Looking forward not back

LFNB Balloon 2

‘Looking Forward Not Back’, based at YouthLink Scotland, was funded through the Scottish Government’s ‘Tackling Sectarianism’ programme. The project worked with five youth work organisations across Scotland, examining the nature of the contribution youth work can make in tackling sectarianism. As part of this, young people in each of their communities were supported to conduct their own research on sectarianism.

Adele Martin LFNB 116 year old Adele Martin from South Lanarkshire tells us why her experience of anti-sectarian project, Looking Forward Not Back, was a personal turning point for her.

I have been involved in the Looking Forward Not back project for two years. Over the two years I have been working on two different projects with other young people in Hamilton Universal Connections. Hamilton Universal Connections is a youth project and allows young people to explore topics and issues in a safe environment to develop knowledge and understanding, which allows myself and other young people to make positive informed life choices.

This project has helped me to learn lots of new skills and has helped to develop the qualities I will need to become a youth worker. I would never have got involved in anything like this at school because I was never confident enough to mix with people or talk to them, now after taking part in this project I can speak with people very easily and I now have the courage to stand in front of an audience and my peers. This is all because of the youth workers who have encouraged me and always believed in me. They have given me the chance to actually become a youth worker. They have encouraged me to become more involved in the centre’s activities and volunteer to help other young people. By doing my volunteering I have achieved my 200hrs Saltire Award. I would never have achieved this if I hadn’t been involved in LFNB.

Adele Martin LFNB 2As well as becoming more confident I have learned how to do new things. I helped to make a DVD for our first Looking Forward Not Back task, and to do this I had to be part of a bigger team, this has given me the confidence to speak up and put my voice and ideas forward. I had to be able to help solve problems and doing this during the project has improved how I communicate with people, this has also helped me when I went to get an interview for college and when I got interviewed for my job. Without the confidence and being able to speak to people I would never have been successful. I now have a job as an escort taking young people to school and back home every day.

During the project I also learned that I did not need to read and write to learn, the youth workers did lots of different activities with us so that we could learn all about sectarianism but because I wasn’t good at reading and writing I was afraid. But my youth workers helped me they gave me loads of support and guidance and helped me to learn using different ways, when I was at school this never happened I always felt I was left to struggle on my own.
When I was asked to be part of the second project I really wanted to do it. I had the chance to get another qualification for doing research into sectarianism in our communities. I knew this was going to help me more, I had to speak to people, I had to collect information (I had never done anything like this before), then I had to stand up in front of people and present the findings. I knew I could do this because I was more confident and I knew the youth workers would always be there to help and support me.

Being part of this project has been great for me and if I could I would tell every young person to get involved with youth work it has helped me to become much more confident and have belief in myself to make the right choices in my life all thanks to youth work and youth workers who cared about me.

A toolkit produced by Looking Forward Not Back on supporting young people to take action on sectarianism, can be found here: www.actiononsectarianism.info/library-main/activities/looking-forward-not-back-toolkit-year-2


Falling pregnant versus preparing for parenthood

Pregnant Petr KratochvilDr Jonathan Sher discusses what the links are between the upcoming Olympics in Rio and becoming a mother or father in Scotland? And, why should you care as a youth worker?

Jonathan SherZika virus may be the first association that comes to mind. Brazil has been the epicentre of this mosquito-borne infection that can cause such severe birth defects as microcephaly (too small brain and head). Anyone going to Rio for the Games who is trying to conceive, or might become pregnant anyway, should be having second thoughts about these travel plans. Public health officials say it is inevitable that at least a small proportion of Scottish/UK visitors to Rio and other tropical Zika zones will return home still carrying the virus and will remain at risk of harming their Scottish baby-to-be.

Thinking about, and sensibly weighing, risks is a core element of youth work.  Neither fear-mongering nor false re-assurance is good practice. Youth work is all about helping young people both to feel empowered and be well informed to make the choices leading to the healthiest, happiest lives for themselves and their loved ones. And, what choices will young women and men make that are more momentous (short and long term) than: Do I want to become a parent at all? If so, then when and with whom? And, what can I do to increase my chances of actually getting what I already deeply desire: a safe pregnancy (for myself or my partner), a thriving baby and a rewarding parenthood?

The second link to the Olympics? Parenthood and youth work is preparation. ‘Falling pregnant’ implies passivity, fatalism and disempowerment. No one ever became an Olympic champion (or brilliantly successful in other walks of life) by building her or his life on these weak foundations. Every Olympian at Rio earned this role by years of high quality thinking ahead, planning and prolonged preparation. Some are luckier than others; but no one is in the Olympic Village primarily because of good luck or natural ability. The same is true of great parents – and terrific youth workers.

The third link is that parenthood is a shared opportunity and mutual challenge for most youth workers and the young people whom they assist and support. It is not usually an ‘us and them’ matter; but rather, an extraordinary example of common ground. Remember that while there are still teen pregnancies, the average age of a woman in Scotland giving birth for the first time is 28.

There is a largely unexplored, ‘under the radar’ cultural belief across Scotland that a person is either avoiding childbearing or an expectant mother/father. What often gets missed – to the detriment of individuals, communities and our society — is the potentially powerful period between ‘not pregnant’ and ‘pregnant’ when preparing for pregnancy is both possible and vitally important. This is neither a matter reserved for health professionals, nor only of relevance in the final weeks and months before conception occurs.

Much of the genuine preparation falls squarely into the remit of Scotland’s youth work sector. The ‘life course’ approach — and what preparing the next generation of Scottish parents means in practice — is explained in two new reports I was commissioned to write by the Public Health Director within NHS GG&C. They are ‘Plain English’ documents that every youth worker will understand (personally and professionally).

They have attracted a good deal of media attention during the past fortnight. But, if all you know about these reports on preconception health, education and care is derived from the media, then you have no idea what these reports actually say and recommend.

The main report — Missed Periods: Scotland’s opportunities for better pregnancies, healthier parents and thriving babies the first time . . . and every time — can be accessed at: http://www.nhsggc.org.uk/media/237840/missed-periods-j-sher-may-2016.pdf

A much briefer ‘taster’ version — Prepared for Pregnancy? Preconception health, education and care in Scotland — is an introduction and overview for people having neither the time nor inclination at the moment to read the more detailed primer. It is available at:  http://www.nhsggc.org.uk/media/237841/prepared-for-pregnancy-j-sher-may-2016.pdf

In addition, I have written two very short opinion pieces about this topic. With an emphasis on the public sector, here is the link to the article in the new issue of Holyrood  magazine: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/comment/life-chances-are-often-shaped-even-we-are-born. Addressing the voluntary sector, SCVO published this blog last Friday: http://www.scvo.org.uk/blog/doing-the-rights-thing-for-next-generation-of-scottish-parents/

Please read them for yourselves and let me know what you think . . . and what actions you intend to take in the months ahead.

Dr Jonathan Sher is an Independent Consultant based in Edinburgh. He can be reached at: jonathan@deltaforce.net