The Neglect of Youth
A Paper on the Need for Leisure Provisions for Young People on the Island of Jersey
There are glaring deficiencies in addressing the youth of the Island of Jersey. Little provision is made for young people aged between 12 and 17, as they are barred from many adult premises until 18 years old. But this is overlooked; all that is seen is youth violence, disturbances, crime, drink and drug abuse and social unrest, and how to deal with that.
In one sense this is correct. As an article in New Statesman (1) points out, "crime is very significantly a youth activity. We know that a half of all young men and a third of young women between 14 and 25 admit to having committed a crime. The Audit Commission last November estimated that under-18s committed 28 million offences a year against individuals, retailers and manufacturers". The figures for Jersey will be less, but the proportion of youthful offenders is likely to be the same.
The general public notice this, as they notice the large numbers of youth of the Island hanging around public places, involved in disturbances, and they are usually dismissive of any absence of alternatives. "When we were young, we used to amuse ourselves" is the most common and clichéd reaction, failing to address the realities of the much larger youth population, and the loss of more traditional centres of activity (2). The general public need re-education into the needs of the youth.
So part of the problem is surely the neglect of the youth, and the inadequacy of any decent provision for them. It is instructive, in this respect, to consider the French approaches. This paper sets out to examine in more detail what we can learn from those cultures, and how this could be applicable to Jersey.
Discussion 1: French Approaches
The French crime prevention programme is centered on two principles:
"Firstly, in simple economic terms, it is cheaper to invest in prevention than to pay for police and court time, secure accommodation for young offenders and expensive medical treatment for addicts and alcoholics. Secondly, the state has a vested interest in the young and a duty to protect them."(3)
A radical rethink was forced upon the French authorities after serious violence erupted in parts of Lyon and Marseille in the summer of 1981. This was addressed by the publication of the Bonnemaison Report which gave rise to two responses:
- "The immediate response was the introduction of a major programme of summer camps and activities (the été-jeunes programmes) for young people in urban areas
- The longer-term response of the government was to set up an inter-departmental commission to find solutions to the underlying problems of unemployment and the social isolation of young people"(4)
The important principle that guides the été-jeunes activities is that they should, as far as possible, respond to the interests and wishes of young people themselves rather than being imposed upon them.
That is not to say that sport and recreational facilities are not provided for summer activities, but there are a wide variety, and the use of a 'summer activities passport' enables young people to choose for themselves, and this is logged and used for the future redirection of resources.
Lastly, and of equal significance for Jersey, the été-jeunes programmes "have played an important part in 'penetrating' immigrant populations without threatening their cultural and religious identity and integrity".(7)
For the longer term measures, feedback from the young people is also sought and they are encouraged to develop initiatives themselves. To give an example, among the projects proposed by young people themselves were a multi-racial theatre workshop, a series of monthly boums (teen-age dance parties), the creation of a sports club, a camping holiday and a study holiday. Not all of these would be appropriate economically or logistically for a small Island like Jersey, but the same emphasis should be on facilitating and rewarding initiative rather than stifling it, of getting the young people themselves to develop ways of overcoming obstacles to their ideas.
Two examples are worth noting:
In Les Moulins, where there is alcoholism and a general lack of facilities, young people have been helped by grants with their own proposal of a non-alcoholic cafe. This not only provides employment and skills training, but is also a meeting place for young people, and "a venue for musical events, video screening and photographic exhibitions"(5). It might also contribute to the prevention of alcohol-related disturbances.
The Metro station 'Place Rihour' in the city centre, and the surrounding square was a meeting place for young 'drifters', many of whom spent the entire day hanging around the Metro entrance. Whilst there was little evidence that they engaged in serious criminal activities (other than a few involved in drug dealing), their presence was generally perceived as threatening, particularly by the elderly." A project to deal with this took the form of a video drama, which was written and performed by those who hung around the Place Rihour almost permanently it was directed by a professional theatre director. "It was an imaginative and original response which attempted to incorporate the apparent needs of these young people to exhibit themselves before an audience and find a legitimate avenue for the expression of their 'outlandish' and often disturbing behaviour. By reconstructing the self-image of these young people and the image they present to others, the project facilitated the re-direction of their behaviour and their energies into constructive and legitimate channels that appealed to their own sense of what is meaningful and real."(6)
These are just a few of the examples of the imaginative responses and facilitation of the youth, but they demonstrate that things can be done, and the mindset that shoots ideas down in flames (on grounds of cost, logistics etc) needs to be more open to trying to make things happen rather than just look for obstacles (7).
A possible opening in Jersey might be to open the Parish Halls as a meeting place for young people, and this is considered briefly in an appendix.
Discussion 2: Guiding Principles
In Germany, Peter Hubner has become well known as an architect behind several very successful youth club initiatives. It is worth considering his work, even if Jersey might not be able to fund a dedicated building, because of the principles which his approach reveals. He "organised brainstorming sessions with the local youth to gather their suggestions for the club"(8), and the facilities available and organisation therefore involved young people from the start.
We can take this is the key note for the guiding principles of youth facilities in Jersey - to listen to what young people want, and help them (by "brainstorming", for example) to think hard about what they want.
The other way of finding what is needed is to design a questionnaire, both multiple choice and open ended. This has the advantage of finding out initial expectations - Are young people prepared to take the initiative? How do they rate existing types of facilities (list)? Do they have access to them? How could they be improved? Would they be prepared to take responsibility on for an initiative? Both these kinds of questions, and more open-ended ones, in a fairly short questionnaire, can provide a useful demonstration of the need for better youth facilities, how they are best organised (co-responsibility). Most importantly, they provide a quantitative determination of the need which cannot be easily overlooked or dismissed.
In his conclusion to his report on crime prevention in France, Michael King notes that "the English approach to the is dependent upon it being able to demonstrate an immediate and identifiable impact upon levels of crime"(9). This is the reactive approach, which is like trying to put fires out when they have been lit. It is very much a short term approach, while in contrast, the French approach is to take the longer view. This takes longer to have an impact on society, but is none the less more effective. It is an approach in which "the best projects are those which emerge from the bottom up, involve local people and arise out of the identification of local needs. Ultimately, projects need to be developed in response to local conditions and by local people taking responsibility for their own actions. For young people, this is in itself the key to becoming fully responsible citizens."(10)
I think the time has come to take a fresh initiative for the youth of the island. There has been too widespread a neglect of youth, and if this manifests itself in crime, we have only ourselves to blame. Particular responsibility must, however, go to those in authority, who have the best opportunity both to see this and take action to remedy the situation.
If this was to be looked at as a parable, it would be like a story about roots and branches in a tree. Insufficient watering and neglect of the roots leads to problems with the branches, but to tackle the problems with the branches alone will not make a healthy tree; the only way to do that is to return to the roots.
If we are to build a just and responsible society, it is time we looked again at the youth of the island, and make sure we do not neglect or starve these roots.
(1) "Club 14-25 Seeks Minister" in the New Statesman. Volume: 126. Issue: 4330. (1997)
(2) For example, the Churches were more involved in youth culture, scouting and guides were more larger per head of population, Parish and farming events also played a part.
(3) "Crime Prevention in France", Journal article by Michael King; Canadian Journal of Criminology, Vol. 31, 1989
(4) Op. Cit.
(5) Op. Cit.
(6) Op. Cit.
(7) The problems of a closed mindset in finding opportunities to change are discussed very cogently in "20 Steps to Better Management" (1996)
(8) "Youthful Exuberance" by Peter Blundell Jones, "The Architectural Review", Volume: 196. Issue: 1170, 1994.
(9) "Crime Prevention in France"
(10) "Crime Prevention in France"
Appendix 1: Notes on Questionnaires
Questionnaires are fine as far as the Data Protection Law is concerned, as long as they don't have any personal identifiers (names, etc) on them.
The design of the questionnaire is important, and can be either open ended (i.e. people put what they want), or multiple choice (yes, no, undecided or choices and don't know, always important to allow a non-committal answer); these should be as unambiguous as possible. Usually you would have both, with a group (5-10) of multiple choice questions followed by a single "comment" question. The multiple choice questions are good because they lend themselves to easy statistical analysis (80% said ) which is more difficult to infer from open ended comment type questions, but those can reveal more important personal opinions which would otherwise be forgotten. The open ended questions are termed "non probabilistic sampling", and while they can be useful as a commentary on the multiple choice questions, alone they are not considered good statistical practice. Small scale interviews are also problematic in this regard, they can easily be dismissed as "anecdotal".
If possible the questionnaire should not be too long, say a page or a double sided page, so it is not too long to complete, especially if relying on goodwill of school staff.
It is important to know total numbers of possible respondents (i.e. pupils attending the school), so that the number of questionnaires can be given as a percentage against them. For various reasons, you will never get 100% response. However, if you can show the sample you have obtained is more or less representative of the whole (in terms of age, gender, school), it does not matter even if you only cover say 25%. What is to be avoided though is the voluntary entry and return of forms, which leads to bias (because of the non-returns).
While names are not included, such information as states/private/parish/age/male, female are useful in breaking down the data in different ways which can be informative. (Technically, this is known as stratification)
Collation of data can nowadays be done by spreadsheet for multiple choice questions. Usually these would be written up in a report with the "comments" providing a more detailed analysis of the data. The better this is done, the more credence it will have.
Ideally, a small sample questionnaire would be used in a pilot scheme, and any defects of this remedied in the full scale survey. The standard report takes the form: Overview, Data, Discussion, Conclusion, Recommendations. The Discussion area could also look at other countries (and also Guernsey would be useful as it is a similar sized Island to ours).
Appendix 2: Young People Meeting Place based on Parish Halls
This considers the suggestion that Parish Halls could be open to the youth. Some matters that must be considered are:
- What is the ratio of minimum adult supervision (on the premises) to young people going to be?
- Do health and safety requirements need a specific minimum?
- Who is going to ensure that too many people do not come to a Parish Hall (because of fire regulations, insurance)?
- What other locations are possible (you are very limited in St Helier, a heavily populated Parish, if all you are looking at is a Parish Hall)? Are any Church halls available?
- What facilities are going to be available?
- If there is equipment (disco, pool table, etc), how is it to be stored?
- If refreshments, where are these to be kept? Who will handle the finances? Will proper books be kept?
- How is alcohol and drug abuse to be monitored?