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Lowestoft: Initiative is a failure

PUBLISHED: 09:35 08 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:40 06 July 2010

A £5.9m government drive to help cut pregnancies among disadvantaged teenagers failed when numbers actually increased, research out today reveals.

The Young People's Development Programme (YPDP) ran in 27 parts of England between 2004 and 2007, including Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and was based on a similar model in New York.

A £5.9m government drive to help cut pregnancies among disadvantaged teenagers failed when numbers actually increased, research out today reveals.

The Young People's Development Programme (YPDP) ran in 27 parts of England between 2004 and 2007, including Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and was based on a similar model in New York.

It was designed to offer education and support to young people aged 13 to 15 who were deemed at risk of exclusion from school, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy.

A total of 2,371 teenagers took part in the programme to some extent over the three years, at a cost of £2,500 each.

But research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), shows that young women who attended the programme were “significantly” more likely to fall pregnant than those in a comparison group.

A total of 16pc of the YPDP group fell pregnant compared with 6pc in a youth programme not receiving YPDP funds.

However Diana Baxter, project manager of GFS Platform in Yarmouth, one of the programme's pilot schemes, said the young people signposted there were already deemed most at risk of pregnancy.

She said that in many cases the project had “delayed” that risk until after participants were 16, when they could no longer stay on due to lack of funding.

Bev Patnell, team leader for Healthy Horizons in Lowestoft, another pilot, said: “There's no failing of the project. The kind of young people we see tend to be excluded from school so don't get some services offered there. We have run several programmes dealing with the issue.”

The BMJ research also suggested that fewer young people were truanting from school in the YPDP group by the end of the study.

The study was carried out by Meg Wiggins, from the Institute of Education at the University of London and Chris Bonell, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who were commissioned by the Department of Health to independently evaluate the programme.

They followed up both groups for a period of 18 months.

They concluded: “Among young women, YPDP participants more commonly reported teenage pregnancies, early heterosexual sex and expectation of becoming a teenage parent, as well as temporary exclusion from school and truancy.

“No evidence was found that the intervention was effective in delaying heterosexual experience or reducing pregnancies, drunkenness or cannabis use. Some results suggested an adverse effect.”

However they added: “Most young people, staff, parents and other stakeholders rated the YPDP highly.”

Richard McKie, national programme manager for health at the National Youth Agency, said the YPDP had left a legacy which was still proving useful in terms of a template for health programmes, adding the organisers had learnt from what had happened in the YPDP.

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