Youth Work Changes Lives Expo
Can I begin by sharing my pleasure at being here today to celebrate Scotland’s fantastic Youth Work Sector and explore it’s contribution to the Scottish Government’s Goal of making this country the best place in the world to grow up in.
The question therefore is how do we go about making this ambitious goal a reality?
At the Scottish Youth Parliament, it is our firm belief that involving young people in decision making that affects them is vital to the success of this ambition.
As a fundamentally Youth-Led Organisation, our vision for Scotland is of a Nation that listens to, values and encourages the participation of our Children and Young People.
Let me say today, loudly and clearly - The Referendum on Scotland’s Future has put an end to any myths that Young People are apathetic.
It has shown exactly the opposite. How do we know that it’s shown the opposite? Well when 16 and 17 year olds were given the chance to vote in that important Referendum, a whopping 75% of them did so. And not only that they were active participants in conversations and debates in schools, community centres and spaces across the Nation. Yes or No the importance of this engagement and debate among Young People in this Referendum on the type of Scotland they want in the future was the real success story.
It has shown that we are engaged, we are passionate and we absolutely want to be involved in decision making about our country.
Since our inception in 1999, our Parliament has made the case for Votes at Sixteen – strongly and consistently. Therefore, we must say that the lowering of the age to Sixteen for the Referendum was an important step towards increasing the participation of young people in Scotland.
Of course, this is only one of the many positive moves in recent years to encourage and promote Young People’s Involvement. From 2018 being the Year of Young People, to Getting It Right For Every Child centering the need to involve young people in decisions affecting their lives, and to the Children and Young People’s Act 2014, which for the first time empowers Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People to investigate possible human rights violation cases of individual children and young people and importantly places a statutory duty on Scottish Ministers and Local Authorities to take consideration of the impact decision making will have on Children and Young People.
It must be said. We in Scotland have much to be proud of.
Progress waits for no one, and neither should we because we still have far to go if we are to fully achieve the vision of a Nation that listens to and values the participation of Children and Young People.
Here are the opportunities that are to be grasped and navigated if we are to be truly successful in making Scotland the best place to grow up.
We at the Scottish Youth Parliament believe that the crucial next step is for the Scottish Government to enshrine in law the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It must be said that the 2014 Act was a step in the right direction by placing a duty as I have already mentioned on Scottish Ministers to consider how they might better secure or further implement the UNCRC requirements.
But this is not going far enough. It needs to be made stronger; it is our believe that the full incorporation of the UNCRC into law will help towards achieving the goal of Scotland being the best place in the world to grow up in.
I want to also reflect back for a few moments on what I’ve covered so far and think about Votes at Sixteen again as also having potential for change.
I have to say that our recent experience of engagement and participation in the democratic process has been at two poles.
From the incredible, passionate, active engagement of our Referendum on Scotland’s Future and Young People on both sides of that debate empowered and enfranchised by the chance to have their voice heard. Thanks to Scottish Politicians from all parties coming together to make that happen.
But unfortunately that consensus on votes at Sixteen has not extended across the United Kingdom. As a result we risk losing all of that energy and engagement among those young people by denying them the right to vote in the Westminster Election – and we now know the European Union Referendum, too. Those are serious missed opportunities.
Katie (SYP Vice Chair, Katie Burke MSYP) and I recently gave evidence to the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Human Rights on this and many other issues – and the committee asked how we keep young people inspired in Politics following on from the Referendum.
My answer was fairly clear. Don’t un-inspire those who you have already been inspired. Don’t question young peoples abilities to be active agents of change, don’t talk young people down. Don’t rob them of the opportunity to have their say in their future in Europe and certainly don’t rob them of their chance to vote for their Government either.
The question therefore is where does Youth Work fit in, within all of this. I can tell you with absolute confidence that for young people, the value of the youth work sector can’t be overstated. I’d like to share with you (ahead of its official launch in March) a sneak preview from our preliminary analysis of the findings from Lead The Way, our manifesto consultation with over 65,000 young people on the issues that matter to them. Lead The Way is made up of 56 statements covering issues from social justice to education to the environment, and included the following statement: ‘High quality youth work should be available to all Scotland’s young people’. Our initial analysis suggests that this statement received one of the highest percentages of young people in agreement, and was viewed as equally important as the need to tackle poverty and inequality. I think that this speaks for itself.
It is clear, however, that there are significant challenges with both finance and resource which will and does affect the provision of Youth Work in Scotland now, and in the future.
If Youth Work is to continue to change the lives of Young People, now and into the future. The necessary resources absolutely need to be in place to make that happen. Be those provided by the United Kingdom, the Scottish or Local Government - we must all work together to make this a reality.
Therefore, I today, want to speak for Youth Work too. Because all of us, here in this room are here because of it. I am here as a product of Youth Work. From the Myras, to the Kirstins, the Gillians and the Junes (and I know June is in the room) who have all helped shape the type of person I am today. I suffered a hard time at school. Bullying. All sorts. I wanted to stand for SYP to give Young People a voice, to make a difference and ensure that no other Young Person felt like they too did not have a champion for them. So I stood, thinking I had nothing to lose and I lost. Myra Murray, CLD Locality Manager told me, don’t give up, keep going – you’ll get there someday – this is for you.
And so I did, from SYP Trustee, to the Olympic Games with the Commonwealth Minister Shona Robison, to the Commonwealth Games and becoming the Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament. Not to forget the hours of local work in Bellshill Youth Forum and North Lanarkshire Youth Council. One of my proudest moments was visiting a newly constructed Skate Park in my Constituency after a long hard local campaign with fellow Young People and Youth Workers in my Community. For all of those reasons and more, I’m so delighted to stand here, as a product of Youth Work and those critical relationships with the opportunity to say these next few words.
Youth Work Matters. Youth Work Is Important. And guess what, here’s something you might already know. Youth Work Changes Lives.
Certainly from the perspective of SYP, we could not do the work we do without the youth work sector, and the dedicated youth workers who support our MSYPs to engage with young people in their local areas. Everything we do at SYP at a national level, or that we as MSYPs do locally, would be literally impossible without the tireless support of youth workers in both local government, and also in our national voluntary organisation partners.
It is obvious that youth work is essential to making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in, that it does indeed change lives for the better, and I for one am delighted that its contribution is being recognized in the Year of Young People and at this event today.
So please join me in expressing appreciation for the fantastic impact youth work has, and I look forward to discussing this afternoon how it can continue to make a positive difference and help young people use their voice for change and together we can work to deliver a better future for all of Scotland’s Young People.