The overall purpose of this £450,000 three-year legacy initiative is not only to increase young people’s digital skills, leading to increased education and employment opportunities, but - more importantly - to ensure young people with care experience have the ability to exercise their rights, build relationships, and have influence – over their own lives as well as over changes they want to make in the wider world.
Why Digital Skills?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have emphasised the need to support young people with care experience not only with digital devices and data, but also with developing their skills to navigate the digital world.
The pandemic and associated lockdowns have highlighted clear evidence of a digital divide facing young people with care experience. Through our Keep Well Fund, which offered small, individual grants during the first lockdown in 2020, the Trust received direct testimony from over 800 young people showing that lack of access to digital devices and data was having a negative impact in multiple ways. Our COVID-19 Impact Report provides more information on this. The Trust also worked with our partners on the Scottish Care Leavers Covenant Alliance to publish a joint report sharing evidence from multiple organisations on the impact of the pandemic on care leavers, including the topic of digital exclusion.
The Scottish Government subsequently identified care leavers as a priority group within its Connecting Scotland programme. As a result, provision of digital devices and data is improving, but partners agree that there is an ongoing need to support young people with care experience not only with digital devices and data, but also with developing their skills to navigate the digital world.
Through our partners and funded work, we are also increasingly aware of the challenges faced by those who hold important relationships with young people – workers, carers and extended family –– who often lack confidence and skills relating to the digital world. This lack of confidence and skills can prevent supportive adults being able to help the young people in their lives, as well as getting in the way of regular communication and interaction.
There are clear rights implications regarding digital access for young people with care experience, given how much of our world has moved online. From banking and grocery shopping to accessing education and navigating benefits systems, access to the digital world is absolutely essential to live in the world today. However, young people also need the skills to navigate this digital landscape. With so much of our interaction with the world now taking place online, having the opportunity to learn new digital skills is essential.
YMCA Scotland is leading an impressive partnership with Barnardo’s Scotland, Mhor Collective, Renfrewshire Council, Scottish Tech Army, and YouthLink Scotland to take on this important task. This partnership will be led by a Steering Group comprised of both professionals and young people with care experience, with built-in protections to ensure that no decision is made that goes against the wishes of the young people within the group.
The Digital Skills Legacy Project is built around the ‘Community Makerspace’ model, which is a model that supports young people to create and develop both virtual and physical creative digital spaces that are right for them. Trained and experienced digital youth workers will work alongside trainee workers and young people, sharing learning and experience. The groups of young people who meet in digital makerspaces are able to make, create, experiment and explore. They do things that they love - gaming, music, video making, virtual reality. As they do, they develop the digital skills they need for life. They learn to code so that they can create in the digital world. They develop the resilience they need to stay safe online. They learn skills that prepare them for the world of work - specifically digital skills alongside more general skills such as the ability to work in teams and develop confidence to contribute ideas.
Between 2022 and 2025, this partnership will oversee the development of three additional digital makerspaces in Scotland. The first of these makerspaces will be developed in Renfrewshire, and the second one will be in the North of Scotland. Finally, an online digital makerspace will be developed so young people can have access to this resource no matter where they live.
The young people who engage with these maker spaces will be connected to professionals working within various tech industries, as well as those with technical jobs in other industries. Professionals in the tech sector will gain insights and expertise on how to best support young people with care experience. And front-line staff and carers will have access to high quality training courses that help increase their own confidence and skills, in order to ensure they can act as additional supports for the young people they care for.
By the end of the three years, we believe Scotland will be at the fore-front of Digital Youthwork, and young people with care experience will be inspiration to others throughout Europe, and indeed the world.