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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Youthwork in meltdown as young people denied access

This news post is almost 2 years old

Vital services being curtailed by restrictions

Young people are being reduced to meeting under gazebos and tarpaulins to access vital local services as a new survey reveals a lack of facilities threatens to keep youth work out in the cold this winter.

YouthLink Scotland released the latest results of a two-month survey of the youth work sector’s access to facilities, which painted a picture of youth work organisations up and down the country struggling to find appropriate indoor spaces due to confusion over lockdown restrictions.

Today it issued a call for national and local leadership to help the sector overcome the barriers to youth work resuming, with YouthLink CEO Tim Frew warning that a lack of access to facilities threatens to leave young people in Scotland without vital support. The calls are backed by Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner and See Me, the national mental health charity.

Frew said: “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 are 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.” 

While some youth work organisations had previously been able to offer limited services in public spaces such as cafés, youth workers voiced concerns that even this offers little privacy for vulnerable young people who need intensive support.

Lack of access to appropriate facilities has left many youth work organisations unable to return to face-to-face indoor youth work. Over 50% of council youth work services have not been able to resume, and this rises to over 80% for national voluntary organisations like Scouts, and local voluntary youth work projects across the country.

The survey also revealed that over three-quarters of youth work organisations still have no access to any school facilities, while around 95% remain locked out of local leisure centre facilities.

This is despite Scottish Government guidance enabling indoor face-to-face youth work to resume from 31 August.

The agency says 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.

The situation has meant that youth workers are having to deliver services in parks, school grounds, on the streets, using tents, gazebos and tarpaulins for shelter as it gets colder.

It’s clear that although youth work organisations have the necessary risk assessments for practice in place, access to buildings and facilities is still being restricted or denied. Guidance is being interpreted differently in local areas.

Gina Wilson, Head of Strategy for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner said: 

“The pandemic has highlighted and further entrenched existing inequalities and providing vital youth work services over the coming winter months and beyond must be a priority to ensure children and young people’s rights are protected and promoted.” 

Wendy Halliday, director of mental health charity, See Me added that youth work has been vital in tackling the stigma and discrimination that young people can face when they’re struggling with their mental health.

“Youth work provides a platform for young people to speak out about mental health to other young people and to the adults in their lives, while also getting help and support for themselves,” she said.

“Through this pandemic more young people than ever are struggling with their mental health and to help those young people it is essential that youth work can resume in a safe way. We know that youth work is key to reaching and engaging young people that can be missed by other services and forms of support, while also connecting young people who can feel alone and isolated.”

Carol McLennan, Youth Team Manager at Elgin Youth Café is currently running youth work services outdoors due to little access to facilities. She said it is imperative that young people are able to access youth workers. 

“The impact of lockdown, ongoing restrictions and the uncertainty over if and when life will return to normal have all taken their toll on young peoples' health, wellbeing, confidence and resilience.  Youth workers know how to connect with young people, provide them with safe spaces and opportunities to express their concerns and empower them to become leaders and role models in their communities.”



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