The Scale of Unmet but High Risk Needs amongst Young People

At the European Society for Prevention Research conference I was at last week the Social Research Unit presented some work they've been doing looking at the difference between need and what statutory services are provided for young people.

The data came from carrying out questionnaires with the whole adolescent population across three local authorities in Scotland. The questions came from adapting validated tools — things like the SDQ and the Communities that Care questionnaire — which were delivered on-line and carried out in school settings.

The young people in the high need group (the red circle) had 5 or more risks currently in their lives — things like substance misuse, being involved in crime, a high score on the SDQ, early sex, running away from home, and so on.

The dotted circle is the current group receiving targeted services.

The things that struck me were:

  • The consistency of the data across all three authorities.
  • The claims that Kids Company were making about the level of unmet need they saw (and which have been treated with some scepticism by the local authorities in the areas they were active) appear to be credible even if they couldn't/can’t evidence it as well as the Social Research Unit have been able to here.
  • How important credible data can be in helping local policy makers to understand the needs of their population.
  • But, that the choices facing local authorities if and when they get information like this are extremely difficult — do they move the dotted circle (and reduce services for those with 4 or fewer risks), take resources from upstream (treatment), keep going (and hope that people with unmet struggle by.

For those of us interested in making a case about prevention then this sort of data, alongside the Hard Edges report seems to offer some really important information that policy makers need to think through.