01 February 2016
“I don’t know what it’s like to be you! In fact I can only imagine how you are feeling, but I can assure you that we all have our own journeys and stories to tell.”
This is what I find myself saying to almost every young person I come into contact with through my work. It’s important that people know that individual experiences are relevant.
Daily I am able to navigate my way through a very complex area of work in a unique setting in which I am tasked with the responsibility of supporting some of the most vulnerable, risky, volatile, dangerous, scared, complex, needy, dependent, sweetest young people in South London. I am Youth Worker and Team Leader in the A&E department of one of London’s Major Trauma Centres, working with young people between the ages of 11 and 25 who are victims of assault. That can be anything from a push and scuffle in the school playground, to being stabbed, sexually assaulted or even shot.
When I changed careers and entered the field of Youth Work in 2008, despite the lack of financial rewards, I knew every day I had a purpose. I was tired of making rich people richer, I was tired of the inequality and lack of diversity that I was seeing at senior level in the corporate sector, and I wanted to use what I had to make a difference. I quit my corporate sales job in the City. I was tired of being the minority in most of the environments that I worked. I clearly had something that allowed me to gain (some) access, but what? I had an idea of what it could be, so I went on a mission to find out if I was right.
I went to work on a city farm as a youth worker and started a degree in my mid-twenties in Applied Social Science Community Development and Youth Work. I was then offered a job at a youth offending service in one of South London’s busiest and most deprived boroughs. The locality in which I was now working was not alien to me; I was very familiar with my surroundings. I suppose this is why I was able to recognise that there was something amiss about the other world I was exposed to working in the city. That is how I knew it was not representative of the real world I went home to everyday.
There was something different though. My eyes were opened to some of the challenges faced by our young people that act as very real barriers to some of the visions I had for achieving more diversity at senior levels in organisations by priming our young people and getting them ready for those top spots. These were not challenges I was ignorant to personally, but as a professional in the field, my perspective was changed.
Personally and professionally, I was, and am still seeing a lot of the same challenges in this sector that I noticed in the Corporate Sector. The lack of diversity at senior levels is still very apparent which sometimes makes me sad because I start to question my own future, and I worry at times for our young people. If I worry as a confident competent communicator with a degree and a wealth of varied experience, what do they see their chances as?
I began to realise how much of what happens to young people throughout their lives is in the hands of others – teachers, parents, siblings, cousins, friends (and foes), Social Workers, Key Korkers, YOS Officers – to name just a few, not to mention the default position of where you live and the impact that can have on the rest of your life. It sounds dramatic, but it impacts where you can go to school, where you can access healthcare and I began to notice an anxiety that was experienced by so many young people about leaving the area within which you had been put.
I say put, because most of the young people I worked with were living in social housing. They did not have a choice about where they lived, and to a certain extent neither did their parents (this could be a topic for another day). Decisions are made based on written reports and assessments and so often the thinking, feeling human being gets lost. I saw, not for the first time but in a very different way, the importance of family and positive relationships and I was able to start to understand better that emotional and mental health needs as much attention as other areas of a young person’s life.
Becoming involved with London Youth’s Tackling Youth Violence Network enables me to connect with other people who are in the business of caring and who want to make a difference, all with their own experiences, both professional and personal.
We are able to discuss openly and honestly some of the challenges we face when approaching our work, as well as share and jointly try to find solutions to the challenges experienced by young people. It is nice to know there is a network of people who understand your field of work and who you can turn to for advice and support as and when needed.
We are able to become better informed about access to services and support available to us as professionals and the young people and improve our knowledge of the systems and frameworks of the wider society within which we work. These meetings are valuable, not only for networking, but also so you do not feel isolated as a professional.
This is not an area of work that a lot of people are aware of, yet everyone has an opinion about. Despite my familiarity with some of the localities that I work in, my work has exposed me to issues and situations that I would not know existed if I was not doing the job that I do. Sharing this with others is valuable as I have come to realise that it can impact every single one of us in one way or another.
This blog was written by Marie Perryman Goins, Youth Worker and Team Leader in the A&E department of one of London’s Major Trauma Centres.