By Michael O'Toole
Well 2016 was quite a year all round! At Mentor we had a pretty momentous year. Both via our direct delivery and in supporting our partners we continued to reach hundreds of thousands of young people to help build their skills and knowledge to be more resilient to risks from drugs & alcohol. In 2016 our big news was the merger with Angelus Foundation and the boost this has given Mentor in terms of capacity, reach and expertise will help us to reach even more young people in 2017.
We want to do much more and there are some things that can seriously help in our mission to give young people better chances to fulfill their potential.
My 4 big hopes for 2017:
1. Government drugs strategy
When this is finally published, I really hope that education and prevention forms a central and key pillar of the strategy. Helping people into recovery is vital but I want to try and prevent the dreadful consequences of drug misuse and addiction before it begins. The cost to society of drug abuse is huge – at least £15 billion each year. But for me the terrible impact upon individuals, families and communities is what drives me to do more to prevent this happening. Education and prevention can work if it delivered properly, based upon evidence and with appropriate standards. I sincerely hope that the new strategy recognises that by intervening early, through education and prevention; we can prevent the awful consequences of drugs for many.
2. PSHE education
Much of our work is in partnership with schools. Many teachers do incredible work building young people’s lifeskills so they can be more resilient. However the lack of a statutory basis for PSHE education on the curriculum makes it harder for all young people to have access to evidence-based drugs & alcohol prevention. Making the subject a statutory requirement will not be a ‘silver bullet’. Of course teachers will need resources, training & support, but it seems just about everybody recognises that making the subject statutory will help. Teachers, parents, parliamentary select committees, businesses, doctors and most importantly young people themselves all want statutory PSHE.
3. Alcohol & gambling marketing
The way in which young people consume entertainment and communicate has changed radically. I believe the way we control the advertising of alcohol and gambling needs to keep pace. It cannot be right that young people are exposed to alcohol promotion through social media or that they are bombarded by alcohol branding and the ubiquitous gambling advertising every time they watch sport! Another thing which troubles me is the huge trend towards in-app purchasing with gaming. Regulation needs to keep up and prevent young people being so over-exposed to promotion of these products.
I have been thinking about how young people access and share information in relation to FRANK (the principal government drug education service for young people). I think we can certainly improve FRANK. Currently it is too static, informational and it lacks interactivity and social media presence. I should be more in tune with ways in which young people access information by becoming more intuitive, interactive and multi-channel. Mentor would love to able to help improve FRANK. I know there is an ongoing review of FRANK and I hope we will have a chance to play a part in improving FRANK’s impact in preventing drugs & alcohol misuse.
Quite a lot to hope for but the consequences are huge so I make no apologies for setting sights this high. One life blighted by drugs or alcohol is too many and we know we can help prevent this. I hope that 2017 sees more opportunity for us to accomplish this.
On a final note, my Mentor New Year's Resolutions are:
- I am determined to spend more time out and about seeing the impact of our work with young people & families, first hand. Seeing our programmes delivering in schools, communities and many other settings is incredibly useful and inspiring and I want to do more of this in 2017.
- Making sure young people's views & perspectives are included in all our work and how we develop. I am excited about the development of our youth panels, focus groups and youth ambassadors. I am very focussed on making sure this really helps shape how we achieve lasting impact.