people. And in this moment of national emergency, vulnerable young people are facing three very real threats.

Firstly, they have lost some of the safest places they knew – from schools to youth centres. They are losing access to adults who look out for them, who provide a word of advice or a listening ear. For some, home is not a safe place and not somewhere they want to be every hour of the day. This situation calls for urgent action.

Secondly, many of the youth charities that can keep vulnerable young people safe are themselves at risk. For many years they have relied on income from holding fundraising events, renting out rooms or delivering commercial contracts. As these dry up, we risk losing priceless organisations that look after our most vulnerable. They have been giving out to others and now need help themselves. This too calls for immediate action.

Thirdly, and perhaps worst of all, we know far too little about how best to help vulnerable young people when we can’t be physically alongside them. We do not truly know how much phone and online communication can replace meeting face to face. We owe it to them to find out.

The Youth Endowment Fund cannot solve all of these problems. We are one part of a larger system. It is clear that the government must make funding available to the youth sector to support these young people. However, we will not ask what the government can do, without stating what we can offer first.

[pullquote]    For this reason, the Youth Endowment Fund will open a new funding round in the next few weeks to support vulnerable young people.[/pullquote]For this reason, the Youth Endowment Fund will open a new funding round in the next few weeks to support vulnerable young people. We will bias this funding towards those voluntary youth organisations that are most at risk of closing due to the crisis. We will pay an external organisation to report back on what is found to work best – sharing this as fast as possible. On top of this, we will continue to support the charities we already fund – not one will lose out on funding from us because the original plans have to be changed. But above all of this, our number one priority will be to get help and support to vulnerable young people who desperately need it.

My team gets sick of me saying one phrase to them again and again. “The Main Thing is keeping The Main Thing, The Main Thing.” For the Youth Endowment Fund, The Main Thing is serving vulnerable young people. We will not allow them to be forgotten at this time. We are now acting. The time is urgent. I call on others to do the same.


This article was originally published on Schools Week.

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