24th August 2017
This is the second part of an interview in which Briony Williamson talks about the importance of young people's support workers. In Autumn Briony will be delivering the training Responding to young people affected by domestic abuse.
Briony has been working in the Learning and Accreditation team at SafeLives for nearly five years, training on our Idva, young people’s practitioner and outreach worker’s courses.
Briony, anyone who’s met you will know what a passionate advocate for youth work you are. Can you tell us what sparked your interest in this area?
Before I came to SafeLives I worked for a domestic abuse service as an Idva, an Outreach worker and pretty much every other role going! I also worked at my local youth service in the evenings and I guess that is where my passion for working with young people really started. I had worked in mental health with a lot of adolescent clients prior to that, which probably sowed the seed, but youth work felt like an opportunity to really support young people in a way that they wanted.
Why do you think that is?
Because it’s outside of formal education you can talk to young people about what they want to talk about. You can do the activities that they want to do and talk about the subjects that they are interested in. A big part of my role was talking about healthy relationships - signposting young people to family planning services, handing out condoms and things like that. I got to see a side of young people that I would not have seen if I’d been working in a more formal, school-based setting.
Unfortunately it didn’t take long before I was hearing about relationships that were definitely not healthy. I was seeing controlling behaviours between people as young as 12. It would have been their first relationship and I was witnessing first-hand how that impacted on them - especially the young women.
I was genuinely shocked by the things they thought they should do or put up with. That they found these things acceptable or even expected them in a relationship at such a crucial age was upsetting. And then add to that the possibility these experiences could be setting them up to become repeat victims… It made me really want to take what I was learning from my work at the domestic abuse centre and bring it to work in the youth centre. I was able to do that by tapping into various healthy relationships work and young women’s groups.
You joined SafeLives five years ago. Do you think the domestic abuse sector has changed in that time?
I think when I first came to work in the DA sector - which was over ten years ago now - we had a different government and different priorities. I came into a service where there were Idvas, outreach workers, children’s workers, refuge, drop-in centres. It was a fully-tiered service that allowed for people to be high risk and when their safety improved they would receive long-term support and see their children being supported. And it really made a difference.
The feedback we got from clients was that these services really helped them at a time they needed it. The Idva kept them safe in the first instance but it was the ongoing support that kept them safe longer term. Sadly it feels that following budget cuts we are losing some of that in parts of the sector now.
You’ve continued your work around supporting young people since joining SafeLives five years ago. Can you tell me about that?
When I first joined SafeLives I worked on the Young People’s Programme and the Working with Gang-Affected Young People’s course. It was an absolute privilege to work with those people. It’s a very special sort of person who wants to work with young people that are experiencing domestic abuse, or are in an abusive relationship, or involved in gangs, because they’ve often had personal experience themselves or via a family member or friend that has been affected.
The drive to do this sort of work - often for very little or any financial gain - is nothing short of amazing. And a lot of them are doing it in a voluntary capacity because it’s not seen as something that should be a high profile paid role. And yet these roles are crucial. It’s the same as Outreach... Idva definitely has the high profile and people understand it, but sometimes these other roles are assumed to be less important, when they’re not.
Young people’s support workers and outreach workers support people to recover, rebuild and reflect, and this enables them to make the necessary changes to go on to have healthy relationships in the future. The Idva role is vital but so are these roles that run alongside it.
This year you’re delivering SafeLives training for practitioners working with young people. What can you tell us about this course?
I’m really pleased to be delivering the Responding to young people's course because by doing this we are saying that young people’s relationships, and consequently, young people’s relationship abuse is important. Too often it feels like it’s been ignored, minimised or swept under the carpet by adults who think ‘it wasn’t important when I was a young person so it’s not important now… that’s just how it is’. We need to change that. It’s not how it should be and it can be different.
After all, one day these young people will become adults and they will be making decisions about the next generation of young people coming through.
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