The importance of peer education and how it helps

Hello Folks!

My name is Bronwyn and I am the new(ish) Peer Education Youth Worker with Youth Highland.

I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself, a bit of background, my new role and what that includes, some information about peer education and what my understanding of good youth work practice looks like.

This is my very first blog post! I’m pretty stoked to have a place to express my passion for youth work and to be a part of some really big and important conversations which can (and most likely will) bring about positive change for young people across Highland.

I live in Fort William in Highland, where I first encountered the art of youth work with The Buzz Project – One of our member HUB’s! (Check em out! You’ll find me here too! They have a big Blue Bus! www.thebuzzproject.org)

I developed a relationship with the youth worker there, learning opportunities were vast and I grasped every one of them. I went through a very challenging time where I thought all hope was lost but The Project supported me, and I found my passion! I soon became a member of staff and began my learning journey as a trainee youth worker.

I applied for college in London (my parents were shocked at this!) at the YMCA George Williams College and got a place!

That was tough but it enabled me to grow from my negative experiences! Three years later at 24 I’m here with a degree behind me! How on earth did that happen?! Thank you, Buzz Project and my support network! I decided to challenge myself again and applied for the Peer Education Youth Worker position at Youth Highland, and I’m here! I feel soo lucky and have much gratitude in being part of such a fantastic team!

In my new role I am responsible for developing programmes which enable young people to take the lead, developing and delivering learning resources around risk taking, life choices, decision making and active democracy.

That’s enough about me, if you’d like a chat or anything pop me a message on my Youth Highland Facebook page (Bronwyn Strachan | Facebook) or send an email to bronwyn.strachan@youthhighland.org to get in touch 😊

What is peer education?

Peer education is a learning opportunity in which young people choose to connect, meet and speak with likeminded individuals who have the potential to make a difference.

The peer education space tends to be safe, non-judgemental, voluntary, respectful and has a set of group guidelines developed by participants for participants. Youth Work recognises that support should build from where participants are at in their unique journey and that both peer educators and participants are partners in a learning process.

Anyone can be involved in peer education, there may be peer groups for mental health, young people and there may be peer groups for parents.  Peer education can be in a large variety of settings with individuals from many different backgrounds, age ranges, and social contexts.

This support can be led face to face or online and provides opportunities for peers to become peer educators too.

Why is peer education important?

Peer education is important as it enables peers to have their voices heard, be understood, relate, reflect on action, be validated, empathise, support, build relationships, collaborate, problem solve, share experiences, and knowledge with one another. It encourages inclusion, respect and values everyone’s opinions and choices. A rights and needs based approach can lead to empowerment and better mental and/or physical health. We all have a human need to belong to something, this can be supported through building a peer education community.

Peer education encourages participation in important life discussions which can be stigmatised or taboo subjects. It enables individual needs to be met through the development of programmes but also includes participants in the development process.

Is a safe environment to explore attitudes, values and beliefs but also to challenge your ideas and thoughts.

It can support friendships to grow and help to understand risk taking, life choices, decision making and participation in active democracy.

Some of the benefits of peer education include:

  • Learning from people who have been through similar experiences and validating your experience
  • The development of a support network
  • Learning how to communicate through dialogue
  • Sharing helpful resources
  • Bringing attention and awareness to health issues and seeking professional support for them
  • Normalising issues
  • The opportunity of developing a purpose and hope in others and self
  • To give back and receive support and validation
  • Giving and receiving kindness

Stigma and Kindness

I recently attended a session by Scottish Families Affected by Drugs and Alcohol and Highland Alcohol and Drugs Partnership called ‘Stigma and Kindness’. I was soo inspired by this session that my eyes were watering, and I couldn’t not mention the session in here! It included learning about Stigma, what it is, where it is, how it impacts individuals, communities, families and soo much more.

Stigma can be prevalent in any issue relating to a person of any age and often it stops individuals seeking the support they need. I think this is very relevant to peer education.

There is an emphasis on using non-judgement, compassion, empathy and kindness to displace stigma as the more we stigmatise others, the more likely they are to believe it which impacts their wellbeing, the higher risk of substance use, risk taking behaviours and potentially suicide. These are big issues across Highland and we need to make sure services and support are kind instead of stigmatising so people can access them but also ensure individuals accessing services have a say in how services are run.

You can make a difference by using People First Language (Publications and Resources (highland-adp.org.uk)) and learning about stigma to be able to recognise and challenge it.

I recommend this fantastic session to anyone working with people, it is running again on Friday 8th October 2021 from 10am-12pm

If there is anything which I am learning about the most in my new role it is kindness and endeavouring to place it at the heart of everything I do and everyone I interact with.

So, what is ‘good’ youth work practice then?

It is important to understand that youth work is a profession, it’s not just about playing games or having a laugh (but youth work still needs to be fun!). To explore this some more I’m going to explain a little bit about what is used to underpin this very important work with young people regardless of context.

YouthLink Scotland developed a Statement on the Nature and Purpose of Youth Work.

This consists of 3 definitive features

Young people choose to participate

The work must build from where young people are

Youth Work recognises the young person and youth worker as partners in a learning process

YouthLink Scotland 2021 – Statement on the Nature and Purpose of Youth Work (youthlinkscotland.org)

These are considered as the three pillars of Youth Work at the most basic structural level!

Community Learning and Development Scotland is the professional body for people who work or volunteer in Community Learning and Development settings, this includes Youth Work and many other types of work. They have a set of values, ethics and competencies which should guide youth workers, professionals, and organisations to provide practice at a professional level.

CLD’s values consist of:

Self-determination

Inclusion

Empowerment

Working Collaboratively

Promotion of Learning as a Lifelong Activity

CLD 2021 (Values of CLD | CLD Standards Council for Scotland)

These values are important to implement and share with colleagues and organisations, so everyone is on the same page, check out the link above to read about them in more detail. It helps to make sure we are guided in what we do and values training which is important as we need to be informed on the subject’s young people want to learn about so we can support them especially in peer education settings.

CLD’s Code of Ethics consist of 12 areas:

  • Primary Client
  • Social Context
  • Equity
  • Empowerment
  • Duty of Care
  • Transparency
  • Confidentiality
  • Co-operation
  • Professional Learning
  • Self-Awareness
  • Boundaries
  • Self-care

Ethics are important in Youth Work to ensure again that all staff and the organisation is on the same page which can enable us to provide the best possible professional and ethical practice for young people.

These are explained in detail in this document CLD 2021 (A Code of Ethics for Community Learning and Development (CLD) 2017 (cldstandardscouncil.org.uk))

CLD have a membership which is free for individuals to get the stamp of approval for being a Competent Practitioner, this is a little stamp for the bottom of you emails so people can see you are upholding the ethics and values of a professional body. This is soo important as it proves that youth work isn’t just about playing games but is professional in and about understanding and supporting young people and communities to develop and encourage change where they need it. Youth Workers can support this process by supporting young people’s voices to be heard!

UNCRC

That brings me nicely onto the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This was adopted into law back in September 2020 and is important for youth workers to understand so they can advocate for young people. YouthLink Scotland support the implementation of the UNCRC in Youth Work. Often young people are disrespected, their voices are not heard, and decision making is made which can be out of their interests. If this were an adult experiencing this, I’m sure they would be annoyed. Often young people may just accept things how they are without challenging authority because they are ‘too young to understand’ which can be oppressive, discriminative and ignore their rights which must be respected by law.

UNCRC 2019 (UNCRC_summary-1_1.pdf (unicef.org.uk))

Youth Highland challenged this through creating ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ a book created by young people who’s rights have been disregarded in multiple contexts and ensures young people have a voice to express what people in positions of power and authority need to change.

If you’d like to learn more about this amazing book advocating for young people’s rights to be respected, get in touch for a copy!

Theory

Youth Workers undergo training to understand a vast number of theories and topics that help us to understand learning, development and most importantly how to support young people through the challenges they face in their transition from childhood to adulthood. Young people may carry theories through their lives to support themselves or others too.

I know youth work has helped me learn about me and often challenged me!

Recognising we have the potential to become role models for young people, challenging our own behaviour and habits is essential to present a good example.

For me youth work is a vocation in that I am always learning and challenging my brain to best support both myself and young people.

Youth Workers Reflect on Practice

Youth workers will often evaluate their youth work practice to ensure they are being professional, learn from their mistakes or think of a better way to handle a situation in future. We are all only human and we probably all have made very cringeworthy mistakes, but the strength lies in learning from them by taking physical notes, creating art, music or expressing ourselves to improve our practice for young people. It’s also important to include young people’s feedback on your practice/activities too as they will most likely see your weaknesses before you will.

What happens when Youth Work is professional?

YouthLink Scotland have a Youth Work Skills Framework in which it explains the benefits of young people participating in Youth Work.

These include:

  • Organization and planning
  • Looking after myself
  • Creating change
  • Decision making
  • Problem solving
  • Resilience
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Confidence
  • Relationships
  • Communication

(YouthLink Scotland | Youth Work Skills Framework)

There are seven Youth Work Outcomes which link to National Outcomes, the National Youth Work Strategy, the Curriculum for Excellence and the National Practice Model Wellbeing Indicators. When professional Youth Work is done to a high standard these outcomes can be met through encompassing every component of being a professional Youth Worker.

These can be found here (YouthLink Scotland | Youth Work Outcomes Model)

It’s time to raise awareness of what good, professional Youth Work is and explore how we can raise the standards in Highland for the young people we work with because it is within their best interests, but I’ll ask them first just to make sure they feel this way as they have a right to have their voices, opinions heard and considered when decisions are made which impact them. I think a youth work environment is a fantastic space for peer education because of everything we do in our roles to support young people already.

Happy Youth Working 😊

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