Working in a multi-agency environment to positively engage targeted young people, Paul Rogers explains why no two days are ever the same.

I work for the youth offending team and I am the early intervention youth justice worker. I’m based at Hailsham Community College, which just so happens to be my old secondary school! It is a specialist sports college and a full service extended school that houses a number of agencies, including the youth offending team, police, Connexions, nurse, social services, counsellors, out-of-school-hours manager, community sports development officer, educational welfare officer, traveler education service, etc. The college supports each young person educationally, physically, socially and emotionally – thanks to a team of dedicated staff that have expertise in a variety of fields. As far as I know, I am the only youth justice worker in the country who is funded 100% by an individual school. When I first started back in September 2005, my brief was to act as a positive male role model to engage disaffected, vulnerable young people at risk of exclusion and enable them to remain in appropriate education or training to ensure they could achieve their potential; to tackle truancy and reduce truancy rates through close joined-up working with the educational welfare officer, the young person and their family. Also, to provide support through developing anger management strategies and coping mechanisms to help deal with situations they may find stressful or difficult. The bottom line is to reduce the risk of (re-) offending. This remit initially only focused on the students at Hailsham Community College.

Early intervention

In my work, the aim is to positively engage targeted young people to support their development and get them back on the straight and narrow! It’s all about building up a relationship and trust with the young person. This is the first thing I do before focusing on the issues that need to be addressed. No two young people are the same. They all have different needs, opinions, styles. I find out what they are into, what makes them tick, what football team they support, favorite music, build up a rapport and get them to understand I am on their side. I think it’s a personality thing really.

Then, communication with the families and other agencies involved is key to providing continuity, and ensuring the best possible outcomes for the young person. An assessment is made, and a tailor-made program is identified to address the needs of each individual young person. I also advocate on behalf of the young person, and through the college-based Connexions worker and other agencies, negotiate access to other services on their behalf. In addition, I help reduce bullying and victimization by challenging unacceptable behavior and helping young people develop respect for themselves, others and the community.

My job has many varying aspects, and no two days are ever the same. Here is one of my not so typical days:

  • 7.30 am – Get to work, check emails and voicemail. Read email from inclusion teacher to say the timetable of one of the young people I work with has changed so I re-arrange my session and text her to confirm new time and date. Voicemail from another young person’s mum saying he was arrested for criminal damage last night. I get straight on the phone to PC Kate Brookman, our police liaison officer, to find out the details of the offence and legal consequences of his actions, phone mum back and set up an appointment to see him the same day.
  • 9.00 am – Check on one of my lads at Park Mead Primary School, who has anger management issues that we are addressing, as well as dealing with a bereavement. Speak to his class teacher and check out his progress monitoring form. He’s got 12 out of 15 smiley faces this week, still on track for a personalized CD at the end of term. Discuss what the blips were on Tuesday and look at strategies to avoid any more. Job satisfaction level 8.
  • 10.30 am – Meeting with Chris (child care and out-of-school activities development manager) and Jo (community sports development officer) to discuss planning strategies for Urban Xtreme Festival. Job satisfaction level 9.
  • 12.30 pm – Home visit with lad arrested last night to talk through the offence, and using a cognitive approach help him to realize the impact his offending behavior has had on others and explain possible outcomes, ie, final warning, court hearing, referral order. I also write up contact diary sheets. Job satisfaction 3.
  • 1.50 pm – Common Assessment Framework strategy meeting for Town. Priority cases discussed and strategies to move forward. Staff include school nurse, counsellor, youth development service, parent information contact, educational welfare officer, traveler education officer, social services, Connexions and Whitehouse Primary School Senco. From this meeting, I picked up two more additional cases from Whitehouse Primary School.
  • 3.15 pm – Meet with New Kids on the Block (see box opposite) to brainstorm activities to be included in Urban Xtreme (see aslo box). Job satisfaction level 8.

Impact and benefits

After being in post only two months, the impact and benefits of my work was clear and my role was then expanded and developed to support specifically identified vulnerable young people in the town’s feeder primary schools: Marshlands, Park Mead, Grovelands, and Whitehouse. Regular sessions depending on need helped support them in primary school and also through the transition process via the transition panel that I sit on. Since then I have developed many group programs in conjunction with the young people I work with, teachers and various agencies including Community Sports Development and the youth service. The aim is to build the confidence and self-esteem of young people and challenge their views to develop them as individuals, provide a structured and safe environment to engage them in positive activities and raise the profile of young people generally. I sit on the ‘Prevent and Deter’ group that works in connection with the ‘Safer Wealden Partnership’, police, housing association, youth development service, schools and teachers. This meets on a monthly basis and the aim is to highlight any young people who are coming to the notice of the police and to start with early intervention before a problem becomes too big. I like to find the good in even the most ‘written off’ young person and that’s why this job is for me. It can be very up and down, good and bad, ying and yang. I know I can’t change the world but if I have only helped to turn one person around, then – hey – it’s been worthwhile.

Working with the New Kids on the Block: The benefits of a multi-agency environment

I am working closely with a group of young people who are part of the same friendship group. They were engaging in anti-social behavior in the town, and a few of them were starting to enter the youth justice system as a result. To challenge this anti-social behavior and provide a positive focus for these young people, I initiated an after-school club, called ‘New Kids On The Block’ (NKOTB). The idea behind the name was to instill a sense of a fresh start and to show them they could be part of something positive. We met at least once a week and the idea was to find out their opinion on various topics including what they are interested in, what and how we can develop new activities, sports and crazes to engage young people in Hailsham. NKOTB came up with the idea to run transitional party nights for Year 6 pupils who were making the move from primary to secondary school. The young people took responsibility for organizing the marketing, DJ, venue, and everything else in between, with the support of myself, community support police officers who monitored the event and the senior management team of the school. From this, they raised money to send two primary school pupils on a week’s residential trip after experiencing the benefits themselves. They’ve also helped in generating the funding for the Urban Extreme ’07 sports festival and were involved in planning, advertising and running the event. The festival aimed to raise awareness and the profile of these unsung popular urban sports and give people in Hailsham the opportunity to take part in a new and exciting activity through organized taster sessions. We achieved that and also linked people in with local clubs to continue and develop in the sport. The young people were very passionate about the event and wanted it to be a success so they took ownership of it, putting in a huge amount of effort and determination, staying after school until we had cut and pasted a mountain of posters to put up around Hailsham and spending weekends handing out fliers. The day was a great success: we ended up with over 400 people coming through the doors experiencing new activities and making links with local clubs. The young people received the praise they deserved and managed to gain the respect of those who would normally have held a less positive view of them. The boys and girls did good – what an achievement! This project fitted in very nicely with four out of the five Every Child Matters outcomes. By engaging more young people in physical activities and sport, this has a positive impact on their health, and through coaching/taster sessions by qualified and experienced staff, young people are able to express themselves in a safe but dynamic environment. The event itself is the perfect example of how young people can give something back and make a positive contribution to the community. The knock-on effect is that they have achieved their goal and should be proud of that. By empowering young people and giving them the opportunity to succeed, we can help to change the stereotypical ‘Kevin and Perry’ image of teenagers. The team was headed up by the community sports development officer and myself, a partnership that has proved very successful as we both know how each other works, and are able to pull in different  skills and resources to achieve the best possible results.

I find working in a multi-agency environment holds many long- and short-term benefits to professionals, parents and young people alike.