I fell into youth work by accident more than five years ago and supporting young people has become my vocation. However, in spite of my dad’s calls to find myself a secure position at the council, or my mum asking whether I should get my social work qualification, I have made a conscious decision not to work in the public sector.
Instead, I work for a charity that provides advocacy services for young people in care, as well as homeless young people who may be entitled to retrospective care status.
I’ve chosen to work for a charity because I’ve seen the public sector fail the young people it is supposed to be safeguarding and supporting – and I’ve come to realise that youth advocates like me are needed to make up for that growing shortfall.
I don’t want to be bound by bureaucracy for the sake of a secure salary and a pension, or forced to adhere to an endless list of policies and procedures that, from my perspective, numb professionals’ capacity for compassion.
An advocate makes sure a young person’s voice is heard and their thoughts, wishes and feelings are communicated to professionals, usually social workers.
Young people’s wishes are frequently sidelined as statutory budgets are squeezed and rising caseloads result in social workers “forgetting” how to care. All too often, a young person tells me I am are the first person to listen to them, and it is hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to them.
I work on cases where something is not going well, which usually involves some challenging encounters with social workers, who have increasingly less influence in the decisions being made about the futures of these young people. Instead, decisions are dictated by budgets and led by management, leaving social workers too often to be the bearers of bad news.
My cases involve many young people in the most desperate of situations: homeless,…