Campaigners warn young people can't get access to facilities
A lack of access to youth work services threatens to leave young people in Scotland without vital support.
The latest survey of the sector shows that, as we move into our second winter under Covid-19 restrictions, still only 54% of youth work have access to the facilities they need.
If we are to ensure that young people have access to the support they need, it is essential that safe spaces for youth work are made available – as a matter of urgency. We know that youth work is key to reaching and engaging young people, to providing mental health support, signposting other services, tackling isolation and helping young people re-engage in learning. It is therefore imperative that these services are made available in the community.
With increasingly cold weather, opportunities to conduct youth work activities outdoors will no longer be option. This situation is urgent and critical, solutions to the current barriers need to be brought forward now.
The survey does show an improved picture with 54% of total respondents having access to the facilities they need, compared to just 22% in June 2021.
However, while things have improved in the past year, 46% of youth work providers are not able to access the facilities they need and the survey suggests that significant issues remain.
The wider issue of the ongoing lack of permanent facilities has been highlighted through the survey, with 78% of respondents who have their own premises now having full access.
Tim Frew, CEO YouthLink Scotland said: “We have serious concerns around the lack of vital youth work support and the impacts this will continue to have. We know young people are continuing to deal with the detrimental consequences of the pandemic. The impact on learning loss and mental health will only be further exacerbated while the current challenges surrounding access persist.
“If children and young people are our priority then an urgent solution needs to be found. We simply cannot have a situation where many young people are struggling to access essential youth work services. If this same situation was happening in schools, there would quite rightly be a national outcry.”
Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner said: “Youth work plays a significant part in ensuring children and young people can access their rights to good mental and physical health as well as their educational, social and recreational rights. It’s particularly important to children and young people who experience disadvantage, including those living in poverty, young carers, disabled children and young people, LGBT and minority ethnic communities.
“Youth workers play a hugely important roles as trusted adults, providing safe spaces and support for children and young people outside of their family relationships. The pandemic has highlighted and further entrenched existing inequalities and providing vital youth work services with access to community spaces to work directly with children and young people over the winter months and beyond must be a priority. The Scottish Government and COSLA must take a proactive approach to increase access so that children and young people’s rights are protected and promoted.”
Graeme Luke, CEO of Scouts Scotland says his organisation nationally is experiencing significant challenges with access to facilities:
“It is essential that local authorities and the Scottish Government remove existing barriers and provide access to indoor facilities so that organisations like Scouts Scotland and other youth work providers can deliver our proven programmes of activity. Youth work sits alongside schools to engage young people in developing life skills, support personal development and positively improve mental health and social isolation.
“Our amazing volunteers have excelled in creatively delivering services throughout the pandemic but can’t go through another winter in outdoor spaces with lack of access to basic facilities and our vital services are at real risk of permanent disruption when they are needed more than ever.
"Our organisation has worked tirelessly throughout the past 19 months to keep our members safe and our most recent membership survey has shown that we are well on track to returning to pre-pandemic numbers and this lack of access really threatens this achievement as our volunteers are frustrated and feel undervalued by this lack of progress.”
Both the Children’s Commissioner and YouthLink Scotland are clear that it is not acceptable to leave many vulnerable young people without access to vital support at a time when youth work is needed more than ever, as we face an increasing youth mental health crisis as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Almost two years on from the start of the pandemic, and some youth workers are still having to deliver services outdoors, in parks, school grounds and on the streets.