I’ve been a youth worker for over 20 years. Last April I wrote about the impact of long-standing inequalities on young people, and called for two things: 

  • More local open access youth centres 

  • Youth workers in every school

And now, as I survey the impact of six months of a pandemic that is accelerating and emphasising systemic inequalities, I’ve never seen so much need for well-funded, responsive and accessible support for young people as now.   

Of course, I would say that wouldn’t I, so let’s consider the facts: 

  • hundreds of thousands of young people have gone ‘off the radar’ during the pandemic  
  • digital exclusion is in danger of becoming a ‘catastrophe of lost education and opportunity for the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable’  
  • the pandemic has had disproportionate impact on children and young people’s health and wellbeing  
  • Childline were taking a call an hour about the impact of domestic abuse during June, an increase of nearly a third on the number before lockdown 
  • young people not considered vulnerable before, without advice and support of keeping safe online, are being groomed by drug and criminal gangsprayed on as ‘clean flesh’  

Our response

Creative Youth Network and my colleagues have responded magnificently. These are just some of the steps we have taken: 

  • We quickly moved all our services to safe, online spaces
  • We redeployed colleagues to detached work, visiting parks and places where vulnerable young people congregated
  • We returned to face-to-face provision for those isolated at home, often experiencing severe economic or domestic stress
  • We dropped off resource packs, so young people could join online wellbeing or cookery sessions, connecting with other young people over shared activities 
  • We raised funds for IT connectivity and equipment for those living in digital poverty    

Youth clubs may have been closed, but youth workers ongoing dedication, support and communication are the threads that are keeping young people engaged and connected. For young people to succeed, we need to strengthen these threads, weave a fabric that will develop their capacity for deep, sustainable, and just resilience — particularly at community scale. 

The Power of Youth Work

And that’s the power of youth work. It’s about providing career advice, enabling wellbeing, and developing resilience. It’s about preventing isolation, enabling young people to develop a sense of belonging with their peers. It’s about ensuring the only young carer or asylum seeker in their class receive support targeted for their needs, providing a deeper sense of belonging rooted in shared experience.  

Youth work is so much more than just a nice chat and having fun. As the pillars and structures and certainties that many of us grew up with are crumbling for young people, youth workers are here to offer consistent and trustworthy support. To stand beside young people no matter what life throws at them. No wonder Leeza, a young person we’ve worked with, likens youth work to being held in pockets’. 

And we’re seeing more and more young people coming to us. They want one to one supportquality conversations. They are really reaching out to youth workers now in ways that I don’t remember seeing before. We’re listening, and with young people we’re co-producing events to influence based on what young people need. Their needs aren’t huge, and are easily achievable if we put our minds to it.   

As we move towards #YouthWorkMonth in November, we need to be more ambitious for youth work. I’ve said before that I’d like to see youth workers in every school, and that hasn’t changed. Our ambition for youth work is for every school in the UK to have a youth worker to be there for young people, keep an eye out for them, see the world through their eyes, make connections rather than corrections, to support rather than impose rules, and whose skills and experience enhance and contribute to the whole community.    

This is the power of youth work, and young people need it now more than ever.  That’s just my view – what have I missed and what else needs to happen? 

We believe that every young person, regardless of background or circumstance, should have the opportunity to achieve their own potential. Will you support us so our young people can stand strong whatever life throws at them?

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