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Anti-social behaviour fears if cuts go ahead

BACKING YOUTH WORKERS: Sinn Féin councillors Tina Black, Ronan McLaughlin (left) and Michael Donnelly BACKING YOUTH WORKERS: Sinn Féin councillors Tina Black, Ronan McLaughlin (left) and Michael Donnelly
By Michael Jackson

SEVERAL local councillors have warned that cuts to youth outreach workers could cause further issues of anti-social behaviour throughout West Belfast.

Youth attachment workers at St Peter’s Youth Club, Holy Trinity Youth Club, and St Teresa’s Youth Club are at risk of losing their jobs when funding from the Education Authority (EA) runs out on August 31.

Six West Belfast jobs are currently funded through an EA pilot project aimed at engaging with young people to keep them safe and to prevent antisocial behaviour. However, the EA has yet to announce plans to fund the project beyond the summer.

Commenting on the cuts, Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Donnelly said: “The work carried out by these outreach attach workers has been invaluable in each of our localities. They have had an amazing impact around the Lower Falls, particularly around the Dunville Park where they have been engaging with young people. It has also been invaluable in dealing with whole issues around transient youth in the Falls Park and City Cemetery.

“These youth workers are keeping young people safe, but what happens come the 1st of September? Without these youth providers in place, how do we deal with these issues? The last thing we want to do is criminalise our young people. These youth providers are the soft approach. To remove that is uncalled for. We’re calling for further investment, not just the pilot scheme to be extended.”

Party colleague, Cllr Ronan McLaughlin said: “We’re going to meet a cliff edge come the 31st of August, and we’ll start to see youths gathering around the parks and city cemetery again.

“We met the EA last week and just pressed home the case that we need a retention of funding. I’ve spoken to the PSNI Inspector Gary Reid, and Translink, who are all writing letters of support because they believe it is an invaluable service.”

Fellow Sinn Féin Councillor Tina Black has said that the cuts to outreach workers would be further exacerbated by a lack of funding for other core youth projects.

“There are other youth projects, which aren’t formal Education Authority youth settings, like the Divis Youth Project and Grosvenor Community Centre, and they receive the minster’s extended fund, which finishes on the 31st as well,” she said.

“Not only won’t we have this additional layer of youth outreach workers, but we don’t even have the core layer.

“There is a very reactionary approach to everything. If there is an issue, they give extra resources on a short-term basis, but the youth sector is often the poor cousin and it is never viewed as the crucial service that it is.

“We also need to make sure that we are sustaining young people coming into it as a profession because you don’t want it becoming irrelevant to young people.

“The outreach workers are genuinely working out of hours and they are all of a certain age, so they are relevant to the young people they are approaching. If we lose that then I honestly don’t know who is going to bridge that gap.

“When you haven’t got the core infrastructure in place, you’re in devastation mode.”

Daily Belfast has contacted The Education Authority and is awaiting a response.

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