Gifty Oduro-Anyan, Youth Outreach Coordinator at GamCare, aims to highlight why youth workers are crucial in raising awareness and tackling gambling problems for young people.

“Miss, I can make like, £17 a week when I play ‘Money Up'”.

This was a statement from a young man in year 10, who recently attended a free GamCare workshop. He, along with 24 other boys who felt that they had issues with gambling, spends most of his time at school – including in class – playing ‘Money Up’. Essentially placing bets with friends, this is classed among the top three gambling activities for young people (see Gambling Commission research from 2018).

Crucially, what this young man didn’t understand was that even if he does make £17 from playing 20 rounds of ‘Money Up’, he actually loses £3 – each game requires a minimum of a £1 bet.

A literature review by Gill Valentine in 2016 found that young people may have trouble differentiating between luck, fate, chance and probability, using these words interchangeably. In the dynamic world of gambling, young people need to understand what each of these terms mean to ensure that they can stay safe.

Gambling is to stake or risk money, or anything of value, on the outcome of something involving chance. Gambling becomes a problem when someone has an urge to gamble despite harmful consequences or a desire to stop.

14% of 11-16-year olds spend their own money on gambling, compared to 13% who spend it on alcohol, 4% on cigarettes and 2% on illegal drugs (Gambling Commission, 2018). As youth workers, our priority is ensuring young people have all the tools they need to make informed choices, stay safe and to flourish as individuals.

The relationship we as youth workers can establish with young people provides us with a unique position of care and influence in their lives, which can be incredibly valuable. However, in the latest research from the Gambling Commission in 2018, only 1% of young people who were asked about gambling and problem gambling felt that they would talk to a youth worker about the subject. There may be a lack of knowledge on the subject, as opposed to a lack of willingness to engage on the subject, but we believe this should change.

GamCare’s BigDeal programme provides free training to all youth workers around gambling and problem gambling. Our training will help to raise awareness of the impacts, signs and symptoms of a gambling problem, as well as helping you to interact with young people sensitively about the issue. We’ll also give you all the tools you need to help guide young people to free, specialist support.

As youth workers, we often support vulnerable young people through some of the most crucial phases of their lives and development. We can play a pivotal role in in raising awareness of gambling-related harms, and in encouraging safe habits so that if young people do choose to participate in gambling, they know how to do so without harming themselves or others.

I believe youth workers understand the needs of young people, speak their language, and are in a good position to observe specific gambling activities that young people engage in to provide a targeted response.

We’re always around young people, and we are therefore a vital resource for communicating about importance issues in their world in a way that they are comfortable to process. Our immersion in youth culture can be a uniting force, and we can help young people think objectively about emotive subjects so that they can build resilience.

Youth workers can also merge evidence-based learning with fun. We can use this to make sure young people get the facts that they need, but we can make it light-hearted and engaging rather than didactic. Young people need to know about odds, stakes and probability, but our programme has incorporated these important lessons into interactive activities to help them think, rather than just talking at them. When they think for themselves, issues like chance and risk are more likely to resonate.

We as youth workers are also well placed to identify behavioural changes in the young people we work with and are indispensable in identifying problems early on. The relationships we build mean that young people feel comfortable asking us questions about thing they may not want to discuss with anyone else, including when they may have issues with gambling. We are also able to introduce the topic gently – perhaps checking in as simply as “Where did all your pocket money go?” or “So what do you think about gambling, then?”

Finally, youth work creates a safe space for young people, not only to relax, hang out with friends and learn how they want to express themselves, but to be vulnerable and engage openly. Youth workers often stand by young people during some of their toughest times transitioning to adulthood. We provide a non-judgemental space for young people to learn more and make important decisions for themselves.

If a young person, or someone they know, may be struggling with gambling, they may need to test the water and find out more for themselves, but they will also value having someone knowledgeable about the subject whom they can talk to.

I once read that youth workers were midwives, helping to deliver young people from puberty to adulthood. I believe a crucial element of this delivery is; equipping young people with how to stay safe if gambling and where to go if they need advice or support.

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