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.

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