This week sees the launch of a literature review on the impact of universal youth work. Some would say this is long overdue and some would say that perhaps it is too late – we like to think that it is timely as its focus on universal youth work comes at a time of genuine concern about the future of youth work in Scotland.
Thanks are due to many people and organisations: to The Robertson Trust, YouthLink Scotland, and Youth Scotland for funding; to the University of Edinburgh for hosting and managing the research; to the Edinburgh Youth Work Consortium for initiating and guiding the work (especially Dona Milne chair of the Research Steering Group); to NHS Lothian and NHS Health Scotland for providing in-kind support; and to Dr Callum McGregor for undertaking the research.
The publication of the review is timely because the new National Youth Work Strategy 2014 – 19 focuses the attention of young people, practitioners, and policy makers on the importance of youth work to our society and our local communities. The strategy explicitly includes the ambition to ‘explore the potential for commissioning research to demonstrate the role and value of youth work’. It is also timely because Community Learning and Development is under the spotlight, with local CLD strategies and action plans being developed, even as local CLD services face severe cutbacks. And finally, it is timely because the recent referendum has generated an unprecedented engagement amongst young people with the political process and the reality of democratic participation. Youth work has always dreamt of this.
And whilst timely, the findings from this review make slightly uneasy reading as it also presents a number of challenges to us. How do we continue to celebrate the best of youth work practice in an environment where public services are subject to radical surgery? How can we draw on real evidence about the way we work, rather than what we would like to hear? How can we invest time, energy, and resources to help us better understand the long term impact of youth work? Where does universal youth work sit within the National Youth Work Strategy?
Evidence presented in the review suggests that universal youth work can generate a range of health and wellbeing outcomes, make a contribution to improving formal educational outcomes, and impact on employability as well as providing safe yet challenging spaces for personal and social development and intercultural learning. These are significant contributions to improving outcomes for young people in Scotland.
The review is a small (but beautifully shaped) pebble in a large pool. We believe that the ripples will be felt by many, and there’s a chance that they create a wave that will shape the way young people experience and benefit from youth work in the years to come.
The next stage in this process has to involve engaging the wider youth work sector, including young people themselves, in identifying the questions that are important for youth work and for young people, and working together to collectively contribute the evidence base for universal youth work.
Join in our discussions on twitter through our hashtag #youthworkworks and tell us what you think of the findings and how we should take this forward in order to strengthen our case to grow community based youth work in Scotland.
Simon Jaquet and Dona Milne, Edinburgh Youth Work Consortium