National Youth Work Strategy Debate

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 @ 2:40PM

Kezia recently opened and closed the debate for Labour on the National Youth Work Strategy. You can read both her contributions below:

Opening Speech

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): I welcome the strategy, the opportunity to debate it and the cash announcement from the minister. That is three welcomes right at the outset. We are looking forward to a positive afternoon.

I chair the cross-party group on children and young people with Marco Biagi, and we are very reliant on the help and support of YouthLink Scotland to operate the group’s secretariat. The advantage of having YouthLink so involved in that work is that that enables us to get youth work’s perspective on the whole education and children and young people agenda at all stages. I make that important point to get across to the minister the fact that perhaps the youth work sector’s contribution to public policy does not always get the recognition that it deserves. At least today, we can mark that contribution ourselves.

What does youth work mean? What does it deliver? What does it do? It delivers four things: skills, self-confidence, resilience and a sense of community. Every day, I see all those in practice in the part of east Edinburgh where I live, such as at the youth bus group. Known locally in Lochend and Restalrig as the buzz, it is a mobile youth work bus that goes around different parts of the east of Edinburgh. I encourage the minister to see its work, because there is a direct correlation between where the youth bus is and a dip in antisocial behaviour calls to the police—wherever the youth bus is, whether it is in Lochend, Restalrig or other parts of the east end of Edinburgh, calls to the police dip because young people are actively engaged. The bus provides not only Xboxes and computer games, but employability support, with young people helped to develop their CVs, and access to sexual health advice and a number of other services that I will come on to shortly.

I move on to discuss projects elsewhere in the east end of Edinburgh. The work of kids in the street, which is a project that is run by Kevin Finlay and the team in Craigmillar, is worthy of recognition. When they take out their mobile football unit, they provide other services to the community at the same time. Sport plays a particularly valuable role in youth work—I am sure that we will hear more about that from Liz Smith.

Those are just two examples of the tremendous dedication that the staff and volunteers who are involved in youth work show every day—hence the wording of the Labour amendment, which I sense the minister is looking to accept.

Aileen Campbell: Yes, I am.

Kezia Dugdale: That is good to hear; I thank the minister for that.

It is worth recognising that volunteers—obviously—but staff, in particular, are not motivated by pay but by a much higher reward. The individuals I know in the east end of Edinburgh have a driving passion for their community, but they also see the good in every single young person—they see that young people have the ability to fulfil their potential with help and support. We underestimate youth workers’ contribution to our communities at our peril.

I say that youth workers are not motivated by money, but that does not mean that we should disregard pay as an issue. I have come across a lot of youth workers who are very reliant on sessional pay, but who do not know how many hours they will get from one week to the next and who do not have a tremendous amount of job security, with much of their work tied to the funding bids on which youth work organisations rely. That short-term funding can come from multiple sources, which means that even the smallest organisations need the brightest of accountants and the best people working on the books to ensure that they get enough money, year in, year out.

Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP): This takes me back a bit, but when I was involved in such work, I recall that it was possible for those involved to spend far too much of their time raising money. Indeed, that could almost become a separate activity at the cost of working with the youngsters. Has anything changed in the past few years?

Kezia Dugdale: Progress has been made, but not enough. Charities and third sector organisations right across different policy portfolios look to the Government to address the funding challenges and to find mechanisms through which long-term funding can be provided. Increasingly, I hear people talk about wanting not three-year but five-year funding, so that they have at least one year in the middle when they can get on with the business that they should be doing, rather than setting up or closing down accounts. All Government ministers face the challenge of providing more sustainable funding options for groups that do such critical work.

The Government’s motion focuses on positive choices, which is the issue that I will focus on during my remaining time. Liam McArthur mentioned the scouts, and I will talk about the particular campaigning work that the girl guides have done over the past couple of years. The guides have developed a campaigning badge and are doing some tremendous work on the no more page 3 campaign. I am particularly drawn to their work on body confidence and their body confidence revolution.

A recent girl guides attitude survey pointed to the fact that one in five primary school kids has been on a diet; 38 per cent of all 11 to 21-year-olds have skipped a meal to lose weight; and 87 per cent of young women think that they are judged more on their looks than on their abilities. We must recognise the work that youth work, the girl guides and other organisations play in tackling those endemic issues by promoting a better sense of wellbeing and a more positive body image outlook. That would go a long way towards addressing our country’s body image crisis.

Sexual health is another part of that agenda and I encourage the minister to look very carefully at the relationship between youth work and sexual health services. I am quite disturbed by what is happening in Edinburgh, where dedicated sexual health services for young people are being removed—or at least the funding for them is being removed by the national health service because it is looking to mainstream those services into its core services. I think that, if we are not careful, that will put young people off accessing sexual health services and advice, which might lead to an increase in sexually transmitted infection.

We need to recognise the importance of dedicated services for young people. As I said, youth work services often integrate sexual health services into all the work that they do. I ask the minister to consider how she and her Government department can work with the health department to ensure that young people can access the services that they need.

Organisations such as Caledonia Youth also receive money to provide sex education in schools. That money is under threat as local authorities look to save the cash and deliver the work themselves. I do not know whether the minister remembers her experience of sex education in school—I think that getting it from the teacher was not the greatest thing and it is probably better if someone from outwith the school environment who has the expertise comes in to talk about sex and relationships in the way that young people do. If such services were lost, they would be sorely missed. I encourage the minister to look at trends in that direction.

We need to be careful that we do not turn people off accessing sexual health services. We must value the work that youth work plays in that regard, because ultimately it is the duty of youth workers to minimise risk-taking behaviour.

I see the Presiding Officer giving me the nod, so I will keep talking.

Although Caledonia Youth is losing out on core services in health and in education, it continues to do important work in our prisons. I do not know whether the minister is aware of the education work that it does in a number of prisons across the country. It provides one-to-one dedicated advice for young people who have experience of the criminal justice system. Such intensive work can substantially change lives.

Aileen Campbell: Will the member give way?

Kezia Dugdale: Caledonia Youth would like to roll that work out; perhaps the minister can comment on that.

Aileen Campbell: I am not aware of the specifics, but I am interested in considering what more we can do for young people who are in prison. The work on parenting that Families Outside, the Scottish Pre-school Play Association and others have done has had similar outcomes, in that it has built confidence and ensured that when people leave prison they can lead much more positive lives and are much less likely to go back to prison. Such work can end the vicious cycle of reoffending.

Kezia Dugdale: I agree entirely with the minister on that. It is about the transition to adulthood and the roles and responsibilities that go with it, whether we are talking about sexual health, parenting or drug taking and other risky behaviour, all of which can be affected if the right approach is taken. I repeat my call to the minister to work with her colleagues in justice, health and other departments to ensure that the approach is joined up.

Members will hear from three Labour members this afternoon. Graeme Pearson will talk more about youth work and the link with youth justice; Ken Macintosh will ask hard questions about the strategy and the degree to which there is a framework for monitoring and evaluation; and Siobhan McMahon will ask hard questions about whether the money matches the mission that has been set out today. That said, we very much welcome the strategy and look forward to the rest of the debate.

I move amendment S4M-09915.1, to insert at end:

“, and recognises the dedication of countless volunteers and hardworking but often low-paid staff who deliver youth work services across the country”.


Closing Speech

Kezia Dugdale: I agree with Liz Smith that it has been a positive and good-natured debate. I think that we have all learned something, whether it is about the dangers of vaping or the fact that Liam McArthur used to be a girl guide.

I acknowledge Jim Sweeney and his colleagues from YouthLink Scotland in the public gallery, and I invite members to read his article in this week’s Third Force News, in which he points to the fact that every £1 that is spent on youth work services saves £13.

We have learned a lot about the requirement for more sustainable funding options. The message has been sent loud and clear to the Government that youth work organisations would very much like to be on a firmer financial footing and that youth workers’ jobs would become considerably easier if that were the case. Many of the youth work organisations that I work with would benefit from that. They do not necessarily all have accountants; it tends to be the case that there is one youth worker who is good at doing the books who gets the job of ensuring that the sums add up, but they would much rather do the day job of being a youth worker than sit in front of an Excel spreadsheet. We could ease their job by giving that just a bit more thought.

Of course, the issue is not just about financial savings. As has been touched on, some young people go on an educational journey through their involvement in youth work. I mentioned earlier the work of the cross-party group on children and young people. Two Prince’s Trust young ambassadors sit on that group on a permanent basis, and they make a valuable contribution week in, week out. Both those young people have extensive experience of youth work services and both are on their way to becoming youth workers. I am surprised by the number of young people I have met who have had a very positive experience of youth work and who want to go on to give back by becoming youth workers. They recognise what a transformational effect youth work has had on their lives and they want others to benefit from that, too. They see it as a career.

However, youth work does not have to be a career. Some members have touched on the peer education that is done through youth work, which is all about giving young people the interpersonal skills to teach what they know to other young people. They appreciate the strength that comes from that.

I thank the minister for highlighting the work of LGBT Youth Scotland. Although it would be possible to highlight a number of groups that provide targeted youth work support, we cannot overstate how important dedicated services for young LGBT people are. They are particularly important for young people who feel extremely isolated when they are coming out and who are desperate to meet more young people who are like them. In many ways, LGBT Youth Scotland provides the sense of community that they need. For some young people, the service that is provided is a lifeline; for others, it is just a place to meet and hang out. We must recognise that a broad spectrum of services are provided, from ones that deal with crisis situations to ones that address the social need of young people to get together in a room.

We must also recognise how often youth work services are on the front line when it comes to some of the big social challenges that we face. In my opening speech, I spoke at length about sexual health services. In addition, it is important to recognise the role that youth work plays in the drugs agenda. I am sure that the minister will be aware of the activities of Crew 2000 in Edinburgh in young people’s attitudes towards drugs. She might also be aware that, at the weekend, a number of music festivals across Scotland, including T in the Park, said that they will not allow legal highs to be sold at their events this summer. That is an important move, which all of us should welcome. However, it does not address the fact that many young people buy legal highs online; that such products will not be sold at T in the Park does not mean that they will not be taken there.

We should acknowledge the role that youth work plays in helping young people to “know the score”, to use the phrase that is often mentioned in that context. It gives young people the skills to enable them to reduce the risk in taking drugs, if that is what they insist on doing. It ensures that they know not to mix drugs with alcohol, that they know how much water to drink and that they think about who they are buying from and the dangers that are associated with that. Youth work is at the front line of that work. That is not the only public health agenda on which it does such work; Ken Macintosh talked about vaping, which is another example.

Youth work is not just about education; it goes into health, justice and communities. The minister mentioned the Christie commission and breaking down silos. I challenge her again to think about how we can break down every barrier to participation and help youth work to fulfil its potential.

As George Adam said, breaking down barriers is not the only issue; we must find mechanisms for youth work organisations to collaborate so that they can widen the types of work that they do. That can reduce costs, but it would also allow them to provide more imaginative and varied services.

Bob Doris nailed it when he said that youth work is about not activities but relationships. I cannot think of any youth worker whom I know in the country who would disagree with that statement. The value of those relationships is critical.

The minister knows that I have a strong interest in care leavers and the care-leaving agenda. In relation to that, we did good work together on the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, and we could do a lot more on the agenda. I called Who Cares? Scotland this morning to ask what it thinks of the youth work strategy and whether it wanted to contribute anything. The organisation had a lot of strong and positive words to offer the minister on the strategy. It wishes that many other Government services had at their heart the same principles of partnership, collaboration, co-design and co-production. It believes that, if social work and education departments and the police were to work in the same way, we would all be better off. Who Cares? Scotland had nothing but good words.

I congratulate all the staff who are involved in youth work organisations and all the volunteers on whom the organisations very much rely week in and week out. I thank the minister for the opportunity to debate the issues and I look forward to the cabinet secretary’s closing speech. I am sure that he will address in great depth some of the points that we have made about long-term sustainable funding.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Michael Russell): This has been a debate of reasonable consensus, which is sometimes remarkable in this chamber. We will, of course, accept the Labour Party’s amendment.

MSPs particularly enjoy such debates, which offer an opportunity to blend the local and the national—to talk about their constituencies and their concerns, as well as national concerns. In my constituency of Argyll and Bute, the HELP project in Dunoon, with which I recently sponsored a jobs fair, does a great deal of work with young people who are moving from school or other activities to employment.

I echo Kezia Dugdale’s welcome of Jim Sweeney and his colleagues to the gallery. I am sure that even they realise that they have heard an unusually united chamber—a chamber of positivity about the work that organisations such as theirs do. As Mary Scanlon pointed out, this is not what we do every day or every afternoon, but it is good that we do it sometimes.

I will talk about some of the contributions before widening out my speech to the key issues, including funding. George Adam was right to say that we are talking about making a difference to lives and communities—that is exactly what we are engaged in. There are key roles for volunteering and community support, but there is also a key role for young people, themselves, so the strategy focuses on how young people can lead the process of making a difference to their lives and communities.

I am not a patron of any youth organisation. I was not in the scouts or the BB and I have not even heard of the woodcraft folk, which Labour members talked about and which I also was not in. However, I was active in a number of church groups when I was young. We need to recognise and celebrate the great variety in provision and the many ways in which youth work is undertaken. Bob Doris described how that variety can work in informal and formal settings.

There is a rich landscape and a rich tapestry. It is important to recognise that no single piece of work or help would make all the difference. The strategy must be varied and broad reaching, and it must have an implementation plan attached to it, as ours does.

This is about individuals as well as organisations. As Graeme Pearson’s touching story showed, youth work is about what individuals want to do, and feel that they can do, to make a difference. The issue is therefore not just about resources. In a minute, I will address the resources question that Siobhan McMahon raised, and I will talk about how the Government is bringing forward resources and will continue to do so. Resources are always important, but the strategy is about how we work together. The implementation plan is clear on how we will do that, but we need new ideas, as well. Bob Doris’s idea about Erasmus+ funding is an interesting thought that we can take further.

This is not about what we cannot do. Sometimes in Scotland when we start to talk about money, we end up talking about the things that we feel we cannot do. This is about what we can do and about finding imaginative ways of doing them. Kezia Dugdale was right to link that to the key issues in individual lives, such as legal and illegal highs, sexual health, alcohol and tobacco. It was also right for Mr Macintosh to discuss vaping. I am quite sure that the health ministers will bring forward their plans and will have noted his contribution. His speech illustrated, as other members’ speeches illustrated, that this is about taking an holistic view of individuals and how they learn and change.

The final point that I will make about the speeches that have been made relates to something that Liz Smith said. She linked what we are talking about to the Wood report. Others linked it to the curriculum for excellence. The youth strategy does not stand on its own; it integrates with all other aspects of education and, indeed, with the personal learner journeys that the Government has been keen to support in every part of its legislation and activities in education.

I turn to funding. The Government values the significant role that youth work agencies and organisations play, and has shown that with funding support. Over the years 2013 to 2015, the children’s rights and wellbeing division is providing around £6.9 million directly to national voluntary youth work and youth citizenship organisations through the third sector early intervention fund, through strategic partnership funding, through the national voluntary organisations support fund and through programme grants. Since the inception of cashback for communities, we have invested or committed over £70 million in projects and facilities for young people and the communities that they live in. As Aileen Campbell mentioned in her opening remarks, today we announced that a further £2.1 million has been awarded to YouthLink Scotland for the cashback programme.

The cashback programme has been extraordinarily successful in helping the country’s and the Government’s ambitions. We see the results through programmes such as the Green Team (Edinburgh and Lothians) Ltd project in East Lothian. That project, which is funded by the cashback programme, identifies young people from areas of multiple deprivation who are at risk of becoming involved in antisocial behaviour or of becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol. I refer to the points that Kezia Dugdale raised on the learning experience of avoiding as well as being involved in other things. The project provides opportunities for young people to take part in community-based environmental volunteering and outdoor activities, and to develop new skills. That is just one example of how cashback flows into the system and continues to sustain an enormous variety of activity. That is underpinned by the regular funding from the Government that makes a difference.

There could always be more funding, of course. No organisation in Scotland says that there should not be more, and there are, of course, ways in which it can sometimes be found over time, but we are committed to supporting national youth work agencies, organisations and projects, and we continue to work with strategic funding partnerships, the Big Lottery Fund and YouthLink Scotland to support funded organisations to measure and demonstrate the outcomes from the grants that have been provided—that was a key point in the debate—which allows us to build on best practice.

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