Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Youth Work Supports

1:00 pm

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad. What I raise today is a passion for youth work and clubs, and it is something I am interested in. I volunteer at Cooley Youth Club, and I am looking forward to that starting up in the coming weeks. I have learned about funding from engaging with Youth Work Ireland and with Caroline Flanagan, who does incredible work in Dundalk and all around County Louth. It is about getting dedicated and earmarked funding for youth work and youth workers. We need to celebrate that as a career and profession and we need to see how that should be rolled out in a more frameworked manner.

My Commencement matter is fairly open and it is about youth clubs but I want to dig down into it. We look at a gap in youth workers and of youth clubs and we see the opportunity that is lost when we have that gap. We are lucky that we have a youth club in our area but for many years we did not have one and then it was volunteer-led. There is no UBU worker to go out to us and support us as volunteers in our local community who are trying to support our young people. That means there is a gap in skills and expertise. I am asking for a real and dedicated fund for youth workers. We must look at the needs and gaps. We have the up-to-date population data and we can see where the volunteer youth clubs are where the youth cafés are popping up. We can also see where the UBU youth cafés are. We know where they are but we also know and see where the gaps are.

I was speaking to Caroline Flanagan in Dundalk recently. When I spoke to her this morning she said that she was glad that I was highlighting this. One thing she wanted me to highlight is that it is not a down on the youth work sector; it is an up. It is doing incredible work and she wanted me to highlight the incredible work it is doing, including its fundraising. However, the sector is spending an awful lot of time chasing grant applications and funding, and then providing a project base. When that project and funding are over, those children are left out on a limb. I saw it in Carlingford with Erin Finnegan. She worked day and night for children as a detached youth worker. She walked around the streets to pick up kids, bring them in and feed them pizza of an evening. That project and its funding ended and then we had a gap. Community workers are opening up a brand new facility in the Foy Centre in Carlingford but it requires volunteers as there is no funding for it. They are afraid they will not be able to open the doors next year as a result. They have a beautiful facility and there is a huge young population in Carlingford, and that is only one place. It is the same in Dundalk, Ardee and Dunleer. There is nothing set up in Dunleer, although Drogheda has more resources. All around County Louth we need these wee hubs. In rural areas there are huge gaps, right across the country. I know that for a fact.

I ask that every county would have a dedicated youth work officer who would go around and support and increase the youth clubs around the country. They would make sure we have safe spaces and activities. Volunteers like myself are standing there talking to young people but I am not a bouncer. I want to be able to support them, to know what is best to do, to have those activities, to celebrate the young people and to encourage them to do positive things in their communities. We need multi-annual support and a dedicated worker to be able to do that.


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