Our initial research suggests there is currently a gap between young people, particularly aged 16-24, and their local councils. For the Discovery phase we are focusing on young people and their lack of interaction with local councils. Local councils should, in theory, be approachable, the most tangible and most trustworthy of government organisations, yet we believe young people are not engaging well enough with the services that we offer, and may not even know these services exist.
Although lack of youth engagement with councils and the increase in the take up of social media by young people is a known issue and highlighted in the recent Barnardo’s reports ‘Overcoming Poverty of Hope’ and ‘Left to their own devices’, it was brought to Hastings Borough Council’s attention when 3 young people between the ages of 19-21 started working for our digital and transformation services teams over the summer months. They were all in agreement that more needs to be done to reach out to young people, and the way this should be delivered is via digital services and platforms.
A huge factor of the low youth engagement is the fact that councils are not typically using the right communications channels to engage with young people. According to the Office for National Statistics 96% of people in the 16–24 age group have used social networking within the last three months. However, most local council’s presence on social media and networking platforms is not effective. We presume that these online channels are a great way to reach out directly to this demographic, but councils are not currently using them in the ideal way, mainly due to lack of resources, skills and understanding of these dynamic platforms.
In the case that a young person may be aware that the council can help them, actually finding the information on the websites is currently difficult. The customer journey is too long and complex for a lot of digital users. Ideally, we would have the shortest customer journey possible to reach any given service. However, due to the nature of the amount of services that councils provide, there are pages that are more hidden than others and often these pages are the ones we believe young people want to engage with.
As councils, with diminishing face-to-face resources available to support young people through their transition to adulthood we want to discover whether we could be taking more responsibility to assist young people in the transfer between education and adulthood through increased digital contact. Many of our council and voluntary websites offer this support, however if young people are not aware of them then they are unlikely to engage with these services. We believe it is a council’s moral and social responsibility to provide unbiased information to all people in the area, including young people. Our discovery journey will try to address these issues and what would be the best ways to reach out to the young people who could benefit from our services. Furthermore, we need to consider the life-cycle costs of not getting the support and interventions councils do provide to young people when they need it most. This is the type of research we need to address what we believe to be a serious lack of youth engagement by councils.
The main way in which we plan to research the issue of youth engagement with local councils is by talking to service owners and key stakeholders within the councils, local communities, established youth voice groups/forums and voluntary organisations. If we want to find out why young people aren’t engaging with us and how this engagement can be better facilitated, then we need to reach out to young people and ask what they want from us as their councils.
The key questions we want to ask are:
- What services do councils (and voluntary and community organisations) provide that are of interest/use to young people (16-24) e.g. Homelessness and Housing, Elections, the Democratic processes and Health and Wellbeing
- How aware are young people of council (and voluntary and community) websites that provide help and advice to young people?
- What services/help do young people want from the council?
- How would young people like the council to engage with them regarding these topics/helps/services?
- How can we further prevent further issues by engaging with young people early on?
- How could this be best provided and managed across the three councils?
We believe it will be vitally important to reach out to voluntary organisations, communities and practitioner groups that specifically deal with vulnerable young people, as this is the group that are most likely to need our help and are also the most difficult to reach. In Hastings, a charity called XTRAX focuses on helping young people with a variety of issues, and they will be a key contact in this research. Other voluntary organisations include Hastings Voluntary Action, Mind, Seaview and iRock.
In addition, there is an established cross-sector Youth Voice Practitioners Network across East Sussex which will bring the following groups together to build on what they have already told us:
- The Able Group (disabled young people)
- Girls Group
- LGBT+ Group
- Senior mixed Group
- Funky Teens-young people with mild to moderate learning difficulties
- Download Group (CAMHS participation group)
- Children in Care Council
- Through Care Voice Group
- East Sussex Youth Cabinet (elected by young people).
We will want to talk to as many of these groups as possible, in order to get the widest range of feedback and data for the output reports that we publish at the end of the research period.
Time and funding permitting we would also look to undertake workshops in local schools, academies and colleges. As students from local schools, academies and colleges are on the brink of the transition to adulthood with their own responsibilities, it would be very important to communicate with them as this transition is something we are focusing on. We would talk to the students at the schools, using our main prioritised questions as guidelines.
- What services are you aware of your local council provides for you?
- Have you ever used a council website?
- Have you used a council service?
- What ways could a council let you know about the services they offer for young people?
Finally, we would also work with the young people under 24 that already work in the councils, as their extensive knowledge of the council and our capabilities may help influence decision-making within the research process.
If successful in gaining the Local Digital Fund we propose to tender through the ESPO Framework for an appropriate research consultant to carry out part of this work and employ a Young Person and Digital Media Officer to assist in project managing and coordinating the research and liaison between partners.
Socially, the cost of young people not being engaged with council or other voluntary and community services is potentially very high, and as Barnardo’s and other reports reveal, a nationwide problem. The Discovery project will assist in quantifying the social cost, but we are already aware of the increased pressures on resources dealing with young person’s homelessness, mental health and housing issues. There is also a likely social cost in not engaging young people with the democratic process.
One area for concern for each of the partner councils is democratic engagement as the Barnardo’s report maintains ‘62% of respondents felt that the government cared more about older generations’. We wish to discover how we can improve democratic engagement and investigate whether part of this is due to young people simply not knowing how to find information on joining the electoral register and how to vote. This has long term costs as the less young people are engaged, the less likely councils are to make decisions that benefit their demographic, and as councils aren’t doing anything for them, young people become even less engaged. If we can find out the best way to engage young people with the local democratic process, then this will encourage a greater interest and investment in democracy as a whole, and hopefully encourage a more politically active youth in East Sussex. We want to use this research to fully understand why young people in our area are disinterested in the process, and how we can make improvements via our digital services, to help spark interest in what local councils are doing.
Youth homelessness in our local area is an issue, and we want to be able to provide access to the council’s homeless process in a way that is effective for young people. Many young people don’t realise the way in which councils can help them, both preventatively and then also when they find themselves homeless. Hastings Borough Council and Rother District Council can only deal with young people aged 18 and above.
As an example, the following represents the current process and costs for handling a young person presenting themselves as homeless.
Once a young person presents themselves as homeless, if they are under 18, they will be referred to East Sussex County Council Children’s Services. If over 18 years, they will have an hour and a half long appointment with a Housing Officer to discuss their situation and housing options.
If under 18, they will be referred to East Sussex County Council. If the young person aged 18 and above cannot stay in their accommodation, then temporary accommodation may be given until a decision is made. A decision should be made within 56 days.
During this period, if a young person has any kind of priority need, we will house them in temporary accommodation until a longer-term housing solution is sought. We have estimated that it will take 22 hours of officer time, from the point of presentation to resolving their homelessness by securing a suitable housing solution, in addition to the price of temporary accommodation for 56 days, rehousing a young person would cost approximately £1,345 to the council. This does not include officer time costs of getting in contact with GPs, parents, and other organisations. Based on 2018 statistics, 148 people in the 18-24 age range needed this help, at a cost of just under £200,000.
Further intervention from other statutory and voluntary services is often required to support young people living in the single temporary accommodation. Further research will need to be undertaken to identify the costs incurred by East Sussex County Council for 16 to 18 year olds housing issues and further research will assist in identifying these costs in more detail. However, we are aware of the burden to councils and the government in handling the increasing homelessness crisis.
We know, from talking to our housing team at Hastings Borough Council that often most of the young people that present as homeless are in situations that can easily be prevented with early intervention.
As far as the savings to these monetary costs, this is part of the research we wish to conduct. We don’t currently have exact quantitative data suggesting that if for example we improve our digital services for young people, it will save us money in the short term and long term. In theory, if we can use digital services for prevention of complex issues arising, it will save resources in the future. Using the example of homelessness as above, if we can help a young person with a difficult family situation by signposting them to counselling/mental health services, then it may prevent a local council having to rehouse them later on.
We believe that through our research, we can find the best way to use digital services to reduce the costs of these problems (and many others), which we can then share with other councils nationwide who may want to act on this information.
We will be using SmartSheet to keep the project on plan, delegate effectively and see how the project is progressing. This tool is extremely effective for project planning. Combined with this, we shall use Huddle to share documents with partners online, and structure a document system that is effective for the project. Using Huddle means that all partners will have access to documents at all stages of the project and be fully engaged.
In East Sussex, we also have many cross-county partnerships such as the East Sussex Strategic Partnership and Local Strategic Partnerships. These partnerships combine together to help achieve a set of specific goals to increase quality of life in the East Sussex area. The three partners for this project are familiar with partnership working at a strategic and local level and can draw on existing mechanisms to ensure effective and efficient collaborative working. This proposed research project will require extensive cross-sector collaboration, and this is also something we have a large amount of experience with. Across East Sussex we consistently have organisations such as Sussex Police, Office of Police and Crime Commissioner, East Sussex Fire and Rescue, Public Health, Community and Voluntary sector organisations working together cohesively.
Each partner has a large amount of experience working with the other partners involved in this project, so we shouldn’t have any issues regarding effective collaboration. We will make sure to meet regularly and make sure that all voices are being heard when it comes to decision making processes. We are lucky for the three councils involved to be in close proximity, so meeting physically shouldn’t be an issue, but if it is, then there are many phone and/or video call resources that can be used to make these meetings happen.
It may be useful to get some training from the Local Digital Collaboration Unit, as this style of digital project is new to us, across all partners, and we want to make sure our officers are able to manage this kind of research project to the best of their abilities.