Home > Youth programmes reviewed.

Keane, Martin (2015) Youth programmes reviewed. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 53, Spring 2015, pp. 18-19.

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The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) has published its review of three youth programmes: the Special Projects for Youth (SPY), the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund (YPFSF) and the Local Drugs Task Force (LDTF) projects.1 The review was undertaken as a value-for-money and policy review (VFMPR) to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the three programmes. This article summarises the key messages from the review.


Review method and rationale

The reviewers collected data via site-based interviews with front-line staff and young people, interviews with the Youth Affairs Unit of the DCYA, a survey of all youth programme providers, an analysis of high-level statistical data, a review of administrative data and a literature review.


The three programmes under review target ‘at-risk’ young people who are disadvantaged in different ways, with some experiencing multiple disadvantages. The programmes generally target 10–21-year-olds in areas characterised by problem drug use, educational disadvantage, criminal activity, unemployment and homelessness. The review notes that there are indications in the available national data that, overall, drug use, youth crime and youth homelessness have declined while unemployment and poverty rates among young people of working age have increased. The review points out that students attending ‘DEIS schools’2 continue to experience higher levels of non-attendance, suspensions and expulsions compared to students in non-DEIS schools and the gap is widening. Furthermore, the review notes that young people with lower levels of education are more likely to be unemployed. Based on these factors and the expected increase in the overall youth population, the review suggests that ‘…there remains a valid rationale for the provision of youth programmes for young people who are disadvantaged…’ (p. 67).


Governance arrangements

Based on an analysis of the data collected, the authors of the review question the capacity of the current governance arrangements to adequately fulfil their purpose which is defined as the ‘…means to effectively and efficiently implement intended policy objectives within established rules...’ (p. 51).  In particular, the review highlights the poor quality of data submitted by programme providers, which made it difficult for those with governance responsibilities to make judgements regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the programmes.



The review notes that efforts to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the efficiency of the programmes were hampered by reliance on a small sample of service providers to estimate salary costs, staff numbers, average daily and annual participant numbers and unit costs. The review reports that total expenditure on the programmes declined by approximately 16% between 2010 and 2012.



One of the terms of reference of the review was to examine the extent to which the youth programmes’ objectives had been achieved and to comment on their effectiveness. From the review of the international literature, seven ‘potent programme outcomes’ were identified:

  • communication skills,
  • confidence and agency,
  • planning and problem-solving,
  • relationships,
  • creativity and imagination,
  • resilience and determination, and
  • emotional intelligence.

The evidence suggests that these outcomes are associated with improvements for the young people targeted by the programmes, e.g. getting a job, completing college or giving up using drugs.


These seven outcomes were used to retrospectively examine local practice in 13 sample sites, with data being collected via the survey to programme providers, interviews with front-line staff and young people and a review of administrative data related to the programmes.


The review found ‘evidence of “presence” of these seven mechanisms that were (a) intentionally and consciously applied by professionals in pursuit of beneficial outcomes, and (b) experienced by young people’ (p. 111). However, the authors comment that this evidence from selected sites fell far short of confirming that outcome-focused practice is being routinely adopted.   


Continued relevance

The review reports that there is a ‘fit’ between the three targeted youth programmes and current DYCA strategy. The authors conclude that ‘these programmes can make a difference [and] can provide a significant contribution to improving outcomes for the young people involved and should be considered for public funding…’ (p. 126). However, they go on to say that the ‘programmes and performance governance arrangements require significant reform… [relating] to the development of a robust performance evaluation framework to inform the way that the DCYA offers incentives for high programme performance and issues sanctions for poor programme performance’ (p. 126). (Martin Keane)


  1. Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2014) Value for money and policy review of the youth programmes that target disadvantaged young people. Dublin: Government Publications. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/23242/
  2. The DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme is the Department of Education and Skills' policy instrument to address educational disadvantage. Currently 849 schools are included in the DEIS programme.

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