Youth Justice Sport Fund Programme Harnesses Sport to Empower At-Risk Young People

A £5 million programme funded by the Ministry of Justice has been proven to effectively support young people at risk of falling into the criminal justice system.

The Youth Justice Sport Fund was established to utilise sport as a powerful tool to engage at-risk young people, diverting them from crime and antisocial behaviour. Launched in December 2022, the programme allocated £5 million across 220 trusted community organisations nationwide. Now, the evaluation report has proved the programme a success, providing evidence that shows the programme effectively engaged at risk young people and helped to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

The fund managed by StreetGames, with support from the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice and the Sport for Development Coalition is the first of its kind delivered by the Ministry of Justice, and forms part of the government’s wider £300m investment into youth justice services over the next three years.

With the publication of the Youth Justice Sport Fund evaluation report, there are fresh calls for even greater use of innovative sports-based early intervention approaches for young people in a way that can help prevent the cycle of offending, minimise the long-term impact of criminal behaviour and support young people to find positive pathways. The report highlights that sport, when provided in a safe, supportive environment, gives young people a sense of belonging, and exposes them to a diverse array of positive role models.

The programme successfully engaged over 7,800 young people, with 82% of them coming from 40% most deprived areas, providing them with structured sports activities and additional personal development opportunities.

77 of the 220 participating organisations had an annual turnover of less than £100,000 and 63% of the hours delivered by participating organisations were dedicated to mentoring and other ‘sport plus’ activities that help delivery staff build a strong rapport with young people and accelerate their personal development.

The report goes on to make a number of recommendations including –

  1. Learn from the successful delivery of the YJSF programme, particularly the Consortium approach and support provided by StreetGames, to effectively engage vulnerable youth in sport and sport-plus projects.
  2. Base future investment decisions on principles of trust, collaboration, and high expectations, considering organisations’ ability to meet expectations, provide monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) data, and engage young people with secondary-level needs.
  3. Recognise and involve young people in the programme by celebrating their participation and providing opportunities for their formal engagement in evaluation and decision-making processes for future programs.
  4. Support project flexibility in designing and adapting initiatives to suit the specific needs of targeted young people while upholding the principles of the StreetGames Theory of Change.
  5. Maintain and leverage regional and national networks established through the programme to facilitate effective sharing of best practices and ongoing relationships.

Alan Webster, Deputy Director for Youth Justice, Ministry of Justice said: “Prevention is the principal aim of the youth justice system, and we know the impact that physical activity can have in helping people make more positive choices in their lives. That’s why we created the Youth Justice Sport Fund, the first time Government has invested in sports as a diversionary route for children and young people at this scale and we are incredibly proud of the fund and its achievements. Almost 8,000 children have accessed activities that may not have been available to them, learning new skills and gaining qualifications along the way. We will continue to explore innovative ways sports can be used to support children at risk of being involved in crime and anti-social behaviour”.

Mark Lawrie, CEO of StreetGames said: “Through the Youth Justice Sport Fund, we have witnessed the powerful impact of investing in sport to support vulnerable young people, reducing their risk of involvement in crime and victimisation and helping them to develop a pro-social identity. It is crucial to intervene early and engage at-risk youth to prevent them entering a cycle of offending behaviour and to support them to make positive life choices. . The success of the programme was rooted in the collaborative efforts between national and local sport sector organisations and national and local criminal justice partners, emphasising the immense potential for future collaborations across sectors.”

Hitesh Patel, Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition, added: “The Sport for Development Coalition thanks the Ministry of Justice, StreetGames, the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, and of course the 220 community-based organisations who united to deliver the Youth Justice Sport Fund so effectively across England and Wales.

This report provides powerful evidence of the value of investing in proven sports-based early intervention schemes. This can achieve a significant impact across multiple policy priorities for the Government, which in turn can help to save public costs in the long term – as demonstrated by the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework.

Ahead of the publication of a new nationwide sports strategy, we encourage all arms of Government to collaborate with the Coalition and its partners to deliver effective early-intervention schemes that could help lighten the load on the public purse.”

James Mapstone, CEO of the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice said: “It was a pleasure to work alongside StreetGames, the Sport for Development Coalition and other partners and we are delighted that project has resulted in such positive outcomes for young people and the community sport organisations who support them.

The Alliance of Sport’s purpose is to build a better and safer society through the effective use of sport and physical activity, so we are delighted that this project has been able to strengthen the evidence base and advance the case for sport’s role in crime prevention.”

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