Andy Hunter, The Junction

Describe your role

Like many third sector organisations, The Junction (part of the Test Valley Foyer) is a small project, although it has the benefits of being part of a larger regional charity Alabaré Christian Care and Support. Being a small project ‘team working’ and ‘flexibility’ are key watch words. So, with that in mind, when asked to describe my role I am often seen with a wry smile on my face! My role as Project Coordinator is one of ever changing needs and priorities, and ranges from day to day running of a young persons’ drop-in; managing venue hire (one of our sources of income is to hire out meeting/training facilities); providing hands-on training and development; and delivering Information, Advice and Guidance.

What makes a good participation worker?

A good participation worker comes in all shapes, sizes and genders – comes from all types of backgrounds - and with all different kinds of experiences. Ultimately they are someone who wants to makes a difference, someone who wants to enable others to fulfil their potential, has whatever that ingredient is that manages to reach hard to reach people (I use humour) and someone who wants to do themselves out of a job by enabling the young person to move on emotionally, socially and physically. I try to reflect on the day and question whether you could have done anything different - and smile.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Gosh – so many! Short term government (any flavour or colour) thinking; social and community breakdown, difficulty in securing sustainable funding, and not of course forgetting overcoming an often ingrained cycle of abuse where the young person knows nothing but failing and being told they are useless.

One of the most important things I have learnt is to make sure you are trying to solve the right problem! Finding the root cause of why and how someone has got to where they are is the key and what they have identified as the issue is not always the issue they need most support or guidance with.

Many of the young people only know failure and are secure with making this the norm and when faced with life changing moments will habitually sabotage everything.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan’s song, Love Minus Zero, ‘there’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all’.

What are the benefits?

So many! So many children and young people are excluded socially, economically, educationally, and culturally that each intervention opportunity should be effective. Just as every child matters – so does every intervention. In my volunteer role as YOT Referral Panel Member I see the benefits of a multi-agency approach working closely with an individual. The personal rewards for the young person are immense and the fiscal benefits (although hard to quantify) would place lesser burden on the economy.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?

Listen – Hear – Respect – Honesty – Non-judgemental – Consistency

Listen – to what is being said. We all have a story to tell and when we are in crisis we all want someone to take the time listen.

Hear – what is being said. Our experiences only apply to us. I never say ‘I know how you feel’ as this is taking something away from their experience. If I have experienced a similar issue I say ‘I know how it felt’

Respect – a big issue with young people and children. Many have grown up only learning to succeed at failing. How can children and young people respect others and others’ property if they don’t respect themselves.

Honesty – be honest. Bad news is hard to deliver. But by using tact and diplomacy we have managed to get young offenders to hand themselves in to the Police, pursue more realistic work options, and begin to accept responsibility for their own actions and lives.

Non-Judgemental – children and young people can say or do the most challenging things and hold the most outrageous viewpoints. Mostly they are only replicating what they have heard or seen their ‘role’ models do. Most don’t even know there is another way, let alone how to effect the change.

Consistency – being a drop-in sometimes things kick-off. By consistently applying any rules of codes of conduct, young people have an opportunity to learn boundaries and the concept of actions and consequences. I often recall a service user’s quote on the Foyer Federation website, although not strictly verbatim, ‘the things I hated most about the foyer were the boundaries  .....  but then I realised boundaries were what I needed’

What is effective participation?

Effective participation - is  finally finding the one thing that reaches the hardest to reach young person, - being there when Plan A doesn’t work, - being there when Plan E doesn’t work and being there to support them to make another plan – thinking outside of the box – making all of the support agency networks you can. In our area most of the agencies see the same young people. Each of the agencies sees a different part of that person and each organisation has something to offer. Oh – and being there when Plan Z isn’t going too well!

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB