Social Prescribing for Young People

Young people from similar backgrounds with equivalent opportunities can end up having very different experiences of life. Some feel isolated in a place where life has lost meaning, while others find a life of meaning and purposeful relationships. In general, that is. Reality is more fluid: young people fluctuate daily, weekly and annually between thriving, struggling and something in between.

Great and diverse activities and services continue to be available in our communities, despite over £700 million worth of funding cuts to the youth sector in the last 10 years. But those who most need them don’t always feel able to take part. What they need is a helping hand, someone to listen to their needs and connect them, even take them personally to a nearby offer. 

So, what can we do? By ‘we’, I mean those of us who are on the ground, helping because we see young people’s health and wellbeing as an asset on which our future depends.

We step in to help young people make the connections they can’t always make for themselves. The connection could be to an advice or counselling service, or to something sporty, arty and social. Or to volunteering, or literacy support. Whatever it takes to give them a strong foundation, positive wellbeing, basic skills and reliable relationships.

That’s what social prescribing is. It’s a widely misunderstood term for something that is actually very important and powerful and has been around for many years.

With similarities to detached and outreach youth work, there are differences too.  Young people can be referred into the service by multiple agencies, or they can self-refer. The link worker (the person who facilitates those connections) can meet, one-to-one, up to eight times with each young person. There is funding for a broad range of community-based services, and scope for young people to create new activities where they don’t exist.

The reason it’s so popular is because of the proven and measurable benefits to the individual, community and system. Check out the evidence: the King’s Fund is a good place to start.

Young people say they want somewhere to go that is safe and on their doorstep, something fun and rewarding to do that’s good for their future, and someone friendly to show them how. Communities tell us they want spaces that are clean for young people to play in, activities to counter stress and isolation, help with basic needs and a stronger say in what happens around them. Commissioners tell us they want help with tackling social inequalities, helping hands for the hardest pressed communities and healthier, fairer, safer places for young people to grow up in.

Essentially, young people, communities and commissioners all want the same things: local action, for and by local people. That’s social prescribing, or by any other name, if you can think of a better one!

Up until now, social prescribing has been available only for adults. There is good news for young people. A new national programme, coordinated by StreetGames, has changed that. Youth Social Prescribing schemes are now running in Brighton & Hove, Luton, Sheffield and Southampton. If you’d like something similar in your area, StreetGames would love to hear from you.

This blog was written by Paul Jarvis-Beesley, Head of Health at StreetGames.

Do you want to find out more about social prescribing for young people? Join us for a webinar on Friday 15th March where Paul will explain how and why the scheme was set up, answer your questions on where it’s going in the youth sector and how your youth organisation can get involved. Click here for more events in our Network.

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