Young people are having to meet youth workers in parks, car parks and under gazebos as organisations struggle to resume indoor services, new research has found.
They risk missing out on access to vital services unless more is done to ensure access to facilities, it has been warned.
A survey by YouthLink Scotland, Scotland’s national youth work agency, found more than 50% of council youth work services have not been able to resume, despite Scottish Government guidance enabling indoor youth work to restart from August 31.
This rises to more than 80% for national voluntary organisations such as the Scouts and local voluntary youth work projects across the country.
Around 200 organisations responded to the survey, which was carried out between August and October.
It also found more than three-quarters of youth work organisations still have no access to any school facilities, while about 95% remain locked out of local leisure centre facilities.
Tim Frew, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, said: “We need to move forward and ensure that access to facilities for youth work increases.
“From our survey, we can see that almost all youth organisations responsible for facilities have completed risk assessments.
“Detailed guidance for school facilities and for outdoor centres has been developed.”
He added: “For centres where youth work is the tenant and not the landlord we need to understand what the barriers are to their reopening.
“If the issue is guidance from the Scottish Government on the use of community centres, we know that this is in development and is needed urgently.
“If the issue is more about the cost then we need to ensure that extra funds are found, as we cannot allow for young people to be prevented from accessing youth work when they need it now more an ever.”
The survey found youth workers are having to deliver services in places such as parks, school grounds and on the streets, using tents, gazebos and tarpaulins for shelter as it gets colder.
Warning the country faces an increasing youth mental health crisis as a result of the ongoing pandemic, YouthLink Scotland said it is not acceptable to leave many vulnerable young people without access to vital support.
Gina Wilson, head of strategy for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said: “Youth workers play a significant role in ensuring children and young people can access their rights to good mental and physical health as well as their educational, social and recreational rights.
“The pandemic has highlighted and further entrenched existing inequalities and providing vital youth work services over the coming winter months and beyond must be a priority to ensure children and young people’s rights are protected and promoted.”
Members of YouthLink Scotland include Girlguiding Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland, Scouts Scotland and all 32 local authority youth work services.
Wendy Halliday, director of mental health charity See Me, said: “Through this pandemic more young people than ever are struggling with their mental health and to help those young people it is essential that youth work can resume in a safe way.”
Councillor Stephen McCabe, Cosla’s children and young people spokesman, said: “Sadly there is no denying that these are difficult times and we are dealing with an issue the likes of which we have never seen before.
“Councils have an extremely difficult balancing act between supporting local services, their responsibilities as employers and adhering to local restrictions, however, above all else the health and safety of everyone remains our number one priority.
“The best way to get through this is by a collective push and working in partnership both locally and nationally.
“That is what we are committed to continuing to do and why we would be happy to work with YouthLink, Scottish Government and others to find solutions.
“The seriousness of this situation, the speed at which things can change and the pressure on councils are all very real.“
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the valuable role that the youth work sector has to play in supporting the health and wellbeing of young people in Scotland.
“We are investing £3 million through the Youth Work Education Recovery Fund to ensure youth work services are supported to deliver vital interventions to young people across Scotland.
“Community centre opening guidance is being developed with input from a number of key stakeholders, including YouthLink Scotland.
“Local authorities have responsibility for their buildings, including community centres, and make decisions over what activities can take place in them.”
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