A new report shows that the Youthreach programme has helped early school-leavers to either progress onto other forms of education or get a job and is a factor in diverting some people from substance abuse and crime.
A study by the Economic and Social Research Institute looked at the scheme, first set up in 1989, and found that two-thirds of those who began Youthreach completed the programme.
Of that group, 45% went on to another education or training course and 28% went straight into employment.
It said that one-in-six of those who complete the programme were unemployed afterwards, but that this still compares favourably with unemployment levels for the overall group of people who leave school early.
The research was led by Emer Smyth, research professor at the ESRI, and funded by SOLAS.
Youthreach is provided in 112 Youthreach centres and 35 Community Training Centres (CTCs) nationally, with 11,104 learners taking part in the programme in 2017, with a total cost that year of €98.7m.
According to the report, there has been a notable decline in early school leaving in Ireland over the last decade, "resulting in the early leaver group becoming more marginalised and presenting with greater levels of need".
"The findings show that among early leavers, there is an over-representation of young people from jobless households and from a Traveller background compared to the general population.
"There has been an increase in the prevalence of mental health difficulties among this group, with many young people entering the Youthreach programme having experienced trauma (adverse childhood experiences), and often substance abuse issues (themselves or a family member), and involvement in anti-social behaviour or crime," it said.
Research funded by @SOLASFET finds #Youthreach helps young people who leave school early to have a positive experience of teaching and learning and offers the opportunity to access further education, training and employment https://t.co/Gi3B5X40ZP #ESRIpublications pic.twitter.com/nYL0FW9Gar— ESRI Dublin (@ESRIDublin) June 17, 2019
The report said this had implications for those resourcing and providing the programme, and that some people from a migrant background may be unaware of Youthreach.
The report also argued that Youthreach has a broader positive impact: "Early school leavers are more likely to be unemployed and to spend longer in unemployment; they are more likely to be lone parents; have poorer physical and mental health; and are more likely to be involved in crime.
These outcomes involve significant costs for individuals in the form of higher levels of poverty and deprivation and poorer wellbeing. They involve very significant societal costs in terms of welfare expenditure, income tax foregone, health expenditure and the costs of prisons.
It added that "investment in second-chance education for vulnerable young people represents value for money for the State".
The study highlighted some difficulties with the programme, such as significant geographical variability in the location of centres, variations in how the programme is resourced, the quality of physical facilities, and in the type of courses offered.
It also said that "contracts for some staff have led to recruitment and retention difficulties with implications for staff morale and continuity of support for learners".
Andrew Brownlee, executive director at SOLAS, said: “Among the present generation of early leavers, we are seeing an increase in the complexities of their needs – whether they have mental health issues, come from migrant backgrounds so may not have English as a first language or have faced discrimination, or have previously engaged in anti-social behaviour.”