Youth work needs a home

As the sector continues to navigate the challenge an ever changing landscape, YouthLink Scotland CEO Tim Frew warns that a lack of access to facilities threatens to leave young people in Scotland without vital support.

One of the great joys of youth work is that it seeks to create a safe place for young people, wherever they are, and in a time and place that suits their needs and interests. When youth work works well, it creates a second home for young people, one where they can build relationships with their peer group and seek the advice and input of a trusted adult. 

As we move into autumn and face up to the increased challenge of containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus we recognise that decision makers in government and public health face some very difficult decisions, such as the recent decision to prevent people from different households meeting up in homes.  

Public health professionals recognise that there is a balance to be struck between the immediate risks of the virus spreading, versus the long-term adverse impact restrictions on youth work, education and sport will have on the mental health and wellbeing of young people across Scotland. 

We are delighted that the Scottish Government has recognised the importance of youth work in the recovery and wellbeing of young people by investing £3million through the Youth Work Education Recovery Fund. We now also have clear guidance on the safe provision of youth work, not just outdoors or online but also indoors.  

However, in a recent survey of our members, we are concerned to note that the opening up of facilities is not happening fast enough and this is preventing access to vital youth work activity. The learning estate where youth work takes place is mixed picture. It takes place in schools, community centres, leisure centres, community halls, faith-based venues and outdoor centres. Sometimes youth work providers are the landlord but more often than not, we are the tenant, and access to facilities is not in our gift.  

The main findings of our report are as follows: 

  • More than a third (39%) of youth work organisations remained unable to offer face-to-face youth work due to lack of facilities and concerns about safety 
  • Only one third of organisations had any access to school facilities - more recent anecdotal evidence suggests that access to schools is gradually improving for local authority youth work services 
  • 85% of respondents had no access to community and leisure centres 
  • Four out of five organisations were unable to gain access to outdoor centres 

It is worth noting that since the survey was finalised we are beginning to see some change and more access. However, significant barriers remain such as: 

  • Lack of appropriate space to implement social distancing 
  • Multiple local groups having to share limited, public access space 
  • Lack of toilets and handwashing facilities 
  • Maintaining social distancing with members of the public 
  • Financial impacts of cleaning and hygiene measures 
  • Additional staffing required to work in smaller groups 

It is also important to understand that not all youth work is suitable for outdoor delivery or in larger groups in public spaces, as best summed up by one of our respondents: “Safe and supportive conversations with young people on their own who are grieving, and exploring coping strategies, needs to be carried out in a safe, nurturing space and not in the public domain of outdoor pitches or fast food eateries.” 

We need to move forward and ensure that access to facilities for youth work increases. From our survey we can see that almost all youth organisations responsible for facilities have completed risk assessments. Detailed guidance for school facilities and for outdoor centres has been developed. For centres where youth work is the tenant and not the landlord we need to understand what the barriers might be to their re-opening. If the issue is guidance from the Scottish Government on the use of Community Centres, we know that this is in development and is needed urgently. If the issue is more about the cost then we need to ensure that extra funds are found, as we cannot allow for young people to be prevented from accessing youth work when they need it now more an ever. 

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