OPINION: Thinkpiece - YMCA can help fill the gaps in youth services

David Borrow MP was seconded to the YMCA for 10 days and visited projects across the country to see the work it was doing with young offenders. In exchange, his voluntary sector mentor will be spending at least three days shadowing him in the House of Commons and on constituency business.

My secondment to the YMCA was the first one the organisation had dealt with. I focused on various programmes working with young offenders or young people at risk of offending who had served custodial sentences.

I visited a number of schemes in Lancaster, Romford, Bolton and Liverpool including a foyer-based project in Runcorn helping young people, some of whom had served custodial sentences. The Lancaster Farms Young Offenders Institution works to build a rapport with young people in a way which the prison officers find impossible.

My visit to the Lancaster YMCA concentrated on the work undertaken by former prisoners as they rebuilt their lives in the community. I also visited a variety of schemes in Romford, Bolton, Liverpool, North Shields and Herrington Burn, near Sunderland. Many of the YMCA projects are targeted at young people who have been in trouble, but so far avoided custodial sentences.

For some young people, providing somewhere to live was the first essential step and I was able to see the accommodation provided in Romford and Liverpool. Others focus on giving young people an alternative lifestyle, which helps to increase self-esteem and self-confidence.

Each local YMCA is different and has its own focus and set of priorities.

In many there is a sense of renewal as new priorities are identified.

This can lead to services being closed and new ones established. I was encouraged by the willingness of local leaders to find new roles for the YMCA.

Organisations such as the YMCA can deliver programmes to young people that the Government will find impossible. With the best will in the world any government organisation would find it difficult to get the trust of young offenders. The YMCA, on the other hand, has a degree of independence, which allows it to work effectively with young people.

Through my experience with the YMCA, I have learned a great deal about the work of the voluntary sector and working with young offenders and I hope to continue the link with the YMCA.

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