In early March of 2020, just a few weeks before Scotland was placed into lockdown in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, I was given the privilege to attend and speak at the annual cabinet meeting with Children and Young People. At the time, I held the responsibility for Youth Engagement and Development within the board, so was particularly excited to address the issue of Youth Work within my speech. I was genuinely proud to draw attention to both the brilliant impact youth work has on young people, but also highlight the challenges the sector faces due to a lack of funding. By having the invaluable opportunity to do so directly face-to-face with the Government, I felt confident that our message on behalf of Scotland’s young people – that Youth Work services should be protected – was delivered.
On a personal level, it was a unique, highly rewarding experience which allowed me to develop my speech writing and delivery skills as well as my confidence with public speaking. Sharing a table with other young people, children and senior ministers to discuss matters affecting young people was an exceptional opportunity, and one I’m truly grateful to have experienced! Here’s the speech!
“Hi everyone, my name is Caitie and I just wanted to begin this with expressing how honoured I am to be able to have the opportunity to speak to you all today, so thank you very much.
I am the MSYP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, as well as the Trustee of SYP with the responsibility for youth engagement within the organisation.
SYP is an organisation with a 20 year history, that was forged by a coalition of youth workers and young people coming together to stand up for what they believed in. None of our many victories during that period would have been possible without youth work. Youth work changes lives.
Through my experiences during my time in SYP over the last three years, I have been lucky enough to discover just how true this is. Since my election, I have grown massively in confidence, developed a wealth of unique new skills and have found myself participating in incredible opportunities.
Of course, I know it’s not just me who has been so positively affected by youth work. In spring 2019 we launched a consultation to find out what youth work meant to young people across Scotland. This consultation then fed into our ‘Youth Work and Me’ report which can be found on the SYP website if any of you would like to find out more about it.
Young people told us that youth work was so important to them for similar reasons to my own, valuing confidence and self-esteem boosts, the opportunity to learn through new experiences and opportunities, as well as the chance to meet new friends. Youth work helps SYP be such a diverse organisation, because youth workers can reach young people who might otherwise be disengaged from the formal education system.
Many respondents also noted how much support youth work was able to give them, as it helped them through personal struggles and times of hardship. Another respondent described their youth worker as “A friend, a mentor, a mother” with others highlighting them as role models to look up to.
When asked what would happen should young people be faced with no youth work, our respondents did not have high hopes. They were worried there may be more isolated young people, who might turn to crime or anti-social behaviour.
One respondent even noted how knife crime rates in their local area had dropped after the introduction of youth groups.
They also feared that if they were to be taken away, violence may reoccur.
Young people also highlighted that no more youth work would in turn mean far less support for young people, alongside opportunities to develop new skills and grow as people.
Furthermore, I feel I can safely say that, without the help of youth work, SYP would not have had the same impact of youth-led change as it has. On both a national and local platform, youth work gives young people a voice to speak up about what matters to them. If youth work were to be taken away, it is unclear whether young people would continue to have that same voice without a service devoted to them. From these responses, it seems fair to conclude that youth work is absolutely fundamental to the lives of Scotland’s young people, and provides them a huge benefit, and the fears and worries young people expressed in response to this question should not become a reality.
In England and Wales, over the last decade, youth work has been decimated.
Figures released by YMCA last month showed that youth work services in England have had a real terms cut in funding of 70% since 2010-2011.
Just let that sink in- a 70% cut.
We should be under no illusions that youth work is also under threat in Scotland, with councils across the country saying they are struggling to continue to provide it at the levels young people need. Young people across Scotland are telling us they are deeply concerned.
We know that decisions around funding youth work locally are made by councils, not by central government.
We raised this issue at Cabinet last year and had hoped to meet with COSLA and the Government to discuss our worries- but diary issues over the year have meant this wasn’t possible.
So, my call to you today is for this meeting to be arranged ASAP, to see if we can explore how young people, local and national government can come together to find solutions to protect youth work services, which are such a vital line for me and the young people I represent.
Youth work changes lives. Please help us keep it that way.“