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What have the Youth Endowment Fund been doing over the past five years? Jon Yates explains. 

It is five years since the Youth Endowment Fund was born. Five years is a long time – I know because I had a three-year-old when this work started. She’s been replaced by someone who is eight.  

We exist because she should be growing up in a world where all children feel safe. But that’s not the case. Last year, in our Children, Violence and Vulnerability report, one in two teenage children told us that they had been a victim or witness of violence. Just under half had changed their behaviour because of the fear of violence – skipping school, missing sleep or staying in. In an average year, 1000 children are admitted to hospital with injuries caused by knives. 50 children are murdered. 

This is not ok.  

And it is on us – the adults – to fix it.  

For too long, our response has been knee-jerk reactions – a new programme here, a new initiative there. If we are serious about keeping children safe, we have to do better. We have to be much, much better on doing what works and avoiding what doesn’t.  

Consider this. In the 1970s, Rahway Prison in New Jersey did something amazing. They allowed the men on life sentences to have visitors they didn’t know. They welcomed young people into the prison and told them their life stories. They shared the mistakes they had made and encouraged the children not to repeat them. Interviews with the children were full of positivity; they spoke about how the interaction had changed their lives. Many other prisons were inspired and copied the programme until it was happening across the US. Until one day, someone did a proper study of what had happened to the children visiting those prisons. What they found drives me forward every day. They found that going into the prisons wasn’t making this better. It was making things worse. Children were made more likely to commit crime, not less. Children’s lives were being ruined by adults with good intentions and evocative case studies. 

We adults have to do better. We owe to our children to be serious about checking what actually works and what makes things worse.  

That’s why – five years ago this week – the Youth Endowment Fund was established. Our job is to be rigorous about what helps and what hurts when it comes to keeping children safe from violence.  

Five years later, what has been achieved? I’m proud of to say that – through work with countless partners – this country now has:  

  • YEF Library: The largest evidence base in the world on what helps and hurts children.  
  • YEF Toolkit: A single free website that makes all that evidence available in normal, easy-to-understand words.  
  • Youth Voice: Through the Peer Action Collective, they’ve conducted the largest research project led by young people to understand their experiences of violence and what they want to change. Additionally, our annual Children, Violence and Vulnerability report is the largest UK survey of young people and their experiences of violence.  
  • YEF Evaluation Projects: 50 new, properly designed trials in plan or underway to test what works covering detached youthwork, mentoring, youth justice, education, policing, family support and more. 
  • YEF Funded Projects: New funding for ways of supporting children that have been found to be really effective in Europe or America but haven’t been supported here. 
  • Government engagements: We meet with government and opposition leaders every fortnight to share the latest evidence so policy is based on what is working in reality, not in our heads. 

I am proud of our work. But it is not enough for us to just know what works. We have to act on it, too. The Youth Endowment Fund will only have succeeded if things change.  

That’s what the next five years is about. We will lay out how systems and practice should change across the sectors that vulnerable children rely on: policing, education, youth justice, children’s services, the youth sector, health and local authorities as a whole. We will work with others who support our mission to make these changes happen.  

We are halfway through our lifetime and halfway through our mission. If we want a country we can be proud of – one that is safe for all our children – we need to be serious about what works and serious about changing things. I can’t guarantee that we will succeed, but I can guarantee that we won’t give up. 

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