Youth work in communities as initial mental health support

Andie Reynolds, Alison Ni Charraighe

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Young people’s mental health has long been a UK policy concern. In 2019, a Labour Party briefing on Youth Services emphasised young people’s ‘… chronic levels of mental ill-health and loneliness’ (Labour Party, 2019, p.10). Pre-pandemic, it was estimated that only one third of young people in England experiencing mental health issues were able to access the support and treatment they needed (Burstow et al., 2018), and that £1.77 billion would be required ‘... to treat all the young people who need help with their mental health’ (ibid, 2018, p.4).Youth work has a rich history of fostering resilience in young people, echoing Rutter’s (2012) definition of resilience as an ‘interactive concept’. The theory is that children and young people from ‘troubled families’ benefit enormously from positive and self-affirming relationships within their environment, usually from outside the immediate family (ibid).

Youth and community development workers have fulfilled this role of ‘positive mentor’ since the inception of the profession. The context for youth work is challenging, with Davies (2019) cataloging that between 2010 and 2018 in England, youth work has experienced around £387 million in cuts, and that over 600 local authority-run youth centres nationwide have closed. Scotland has fared better with the Government spending approximately £9.5 million on youth work each year (Scottish Government, 2020). It has also retained some sector leadership through national bodies such as the Community Learning and Development Standards Council for Scotland (CLDSCS) and YouthLink Scotland which the Scottish Government financially supports. In 2020, the Scottish Government introduced a £3 million Youth Work Education Recovery Fund to help young people (re)engage with learning during the pandemic (Scottish Government, 2020). But many Scottish youth organisations did not have the required digital infrastructure and/or youth workers to meet the criteria because of the cuts (UK Youth, 2020).

Youth work and community development, as professions, are arguably well placed to provide much needed initial mental health support to young people, and youth and community workers already have many of the necessary skills needed to meet current demand. However, youth and community work is often overlooked in policy and service provision reforms that aim to address young people’s mental health. This presentation will discuss the initial results from a survey of a sample of Youth Work professionals in Central Scotland and the North East of England that aims to identify the range of mental health issues youth workers are currently supporting young people with, and to highlight training needs of workers to support them in this work. The findings from this research will inform policy around mental health ‘first aid’, and practice in terms of supporting front-line youth and community workers, and projects, to use the findings to enhance their partnerships with health service commissioners, particularly around social prescribing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2023
EventCommunity Development Society Conference 2023 - Portland, United States
Duration: 16 Jul 202319 Jul 2023


ConferenceCommunity Development Society Conference 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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