A WEST Belfast MLA has called for the reinstatement of a youth programme that had been credited with reducing anti-social behaviour.

The West Belfast Detached Youth Work Team also kept local young people safe and promoted positive cross-community relations. However, in 2023 the scheme lost vital funding.

West Belfast MLA Danny Baker said the establishment of the team in April 2021 made a significant impact on the lives of the most vulnerable young people, who spend a lot of their time socialising in public spaces and on the streets.

"The West Belfast Detached Youth Work Team helped to ensure that areas of need had staff allocated, that hot spots were covered effectively, rotas were organised and communication structures were put in place," said the Sinn Féin man. "The team did this in conjunction with approximately 15 youth work staff across West Belfast, maximising the use of resources available and successfully planning interventions around key events and key periods of vulnerability, such as Féile, Halloween and Easter.

"However, savage Tory cuts have stripped vital funds away from our most deprived communities, including funding for the West Belfast Detached Youth Work Team.  As a result, on 31st March 2023, the team ceased operations.

"In the period since, we have seen an increase in anti-social behaviour, an increase in intra and inter-community violence, damage to community resources and a reversal of multi-disciplinary collaboration.

"It is therefore vital that this funding is reinstated urgently, for youth work to be properly funded and for our most vulnerable young people to be fully supported. Funding services like this is an investment in the well-being of our youth and the future prosperity of West Belfast.  

"It is time for the Minister of Education to provide the support this crucial programme needs and the many others that transform young lives through education, mentorship and community engagement."