In light of what has happened at Kids Company, does the sector need to change and if so, in what ways?

I attended the national youth sector event on the 16th October, hosted by NCVYS, which was a Question-Time style event, debating the title question.  It’s taken me a while to find the time to write up some of what happened on the day but looking over my notes it is all just as relevant now so I’ll go ahead and commit it to some sort of post.

The panel consisted of:

Susanne Rauprich – Chief Exective, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Rosie Ferguson – Chief Executive, London Youth

Asha Ali – An Innovation Specialist currently working for Dartington Social Research Unit and a former service user of Kids Company

Pauline Adams, Head of Service, Young Hackney

Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy, National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

…and the event was chaired by Natalie Campbell, Chair of NCVYS

National Youth Sector Debate

Rather than track conversations verbatim, what I’d rather do is lay out the points made on the day in a way that could help prompt future discussion.  In doing this I’ve tried to attribute certain points to certain people in the case of the panellists but I’ll have to apologise for where quotes or points haven’t been attributed to people, these are likely to have been contributed by the audience.

I’ve decided that a tabular format based on the classic SWOT analysis seems to fit nicely, so here goes:

Strengths
  • The voluntary youth sector remains adaptable AA
  • We share the same values as the statutory sector – there is scope for greater collaboration PA
  • The next generation are ‘sector agnostic’ – the public, private and charity sectors are blurred to them and they will join the charity sector now where generations ago there may have been greater scepticism KW
  • We are an independent sector – we can act like one
  • Youth Work is early intervention and cost-saving engagement, especially around safeguarding
  • We now have a Centre for Youth Impact – the sector should embrace and use it
  • We have strong democratic grounding through Trusteeship
  • Young Trustees joining boards
  • We must “dance the dance” and use positivity in moving forwards, rejecting the deficit paradigm
Weaknesses
  • The Charity Commission does not encourage enough transparency AA
  • Young people were meant to be at the centre of Kids Company (KC) – where was the accountability to them? AA
  • Competition (from within the sector) makes us lose sight of the beneficiaries AA
  • It is incentivised (by funders) that we over-claim what works and play down what doesn’t RF
  • We feel we have a monopoly on ‘doing good’ when this is not true KW
  • Trustees are “stale, male and pale” KW
  • We are not so good at articulating our service offer SR
  • No one goes around checking safeguarding (or other service) standards – it was an assumption of the KC inquiry that this was happening SR
  • It is unclear what constitutes quality management and governance – having 3 months’ reserves, for example, may be unrealistic SR
  • There can exist a ‘values/action gap’ where, for example, poverty charities pay very high salaries
  • Considering we are an independent sector, we have left ourselves open to too much collusion in state ideology and letting the ‘tail wag the body’
  • Kids Company had a ‘saviour complex’ – is this shared?
  • (In the case of Kids Company) Young people had been forgotten about until they were needed to be held up and paraded in front of the media
  • KC’s model was based on an assertion that the state was failing – then their model failed
  • Until young people can vote at 16 politicians are still less likely to hear them
  • “Evidence is not the plural of anecdotes” KW
  • We don’t have a strong platform to share best practice
  • Is Trusteeship as a form of management holding us back?  Could the board model be re-structured or redesigned altogether?
  • Trustee development is rarely seen as a core cost
  • There may be a cultural issue for Trustees (especially perhaps from the business sector) who believe they have all the skills they need to run a charity
  • There can be too great a gap between Trustees and beneficiaries – although this is seen as necessary by many
  • Is there too little investment in young trustees?
  • The primary concern for too many trustees is keeping their organisation going, instead of thinking about what would be best for the beneficiaries (and considering mergers or closures etc)
  • An acknowledgement that potential corporate partners were not in the room today – however they can be scared when surrounded by a room full of people vying for their funds – need collective vision
Opportunities
  • We need to harness intervention-based evidence as opposed to approach-based RF
  • Collaboration – we can become a movement, not merely a set of institutions. We need to let go of institutional ego and look to potential mergers RF
  • We need to call out poor quality Youth Work and ‘big up’ the best work RF
  • We need to take a longer term view – plan for/think 5 years ahead rather than spend our time catching up from 5 years behind RF
  • National projects could be funded instead of local ones to gain an economy of scale PA
  • Intelligence and evidencing impact is key, it will help strengthen commissioning and  develop unity on what we are delivering PA
  • A voice is required for Youth Work PA
  • Collaboration and merger may be necessary PA
  • We require strong leadership, ethics and behaviour KW
  • Look down to the grass-roots of your work and understand what you do and for whom KW
  • We must look around for different types of money – not just public money KW
  • Technology is the space for innovations – leaders need to embrace it KW
  • We need to tell our story – not for private gain but for public benefit KW
  • We need a clearer narrative on what we do SR
  • The conversations we have with funders need to be consistent and transparent SR
  • We must use young people’s stories, tapping into their strong narratives
  • Parents put £1.5 billion into extra-curricular activities per year – could parents be sked to pay for youth services?
  • We must invest in developmental, catalysing projects
  • Use technology to evaluate youth work – most young people have smartphones, we should capitalise on the easiness of access to young people’s space
  • Could we capitalise on the work of Children England’s Declaration of Interdependence and drive down competition
  • We may see greater asset transfer towards our sector from Local Authorities
  • Trusteeship requires investment in training and communication – for example, schools and programmes such as ‘Step Up To Serve’ should be discussing it with young people
  • Should the Charities Commission pay for Trustee skills development?
  • It is possible to develop other models in the voluntary sector such as workers’ co-operatives and mutual with beneficiaries.  Should we be exploring these models in more depth?
  • We need to educate the philanthropists – the voluntary sector needs innovative and targeted spending
  • We need a collective vision
  • Can we help sell to young people?
  • 50% of Britain’s Muslims are under 24 years of age – they need to be nurtured.
  • There will be a ‘Creative Collisions’ conference again in 2016 – aiming for 15th/16th May – venue may be Hackney
  • We must learn how to have challenging conversations within the not-for-profit sector and convince each other to believe in ourselves KW
  • Could we run an ‘understanding charities’ campaign? KW
  • We need collaborative leadership skills and a culture of skills sharing PA
  • Young people must have a platform to share their opinions, valued on par with others AA

 

Threats
  • If we do not evolve we will perish KW
  • We are conditioned to a ‘scarcity mind-set’ KW
  • Kids Company shows us we must have glass pockets – lack of transparency will damage the sector KW
  • Youth Work has little evidence framework and no longer gets inspected. This puts us on a weaker footing
  • The government don’t know what to do or what society will look like in the absence of state
  • What should citizens do in the absence of state?
  • Price-driven competition between organisations within the sector promotes a race to the bottom
  • Although only 1 in 4 charities currently receives statutory funding the sector has become over-dependent on it.
  • We are currently in a competition crisis – an interesting example of this being the Government’s £1million Social Action Fund: Only 10 organisations were funded out of 600 applications.  If we assume that each unsuccessful org spent 3 days working on their bids then a total of over 5 years’ worth of work was wasted from within the sector!

NCVYS were good enough to capture the event through a Storify which can be accessed here.

I’m also heartened to see further national-level open discussion tabled over the coming months, fronted by NCVYS, UK Youth and Ambition.  For more info, click here.

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