The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.
Sometimes it’s best not to get involved
Workers need to be available to young people, even if they are not needed.
Sitting on the train on my way home recently, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between three teenage girls aged around 16. One of them was loudly telling her friends about her recent experiences, much to the dismay of the rest of the carriage.
It transpired that she had recently fallen pregnant and had spent the past few months sofa surfing after being kicked out by her mum. In addition, she had taken the blame for an assault her friend committed and was ordered to do some community service with the youth offending team. Apparently, she had finally been given a flat by the council and had just attended the hospital for her first ultrasound. Having seen the baby scan, she had cried with joy and was excited about being a mother.
I don’t know if that particular young lady was difficult, troublesome or involved in antisocial behaviour. I have no idea if she attended any youth groups or if a youth worker was ever there to support her. My observation was that she was an articulate young woman who had been forced to cope with situations that many responsible adults struggle to deal with – and she was actually doing well for herself.
As I sat on the train trying not to listen, I was reminded of how important it is for us to simply be there for young people when they need us. For all of our positive activities, planned interventions and curriculum plans, some young people just need a safe space and a listening ear as they struggle to make sense of their circumstances.
Of course, we are all of aware of young people with similar, or worse, stories. You can’t be a youth worker for long without being affected by some of the tragic circumstances you hear about. For many of us, being able to help, support or guide young people was the reason we got into this work in the first place. The thing is, young people are often capable of working things out on their own and are generally quite resilient and resourceful, despite an assumption to the contrary.
One of the core values of youth work has always been the voluntary principle: that young people are free to enter into, and out of, relationships with workers as they see fit. But let’s celebrate those young people who achieve without our support and simply be ready to help if we’re ever needed.