Championing healthy relationships

and sexual wellbeing

Believing in youth work – and young people

Written by our fab schools worker, Megan.

All of us believe in something.

Where do we look for security and hope and meaning? That’s the question I believe is in all of our minds. What is worthwhile believing in? Something that won’t let us down and will give purpose and direction to our lives?

Many of us believe in our families and friends. We hope they will love us as we love them. We believe in justice and try to be fair in our dealings with our surroundings of people and planet. We believe in community and aim to accomplish goals that reflect our political, cultural and emotional values.

What are your beliefs? Where do your hopes go to?

As a charity with a Christian ethos, at acet UK, we believe that as an outworking of this faith in God we want to equip and inspire individuals, schools, churches and other organisations, in the UK and internationally, to transform culture by promoting healthy self-esteem, positive relationships and good sexual health.

Therefore, to mark International Youth Day, I want to talk about one of the things we hope you do believe in – and that is our youth.

Believing in them can mean working with them, for them and towards their great potential.

I am going to look at this through a few interesting collections of research which all demonstrate the great need for youthwork and ambitious goals and hopes to create a better future for youth in the UK.

A little over a year ago, the UK government published a policy paper on Youth Review. It’s a fascinating read in its entirety but you can read a summary of the paper here.

As the Youth Review poignantly highlights, the youth sector is one of great diversity, with organisations and community groups from all political, cultural, and economic backgrounds - as well as being a sector that serves a huge variety of specifically identified youth needs and skills.

The review emphasises the need for coordination and collaboration between the different youth provisions and a collating of resources. This surely is a good thing - to practice teamwork across all the work that benefits young people - however, it is also a great challenge.

The UK government responded to this in the review with an aim to support the National Youth Agency in maintaining and developing a complete set of national youth work qualifications with a curriculum and workforce strategy, and an online learning platform. (We will look at some of their research shortly)

And yet, I can confidently say that teamwork can be hard!

Not only hard but often harder than going at something on your own. So how do we motivate youth and the youth sector to work together?

I worked in outdoor education for a number of years, primarily in Edinburgh. Now, many of you may know of this already but, if not, let’s chat briefly about Himalayan Balsam! For all of you gardeners out there, although a fairly beautiful plant when flowering with bright pink hues, Himalayan Balsam is a very invasive species in the UK countryside.

In Edinburgh it has taken over many riverbanks, roadsides and fields that used to house a plethora of native wildflowers. So now we have gotten to know this potent nemesis a bit better – I’ll get back to the story!

One of the activities in our outdoor education programme that we all enjoyed with the young people, was going to one of these fields full of Himalayan Balsam to chop it down and burn it before it could reproduce and cause more damage.

Now, it was easy to get discouraged after 20 of us worked at this, for nearly 2 hours, only to see how much more could still be done. But one of my favourite observations after one such event, of our young people waging a small attack against this invasive plant, was the look on their faces that they had made an impact.

However small, giving the young people the agency and power to do something practical made a huge difference in their hearts and empowered their spirits!

My point is this, something is often better than nothing.

Even if some youth work is poorly visioned or has limited results, even from this we can learn how to succeed better in the future. Although it is good to optimize and collaborate among youth work, surely there is great meaning in just doing something?

I think with this, the main point I want to highlight is - let’s be grateful for all the investment people, and even young people themselves, have put into investing in youth services.

Its diversity also reflects the huge diversity of needs of young people and our own beautifully diverse world of people and personalities. Maybe if we aim to appreciate one another, we can look to a better future of working together.

Believing in the power of young people and the need to empower them, may and should take many forms.

Perhaps the most important part is that it takes many of us to hear a personal call to engage with young people because all of us can impact future generations – whether we are a parent, grandparent or carer of a young person, a youth worker, a manager or friend.

Let us all remember and reflect this day on our impact, whatever it may be, on young people and ask ourselves: is it enough?

It could also be more than you imagine.

Next let’s take a stroll through some of the most recent findings by UK Youth. For those of you who like figures, numbers and quantifiable results, this one is for you!

The study focuses on the economic value of youth work, by partnering with Frontier Economics to investigate the resources being spent on youth work delivery, evaluating the direct economic benefits and broader social impacts, seeing the return on investment for government spending and diving deeper for the future of how to collect data to refine its modelling and effects. 

One of the most striking assessments this report makes is the return on investment for youth work, using the UK government’s own benchmarks for value for money, the ROI can be considered ‘high’ or ‘very high’.

Every pound invested by the government into the youth sector generates around £3.20 to £6.40 in benefits to the taxpayer. This culminates in their estimate of the direct economic value of the youth work sector in England to be £5.7 billion!

In addition, they predict that the indirect economic value of youth work’s impact on young people’s wellbeing and outcomes to be £3.2 billion.  These predictions are based on factors like decreased crime, and improved health, education, and employment.

The report concludes by highlighting how essential youth work is, that young people deserve access to support which can change – and maybe even save their lives

Youth work can help create enhanced opportunities to develop resilient young people who build up all of our futures not just their own, both socio-economically and emotionally.

The review recognises and urges the government to work with the youth sector in providing sustainable funding and opportunities which can reduce inequalities and injustice that so many young people face today.

In highlighting this report, my aim is to remind us all of the great power that young people hold for us. As with the earlier Youth Review report, I urge you to remember the great impact we have upon young people and to take a moment to be grateful for the youth work there currently is and likely you are participating in.

I now ask you to realise and believe in the young people themselves.  

As promised earlier, the National Youth Agency (NYA) recently published the second part of the census they took in 2021 of youth work delivery in the UK. The findings aim to identify the different youth work provision and the gaps in it, in so demonstrating that one of the biggest challenges is a lack of equitable access to youth work.

However, they also point out that youth work is also dependent in its essence to work alongside and be supported by youth themselves. Meaning, if the young people do not turn up, or participate, or support, because the work is not meeting their needs, the youth work ceases to exist.

The research reflects this in its findings: for all the young people they interviewed, the experience was unanimously in favour that youth work, works for them.

So, if we work on the premise that when there is youth work that works, then we can also have confidence that the benefit for the future is already starting and that the possibilities for expansion are vast and worthwhile.

With all this research, I would encourage you - we can all appreciate the youth work that already exists and believe once more in the great power and potential of youth. I think one of the best ways to realise this for yourself is to do it for yourself.

NYA makes this point - it is the one-to-one relationships and connections that really truly reflect the full promise of youth work. Rather than viewing youth as a vast ‘ether of other’ out there, it is exactly what is in here.

The people you see around you every day. These are the people you can believe in.

These are the people who, by believing in them, you can change their lives and all our futures.

So, I hope this blog has refreshed you in the power of youth and how empowering belief in them can be.



National Youth Sector Census Second Report: Delivering youth work in England (2022)

Economic value of youth work (2022) 

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2022) Youth Review: Summary findings and government response.

Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera (2019)