25 years of MAP: How young people’s needs have changed and yet stay the same

A Blog by MAP CEO Dan Mobbs

MAP turned 25 this year. Over the years some things have changed for us, and some have stayed the same. An obvious change is our size. We started with 3 staff and now have 75. What hasn’t changed is how amazing, dedicated and skilful they are. They are the best. In 1991 our purpose built young person’s drop-in centre in Norwich was opened. That hasn’t changed much at all. In fact it’s only had a new carpet in the last few years and a few licks of paint. However, it’s in great shape. This proved right our founders’ view that if you give young people a decent place and show them respect they will take care of it. What has changed is that it’s busier than ever. We have 30-50 young people through the door every day. We also now have a similar centre in Great Yarmouth, counselling centres in Attleborough, North Walsham and King’s Lynn; we work in 50 high schools and outreach to community centres, colleges and the street.

The needs of young people have also both changed and stayed the same. When it comes to mental health young people are feeling far more distressed than ever. Suicide is the most common cause of death for a young man. Self-harm, anxiety and depression are all too common.  The online world has meant that comments, bullying, harassment can be 24 hours a day. School curriculums are narrow and pressured. Constant pressure to look perfect, perform at school, be successful has never been greater. In 1991 there was no internet and no smartphones. Things have become more polarised between success and failure. Just look at images of young people: they’re either gorgeous happy clever young people jumping in the air or thuggish, angry young people smoking and drinking. The stigma of mental health remains, though we are talking about it a lot more. What hasn’t changed is the need for young person centred support, a positive therapeutic relationship; having someone on your side. Since day one we have worked to the highest standards of youth counselling, as set by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. This year we provided nearly 13,000 sessions of counselling around Norfolk. Our counsellors are brilliant.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the challenge of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Adolescence is a time of physical and emotional changes. Parents can’t always keep up and can struggle to develop a different kind of relationship with their young person. As Kahlil Gibram said nearly 100 years ago “you can give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts”. During this time young people can start to question their sexuality or gender. Attitudes have changed a lot. We are much more open about lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. MAP also now runs a support group for young people questioning their gender. We still have a long way to go in society to accept that for many young people gender is not simple.

Issues around drugs and alcohol have changed a lot. In 1991 if you bought a street drug like ecstasy you probably got what you paid for. Today you can never know. Last year two young people who had used our services died after taking a so called “legal high”. Friends of theirs got together to educate other young people about the risks – the fact that today street drugs can be anything and that you have no way of knowing what it is or how much to take. However, less young people are now taking drugs, smoking or drinking alcohol. This is good news. Policy makers usually take the credit but actually we need to celebrate young people making positive choices. Despite a downward trend, today 1 in 5 young people have tried illegal drugs before they are 16. And it is still a young person’s issue. The average age someone starts is 19 and stops is 26.

When it comes to housing and benefits things have drastically changed. In years gone by if a young person was homeless we could find them a private landlord who would take housing benefit. This no longer is an option. Private landlords don’t accept housing benefit. There are strict criteria for social housing. Many young people “sofa surf”, not knowing where they will be staying from one night to the next – often ending up in very vulnerable or exploitative situations.  In the last few years young people have come to us hungry. This never used to happen. We give out more food vouchers than anywhere else. We still work to high standards of advice, holding the Advice Quality Systems quality mark and being registered with the Financial Conduct Authority for debt advice. Our advisers are incredible. They will try to meet whatever need a young person comes to us with. No challenge is too big. We still campaign for basic rights for young people, such as food and housing. As for the benefits system, it hasn’t changed enough. It is still complicated and simply isn’t enough to live on. People often have to choose between food and warmth.

Helping young people find employment and training has been a big part of our work over the last 25 years.  What doesn’t change is young people’s aspirations. They remain high. In fact, the younger a person is the fewer limits they have to their aspirations. You can check this out. Children want to be anything from an astronaut to a zoo keeper. Something happens to limit this optimism. Unemployment is higher for young people than any other age. In 1991 unemployment was 10%. It is now half that at 5%. In 1991 youth unemployment was 15% but is now 14%. So despite overall unemployment falling by half youth unemployment has hardly changed. You have to wonder what is going on. We are failing our young people in Norfolk. This year we learnt that Norwich is the second worst place in the country for social mobility and Great Yarmouth the second worse place for learning skills.

Another massive change has been what support is available for young people. We have seen our local youth services closed, our Connexions services ended. We’ve seen college courses close, cuts to mental health provision. We’ve had huge rises in children going into care. MAP has responded to this by developing our own youth work services. In 1991 we had no youth workers and worked with the county council youth service. Now we employ a team of 16 professional youth workers. They provide mentoring, activities programmes and youth participation opportunities. We are the regional representative for the Centre for Youth Impact and have developed a national reputation for the quality of our work. Our youth workers are incredible.

Finally, what has not changed at all are our mission, values and vision. As a charity we will focus on these no matter what. We are professional and young person centred. We value each individual, recognising their holistic needs. We work for social justice. We provide advice, counselling and support. Our vision is that young be will feel valued and have a successful transition into adulthood. MAP is now 25. I think we have had a successful transition into adulthood but like all growing up it has not been without its challenges.

 

Dan Mobbs

December 2016