Excellence in Youth Work: YouthBorders Sexual Health and Wellbeing Project

Community based youth work is recognised as a powerful asset for Scotlands young people. A diverse and innovative sector that meets young people where they are ‘at’, youth work provides positive and empowering opportunities and relationships that improve life chances, reduce health inequalities and are a game-changer for many young people across Scotland. (Rachael Hood, Mental Health Foundation)

This year, in partnership with NHS Health Scotland, we sponsored Scotland’s first ‘Mental Health and wellbeing’ award at YouthLink Scotland’s National Youth Work Awards 2018 to recognise the power of youth work when it comes to helping young people to stay mentally well. We spoke to one of the finalists, Julie Middlemiss Brown at YouthBorders Sexual Health and Wellbeing Project. 

Tell us briefly about the work that you are doing 

I have been working on this great project at YouthBorders for the past three years in partnership with the Scottish Borders Joint Health Improvement Team, funded by them and the Robertson Trust.   I deliver fun and interactive training on everything associated with sexual health and relationships education which supports the implementation of the sexual health strategy.  I deliver bespoke sessions to individual youth groups locally or region-wide, involving partners where possible to upskill the workers depending on the needs of the young people.  My main aim is to ensure young people have a say in their learning and development, but also that they know who to talk to and feel safe in their groups and communities, and feel empowered.  This is critical to making the right choices and building stronger and more resilient emotional health and wellbeing.      

What is unique about your approach? 

The whole project is unique and as best practice as we can make it.  The key strands of this approach are:

  • ​The way we work in partnership and how we deliver to all stakeholders.   
    • The way we consult and involve young people in the delivery and direction of the way forward.
  • The way we deliver on behalf of NHS and JHIT, by using a youth work approach.

Whilst keeping within the strategic aims and sexual health strategies I have been able to provide a much more innovative way of learning. As a result of our networks, as well as the way we work so strongly in partnership in the Borders, I have been able to expand the reach of the training and support, by providing youth workers, volunteers and practitioners with training and capacity building opportunities, giving them confidence to be able to support young people more effectively and more inclusively.   I have worked with different specialisms, ensuring that the training is fit for purpose, inclusive and interactive.  I have also worked with many age groups to develop a newly revised sexual health timeline for schools making it just that – a better fit for purpose.  

A big success of the past couple of years is a theatre production we have put on for S2/4s in all schools around C Card, consent and wellbeing, using a youth work approach and reviewing the needs and evaluations of the pupils involved.  As a result we received funding to take this one step further and enable young people to put together films, TV and radio shows on these critical issues for young people and these resources will now be used by NHS Borders and Education.  We will be launching this shortly with Voice of My Own and JHIT and would be delighted to show these exciting new resources to a wider audience to share and learn from each other.  Most importantly we will be posting these resources online, for example 'youtube' so that the young people can access them in a place and time that is convenient to them. 

What have you learned about how youth work can impact mental health and wellbeing that might help other services change their way of doing things? 

We know as workers just how critical youth work is to the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people - involving, engaging, working from where they are, building trusting relationships and empowering them.   What this project has succeeded in doing is showing how this approach is invaluable when informing, involving and supporting young people about healthy relationships and consent, about being strong enough to make the right choices and feel that their views matter.   Due to the reputation of the project and by building strong and trusted relationships with other practitioners across a variety of services, we have shown them that there are different ways of sharing knowledge and innovative ways of delivering sexual health strategies, reflecting the changing needs and language.   As a result the Education Service has revised its timeline of when to provide levels of sexual health education, involved us and other partners in the delivery and support of the Growing Confidence Training and linking in healthy relationships and building stronger more resilient communities (families, young people, workers, practitioners) and JHIT feel confident in developing further partnerships and using a youth work approach across a variety of issues, using different techniques, the theatre productions, workshops etc.   Because we believe strongly in partnership working our training is never exclusive and we involve as many partners and stakeholders as possible in a blended, multi service approach to ensure all feel confident to support children and young people recognising them as individuals with individual needs.  

Self-Care is incredibly important to the impact you can make on others, how do you keep yourself and team mentally well? 

By being professional at all times, recognising boundaries.   By working strongly as a team and sharing, talking and supporting each other, ensuring no one is overloaded or being put under unnecessary pressure.   By proper supervision and support, both to develop as an individual but also in ensuring there is space and time to keep perspective.  In a nutshell we laugh a lot, talk to each other openly, honestly and non-judgementally - we practice what we preach!!  We reflect this in our own personal lives and make positive lifestyle choices – we endeavour to drink lots of water, take part in regular exercise and eat well.  

Sum up your service in a hashtag     

#empowered&included 

In conjunction with of course: #youthworkchangeslives 

Sum up your service in an insta pic 

YouthBorders Sexual Health and Wellbeing Project