A citizenship project set up in Britain is working to equip troubled students with an understanding of how to make democracy work for them and gain the skills required to take part in public life. Youth Act! is a new initiative run by the Citizenship Foundation, an adaptation of a similar project run by the Washington-based charity Streetlaw. London-based project manager Carrie Supple says: 'Young people are often seen as part of the problem in what is increasingly being portrayed as an uncaring, violent and divided society. But our research into youth social action highlights the fact that many young people have ideas and a sense of responsibility about changing the world around them.' To enable them to act on those ideas, Youth Act is designed to give young people a voice and then show them what to do with it. Secondary and tertiary school students aged 11 to 18 are asked to come up with ideas for tackling a problem in their school or community. As well as identifying issues of concern, they are required to state achievable goals. Their approach to the problem must bring about some level of structural change, such as influencing local authority or school policy. This has enabled students to learn how to navigate their way through the systems and mechanisms that provide the framework for civil society. Once the prospective participants' idea is approved by Youth Act!'s steering group of external experts (comprised of young people, educationalists, local councillors and others) on the basis of feasibility and appropriateness, each school-based group works collaboratively, with an adult mentor, to put their idea into action. It all takes place outside school hours. Students receive training every fortnight, which combine political awareness with skills development, specific issues-based learning and opportunities to speak with MPs, community groups, police, local authority councillors and officers. Youth Act complements the Education for Citizenship curriculum, which is now compulsory for 11 to 16-year-olds, and meets the criteria for its three broad strands; social and moral responsibility, political literacy and community involvement. Colin Moorhouse is a community police officer who is working with one of the schools in the Youth Act programme, Northumberland Park in the London borough of Haringay, as part of his work with the Safer Schools Partnership. For him, Youth Act is a way of engaging young people in social change. 'At our first meeting, the group talked about crime because it is something that has an impact on their everyday lives. They focused on street robbery. They chose a theme that had particular relevance to them, mobile-phone theft, and why there's so much under-reporting to the police.' One of the students, Daniella Marks, 14, was dubious about Youth Act. 'I thought it would be boring,' she said. But she decided to give it a go. 'They made it fun and we had to think seriously about what changes we'd like to see in our community. At first we thought about litter but then we decided to work on mobile-phone theft. We know that we can't stop it but we might be able to reduce it by making young people more aware of the dangers of using their phones while walking around in the street. We've decided to make supporting victims an important part of the project as well as encouraging them to report it to the police.' The Youth Act groups speak to school assemblies about their projects in order to disseminate information as well as to get others to join. The three core members at Northumberland Park have been approached by 10 others who want to join. Daniella said: 'Being in Youth Act and having to speak at assemblies has made me more confident about public speaking and has helped me to make friends and work with people I didn't know before. I've also taken on bigger responsibilities since being in the group.' Jarrell Anthony, 14, goes to Central Foundation Boys' School in Islington and also joined Youth Act. 'I wanted to make a difference so that when I leave school I'll have accomplished something,' he said. He and five others in the project identified bullying as an issue that they wanted to address, aiming to reduce bullying in Years Seven and Eight. 'We felt that low-level bullying was something that we all had experienced at some time or other and I wanted to raise my understanding of it,' he said. 'Like calling someone a name: you can do it without thinking about it too much but it can have a negative effect on the person you're doing it to.' The anti-bullying project they have undertaken is based on mentoring both the bullies and their 'targets'. 'If we mentor bullies, we think it will help their way of thinking,' they say. To help them mentor effectively, the Youth Act group receives training from behaviour support specialist. Supple intends to expand the project over the next year to at least 15 groups in five London boroughs. As far as PC Moorhouse is concerned, the positive effects are already apparent. 'Things like this have a cumulative effect on young people. One of the newer recruits at Northumberland Park had been in gangs and was on the point of exclusion. He got involved in the project because he wanted to change his behaviour. He's had lots of support to bring that change about. As a result, he has become a success story.'