A pioneering charity which is helping vulnerable young people back into school after finding that some were at risk of slipping through the net in Gwynedd and Anglesey has been honoured with a top award.
The Rhwyd Arall (Another Net) project was set up last year by a social enterprise called Sylfaen Cymunedol in response to concerns that young people were being de-registered from schools without adequate planning and support.
The project’s work has now led to its winning the prestigious Early Intervention – Prevention accolade at the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner’s Community Awards 2019.
The awards were presented at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who hailed the Rhwyd Arall project as an outstanding example of the benefits of helping struggling young people through preventative rather than reactive strategies.
Val Williams, project co-ordinator with Caernarfon-based Sylfaen Cymunedol, who has worked with the charity since it was founded in 2001, said: “We’re not talking about exclusions through bad behaviour here.
“This is a completely different issue, children who have failed to get to school for various reasons, on a long-term basis, and as a result have been withdrawn from the responsibility of the Local Education Authority.”
Her colleague, Rhwyd Arall Sustainable Livelihood Worker Nia Williams, had identified the issue whilst working with 16-25 year olds not in education, employment or any form of training.
Val said: “Before establishing Rhwyd Arall, Nia worked from 2013 to 2017 with older young people aged between 16 and 25, some of whom were facing severe challenges of social isolation, long-term unemployment and a lack of access to specialist services.
“But what she was increasingly discovering was that high numbers of these young people had a history of having been de-registered from school at secondary school age in response to a range of complicate issues.
“We were only working with small numbers – 15 young people each year – but there were around a third who had been de-registered from school when aged about 13/14 in the year that it came to our attention.
“This was the impetus for us to do some more formal research and consultation and we found it was a growing issue.”
Further studies by Nia and Val resulted in them formulating a plan to reach out and help young people at that crucial younger age as soon as possible after they were removed from school registers or even earlier when they were facing the possibility of being de-registered.
Val said: “We realised it made absolute sense to catch young people as they were about to slip through the net rather than in later years when their problems might have escalated.
“The idea is that preventing the escalation of a young person’s problems is much better than trying to pick up the pieces after they’ve fallen deeper into despair.”
As a result of Sylfaen Cymunedol’s findings and subsequent report the highly commended Rhwyd Arall project was established and has gone on to help a small number of vulnerable youngsters aged between 10 and 16.
Commissioner Jones said: “A cornerstone of The Police and Crime Plan priorities in North Wales is to reduce the criminal exploitation of vulnerable people. This project identifies some of the most vulnerable young people in our communities and helps them to start a future pathway giving them choice and support where it is needed most.
“By being there, maintaining contact, building relationships and giving appropriate support the project is getting young people back into education with the support they need. The project is entirely deserving of this award.”
Val said the Rhwyd Arall team which also includes newly appointed Sustainable Livelihood Worker Dawn Jones, were thrilled the important work they do had been recognised at such a high level.
She said: “It’s a real boost for us and for the scheme as a whole, and will hopefully bring our objectives even more into the public eye.”
Rhwyd Arall works with young people facing a huge range of issues including mental health well-being, caring for parents, unrecognized additional learning needs, at risk of being drawn into county lines drug trafficking and just having been left at home for too long without appropriate intervention.
Val added: “It is rarely just one issue that affects the young people we support. They are often confronted by a range of what seem to be insurmountable issues which lead to them struggling and unable to get to school.
“As their concerns grow so do the number of days they fail to turn up for lessons and under pressure parents are forced to consider de-registration.”
Thanks to the advent of Rhwyd Arall, education welfare officers, education staff and specialist services now have the option of referring such individuals to the project workers, who offer one to one mentoring, a multi-skilled support framework and on-going follow-up support.
Val said: “It means we can step in quickly and offer the children a range of options to assist them deal with any issues and help them get back into education.
“The project has only been going for 18 months and initial feedback we’ve had from the young people, their families and schools has been positive and confirmed to us that this project is having an impact guiding young people to get back on track and helping open up opportunities for them in their future lives.”
The project is financed by grant funding for the coming five years and Sylfaen Cymunedol hope to find further support beyond that.