What is your job title and what does that mean?
I am a Lead Youth Worker for the North Devon Youth Service working as part of the Community Involvement Team. This youth service is a unique and special service for young people and is an important strand of our offer as a Community Landlord.
What does your day to day role look like?
Every day is different, whilst we do have planned youth club sessions no two weeks are ever the same as we respond to the very varied and differing needs of the young people we work with. Our offer to young people makes them central in the decision making, with Youth Management Teams having a very real role in the development of activities, school holiday activities. We work on a regular basis with these management Teams and Senior Youth Club Members. Another big part of what we do is to raise funds so that we are able to take young people on school holiday outings and weekend adventure trips.
Why and how did you become a youth worker?
I was working in retail, I had small kids at home and one day just decided I needed to do something with my career. So I quit my job and took a summer role at an adventure school. That summer I found my calling and knew this was what I was put on this earth to do. I managed to get a job in Bideford working nine hours a week across three evenings as a youth worker and at that point I decided to put myself through university and get my degree in Youth and Community Work. It took four years of hard work but it was totally worth it.
What do you enjoy about being a youth worker?
The young people. My job is never boring and there are always plenty of laughs. However, it’s not just about playing ping pong and badminton with the young people it’s about getting to know them and learning who they are both at home and with their friends. It’s also about giving them informal learning opportunities to develop soft skills and build confidence, self esteem and resilience. I’ve seen many children grow up into young adults through my career and we can see examples within the NDH apprentice of where young people have transformed their paths in life to make their own careers choices possible and create better life chances than they may have had without the NDH Youth Service’s help.
What issues do you come across as a youth worker?
There are a wide range of issues that you can come across as a youth worker. We see a lot of mental health issues and self harming. I’m really seeing a big increase in mental health in our younger children now, things like body image, self-confidence and their resilience to problems in their lives. Best thing about my role is knowing that I can help make a different and ensure everyone gets the chance to have time away from their issues and have some fun no matter what their home circumstances are.
What themes do you cover at youth clubs and why?
Our Youth Clubs are used as more of a time away from home by doing things like arts and crafts and games; but for us it’s a vehicle to find out more about the young people and speak to them in confidence about their issues and worries. It’s surprising that they will open up to us in youth club because they are relaxed and having fun, but if you put the same young people in a room and ask if they were ok they would shut themselves off.
Once we speak to the young people and find out what they are going through and what they may need help with we can then use that information to plan activities during the holidays, for special sessions, or for mini talks during youth club.
In the past we’ve covered all sorts! Things like anger management, mental health issues, body image, cyber bullying, even participitating in setting up radio shows for the young people to organise and discuss in their own space and project.
Do your young people relate to you and engage with you?
Yes, absolutely. It doesn’t happen instantly but young people that join youth club will eventually come to trust their youth workers and speak to them about any issues they may have. It may not even need to be said, we’re able to pick up on issues just based on their personalities or their moods during certain sessions.
It’s definitely easier for us to engage with some young people than though youth workers have the ability to look past the crowd reaching out to those often most in need standing in the background.
Do you find young people suffer with mental health issues more than other generations?
Research is increasingly showing that young people today have more pressure on them than any other generation of young people have experienced in October 2019 the World Wide Web will be 30 years old. When we were younger there wasn’t social media putting pressure on us to look and behave in certain ways; or celebrities and even other successful peers constantly bombarding us daily on mobile phones. Young people today have a certain level that they think they need to live up to; if they don’t they feel sub-standard, anxious and stressed about “likes” and/or the number of friends and followers; constantly having their heads in their phones; that’s often when the constant need to keep up or fit in can create mental health issues.
When they are sat on their phones they are in their own little bubble. We don’t know what they are reading, seeing or interacting with, and so just like their parents it can be really difficult to break into that bubble to make sure they understand it’s not the real world.
Austerity cuts and funding caps don’t help either, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) waitlist is around 18 weeks just for an initial assessment so if a young person is struggling waiting nearly six months for anyone to even come and talk to you can be the difference between life and death. As a youth worker I see myself and my colleagues really bridging the gap for a significant number of young people we work with.
Give an example of a mental health issue that you’ve been able to help with?
We had one young person come into club straight after school still in school uniform’ with blood dripping down the fingers having just self-harmed with a razor. Luckily it wasn’t serious injuries so we were able to administer first aid (as we are all trained to do so). In these instances we always try and engage with parents without losing the trust of the young people and build a package of support that would include sign posting and/or engaging other professional help. Sadly there are very limited resources within other agencies and help is not always readily accessible.
Having a strong team on the ground at our youth clubs enables us to deal with issues like this and make time to have 121 conversations and support sessions privately.
What tips would you give to anyone who’s suffering or has someone who is suffering with a mental illness?
Find someone you can trust and talk to them. The biggest step is discussing the issue for the first time with an adult, whether a youth worker, parent or teacher, any adult will be able to help in some way.
Talking to your friends about your issues may help you, but actually the burden your putting on other young people may then cause them to have problems and puts them in a very difficult position not being about to speak about their issues.
There are some great resources out there for people to look up online if they are struggling:
Anything else to add about mental health?
Make sure you listen to our young people’s radio shows (below). They were devised by young people for young people. The issues were chosen by local young people who invited professionals in to be interviewed. They are a great tool for advice if you’re in a similar situation.