As we celebrate Youth Work Week I’m reminded of something a former mayor of Bogata, once said: “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”

On that basis, where are the successful places? Take Bristol, for example. Dubbed "cool, classy and supremely creative" and the UK’s most desirable place to live by the Sunday Times in 2017, Bristol also includes some of the poorest parts of England. Depending on the data you look at, it is possible to say that Bristol is both a wealthy city, and deprived; that citizens enjoy high levels of health and wellbeing, and high levels of complex health needs. Paradox is at the heart of city life, informing the context within which youth services are delivered.

Bristol's young people

And when it comes to young people, the statistics are pretty stark. According to Bristol’s most recent Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, for example, 1 in 10 children aged 5-15 have a diagnosable mental health problem, doubling to 1 in 5 in those aged 16 and 17. That’s an estimated 9,300 young people. Think about it. That’s equivalent to 9 or 10 average-sized secondary schools full of pupils.

In addition there are thousands of young people without a diagnosis, struggling to cope with the everyday stresses and strains of life including family and peer relationships, and engaging with education. We’ve all seen the headlines recently about the little understood issue of loneliness in young people. 16 to 24 year olds, despite their hyper-connectivity and social media networks, feel lonely more often than any other age group.

This wide spectrum of conditions all impact on the young person experiencing them, but the effects go far beyond - to family, friends, the wider community, with the ripples extending to a city, regional and national level.  This is creating an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world for young people, characterised by challenges that are both intricate and inter-related.

Youth workers are young people's rocks

So what can be done? Amongst this sea of statistics, youth workers can be the rock upon which the good mental health and emotional well-being of young people develops.  And rocks matter to young people – the steadiness of continuity and consistency, the reliability of key relationships with trusted adults, the reassurance of knowing where to turn for support, the open mindedness and fairness of people who are there to meet their needs and not judge. 

If young people are to acquire the resilience and skills they need to develop, learn and achieve throughout adolescence and into early adulthood, they must have access to well-resourced, skilled and accessible youth work at all stages of their life.

There’s hope for Bristolians in this time of crushing austerity. Bristol City Council’s targeted youth services will support 3,500 young people each year, particularly those who need support to manage a range of social, health, education and skills needs.

But we need to do much more.  We need to respond better to the mental health and wellbeing needs of young people, ensuring youth centres are open in local communities as well as bespoke and targeted services to meet individual needs when necessary. To do otherwise is to undermine the opportunity of young people to reach their potential.

That’s why Creative Youth Network has placed specially trained Wellbeing Practitioners into our locality youth work teams to work with young people on mental health and wellbeing issues in open-access and targeted sessions.  

This Youth Work Week we at Creative Youth Network are celebrating all the youth workers (and they come in a range of guises) who are connecting with, supporting, sustaining, amplifying the voices of, and advocating for, young people everywhere.

But we’re also calling for far more investment in Wellbeing Practitioners in places, like youth centres, where young people already are, so that every young person has easy access to a wellbeing professional when and where they need them.

This could make a massive difference to young people’s lives and futures and contribute to more successful places for us all. But that’s just our view – what do you think would make youth work even more effective? Join the conversation #YWW18 @Creative_Youth