19th July 2017
Interview: SafeLives Trainer Briony Williamson on the importance of support workers for young people
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.
This Autumn she will be delivering Responding to young people affected by domestic abuse: expert level and in this interview she talks about why we need to take young people's relationships seriously.
Our recent report Safe Young Lives on young people and domestic abuse highlighted the shocking fact that young people experience the highest rates of domestic abuse of any age group. Why do you think this is?
In part I think it’s because it is in anyone’s first relationship, at whatever age that happens, that they are at the highest risk of abuse. They are still learning what a relationship looks like and inevitably they are very vulnerable to somebody who might be controlling or abusive and mislead them about what a relationship should look like.
Secondly, young people have traditionally been treated as children and the severity of abuse in their relationships – in fact their relationships in general - has been underestimated or not taken seriously. Unfortunately a lot of practitioners’ approaches can reflect that. Things may be dismissed that we know from our work and our research are in fact very serious and mark the risk of harm as very high.
What advice in particular would you give to someone working with young people affected by abuse?
I think a common issue is that the vast majority of support workers - and I include myself in this - aren’t young people anymore! In fact, for many of us, when we were young people was quite a while ago, so our frames of reference are very different. A lot of professionals fall down by trying to be cool, by trying to act like they are on the same wavelength as the young person and that they understand exactly what life is like for them. But the reality is that we don’t.
Instead it’s important to learn how it’s possible to work with young people in a way that isn’t patronising or condescending but acknowledges the differences between you. You need to find a way for that young person to relate to you, trust you and work with you. By building that trust and working with them in a really respectful way, you can take steps to improve a young person’s safety. And by helping them understand what a healthy relationship should look like, you can support them to improve their future relationships too.
What do you think learners take away from the Responding to young people training?
The first 8 days of a foundation course forms the core training and covers all of the basic skills that we believe any practitioner should have. For example, how we relate to people, how we listen to people, needs and risk assessment, case management and so on. The expert course (and the final four days of the young people’s foundation course) builds on that learning to consider the specific issues relating to young people, for example how to effectively support gang affected young people, identifying and addressing honour-based abuse, FGM and forced marriage.
We talk about child sexual exploitation and we also focus a lot on the use of technology to abuse, which I think is an area of real concern for a lot of practitioners. We often hear people say that they don’t fully understand how the internet and apps can be used by an abusive person to control their partner, so we have built this into all of our training courses.
Technology is changing all the time. To what extent does the training reflect this?
The training is as up to date as it can be on the day. There are obviously new apps coming out all the time so we send practitioners away not only with the knowledge of what is available right now but also with access to resources so that they can stay informed beyond that point.
It’s the same with substance use. We can train you on this one day but whatever substance is the current ‘in’ thing will probably be different next month, so we aim to send practitioners out knowing the current information and also where they can find updates on a regular basis to keep themselves up to date.
You’re clearly very passionate about ensuring young people get the support they need. Can you explain why you believe it to be so important?
Since working with SafeLives, my main focus has been on the Idva programme but I’ve also worked on projects like the young people’s practitioner training and it’s made it really clear to me that this is where our work needs to start.
If we’re going to end domestic abuse, we have to start at the beginning. And in fact the beginning is even before these young people, but in this instance we are talking about young adults who, from when they start their first relationships in their teens, are starting a pattern that could run throughout the rest of their lives. So if we can work with them at this early stage, help them address the risks in their relationships, talk about what a healthy relationship is and explain what they should be able to expect, then we can begin to break that cycle.
And that’s why this course is so important to me because although Idva work is crucial, it cannot change anything in isolation and we need roles like young people’s support workers and outreach workers because they really can change lives.
- Find out more about our training for young people’s practitioners
- Find out more about our training for Outreach workers
- Visit our spotlight on young people