Dona Milne is Director of Public Health for NHS Lothian, and Chair of the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group. Dona also features as an expert panellist at this year’s National Youth Work Conference on 1 November.
Young people recognise the value of youth work in their local community. They know it is about learning, but it isn’t school. Engagement in formal education is important and we know that school attendance is a protective factor for many young people, providing them with a safe and supportive environment. But leaving everything to schools does not recognise the importance of informal education on young people’s lives.
Youth work provides significant opportunities to increase confidence, create friendships, develop skills for life and work, to increase achievement and improve health and wellbeing. Looking at all of this from a public health point of view, I know that we will need local youth work provision if we are to see better outcomes for young people. Whether that be reducing isolation, improving mental health or things like keeping young people physically active.
The research undertaken in recent years captured how youth work improves outcomes for young people, the evidence has confirmed:
The pandemic was particularly tough on the wellbeing of young people in some of our most marginalised and disenfranchised communities and now those same young people are experiencing the cost-of-living crisis. There is a danger that their life chances are severely limited as a result.
This means that our young people need youth work more than ever. The role that youth work plays in reducing inequality and the impact of poverty is essential. Youth workers are in a unique position to support those most detrimentally affected by poor life circumstances in a way that no other profession is.
This means providing support in local communities, working alongside schools, health and community organisations, ensuring those trusted adults are building relationships with young people and supporting them to increase their life chances. The youth work sector needs to be resourced to enable practitioners to continue to play an essential role in meeting the needs of young people.
Youth work in Scotland is going through a challenging time. A time where there is an increasing focus on demonstrating outcomes whilst the sector is facing significant reductions in resources. Research about what works and what doesn’t work helps us demonstrate impact.
We want to avoid delivering youth work that is not effective and to increase the quality of our youth work practice based upon evidence of what works. We hope the sector will continue to play its part in generating this evidence through engagement in our youth work research activities.
You can hear more from Dona and a wide range of expert voices from across the education, children’s and youth work sectors at this year’s National Youth Work Conference in Glasgow, 1 November. Don’t miss your chance to explore the impact and influence of youth work through the power of stats and stories. Sign up today.