YWW Guest blog: Emma Revie on youth work and social mobility

10 Nov 2016

‘At the moment, opportunity is too often the preserve of the wealthy or a quirk of circumstance… Those with the right connections and contacts can get on, while those who have none simply cannot.’

Teresa May’s speech on social mobility Sept 2016


‘The transition from school into work is a vital point in the lives of young people. Making a successful transition through a high quality and valued pathway can mean a successful career. Becoming trapped in poor quality and under-valued alternatives can mean a lifetime of poverty.’

House of Lords Select Committee report on social mobility April 2016


Supporting young people to realise their potential and gain access to opportunities is at the very heart of youth work.  Adolescence is a period in a young person’s life that brings with it significant physical and emotional changes.  It is often a transition point at which young people make significant life choices and decisions. The role of trusted adults, who understand the developmental stages of the adolescent brain, recognise the pretext for certain behaviour and provide channels for young people to safely explore natural risky impulses, are critical in supporting them to assume the new challenges necessary for adulthood, such as starting a job, leaving home, and forming diverse relationships.

Through quality advice and counselling to make positive choices, young people’s wellbeing – their mental health, economic empowerment and social mobility – will be improved.

Ambition believe that for all young people to flourish in this way requires consistent, high quality relationships with people skilled in adolescence across the whole system.  This is the vital contribution youth work makes to the social mobility of young people.

The quality and quantity of this support is currently variable across the country due to reduced funding at local authority level and can be non-existent in some areas. Youth Work Week is a fantastic opportunity for us to celebrate where outstanding practice is taking place and to advocate for its expansion.

I have only been at Ambition 9 weeks but have been inspired by the resilience, innovation and commitment of our members. They have built effective, cross-sector partnerships, to enable them to continue delivering essential, front line services to young people.

One of our members, Young Devon, has been working for over ten years to raise the profile of young people’s mental health. They co-designed and developed the fantastic Devon Early Help 4 Mental Health (EH4MH) service in partnership with www.kooth.com, local schools, CAMHS, young people, their families, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Public Health England to ensure that there is an effective multi-agency response to helping young people manage and improve their mental wellbeing.   The service has been so effective they have been awarded the contract by Plymouth City Council and its secondary schools to deliver mental health support across the city.   Tim Tod, their CEO, attributes their success to their ability to build strong partnerships across the public, private and voluntary sector.

A Local Authority Ambition member, Slough Borough Council, found their services to young people at risk despite having a highly effective team in place. Senior management knew that the skills within their team could contribute to priorities laid out in the councils 5-year plan and so identified internal customers they could sell targeted services to in order to allow them to diversify their income and replace the lost resources in their budget.  Their new approach now involves the team working in community safety, domestic abuse, early help, CSE, economic development, return from missing interviews, life skills for young people leaving care, the virtual school, and preparing LAC young people to make successful transitions post-16 and post-18

In addition, they supported the VCS to bid for commissioned work as a 20-strong consortium, enabling a universal service to be delivered more cost effectively by organisations embedded within the community.  They now have a structure that is more robust and most importantly is still meeting the needs of all local young people.

Examples such as these fill me with optimism for the future of youth services.  As a sector we must continue to highlight where fantastic, effective practice is taking place and advocate for a high-level government youth strategy that promotes the sector’s effectiveness and its role in ensuring social mobility for all young people.

Finally, nearly three months into my new role I continue to be staggered at the generosity of my fellow collaborators within the sector.  Of course they are well aware of the tough times we all face trying to sustain and grow quality services for young people but all those that I’ve met, in that short time, have been absolutely committed to working collectively to ensure young people get the very best possible opportunities to thrive.  This above anything else excites and fills me with optimism that collectively as a sector we can work alongside young people to increase positive opportunities for young people to flourish.


Emma Revie is CEO of Ambition.