Help Them SPEAK UP
Helping Young People Speak Up
The number of Australian children living in Residential Care was nearing 2700 as of June 2018 – and that number has been rising. Residential care becomes an option when family-based care or foster care has been unsuccessful. To read more on Residential Care and what’s involved, check out one of our earlier blog posts: Youth Residential Support Questions, ANSWERED.
These young people need supportive role models around them, people they can trust and feel like they can open up to. It is the job of the youth workers in residential care homes to make sure they can be the role model these young people need.
Unfortunately, many children and young people in out of home care are coming from quite difficult backgrounds and this can often lead to challenging behaviours and difficulties trusting new people. Supporting these young people and helping them open up to you isn’t an easy job, but it is a rewarding one and the right youth worker can make an ongoing difference in a young person’s confidence.
So, what does it mean to be this kind of youth worker? And what skills do we think every good youth worker should possess?
1. Create a SAFE environment
How do you create an environment where young people can feel safe enough to share their thoughts, feelings, worries and concerns? The aim is to create a culture where adults take an active role in young people’s lives and can help identify risks – as well as ways to respond. Creating a culture where young people have a voice and can make decisions when it comes to their future is important. Establishing trust can be difficult in out-of-home-care environments and usually persistence is key. Young people in residential care homes have had difficult upbringing so conversations should always have a level of sensitivity and awareness their challenges. Trust and openness begin with a safe environment.
2. Sometimes You Just Need to Ask.
Whilst being a supportive youth worker means you need to listen and lend a supportive shoulder; it doesn’t mean you need to wait for young people to come to you. Sometimes the most important conversations you will have need to be initiated by you. It is important you show an interest in things that are important to young people so they feel their views will be taken seriously. Sometimes conversations feel uncomfortable and can be riddled with long silences or heightened emotions – but this is where your skills as a youth worker are so important. Know when and how to best ask for more information or give advice and always be considerate and empathetic of young people’s backgrounds.
3. Get Creative
Sometimes it takes a little more work to break down a young person’s barriers and have them really open up to you about things that might be important or a risk to their safety. Using creative strategies, like shifting the conversation outdoors or to a car ride can help to remove the formalities of a discussion. Patience is key. As much as you are trying to help the young person express their feelings honestly, their backgrounds will mean that trusting is difficult. A good youth worker sees the importance of getting to know a young person’s personality, their hobbies and interests and how to build a relationship where there is both mutual respect and trust.
At the end of the day, every youth worker and every young person is different and the way we interact needs to take that into consideration. When it comes to building trust and helping young people to speak up, the most important lesson to learn is patience.
If you want to help support young people in residential care, BridgingWorx has a number of vacancies for passionate youth workers!
Check out bridgingworx.org.au/careers to find out how you can do something great.