Jenni Steele is the founder and project manager of The YANA Project in London, which offers schools in Lambeth healthy relationship education, one-to-one weekly personal support for teens who have experienced abuse, witnessed domestic abuse at home or are at high risk from child sexual exploitation (CSE). She's also an ambassador for DVUK, author and mother.
What made you decide to work with victims and survivors of domestic abuse?
As a teenager I was in an abusive relationship. I have worked with adult victims and decided that because of the lack of teen support, that would be the route I would build projects and services around. I started with healthy relationship education about five years ago. Last year I joined SafeLives for a few courses. This week I launch my short film on the dynamics of teen unbalanced relationships into schools.
What are the particular challenges and rewards of working with young people?
Young people are living in pressured times. With social media and society pressure they need a lot of support from different angles.
Every young person is different and we must remember that when we are engaging with them, especially the language they use. Many young people are going through trauma without recognising it as trauma from an early age, and we need more practitioners like myself working directly with schools so that early support is offered. I am fortunate to be working with school partners that want to more services that support and assist young people. Let's not forget teachers have a job to do and many of them are not trained to take on specialist work in the classroom.
Seeing young people's confidence and self worth rise can be very rewarding, but to be honest it's not about me it's about the individual young person. I know what I needed as a teenager and that was someone to listen, support me and direct me to better opportunities so I could make better choices with my life. That person never came! So I became that person.
What keeps you going when the work gets tough?
The work can get challenging but as with everything in life, challenges definitely make us stronger. I am not afraid to ask for help, support or assistance and I have a great team behind me. Plus my regular clinical supervison for my own personal self care.
What are you most proud of so far?
My qualifications as a practitioner; at my age it was not easy to study, work and raise my family. Setting up YANA Project and having my own educational film with a program that raises awareness from a young persons perspective on healthy relationships, and being part of creating a legacy of change are definitely proud moments.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering this career, what would it be?
This role takes empathy, thinking on your feet, innovation, patience and a passion for influencing change as you will become an advocate with young people at the forefront.
Jenni's colleague Winston said: 'She projects a warm, cheerful attitude to all those in the community especially when it comes to supporting young people. I have seen her resolve conflicts and handle other difficult situations with remarkable patience and admirable tact. She loves people, works hard, and always tries to lift the spirits of those around her whilst being a mother, grandmother, author and practitioner in domestic abuse.'
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