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YMCA across the nations: supporting UK-wide collaboration


On 25 January, YMCA England & Wales is hosting its first Four Nations Youth Work Conference. This ground-breaking event will bring youth workers from across England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland together to start building a national youth work network. 

Youth work practice across the four UK nations has its own unique identity yet faces many similar challenges. Years of short-term, fragmented and constrained funding have – unsurprisingly - led to short-term, fragmented and constrained opportunities for young people at a local level. In particular, youth work across the UK faces a recruitment and retention crisis. This really matters: quality youth work is grounded in stable, consistent relationships with skilled and trusted adults.  Increasing sustainable opportunities to recruit, develop and retain expertise within the workforce is therefore paramount. 

In Wales, Welsh Government is currently reviewing its youth work practice qualifications as part of its drive to standardise and retain skillsets. Over in England, DCMS has backed bursaries for youth work training with funding, and is supporting YMCA George Williams College’s new accredited curriculum in relational practice, which was launched in December. Youthlink Scotland has developed a National Youth Work Induction Checklist to provide a foundation for effective youth work. 

Alongside efforts to strengthen the youth sector workforce, the last decade has seen a growing focus from UK and devolved governments on measuring the quality and impact of youth provision to evidence the links with better outcomes for young people. This is about both recognising and promoting the role and value of youth work for young people and communities and encouraging continuous reflection on quality and impact. 

Administrations have taken significant steps towards this. For example, the Scottish Government is implementing its Outcomes Framework, which contains stage-specific learning outcomes across the youth work curriculum areas. In Ireland, following extensive consultation, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will soon launch its new Action Plan for Youth Services to ensure that young people in Ireland can experience consistently high-quality youth work. 

To support youth work settings to assess and understand the quality and impact of their provision, we at the College have developed our own free-to-access suite of measures, and supporting Outcomes Framework 3.0. Excitingly, our measures are now being used free-of-charge by more youth work settings than ever before, and have been embedded into national level evaluations, including the #iwill Fund! We’re currently working with practitioners across the UK to test and refine them to ensure that they are accessible, meaningful, and useful across the full range of youth work contexts. 

In addition, our Quality Practice Tool (QPT) has been developed for settings to capture and reflect on evidence about the quality of their provision for young people, helping to distil the key components of quality youth work practice and their relationship to young people’s engagement and development. The QPT is part of our suite of practical tools and sits alongside our Impact and Improvement Programme for youth work practitioners. 

We can’t wait to see what comes out of the YMCA conference and will report back afterwards to share our thoughts on the key takeaways. For tickets, visit Four Nations Youth Work Conference Tickets, Thu 25 Jan 2024 at 10:00 | Eventbrite. If you’d like to help test and refine our measures or would like to speak to us about any other aspect of our work, please contact Liz at