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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Is the youth work sector there yet?

This opinion piece is about 10 years old

Jim Sweeney, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland,examines the impact of the new National Youth Work Strategy ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament

Jim Sweeney, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland
Jim Sweeney, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland

This month, with the publication of the new National Youth Work Strategy, we took another step forward with Scotland’s young people and their right to grow up in a nation that truly embraces the principle of opportunity for all its citizens.

Youth work was born in Victorian times when there was a fear of young people being in moral danger, of being abused and dehumanised. Organisations such as the YMCA and YWCA and our uniformed organisations came into being to offer young people positive alternatives alongside exciting and worthwhile activities which would help them in mind, body and spirit. Fundamentally the offer hasn't changed and in excess of half a million young Scots participate in youth work on a regular basis.

Youth work offers incredible value for money, with research showing social return on investment of around £13 for every £1 invested

In 2007 with the publication of Moving Forward, the first strategy for the sector, the key challenge was to improve the recognition of the value and role of youth work in developing and delivery key government priorities and strategies. We’ve come a long way from then. YouthLink Scotland’s Statement on the nature and purpose of youth work has received widespread support and its ethos is central to the delivery of the new strategy.

The statement sets out the unique selling points of the sector, its ability to attract young people from across society, including those for whom traditional routes into education, training or employment don’t work and positive options based on a philosophy of partnership and joint working with young people.

This new strategy is a blueprint for the future and recognises the central role young people have in their own development and within the wider community. Young people should be codesigning the services they benefit from. This assets-based approach is underpinned by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and fits squarely with the community empowerment agenda as laid out by the Christie Commission.

Maximising young people’s life chances is what this strategy is all about. It focuses on how youth work can be supported to achieve a raft of national outcomes. As part of the government’s preventative agenda, youth work offers incredible value for money, with research showing social return on investment of around £13 for every £1 invested. The Scottish Government already values the significant contribution the sector makes. In its many different forms, youth work is involved in innovative partnerships with schools, colleges, employers, sports, health and justice to develop skills, opportunities, self-confidence and a sense of community cohesion for our young people.

Youth work has a significant role to play within Curriculum for Excellence, supporting young people as they transition into further learning and employment. Partnerships between the sector, local authorities, Scottish Government and its agencies including Education Scotland are vital to such positive outcomes for young people.

To borrow that almost universal phrase uttered by kids on a journey: are we there yet? The answer from the youth work sector is no, but we are travelling down a road which I hope will strengthen the sector and ultimately lead to sustained core investment.

Jim Sweeney is the chief executive of Youthlink Scotland. The new National Youth Work Strategy is set to be debated in the Scottish Parliamentthis week.



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Brian Power
about 10 years ago
Youth Work - Lower Greenock East EndYouth Work is not being provided in the areas of most need,services are not being provided in the local neighborhood.Unless you are part of the in group,it is very difficult to get access to Youth link Funding. Services need to be provided at a local level and addintional facilities provided for young people.
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