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Younger children not allowed at youth club

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Youngsters aged under 13 are no longer allowed through the doors of Stansted Youth Centre after Essex County Council discovered that the lower age limit was being breached.

A review of the service revealed children as young as 10 and 11 (Year 6) were regularly in attendance as operator Linda Barnes believed the “vulnerable” age group was just as in need of support as the older ones.

She was upset to have to tell around 50 under 13s, who all “loved” the youth club, that they were no longer allowed in and parents rallied to support her.

Stansted Youth Centre, Lower Street, Stansted. Exterior. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (20266031)
Stansted Youth Centre, Lower Street, Stansted. Exterior. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (20266031)

But under the terms of an agreement drawn up by Essex’s youth service, the Lower Street based club is intended for 13-19 year-olds only and it has a duty to ensure age appropriate provision.

Stansted’s county councillor Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education and skills, said that both the county council and Stansted Parish Council, which part funds the youth centre, were in agreement that provision should be offered under the remit set out by the youth service.

“I understand the point about having the support and provision for under 13s and we are going to see what we can do regards that, but the youth service is for 13-19 year olds and we have to make sure it is age appropriate,” he said.

“The parish council wasn’t aware that under 13s were being included. We are really trying to get this right, the parish are spending a lot of money and we want it to be about youth provision, not child care,” he said.

Furious parents criticised Essex on social media for its short-sightedness and said the “clueless hierarchy” was failing to realise “the value of social education for all young people moving from primary to secondary education”.

Stansted Parish Council said it was investigating alternatives for the affected youngsters.

“We commission Linda Barnes to deliver the service, but because Essex provides the premises and training and support, the legal agreement with them pulls rank,” said clerk Ruth Clifford.

“We are having discussions to see if there is an alternative for that age group or for a different agreement to be drawn up. To withdraw it altogether would be a real shame.”

She added that because the youth club often had people come to talk to the youngsters on subjects such as crime or sex education, some of the publicity material handed out was not considered appropriate for under-13s.

“That is one of the concerns and there has to be a cut-off. To protect staff and the children we have to stick to the agreement,” she said.

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