Youth work gives us vital opportunities, independence and access to non-formal education. We must protect it
Responding to Call 6, Rosie Sumsion, MSYP for Helensburgh and Lomond, explains why a new Scottish Youth Parliament campaign is helping to prove youth work’s real value
As part of the 25 Calls campaign, Elaine Kerridge says that rights, wellbeing and love of learning must be at the heart of education. Elaine is right – but in my view, in a Scotland where schools are becoming exam factories, the aspects of education which cannot be graded are increasingly being devalued. Luckily, youth work often picks them up.
Through youth forums, youth groups, and fantastic voluntary organisations, young people can develop in a non-formal environment. By working with one another and youth workers, young people can create learning specific to our own individual needs, ensuring a future generation who are not only academically able, but also socially able.
The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) recently launched a new campaign, Youth Work and Me, which aims to celebrate and showcase youth work, to shout about the impact it has on our lives, and to share our views about is future. In early 2019, we carried out a survey of 116 young people to find out about their experiences of youth work, and why it is important to them.
'In many areas, including my own, youth services are facing massive cuts. In March this year, my local authority’s youth work budget was cut by 53% with a loss of 17 jobs'.
Young people told us that youth work gives us many things: opportunities, support, confidence and self-esteem, friendship, skills, a voice and independence.
For young people who find school a challenging environment to learn and grow in, youth work provides a vital alternative. In youth work settings, we can access training, join modern apprenticeships, and complete qualifications such as Youth Achievement Awards.
Youth work plays a key role in ensuring people understand alternative career paths open to them. Through the development of these skills, qualifications and experience, young people can access education in a way that ensures all-round development and guarantees that an envelope on 8 August is not future-defining.
Youth Work also plays a key role in ensuring the voices of young people are heard in all aspects of life. As MSYPs, local groups provide us with a vital means of communication. Without youth work, we wouldn’t have our amazing Support Workers, who help us better understand the views of the young people we are here to represent.
Youth work provides a means of communication on a more local level. Youth groups are often a first port of call for local consultations, as focus groups to gather the views of young people, or to make sure young people are involved in community projects. These opportunities not only ensure young people’s opinions are considered, but that young people are actively involved in decision-making, and are active participants in society.
Now, at this point it’s clear youth work is pretty awesome. Youth work is an investment, one that consistently pays off. According to YouthLink Scotland’s 2016 report on the Social and Economic Value of Youth Work in Scotland, for every £1 invested in youth services, £7 is returned, and thousands of lives are transformed.
Yet in many areas, including my own, youth services are facing massive cuts. In March this year, my local authority’s youth work budget was cut by 53% with a loss of 17 jobs. This is not just an issue that is affecting young people in my area. In 2019, we’ve seen cuts to youth work budgets across the country, from Aberdeen, to Midlothian, to Glasgow. Worryingly, young people often seem to be the first to fall.
The loss of youth work will have a devastating impact on young people. In SYP’s Youth Work and Me report, young people told us if there was no youth work in their area there would be an increase in isolation, crime and anti-social behaviour, mental health problems, and poverty. Young people said they would have fewer opportunities, less support, and would not feel as confident.
Youth work is vital to making Scotland the best place in the world for young people to grow up. But these services must be saved before it is too late. We need to celebrate the impact of youth work up and down the country. We need to protect it, like it protects us.
Rosie Sumsion is MSYP for Helensburgh and Lomond. She is responding here to Elaine Kerridge's call as part of our 25 Calls campaign.