At the weekend I joined many others in celebrating my mum’s forty year’s service to the Girls Brigade in Coventry, England. Forty years. Forty years. Since she was sixteen, apart from a break to have her own children, she’s encouraged, supported and empowered thousands of girls by giving her time and energy to provide safe, worthwhile activity for them. I think that’s amazing. And utterly admirable.
She’s not alone, there are thousands of adults regularly volunteering their spare time to offer young people safe places to go in the evenings, weekends and holidays. This is an invaluable, possibly life-saving, contribution to the lives of teenagers, particularly those from poor background who have few, if any, recreational options.
According to research from Boys Town published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “youth from low-income backgrounds were twice as likely to report early sex onset (by age 11) and more likely to report early delinquency (by age 10) than those from middle-income backgrounds. By contrast, youth from middle-income backgrounds were 1.5 times more likely to report early alcohol use (by age 10) than those from low-income backgrounds. Furthermore, those that showed early and frequent involvement with risky sex, delinquency, and alcohol use beginning in late childhood and extending throughout adolescence showed an increase in long-term crime, alcohol use disorders (AUDs), and risky sex behaviors in young adulthood.” The report powerfully makes the case for early interventions to transform the lives of young people. An earlier study by Cohen and Piquero (2009) calculated that a life of crime typically costs society £2.5m for each individual, £640k for heavy drug use, £320k simply for dropping out of school.
Even if one doesn’t recognise a moral duty to nuture and support our young people, there is a compelling economic case to give them every opportunity to excel and live a productive life.
Despite age and organizational rules forcing my mum to retire from an official capacity in the Girl’s Brigade, she’s still committed to helping each week. And I suspect she’ll continue to do so until the day she dies.
As she looks back over her life, I hope she recognises how her positive influence may have changed so many lives for the better. I hope one day, I’ll be a be able to say the same.