Through the pain

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Demi, 16, attends Aberlour Youthpoint in Moray where she is now a peer mentor, helping other young people. Youthpoint is an example of an early intervention service, which takes action as problems are emerging, to prevent long term poor outcomes for children and young people. Here she tells her story.

I first started having suicidal thoughts when I was eight. That’s also when I first came to know Aberlour Youthpoint, the service was helping my brother, but I had no intention of coming myself.

I made myself seem really happy on the outside. Too happy for how I was really feeling. No-one saw because everyone was so focused on my brother. My mum had a lot on her plate because she had him to deal with. He had mental health problems but hadn’t been diagnosed at that point. He was also drinking and taking cannabis. I thought she had enough on her plate.

By the time I was 12, I had a new baby sister and mum wasn’t coping very well. I felt like I was an autopilot. My mental health didn’t matter. All I kept thinking was ‘I’m not trying hard enough’ or ‘mum doesn’t love me enough, because I’m not doing all that I should’. So I kept my feelings a secret until I was 12. That’s when I came here and everyone saw what I was really like.

My brother was being helped by Anne, a young people’s worker at Youthpoint. She got to know our family and could tell that I needed help. Then my sister and I were referred too.

At Youthpoint I started to open up and feel better, but then my stepdad just left. My mum slipped into depression. Some days she couldn’t get out of bed. This sounds creepy, but I used to go into her room and watch her breathing, just to make sure she was OK.

I had to look after my two year old sister and my other sister. I felt like I had to make sure my brother didn’t go off on a tangent, and I was also making sure the house was OK, by doing the cooking and cleaning. Even with all that, I still managed to get top grades at school. The school didn’t see I was struggling and neither did mum, she was so blinded by her own pain.

She did manage to haul herself out of that and she went to a parenting group at the service and things started to calm down. Then I tried to commit suicide because it all got too much. I don’t recommend it. The hospital makes you drink charcoal and it makes you really sick. It was horrible.

I was coming to Youthpoint but still hadn’t opened up. I felt I needed to protect my family. I still didn’t realise at that point that this was a place you could come and tell them anything. They would only want to help me.

After that, I told them everything.

The support here has helped my whole family. Before you could walk in and feel the hostility, but now it’s calmer. My mum has learned to stand up for herself. My little sister is going into primary two now, and thankfully she was too young and innocent to remember the bad times.

I started going on training courses to become a mentor myself because I want to help others. I want to be someone that is so positive, because I was so negative in my life before. Hopefully I’ll go to college to get an HNC in social care and one day I can be a youth worker too and help others, the way I’ve been helped.

T: 01343 546214 | W: | E: | Tw: @AberlourCCT

The game changer

Pg 18 John Loughton FINAL.JPGJohn Loughton is founder and CEO of leadership development social enterprise, Dare2Lead. He is an internationally recognised youth leader and campaigner, as well as being a past winner of Big Brother. His childhood has shaped and fuelled his passion for youth work, he tells us why youth work is a game changer.

untitled2It is absolutely right that Scotland aims to be the best country on earth to grow up in. We have our rich education system, open politics, a thriving youth sector, state of the art sports and music venues, employment rules promoting work/life balance and our awe-inspiring natural scenery. Scotland is a tremendous springboard from which to launch our future lives and careers. However, our country fails too many young people. And nowhere is this more evident than in the health and wellbeing of today’s generation – especially mental and emotional wellbeing.

Many young people are battling depression, self-harm, eating disorders, anxiety, loneliness, stress, unhappiness and abuse. Statistics also show that mental health issues amongst young Scots are on the rise. There are numerous and complex reasons for this and while diagnosis is improving, research shows that these problems disproportionately impact young people in areas of deprivation and lower income households. (Mental Health Foundation, 2015)  untitled

I know how real this is having struggled with mental health issues myself as a teenager. It took me till my 20s to feel confident enough to ‘admit’ and talk about it. I grew up in a very chaotic family, within a very deprived community. Life when I was young felt like living in a pressure cooker. The cocktail of poor role models, serious drug abuse, violent crime, bullying, family breakdown and abysmal housing all drove me to self-harm. It seemed to be my only way to get attention or ‘vent’. It’s never the solution.

Luckily, I found youth work, and it changed my life. Not overnight, and not in a material way. But youth work can be the little bit of light for the future, even when all your past has been darkness. Access to quality, local, joined up and caring youth work is a game-changer – it’s the best way to offer social capital to young people who otherwise are written off or left behind. As our NHS continues to be seen as a ticking time bomb, with massive mental health service waiting lists and as we all live longer, it’s the innovation and capacity of interventions like youth work that promotes healthy lives daily behind the political arguments and shock headlines.

Dr Harry Burns, former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, says “properly functioning families are the key to making Scotland healthier.” However where there is no positive role model in the family, youth work often provides that positive adult influence and helps young people find their own voice.

We must all realise that investing in youth work ensures that we build healthy children, instead of trying to fix ‘broken’ adults years down the line.

W: | E: | Tw: @JohnLoughton @daretolead

When it comes to impact – the stats are key


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The key ambition within the National Youth Work Strategy is that all young people, in every part of Scotland, should have access to high quality and effective youth work practice. Part of achieving this is recognising the value and impact of youth work for young people. This prompted the formation of the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group. The group is made up of youth work practitioners, academics and leaders from within the youth work sector. Recently the group have been working with the Growing Up in Scotland team to see if they can help us look at the impact of youth work.

Growing Up in Scotland is the longitudinal research study tracking the lives of children and their families in Scotland. Thousands of children and young people have taken part in the survey since birth. This year the eldest cohort started S1 whilst members of the younger cohort are aged 8.

The information generated from Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) is used by academics, parents, the voluntary sector and importantly, by decision makers. For the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group, using the findings from GUS could give us an insight into which young people are accessing youth work, in which form, and most importantly, the outcomes of youth work.

Whilst most youth work organisations will have a ton of stories about the impact of youth work on young people they work with, it is difficult and costly to track the outcomes of youth work on a national scale. Working with the GUS team gives us that option. There are two ways we are working with GUS. The first is to analyse the findings from previous surveys and the second to shape future sweeps of the survey.

Over the summer months the group looked at the information gathered from the last questionnaire around young people’s participation in out of school activities. It was really encouraging to find a large majority of young people reported taking part in out of school activities (over 80%).

The findings could be used to track the routes into participation in youth work and may point to groups of young people who are excluded from taking part. Some of the most important factors that indicated whether a young person was participating in out of school activities were the levels of parental education, family income and child health. Those young people from families with degree level of parental education, high family income and very good child health were more likely to participate in out of school activities.

The most common barriers cited by those who do not participate in any out of school activities were that the young person does not want to participate, it was impractical for the parents, the activity was not available or too expensive, and the young person’s disability or personality. Although further examination of this is required, the sector must self-assess how their youth work service is truly open for all.

This analysis is the first step to creating a Scotland-wide picture of the impact of youth work on young people. To keep up with the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group, visit

Authors: Dona Milne, Chair of the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group and Emily Beever, Senior Development Officer (Policy and Research) at YouthLink Scotland.

Photo from:

<a href=””>Business photograph designed by Creativeart –</a>


Leaping lizards and a sense of hope for better


Louise Macdonald OBE, Chief Executive of Young Scot discusses the role of youth volunteering following her recent visit to the States with #iWill.

group-shotA la Buzzfeed, my top 10 reflections from the #iWill study visit to the USA to look at volunteerism and service. Reader beware…these are random and each one generates further questions of their own.

  • Context matters…but so does hundreds of years of history. It was striking just how intrinsic the strongly defined roles of Federal, State and City are to every element of policy and decision-making in the US. It means scale and universal models face challenges to thrive, but it is fertile ground for localism and focussing on community priorities.
  • Do bake sales count? Do they do more than raise the dough? A flippant question, but one which kept coming up repeatedly – how do you develop models of service and volunteerism that go beyond “sticking plaster” and really get to the heart of tackling core issues?
  • To mandate or not to mandate…that is the question. We often encountered examples where “service” and volunteerism is a compulsory part of education for young people in the USA – either a high school or at college. These opened up lots of questions about the effect this has on…
  • …Motivation. Does the original reason for coming into volunteering or service matter? Whether through compulsion or through passion – does the ROI for both young people and communities justify any means of recruitment?
  • Business does great things, but could it do more? We saw and heard about lots of great CSR programmes, with fantastic and often enviable links with philanthropic members of the business community. Yet no-one yet has cracked the code around how we support young people to articulate their volunteering experience to potential employers in a systematic way.
  • If you’re volunteering outside in Miami in the summer, look out for leaping lizards as well as mosquitoes. Enough said.
  • The gaps are wide, as they are here in the UK, but the point I’ve been left with is that it’s almost too easy to *think* the work you are doing is “open to all” – when in fact some of the structural barriers are so nuanced it’s hard to see them. It’s the difference between equality, equity and fairness. Beware also the rule of unintended consequences.
  • A sense of agency matters for young people, no matter the context – being able to see how they are contributing, that their voices and ideas are not just being heard but given equal weight in the decision-making and service design process.
  • Measuring what matters, matters…a common theme in the UK, and a common theme in the USA. When it comes to youth volunteering, it’s no different.
  • Learning alongside brilliant people is the best thing you can do as a leader. Diversity of thought; diversity of questioning and diversity of reflection all add up to something wonderful. We instinctively know this to be the case, but sadly it isn’t all that often we get to experience it in “real time”. Huge thanks to #iwill and the US Embassy, along with Global Ties US & Miami, for making it happen. But most of all profound thanks to the incredible young people we met, who were so generous, open, thoughtful and passionate – their sense of hope for better, fairer communities through social action is what leaves the indelible mark in my memory.

Louise Macdonald OBE is Chief Executive of Young Scot, the national youth information and citizenship agency supporting young people aged 11-26 in Scotland. Young Scot, along with YouthLink Scotland and Education Scotland, is one of the lead agencies of the #iwill campaign in Scotland  You can follow Louise on twitter on @Louisemac

Gambling with our youth


Chiara Marin explores the problem of young people and gambling, and how the ‘Youth Problem Gambling Initiative’ run by Fast Forward can help.

chiara-marin-fastforwardCan you remember the last time you saw a gambling advert? Can you name 3 different betting shops? Have you ever gambled?

I bet you’ve said yes to at least one of those 3 questions!

Gambling is increasingly all around us. Just think about how many gambling adverts you see when watching a football match or reading a newspaper. Consider how far (or how little!) you need to walk to get to your nearest betting shop or to buy a scratch card.

Gambling can be a sociable and fun activity. However it can also become an addiction, bringing serious consequences for the gambler and affecting their family and friends. Although it’s not a new phenomenon, problem gambling often goes unrecognised. In fact, young people’s gambling has been dubbed a ‘hidden addiction’ (Drevensky, Shek and Merrick 2011, Drevensky 2012).

In 2006, a study carried out by Moodie and Finnigan in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire found a prevalence of problem gambling of 9% among those aged 11 to 16 – a much higher percentage compared to the data found in England and Wales. As the authors stated, gambling in general is commonplace among Scotland’s youth.

Although this remains the most recent survey establishing a baseline rate for problem gambling among young people in Scotland, in the last few years there has been a number of international studies looking at young people’s gambling behaviour.

Overall, literature indicates how important it is to have effective early intervention in place, through educational and prevention programmes for young people. In order to do so, it’s fundamental to offer appropriate training opportunities to practitioners working with young people. Teachers and youth workers are the people best placed to address the topic of problem gambling with young people. Indeed, these practitioners are more likely to meet young people who already have problems with their gambling, particularly if they are working in deprived areas or with young people engaging in other risk-taking behaviours.

Fast Forward, a national youth work charity addressing young people’s health and well-being, has been working since 2014 to promote preventative and educational programmes on youth problem gambling, using a harm reduction approach.

The ‘Youth Problem Gambling Initiative’ started in April 2014 with a pilot in Edinburgh and the Lothians. This project then received a further 2 year funding from the Responsible Gambling Trust, which enabled us to offer our training programme across Scotland from January 2016.

Our CPD sessions support practitioners to acquire the tools and knowledge to prevent the onset of ‘at-risk’ gambling behaviour among the young people they work with, increasing the availability of information and support.

Training participants also receive a copy of the ‘Youth Problem Gambling Toolkit’. This is a new manual, created to support practitioners with information and resources they can use in their work when addressing the topic of youth problem gambling.

In the first 6 months of this year, we ran 14 training sessions involving a total of 137 practitioners.

The data collected through these sessions highlighted the need for this training. Nearly 18% of attendees said they had previously provided support on problem gambling at least once to young people aged 11-15, and about 45% to young people aged 16-25. However, respondents to our survey reported lacking sufficient knowledge and resources to confidently offer educational activities and effective support on this topic. Our training programme aims to bridge this gap.

We received very positive feedback after each training session, with attendees also expressing how they plan on taking forward the learning.

“I will include a question regarding gambling when I’m profiling tenants debts and income in relation to checking an issue which prevent them paying their rent.”

“I will discuss this with team regarding delivery in schools and youth groups.”

“This will make current delivery more interesting and interactive.”

 “I am more likely to raise the issue of gambling.”

We are also collecting feedback from those attendees who have started using the toolkit. This will allow us to include practitioner suggestions and ideas in the final version of the toolkit, which we plan to launch online next year.

Further information:

Would you like to attend a training? Check out our online Eventbrite calendar! We’ll run more CPD sessions in the coming months, including some which will be tailored specifically to teachers. Stay tuned to hear about our future developments!

To receive the newsletter and other updates regarding the Youth Problem Gambling Initiative, please email Chiara Marin, project officer, at:

Useful reading includes work researching the links between social gaming and online gambling, the role of advertising, as well as that of family and peer groups in introducing children to gambling. For an overview, a good starting point is the recently published report ‘Children and young people’s gambling: research review’ (2016) by Professor Valentine for the Responsible Gambling Trust.

For further information on problem gambling, please consult:

Digital skills


Sky UK believe that every young person has potential, they just need the right opportunities to unlock it. Nishy Lall, Sky Academy Manager, explains.

pg-26-nishy-lallSky Academy is made up of five free initiatives.

  • Sky Sports Living for Sport – is a schools-based initiative using skills used for sports and sports stars to build confidence and life skills.
  • Sky Academy Careers Lab – full day careers experience for 16-19 year olds to build employability skills.
  • Sky Academy Starting Out – work experience, apprenticeships and graduate opportunities at Sky.
  • Sky Academy Skills Studios – a halfday interactive experience giving eight to 18-year-olds the chance to come behind the scenes at Sky and make their own TV report, linked to topics they are studying at school.

Through our initiatives we’ve set ourselves the target to reach out to 1 million young people by 2020.

We’re committed to investing throughout the UK and, in March 2015, we launched Sky Academy Skills Studios in Livingston, investing in young people across Scotland to give them an opportunity to come to Sky and participate in this interactive learning experience which is linked to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Teachers have the choice of 20 different topics for students to create a news report using state of the art technology. Since launching 10,000 young people have benefited from attending Skills Studios. Also, this year in Scotland we will be holding Careers Lab days for 16 to 19 years olds to help further develop skills by giving them the chance to take part in practical workplace challenges at Sky and learn about jobs in media, business and technology.

Young people who take part in Sky Academy tell us it is unique and inspiring. Their experience has both boosted their skills and has improved their understanding of their importance.

Young people also gain confidence to apply these skills, developing them over time, helping to unlock their potential. As well as capturing the stories of their experiences, we’re measuring the effects of our initiatives immediately following and then up to six months after young people take part. And we’re proud of the positive impacts we’re seeing. As an example, more than 80% of those coming to Sky Academy Skills Studios report they have improved at least one of the six chosen skills (planning, communication, resilience, teamwork, creativity and confidence); 90% are more confident in these skills up to six months after their Sky Academy Careers Lab experience; and 90% of teachers report improvements in the teamwork of students who have taken part in Sky Sports Living for Sport.

It’s really inspiring to learn about all the youth work being done across Scotland, where many of these key skills are being used to make a positive impact to communities and society. We look forward to continuing the work with the youth work sector to enable more opportunities for young people across Scotland.

W: | Tw: @SkyAcademy

Sky Academy’s article is taken from the latest The Link, the youth work sector’s magazine, you can read the full magazine here:

Be ambitious

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Shettleston Fuse Youth

Paul Johnston, Director General, Learning and Justice for Scottish Government, talks about the need for ambition in our work with young people.

Youth Work Changes Lives Expo

Youth Work Changes Lives Expo RBS Conference Centre 27 January 2016 Programme #YWExpo Picture: Alan Rennie

We know that youth work is changing lives, by supporting young people to make choices that will shape the rest of their life.

In many respects, we are already seeing great progress.

The OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) recently reviewed Scotland’s education system and said that there is a huge amount to celebrate:

  • We are seeing clear upward trends in terms of attainment and positive destinations.
  • Over 9 in 10 entered a positive follow-up destination in 2014.
  • Nearly 2/3 of school leavers continue in education.

They recognised youth work’s role in their review.

“Scottish young people work increasingly towards recognised awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Youth Achievement Award and the John Muir Award. There is thus recognition of young people’s personal achievements within and beyond school, including through partnerships which support learning.“

The OECD did make it clear that we have more to do. We are still not achieving the outcomes that we want to see for all young people, especially those from the poorest areas of Scotland.

Education Scotland inspections point to some communities where the collective work of schools, youth workers, the police and many other partners are allowing children and young people to fulfil their potential and really flourish.

2018 will be the Year of Young People, and now is the time to agree the action that will allow us to drive forward further significant improvement in the lives of children and young people by that time.

Coming back to Scottish Government as Safer Communities Director in 2013, I saw some incredible changes that had taken place during my absence. For some reason, these differences were not making the headlines. But I think they are truly remarkable.

  • Recorded crimes and offences by people ages 8 – 17 have reduced by 45%, from 78,572 in 08/09 to 43,117 in 12/13.
  • Children referred to the childrens’ reporter on offence grounds were 11,554 in 08/09. This dropped to 2,891 in 14/15, a reduction of around 75%.
  • Numbers of young people convicted of handling offensive weapons were 812 in 2006/07, which dropped to 165 in 2013/14, a reduction of around 80%.

What level can we get these figures down to by 2018 and what will it take? I know that the continued energy and engagement of youth workers will be crucial.

As we seek to make further progress, we must think carefully about how we are going to deliver improvement. How do we improve things? Improvement science tells us we need:

  • a clear aim;
  • a method; and
  • we need to measure it.

Those aims are there at a high level in the National Youth Work Strategy: think about it at local level, in the organisation or community that you work in. Get together with others to agree it. Be ambitious.

In my experience, it is crucial to test out different approaches, be willing to learn from others, and learn from success as well as from failure.

Finally, measure. If it works, share it, spread it. If it doesn’t, learn from it and move on.

I look forward to seeing more of the energy, inspiration and impact that youth work can bring, as we work together seeking to change the lives of young people across Scotland.

W: | Tw: @PaulJScotGov

Paul Johnston’s article is taken from the latest The Link, the youth work sector’s magazine, you can read the full magazine here: