International Youth Day - The importance of education

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 - 10:49am

Monday 12th August was International Youth Day, a celebration of young people and the role they play as partners of change. This year’s theme is Education.

International Youth Day is an opportunity to highlight the amazing work happening across the world to transform education and its crucial role in youth development. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of inequity, and the disadvantages some young people face.

The practical realities of homelessness and insecure housing undermine young people’s ability maintain their education. For example, young people in temporary accommodation have no place to do homework, and are often moved out of area, resulting in long and expensive journeys to and from school. Young people in hidden homeless situations or sleeping rough prioritise finding a place to sleep that night over attending school.

In addition, experiences that may lead to homelessness also impact young people’s ability to engage with education.  The sense of displacement resulting from homelessness can lead to young people responding in a way that is often described as ‘challenging behaviour’ and can damage or strain young people’s relationships with peers and teachers. The stigma of homelessness and associated shame can lead young people to isolating themselves from their peers.

Research indicates there is a discord between the goals of employability initiatives and the welfare benefit system. This can severely impede young people’s participation. When talking to members and other professionals working with young people to inform our scoping report we heard time and again that one of the biggest struggle services faced was supporting young people in education, training, or employment resulting in their benefits not covering the rent and living costs.

While this may feel like a bleak picture there are models of good and innovative practice from across the world that we can learn from and implement. For example, the Education First Youth Foyer model in Victoria Australia, aims to break down the structural barriers that prevent young people from engaging in education. They provide student-type accommodation for at-risk young people co-located on further education campuses, and support as the young people transition into independent, which includes mentoring, coaching and peer-support. Similarly Foyer’s  in the UK, were originally developed as integrated learning and accommodation centres that provide safe and secure housing, support and training for young people aged 16-25. The Foyer Federation now supports the network of Foyers to develop “Advantaged Thinking”, a strengths-based approach which focuses on young people’s assets.

In Scotland, the Rock Trust is piloting Housing First for Youth (HF4Y), a model that highlights how trauma impacts young people’s cognitive development and decision-making. Through providing accommodation on an immediate, permanent and unconditional basis and taking a trauma-informed approach, case workers have the time to build relationships with young people and offer holistic support. This provides a base to promote social inclusion, and for young people to engage in meaningful activities such as education.

Key to these models is the ability to work across sectors. The Education First Youth Model is co-delivered by further education facilities, the youth sector and housing providers and HF4Y also highlights the need for a range of support including housing, education, and health. Partnership models also enable earlier intervention and prevention. The Geelong Project in Australia is a partnership aimed at intervening early with young people at risk of disengaging from or leaving school, becoming homeless and entering the justice system. Through connecting schools and community services together the project utilises education bodies to prevent homelessness.

Housing itself is not sustainable unless young people have the life skills and support they need to live independently. We need to ensure young people experiencing homelessness have the same opportunities as their securely-housed peers. The importance of programmes focused on education cannot be underestimated - they prevent social exclusion and provide the tools young people need to reach their personal goals.

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Lauren Page-Hammick

Innovation and Good Practice Manager for Youth Homelessness

Lauren is Innovation and Good Practice Manager for Youth Homelessness.