2021 – a year and a half!

Has it really only been a year since we said goodbye to 2020? Twenty-twenty-one has been packed to the rafters with more ups and downs than 12 months can possibly contain! At Youth Access, we want to acknowledge how tough a year it has been for our staff, our members, and the young people we’re all working to serve. We all need a long and restful break this festive season, and to take stock before we enter the new year. 

While acknowledging (and recovering from!) the challenges of this year, it’s so important that we reflect on all that we’ve achieved and the steps we have taken to win young people’s access to the best quality services.

We’re so proud of our wonderful community – from our staff staying motivated and connected while still working from home, to our members providing a lifeline to young people all over the country and of course those young people working through personal challenges and joining forces to turn their lived experiences into change for future generations.  
Here are some highlights… 

Building a great team and a great team culture

While we’re proud of the work we’ve done as a team, we’re also so grateful to have been part of such a supportive community in what’s been a really tough year for many of us personally. We’ve made a conscious effort to put our mental health first, developing a new wellbeing strategy and responding to regular staff feedback with early finishes, team get-togethers and ‘celebration sessions’ to help spark joy.  
After starting the year with many of us never having met in person, we had our first full-team day in October, where we built a new team agreement and prioritised joy with a shared lunch, an escape room trip and a good catch-up at the pub! 

The Youth Access staff team having some fun at the escape roomKahra, Martha, Jess, Sarah, Safiyyah and Cassi having fun at the escape room 

Centring our members and young people 

Our members - services supporting young people around the country - are the heart of Youth Access, and this year we’ve built on the progress we made in 2020 in creating regular spaces to come together and feed into our decision-making. Members have fed into our new strategy – launching in 2022 –joined us in presenting to policymakers and fed into our projects and policy positions.  
Our Youth Counselling Working Group completed their year-long term, with a view to relaunch in 2022, after feeding into research ideas, policy positioning and a journal article with BACP. We also set up two parallel Working Groups to inform our work on young people’s access to quality advice and to share ideas and best practice on involving young people in campaigning and social action. 
Behind the scenes, we’ve also been working hard on a new website, including a members’ area to collate resources, events and opportunities for our community. 

The counselling working group meeting onlineThe Counselling Working Group meeting online 

We also launched the Our Minds Our Future manifesto this year, a vision built by young people for a mental health system that meets their human rights. This manifesto is the basis we’ll work from as we work together to turn their vision into a reality. As such, our priorities for policy influencing and practice development are rooted in the lived experience of young people and the things they want to change in the mental health system.  

The case for YIACS and a mental health system that meets young people’s rights 

As ever, we’ve continued to shout far and wide about what a cornerstone our members are in the mental health system. 
We’ve released publications on the role of Youth Information Advice and Counselling Services in the recovery from Covid, the rollout of social prescribing and in providing quality advice to young people
By joining forces with allies across the children and young people’s mental health sector, we launched the national Fund the Hubs campaign, calling for the Government to invest in a national rollout of ‘early support hubs’ like YIACS. Despite not winning funding in the Budget, we have built a groundswell of support across civil society and among MPs, which we hope to build on as the government develops its new mental health strategy over 2022. 
We submitted evidence to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s inquiry into children and young people’s mental health and our CEO gave oral evidence, resulting in ‘early support hubs’ like YIACS forming a major part of the committee’s recommendations – a great stepping stone towards winning the funding we need in future.  

 Youth Access CEO Cassandra Harrison gave evidence to MPs about the role of YIACS in providing early support to young people Youth Access CEO Cassandra Harrison gave evidence to MPs about the role of YIACS in providing early support to young people

Since launching the Our Minds Our Future Manifesto, we’ve trained up more cohorts of young Rights Advocates – young people trained to understand their human rights and how to make sure they’re met in the mental health system – and now have young people trained as peer facilitators to deliver training to other young people.  
These young Rights Advocates have proudly represented their manifesto at meetings with Dr Alex George – the Government’s ambassador for mental health – civil servants at the Department for Health and Social Care, at the CAMHS National Summit and at the Conservative Party conference. They’ve also developed and swapped skills with their peers across the UK, supported by our partners – Scottish Youth Parliament, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Promo Cymru, Hafal and NCB Northern Ireland. 

And of course, we’re always striving to ensure that our members are equipped and evolving to meet the ever-changing challenges young people are facing. We’ve continued to run webinars to support our members to respond to the changing policy environment and the challenges of Covid, and in February, we ran our first four-week intensive learning programme to support members to develop more racially responsive services. As discrimination and systemic racism continue to be prominent barriers facing young people of colour, we’ve pushed to secure funding for a second round of this training, so that more of our members can interrogate their role in dismantling systemic racism and developing truly anti-racist services. 

Thanks to all of the staff, members and young people in our community for making 2021 a year we can be proud of.