by Dawn Exley, SCSN Business and Development Officer

In the last months, news of funding losses to youth work services in the wake of Covid-19 have been surfacing.  Despite emergency response funds being made available from the government, youth agencies report that the majority have been unable to access these pots and have already seen funds to the sector drop by £20m as a result of Covid-19, with losses of 10s of millions more expected, post-lockdown.  In response, youth work leaders have issued a stark warning and plea to all political parties to invest significantly in the sector at a time when it has already been suffering the consequences of huge cuts and when its role in young peoples’ recovery from the Covid-19 crisis has never been so important.

So what is it about youth work that is so vital for our nation’s young people at a time like this?  To begin with – research has shown the pivotal role youth work has in enhancing health and well-being, tackling poverty, increasing school attainment and employment, protecting children’s rights and developing resilience.   These areas, as well as the value and impact young people have identified youth work as having on their confidence, experience of inclusion and equality, ability to form relationships and life skills have a huge part to play in a prevention agenda leading to safer and healthier communities at the best of times.   Under normal circumstances, youth work is already a highly subscribed but underfunded resource.  Its success in working with those living under challenging circumstances is often attributed to its uniquely voluntary nature which helps build trusted and long-term supportive relationships – something now widely recognised through research on Adverse Childhood Experiences as vital in developing resilience.

Given what we know, as well as the massive impact the crisis is already having on accessibility and availability to youth work and it’s excellent primary prevention functions –  the idea that these services will be scaled back even further is deeply concerning.  Indeed, as I write this blog, information is trickling through daily regarding the effect the Covid-19 crisis is already having and will most likely have on our young people.  One incredibly enlightening piece of research has been the Lockdown Lowdown done by Youthlink Scotland which puts the spotlight on the extreme pressure and worry young people are feeling at this time around a myriad of issues.  These, alongside the new impact of isolation and for some bereavement, all in all, could no doubt create a ‘perfect storm’ in the months to come.

Compounding this also, is the fact that the crisis is exacerbating issues many young people were already facing.  For example, those dealing with poverty, mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse issues in the home.   Indeed, there is emerging evidence from services such as Childline and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Children (NSPCC) that child abuse has risen since lockdown.  And there are legitimate fears from many sources that what we are seeing in terms of increases in harm so far are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ given the fact that referrals to child protection services have slowed dramatically at this time due to schools, support services and youth centres all under lockdown.  In anticipation of the coming crisis, some authorities and charities are already appealing urgently for more foster carers and unfortunately, this also means we may be likely to see a rise in youth homelessness too.

What is heartening however, has been the already fantastic response to the crisis from the youth work sector and the commitment, agility and ingenuity shown.  This blog, from Ryan McKay at the Citadel Youth Centre even points to how the crisis has improved their practice and the lessons they have learned that they will take forward.  As with many of our key workers at this time, as expressed by Paul Carberry, Director for Scotland at Action for Children, in his illuminating insight into the response of youth and children’s work to the crisis “As a nation, we owe a debt of gratitude to these selfless workers.”  With The Scottish Government’s second report on vulnerable children detailing the way forward for supporting our young people out of this crisis as critical in terms of multi-agency working, supporting out of trauma, listening to children’s voices and experiences and continuing to support families – youth work could not be better placed to step in.  Lets hope it gets the backing and funding our young people need and deserve.