Youth policy is a crucial topic at EU level but the discourse about youth participation is often biased in favour of employment-related arguments at the expense of a more holistic perspective. The Convention was a chance to review young people’s social inclusion in the wider context of their pathways in life and to focus attention on vulnerable groups.

Two ESN members, from the Brighton and Hove City Council in the United Kingdom, and from the Community and Care Directorate from the City of Arad, Romania, presented good practices targeting secondary school students with a mental health problem and young care leavers. These practices reflect what ESN has repeatedly stressed about the importance of acknowledging the various barriers that vulnerable young people face to fully participate in society. In response to the European Pillar of Social Rights, ESN suggested different improvements such as a ‘care guarantee’ for young people leaving the child protection system.

Improving young care leavers’ transition into autonomy

Young people with public care backgrounds disproportionately face transitions into adulthood that are more abrupt and riskier than those of their peers. These transitions regularly lead to lower health and employment outcomes. Oana Parvulescu from the Community and Care Directorate of the City of Arad, Romania, presented on their local programme in social homes, which helps young people through education, training, and social support. In what is a milestone in the development of better services, the local authority has increased its housing capacity for care leavers, now offering nine places in individual appartments and eight appartments with three places. During the transition into independent acommodation, care leavers learn to handle personal budgets and to make autonomous decisions.

Addressing young people’s mental health in the school environment

Another group of vulnerable young people is secondary schools students dealing withfacing mental ill-health. Recent research has highlighted the particular dangers of mental ill-health at school age by underscoring that when mental health problems set in early, they tend to last longer and affect both educational attainment as well as the social relationships.

For this reason, various action frameworks target mental health in schools. At the Convention, ESN hosted a side-event in cooperation with EUROHEALTHNET and EUROCARERS, in which Regan Delf from Brighton and Hove City Council in the United Kindom described how mental health workers from primary care are embedded in local secondary schools. After a positive external evaluation, the programme was rolled out from a few pilot schools to all secondary schools in Brighton and Hove. The main objectives are that primary mental health workers help prevent the deterioriation of mental health, encourage reporting of illhealth, and reduce stigma.

Conclusion

Bearing in mind the many possible causes of young people’s vulnerability, school students with mental health problems and care leavers are only two selected examples of vulnerable groups of young people. As other vulnerable groups, they would benefit from targeted policies, social investment, and person-centred services, which reflect an understanding of young people’s complex circumstances and which aim to improve young people’s social inclusion in all spheres of society.

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