The national second-chance education system is seeing very high, and increasing levels of emotional, psychological or mental health difficulties among young people. A major piece of research estimates that four in 10 learners at Youthreach have such difficulties.
Staff at Youthreach centres described a change in profile of learners, from one with predominantly disadvantaged backgrounds to one with increasing numbers of mental health difficulties. The study, Evaluation of the National Youthreach Programme, conducted by the ESRI, concluded that while the cost of the programme was relatively high, it represented “value for money” for the State.
The Youthreach Programme, set up in 1989, provides a second-chance education for young people who have left mainstream second-level schools before Leaving Cert level. In 2017, 11,104 young people, aged between 15-20, took part in the programme, at a cost of €98.7 million.
The programme runs in two settings, in Youthreach Centres and Community Training Centres. The study said there had been a “remarkable decline” in the prevalence of early school leaving and that the group entering Youthreach had become “more marginalised” over time.
It said managers of the centres report “very high” rates of emotional, psychological or mental health (EPMH) difficulties, with around “four in 10” young people having such difficulties. In addition, around one in four had a learning difficulty.
One in seven learners had committed a criminal offence and 8% were lone parents. One in six were Travellers — hugely disproportionate to their makeup in wider society (1%) — with many of them having “very low levels of literacy and numeracy skills”.
Substance use, either by the young person or a family member, was reported in at least a quarter of learners, with a similar number experiencing trauma. The report found negative teacher and peer relationships was a “significant influence” on early school leaving.
Assessing Youthreach, the study said: “The study findings indicate that the programme works well in re-engaging young people with complex needs, providing them with a positive experience of teaching and learning, fostering personal and social skill development, and equipping many with certification to access further education, training and employment options.”
It said that around 45% of those who completed their programme went on to another education or training course, with a similar number going straight into the labour market.
It said the relatively high costs of Youthreach had to be balanced against the personal and societal costs of early school leaving, which included a greater risk of unemployment, lower income, and higher rates of poverty.
It added: “Crime rates are found to be consistently higher among early leavers, with the cost of a prison place much more expensive than second-chance or alternative education provision.”
The report said: “Investment in second-chance education for vulnerable young people represents value for money for the State.”