We have been reflecting on our practice and learning through the lockdown and developed in partnership with a wide range of our stakeholders our “Power to Change Approach” to working with communities and young people
Impact on young people: Complexity. The place and context in which young people live has a significant impact on their life chances. They are affected by a range of overlapping and interlinked issues. The key point to highlight here is that there is not one neat, linear solution to a simple cause and effect, rather for most of the young people we work with, there is a complex web of issues that need to be addressed in an agile and creative way.
These complex issues often include: having experience of and been emotionally scarred by the care system; physical and mental health issues; insecure or inappropriate housing; addictions; involvement in crime; lack of family support; having children taken into care; domestic abuse; debt and financial management issues; racism; immigration status; living in a deprived area; poor levels of basic education; and being unwilling or unable to get a job. For many of these young people, Covid19 seemed to be just another hurdle and stress in their often chaotic and complex lives.
It is our strong belief based on reflecting on our practice, that to work effectively with these young people, we need to understand the complexity of their life situation and work with them to address these overlapping issues.”
At the heart of this approach is the belief that we need to work with young people in a joined up, agile and holistic way that is rooted in partnership working and a solid understanding of the local place and context. It is also based on the belief that young people are often best placed to know what is best for them and, given support and encouragement, they can become “creators” rather than just “consumers” of services and solutions.
Power within. Many of the young people we work with are having to deal with a wide range of complex issues. There is no point trying to work with them on issues such as getting a job or sharing their lived experience until this ‘chaos’ is dealt with. Key to our approach is being young person centred and working with the young person to identify the issues they face and to support them to understand why this is and how they might bring about change. Quite often, this is linked to obtaining secure, safe accommodation, getting out of abusive relationships, seeking practical and emotional support, getting on top of finances and developing IT and living skills. It requires our staff to have strong links with the various community and local authority service providers who can provide specialist support.
Power with. Many of the young people we work with see themselves as worthless and powerless individuals. They are often living isolated lives and feel cut off from society. We believe that if we can bring people with similar experiences together, it can be an empowering experience. When young people are encouraged to think more collectively about the context and environment in which they have been growing up and how that may have shaped them, it can be a transformational experience. Key to this “social action” approach is that anything that has been “socially constructed” can be changed. In many ways, this unfolding process of knowledge and realisation is the bedrock of effective citizenship. It is also based on the belief that to get on in life you need to be able to develop and build relationships, networks and connections. Your group becomes your back up and a source of inspiration and strength. The more you get used to working in groups the easier it becomes to make new connections and, as any manager or would-be employer will tell you, “teamwork” is an essential life skill.
Power to. Once young people start to understand more fully the situation they are in and why so many of their peers are in a similar situation, it can be a powerful catalyst for change. So, for example, we have supported young people to educate decision makers and other young people about their experiences and contribute to structural changes in the way services are developed and delivered. This process also enables young people to develop a wide range of soft and hard skills which many then use to secure a job or enter education or training.
Throughout this stage, we are proactively working with young people to create opportunities for them to build understanding and connections with community, business and local authority staff as well as their peer group. This might vary from attending a community project to completing a work placement with a local business or being mentored by a local business volunteer. Not only do these connections offer practical support, but they also provide young people with experience of meeting people who may well be very different to them. From being isolated and cut off, young people become more confident and sociable.”
That is why as well as our youth workers, we have community workers, working to strengthen the community sector and to build links between business, community and local authorities.
Covid19 has shone a cruel light on the many issues facing our city and county, but it has also shown that there is spirit and a willingness for people to work together. It might be a cliché, but our strongest asset is our people and we firmly believe that all young people, given support and opportunities, have much to offer to the recovery and development of our city and county. Rather than seeing them as victims or problems, we must see them as assets and solutions who can create rather than just consume ideas and policies. We believe our power to change approach can inspire young people’s energy, vitality and creativity and, in doing so, turn despair into hope and create a better city and county for all.