A national leader of the YMCA has called on the government to invest more in youth projects to avoid crime down the line and help desperate families as the long summer holidays loom.
The Christian organisation is set to continue their summer activities to entertain and feed young people and children, particularly from struggling families.
Richard James has urged churches to rally around their communities and offer similar initiatives for the children in their parishes.
Experts foresee a difficult summer for families struggling with the cost of living crisis, as children will no longer benefit from free school lunches, leaving the pressure to provide additional, nutritious meals squarely on the shoulders of parents.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, James says he’s seen a noticeable difference in children's experiences using the YMCA’s summer services in recent years.
He said: “It feels like every year is another challenge.
“I think what we've seen is almost like a PTSD that's come out of those experiences year on year. Those young people that were out of school, or kept out of learning environments, or kept away from exams, who then are kind of facing the economic challenges at the moment, who maybe have lost their loved ones.
“It’s been an opportunity, therefore, to reset in terms of the programmes that we run.
“So we certainly saw back into 2019/2020, there a group of young people that got older and moved on, and now we've got this new group of younger people who are coming through and we have to deal with the legacy of what they've experienced over the last few years, and allow them to rebuild those relationships to build that confidence, that mental health and resilience.”
James has called for the government to invest more in local authorities, specifically enabling youth projects.
He continued: “In some boroughs where we work, they've got a budget of zero pounds per young person per head.
“If we are proactive in running those activities and programmes, we address the problems of mental health further down the line, we address the problems of gang violence and young people being drawn to distractions, and county lines and all those kinds of things.
“So investing now proactively running positive programmes, engaging people that help them overcome the challenges they've really traumatic experiences in the last few years, is really important.
“So rather than rely on organisations like the YMCA, where we have to fundraise and run activities to fund these programmes, I think they should be centrally funded.”
In 2020, YMCA England reported a billion-pound decline in the amount of funding afforded to youth services by local authorities across England and Wales, with a real-terms decline of 70 per cent since 2010.