Youth advice & counselling services “at sharp end” of supporting older teenagers

Accessible voluntary sector model trusted by young people to provide effective long-term support

An analysis of data from the Right 2B Safe project – a two year Department for Education-funded project managed by Youth Access – shows that only a quarter of young people supported by local Youth Information, Advice and Counselling Services (YIACS) with issues ranging from sexual exploitation and abuse to domestic violence and self-harm were previously in touch with Social Services.

The project reached over a thousand young people, mainly aged 13 to 19, who were at risk of harm. Many were experiencing serious and multiple safeguarding issues. The most common problems self-reported by young people on initial presentation were self-harm, mental health problems, domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Many of the young people had also experienced emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, as well as neglect and sexual violence. The project specifically identified young people who were assessed as at high risk due to caring responsibilities or homelessness.

Only a minority of young people were in touch with statutory Children’s Services before reaching a YIACS service. Interestingly, most of the young people (82%) were living in the family home at time of presentation, highlighting the extent of risks in the community. The project also found itself supporting many young people whose online behaviours were making them vulnerable to older males.

The YIACS offered flexible, ongoing support and therapeutic interventions that aren’t generally available through statutory safeguarding services – with impressive results. For example, 70% of those young people who reported self-harming at first contact reported a reduction in their self-harming behaviour as a result of the support they received.

Social workers, CAMHS staff and managers who were interviewed valued YIACS’ “forward thinking” and “grass roots knowledge” of young people and considered voluntary sector YIACS to be “at the sharp end” when it comes to protecting older teenagers, who are often not reached by statutory services. The project highlighted the need for closer working between the voluntary sector and statutory services.

Barbara Rayment, Director of Youth Access, says:

“The child protection system is failing to protect older teenagers. YIACS are seen by many vulnerable young people as trustworthy and accessible sources of support. Importantly, they offer open access non-stigmatising drop-in services to which young people can self-refer. They can also offer longer-term and more in-depth interventions and broker access to statutory safeguarding services when needed.

“YIACS have been recognised recently by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Taskforce as key services in the mental health field. The Right 2B Safe project has shown just how close the links are between mental health problems and safeguarding issues and the importance of responding to highly vulnerable young people through more integrated service models. YIACS should be viewed more consistently by Children’s Services as important partners – and funded appropriately.”



1. Right 2B Safe project

Funded by the Department for Education from April 2013 to March 2015 under its National Prospectus Grants Programme, Right 2B Safe was a project led by Youth Access with three delivery partners: No Limits (Southampton/Hampshire), Off Centre (Hackney) and The Market Place (Leeds).

The project set out to:

  • Improve identification and risk assessment of young people aged 13-19 at risk
  • Increase access to appropriate and relevant help
  • Improve trust and confidence in YIACS’ contribution to local child protection and safeguarding strategies, and their potential to reduce pressures on statutory services

The project focussed on intervening early on behalf of teenagers who were either at high risk or already victims of sexual abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, self-harm, violence and homelessness. The delivery partners – all longstanding and locally respected YIACS – implemented programmes of early identification, intervention and prevention targeted at young people at risk and developed their partnerships with local statutory services. A mix of interventions were offered, including one to one counselling and therapeutic group work, as well as advice and support through drop-in services.

2. Project partners

Youth Access is the national membership association for a network of 175 youth information, advice and counselling services (YIACS) across the UK dealing with over one million enquiries a year on issues as diverse as sexual health, mental health, relationships, homelessness, benefits and debt.

Off Centre, established in 1974, provides psychotherapeutic, psychosocial and advice services for young people in the London borough of Hackney. Its holistic service model is very much in line with Youth Access' evidence-based YIACS model. Off Centre’s services are a unique support mechanism locally for young people who engage with the service to deal with difficult life changes and issues. Each year Off Centre provides support sessions to over 2,500 young people who live, work or study in the borough of Hackney.

The Market Place project for young people has been established in Leeds since 1989. The Market Place is a respected provider of young people’s counselling, Youth Work and support services and is a front-runner in the development of early intervention youth services, particularly in relation to meeting young people’s mental health, sexual health and crisis support needs. It is city centre-based and provides a city-wide service; young people aged 13-25 from all over Leeds access the service.

No Limits is a charity that offers information, advice, counselling, advocacy and support for young people under 26 living in Southampton and Hampshire.  Each year they help nearly 5,000 children and young people to help themselves and make informed decisions about their lives.

3. Reports

Youth Access is today publishing two reports:

  • The profile of young people using the Right 2B Safe project in 2013-2015 – this report provides details of the young people taking up services, the range of presenting issues and risk factors, and the outcomes achieved with those young people.
  • ‘Right 2B Safe’ Project Evaluation – this independent evaluation report, written by Dr Ann Hagell in association with Dr Debi Roker, considers the wider achievements of the project.

4. Further information

For further information and access to interviewees, please contact:

James Kenrick –; 020 8772 9900 ext. 25 / 07535 344881