Tommy George: In care and need exercise? #YouCan do it

This time last year the Scottish Government announced that it would listen to the voices of 1,000 care-experienced people as part of a wide-ranging review into the care system in Scotland.

Care-experienced kids often need an extra push to take part in physical activity
Care-experienced kids often need an extra push to take part in physical activity

With the support of voluntary organisation Who Cares? Scotland, the voices and experiences of ­children and young people growing up in care will be heard.

For those of us working to deliver services to children and young ­people, this review and campaign serve as an excellent reminder to ­consider the needs of care-experienced young people, and to question whether we are offering the right level of support to ensure they can access the same opportunities as their peers.

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An active life is an essential part of growing up. All children and young people should have the opportunity to play, take part in and enjoy sport and physical activity.

For young people developing into adults, regular physical activity helps them function better, improves ­confidence and concentration, and ­helps them stay focused and motivated in school. It also helps to develop essential life skills like communication, teamwork and ­resilience.

Finding time and money to prioritise physical activity can be a challenge. Structuring family life so that kids (and adults) can put down the electronic devices, get off the sofa and take part in physical activity, is easier said than done. For care-experienced young people it can be even harder. Physical inactivity contributes to considerable health and social inequalities which affect them throughout their lives. Thirty-four per cent of care-experienced children and young people don’t achieve the physical activity guidelines set out by the Scottish Government and are less active than their peers.

These young people lead more ­sedentary lifestyles, which contributes to health inequalities and an increased risk of experiencing these later in life.

Care-experienced young people can feel that physical activity is not for them. Growing up without access to the correct clothing, equipment or resources, and with no one at home to encourage, support and show you the way to get started can be a real uphill struggle.

As a charity, Edinburgh Leisure is dedicated to creating opportunities to lead more active, healthy lives. Edinburgh Leisure ­offers care-experienced children and young people free access to our ­centres and we work closely with the council social work teams, children’s units and ­foster carers in Edinburgh to encourage and support them to get started in physical activity and sport.

Young people who have participated in the programme benefit in many ways. One 15-year-old girl who ­regularly accesses swimming and the gym said: “I feel as if I can fit in and join my friends in keeping active. I feel confident to speak to people that I have never met before because I’ve got to know staff and customers in the gym. I love trying new things in the outdoors and meeting other young people with similar backgrounds to me as I don’t feel so different. Sometimes I find it hard to tell my friends I am in care, but here I can relax and be me.”

Regular physical activity can help these young people build friendships, connect with others in their community, and enjoy time together with parents, carers and support workers. A recent public health study has found that regular participation in physical activity and sport ­protects young people who have experienced chaotic lifestyles from developing mental health problems in later life.

The report, published by Public Health Wales and Bangor University, said: “Of childhood activities measured, only regular participation in sports showed a protective effect against mental illness.” Whilst we currently remove the cost of physical activity, we recognise that care-experienced young people need a greater level of individual support to get active and stay active.

Therefore, Edinburgh Leisure is delighted to launch a new programme called #YouCan, thanks to funding from the Life Changes Trust, an independent charity working to improve the lives of care-experienced young people in Scotland. #YouCan will provide mentors to the least physically active care-experienced young people, aged 14-26 years, to help get them active and find activities they enjoy.

It will provide tailored support, based on the needs of each young person, and motivation to help them incorporate physical activity into their lives.

The ­programme also aims to build stronger, healthier families for care- experienced young people by ­providing parents, carers, social workers and residential unit staff with the knowledge, skills and tools to help the young people lead healthier, more active lifestyles.

By working closely with care-experienced young people, their ­carers and families in Edinburgh, this new service will improve the physical, mental and emotional health of care-experienced young people by empowering them to lead more active, healthier lives and develop new life skills.

For further information about Edinburgh Leisure’s #YouCan programme, contact 0131 458 21887, email [email protected] or visit

Tommy George, community development manager, Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Communities Team.