14th March 2017
Claire Amans is the Young Person’s Violence Advisor (Ypva) Services Coordinator for South Tyneside. Claire was trained as a Ypva through SafeLives Young Person’s programme, funded by the Department for Education. Here Claire reflects on the role of a Ypva, and how it differs to working with adults. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page.
When I started working as a young people’s violence advisor, I was surprised to see how many young people were victims of high-risk abuse. I’d worked in youth justice previously, so I knew that there would be some high-risk victims, but I didn’t realise how many.
Now I look back on the past three years and think “Who was working with these young people before?” They get so much out of the service that there’s clearly a need. I’ve worked with 16-17 year olds who had used an adult service before, in the absence of anything else. They’ve said that it was really helpful for them to have that, but they felt that it didn’t meet all of their needs.
Adult services are different, and rightly so – what they do is right for adults. But at 16-17 you are still a child in the eyes of the law, so you need support beyond what an adult service might have the resources to offer.
And that’s where South Tyneside’s three Young Person’s Violence Advisors (Ypvas) come in; we offer young people personalised support and act as a single point of contact for all the problems they face.
In South Tyneside we do a lot of one-to-one work. We do the core safety planning and healthy relationship work, but we also look at the individual young person and their specific needs – like building their social network and their confidence. That includes becoming safe from the abuse itself, of course, but also issues such as housing, finance and education to name just a few.
Our engagement with young people has been fantastic and we’ve had contacts reaching into the late hundreds. Weekly sessions are offered to all young people and can sometimes last for 2-3 hours per session depending on the intervention offered. What we offer is very intensive, but it’s necessary at times to help the young person holistically. Spending that much time with them can also mean they’re more likely to open up to you around personal issues such as sexual health or substance use.
There are times when a young person can feel overwhelmed due to their circumstances and the different agencies involved, and may need you to advocate for them to make sure their voice is heard. For example, one referral we received was for a 16-year-old who was homeless because of domestic violence, so it wasn’t safe for her to return home. We couldn’t just signpost her to the housing team and leave it at that. She wasn’t sure of the process involved and felt overwhelmed. Having someone to advocate for her when she felt emotional or wasn’t sure how to answer the question was important. We needed to help them understand why it wasn’t safe for her to go home. Bridging that gap for her meant that she was taken seriously and supported – and she now is in emergency accommodation.
When she first moved in, I took her shopping. I explained about budgeting and then took her back to her supported accommodation. She’d not had to do any household chores like that prior to becoming homeless – even putting food in the freezer was something she didn’t know about. With adults you might be able to rely on them to understand basic things like shopping, managing money and so on. But for many young people, on top of dealing with an abusive relationship, this may be their first experience of the real world and it can be a very worrying and overwhelming time for them.
She told me afterwards that she wouldn’t have been able to manage alone on her own – she wouldn’t have known where to go or what to say. Without intensive support, she wouldn’t have had the confidence to deal with the situation and would have remained at risk.
Now that this young person has safe and secure accommodation, we can focus on safety planning and healthy relationship work to help her stay safe from abuse.
It goes to show that, with young people, you need to do more than just signpost. You need to go on that journey with them. Young people should be able to expect the support of a dedicated worker. They deserve not to have to live in chaos. Having that central co-ordinator to not just help them be safe, but also to understand their needs and champion their cause, is vital.
SafeLives young people’s programme was created to find new ways to help young people who suffer abuse from the people they are close to. It began in May 2013 and has now come to an end, leaving a legacy of over one hundred trained Ypva’s. It was a partnership with Barnardo’s, IKWRO, Leap, and the Marie Collins Foundation and was funded by the Department for Education.