David Gold, Prospectus CEO, interviews Jane Slowey (CEO) and Steve Hillman (Director of Policy and Impact) of the Foyer Federation on Advantaged Thinking, what it means to them and what it means in practice.
SH – The essence is to start with what people are rather than what they are not. It is an asset-based approach to what people can bring and contribute, rather than a focus on issues or difficulties which can delimit solutions. It is surprising how that deficit can permeate into people’s vision of themselves. For example, for local authorities running NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) reduction programmes, the starting point always seems to be negative rather than positive.
JS – For me, Advantaged Thinking is the lens of what can be. This can be really important for people who for a long time have been defined in the negative within circumstances beyond their control. Local authorities and funders can be guilty of talking in that same language and framing funding programmes in the negative. Similar to local authorities some funders can talk in the same language of NEET reduction programmes.
JS – Absolutely not - it’s about changing the system.
SH – It’s about developing an asset-based approach to take young people through to adulthood. If you look at today’s young people, 10% of the youth cohort remains NEET. We need to take collective responsibility for that 10% and do something, otherwise it will be such a waste of talent in those young people.
SH – The catalyst was identifying and naming Disadvantaged Thinking; the dawning realisation that so many are seen through the lens of disadvantage, and therefore the solutions available become limited because of that label. For example, care leavers are always seen as having low levels of education. As a care leaver if you only get one GCSE there can be an acceptance amongst frontline staff that that is okay.
JS – It is about social justice for me. It feels as though we value some young people more than others. If a young person grows up in a supportive family, as they grow up, there will be a positive conversation about what they are good at and how best to invest in their talent and potential. For some young people, including those for whom we are the corporate parents, the dialogue tends to be much more focused on problems and deficits. Surely we should have the same aspirations and make positive investments in all young people, including the 10% Steve mentioned earlier? By not doing that, we limit the future for them and for society.
SH – Another example is the transition to adulthood within the Higher Education paradigm. At the point of entry for young people going into Higher Education there is an investment in talent through having all of the core needs met, be it accommodation, medical or social. If you compare the offer to care leavers or community justice programmes is there an equivalent offer? By comparison, there does not seem to be an equivalent offer for care leavers or community justice programmes.
JS – All of us should be. How can you go on with a system that delivers an inadequate service offering to young people, chucks them out and therefore makes them more likely to reappear in crisis? That crisis then impacts on the long term sustainability of those services.
JS – A good reason is financial and the current cost of public services. One of the problems of the moment is how policy is made and how services are commissioned. Making a real investment in young people would have a positive financial impact in the long term and Advantaged Thinking can also empower Housing Associations to create a better offer for young people whether they live in supported or general needs housing.
JS – For Housing Associations, investing in Advantaged Thinking means long term owner occupiers and good tenants.
SH – That is a good incentive for Housing Associations, but remember that young people are 100% our future – why would you not be interested?!
SH – It would be different for everyone, but predominantly meeting like-minded individuals and organisations. It’s a journey for all and we wouldn’t claim to own it, but we do believe that it is present in all places.
SH – It would be a journey exploring the seven tests of Advantaged Thinking and developing an understanding of young people in that frame: what does it mean to invest, engage and challenge young people.
JS – Organisations and individuals will have the opportunity to engage with like-minded organisations who are open to change and want a safe space in which to challenge themselves and others. For example, we are planning to explore what Advantaged Thinking means for funders and fundraising which often involves painting young people as problems or victims. We want to see how questions and responses can be reframed to start with the positive.
SH – that was a picture my daughter took of me at her birthday party. We went on a survival skills workshop and had to paint a tribal pattern!
JS – mine was of a Venetian mask that I bought from the same shop that features in the film Eyes Wide Shut. I like it because masks can reflect the different roles we play and parts we may choose not to tell. A label is as fixed as a mask - we don’t have to conform to what is put on us!