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Youth programme working well: report

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 05:00 03/07/2014

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The Government's flagship youth welfare programme is making significant inroads toward lifting educational achievement, a new report has found.

The best results were achieved when teens on the Ministry of Social Development's youth services programme achieved NCEA level two in their first 12 months.

The numbers were not so good when the 16 and 17-year-olds were trying to achieve that level after being enrolled for longer than a year.

The programme involves providers working directly with about 3000 young people who are on benefits, or unemployed and not receiving any education or training.

Among its goals is for youth to "not be on a benefit or receive a custodial sentence" for three months after the end of their school year or training course.

The young people involved must participate in education, training or work-based learning and budgeting, and are given little control their benefit.

The ministry will release its first evaluation of the programme today. An early copy shows two-thirds of the teens had made marked strides in education, leaving school with at least a NCEA level two qualification.

It also reported a reduced risk of long-term benefit dependency among participants.

It follows a report released by the ministry last week, which showed 16 and 17-year-olds on a benefit accounted for 70 per cent of the ministry's future welfare liability.

By June 30 last year, that welfare liability was $76.5 billion, $7.4b lower than forecast, with $4.4b of the savings directly related to the reforms.

As of May this year, 45.8 per cent of young people who left the programme were not on a benefit three months later. Fewer young parents were also on a benefit; from about 4800 in December 2009 to 2600 in May this year.

It was too soon to see how teen parents were faring under the programme longer term, but Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said results were promising.

A "vital" part of the programme was catching teens before they went into a government department to ask for financial support.

"But we've got so many more challenges. Our challenge will be whether we can keep them off benefits. What is surprising is how many people move on and off benefit," she said.

"I think the challenge is, and we've identified it with these youth, are we setting them up well enough that when we next have an economic downturn and times are tough, that they are still connected to the workforce."

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- The Dominion Post

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