A few recent events have again brought the issue to the forefront for me.
The first was sight of an interview by John Carnochan, the outgoing director of the Violence Reduction Unit, who was bemoaning the lack of male role models for our teenage boys and the absent father syndrome which is so prevalent in our society.
Since Dunblane and Soham through to the revelations about Jimmy Savile, it has become increasingly difficult to attract adult male volunteers and sessional/part-time youth workers.
The second was an article in the Sunday Herald which touched on another of the subjects I feel needs to be better understood by us all, and that is the massive change in prospects – or lack of them – faced by our young people. This will be the first generation since the Second World War to be worse off than their parents.
There is a lot more to say about that but there was a very telling detail within the article related to the issue of the male role model. This was a statistic which showed a fourfold increase in the divorce rate since the 1960s and a significant reduction in marriages, while the birth rate was relatively stable.
One does not have to be a genius to work out that means a great many women trying to bring up sons with no other significant male on the scene. This is a statement of fact rather than any slur on the mothers of those children and fathers who maintain contact and interest.
It is however an indictment on many fathers who irresponsibly walk away emotionally, physically and financially from their duty and responsibility. Marital or relationship break-up is never easy and there are many sides to every story- but the bottom line is that a lack of positive male influence and the absence of male role models for many of our young men spell trouble, heartbreak and a mountain of unfulfilled potential.
Where no dedicated men and older young people come forward to volunteer or join the youth work, sporting, arts and teaching professions, then crime and criminals fill the vacuum. Whole swathes of our country are filled with bad examples for young people, from local crime and gang culture, parental drug and alcohol abuse to physical neglect and sexual exploitation.
The line-up of finalists for YouthLink's Youth Worker of the Year Awards 2013 – winners will be announced in Glasgow on Thursday – reflects that gender gap. Only a third of those up for an award are male but those men who are involved in working with young people are inspirational role models. Some have made an incredible impact in communities where young men can be hard to reach as they struggle with deprivation and lack of opportunity.
Probably the most humbling is the work of our young male role models who have overcome sometimes-harrowing personal circumstances to reach out to their peers.
Just as we seek to close the gender gap in the boardroom so we should strive to close it for youth workers, primary and nursery teachers and other affected professions.
As a society we must change our attitude to those who put their head above the parapet, with considerable personal risk, to work alongside our young people in community settings, whether it be as part of a local authority youth work service or a local church or voluntary organisation.
We need to demystify and stop demonising men working with young people.
We need more folk to come forward for training and for child protection validation. These are two of the essential elements rightly demanded by society.
But more than anything we need men who will have empathy for our young people, who will not judge them but will work alongside them and give them an environment where they feel wanted where they are nurtured and where they are encouraged to achieve their potential.
Youth workers work with young people on the young people's territory and at times and in places where other services are unavailable.
It is the greatest thing in the world and a magnificent reward as all parents will know to see a person blossoming and growing in confidence and personality before your eyes.
Youth workers have that privilege and they are significant others in the lives of tens of thousands of Scotland's young people. But we need more guys to come forward.
So that is my appeal to men reading this article. Our young men need you to be there for them in the same way as someone was there for you. If not you, then who?
Jim Sweeney is chief executive of YouthLink Scotland
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