An international perspective


According to Canadian academic, Professor Shirley R Steinberg PhD, Scotland is a great model for youth work in practice and the empowerment of young people. Shirley is currently Director of the Institute for Youth and Community Research at the University of the West of Scotland.

My past year in Scotland has become one of amazement, not just for the hills, the lochs, my colleagues, and the culture, but for the commitment I have seen first hand to the empowerment and engagement with young people. Scotland leads in the way that young people are celebrated, included and respected, and the Expo was a packed day doing exactly that.

A country that sustains and supports its young people is a country destined to succeed and thrive. This is an easy concept to understand, but few nations believe in the urgency and importance in sustaining our youth. My day at the recent Youth Work Expo, organised by YouthLink Scotland and Education Scotland, gave me hope; it gave me power, and made me recommit myself to youth work. I have always been committed, but found myself working in countries where young people were discussed in terms of being: marginalised; at risk; a problem; a deficit; impossible to lead; lazy, and/or a challenge. The conferences and expos I have attended in the past focused on what they perceived as a societal breakdown, a threat, and a management issue, a need to control the youth population.

The strength and reach that YouthLink Scotland has achieved as the national agency for youth work is a sign that the Scottish people have indeed got it right. My own speech that day was centered on the notion of ‘Keepin’ it Real’, a phrase borrowed from the international hip hop culture of youth. It demands that we do not work on youth, we do not research youth, and we do not try to change youth. Instead, we keep it real by working with, researching with, and facilitating youth. We do not judge nor determine what needs to be changed. We work with the evolution of a healthy youth population. We see young people as partners in our desire to create a sustainable and safe world, and that can only be done with and by our young people.

Through societal and cultural arrogance most societies indulge in the notion that adults, by definition, are correct, including the wielding of power and decision-making. However, there is seldom a dialogue as to how to create a partnership with those who will take up the next generation. The youth work sector in Scotland is serious in creating those much needed conversations and spaces in which to include young people in society and the decisions that affect them. Good youth work is not about a need to maintain an often failing status quo, but to demand that our young people are nurtured, believed in, and supported to become good citizens and our next leaders, which in turn will take us to a more humane and socially just world.

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



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