Tapping into talent
Prevista and Youth at Risk have a combined 50 plus years’ experience of providing the most challenged, vulnerable young people with the necessary skills, training and employment opportunities to support their social mobility and inclusion in society. Both our organisations, through the delivery of Social Impact Bond projects and highly innovative programmes, provide activities and services which create a legacy for both the young people themselves and their communities, enabling us to share best practise with key stakeholders including Funders, Local Authorities, Community Groups and young people themselves.
Young people are increasingly demanding attention to issues that specifically affect them. Often marginalized from local and national development, young people are especially vulnerable to economic and social instability. Meeting their needs requires targeted approaches and investments. From the London riots in 2011 onwards our staff have seen more and more of the young people that we work with who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) increasingly feeling socially marginalised. This attitude is seen across all groups of young Londoners no matter what their skin colour, sex, faith is. They suggest to us in both individual meetings and group workshops that they think they are not in control of their lives, nor are they optimistic in their outlook.
As part of our initial engagement and evaluation of young people when they start on our programmes, around 40% have experienced depression, do not regularly leave the house, do not feel part of society and 68% highly doubt they will get a job. This undermines their ability to fully socially integrate and is likely to have negative effects on their housing, healthcare and civic engagement activities. Our experience of working with these young people is that, once tapped into, their talents and aspirations are ready to be encouraged and developed even if they have been latent for some time.
Often change processes and ‘training’ to address marginalised young people/communities focuses on behavioural change through improved skills, knowledge and structural alterations. However at the heart of resignation and disengagement is an attitude, an ingrained mindset: ‘I don’t belong’, ‘I don’t care’, ‘No-one cares’ or ‘What’s the point?’. To address, confront and challenge these limiting belief systems we have to deal with the attitudes that underlie behaviour. So how do we do this? How can professional staff support young people to identify what is underlying their ‘external’ issues? We believe that professional staff in our industry can be part of the problem too in not supporting these marginalised groups effectively enough. For we too often (unwittingly) bring our own ill-conceived, judgmental views on young people and their challenges before we meet them for the first time. This will have a negative impact on our work with them. Youth at Risk’s Chief Operating Officer, Ellie Garraway, describes this as a ‘unconscious bias’. This is a subtle but pervasive problem, a blindspot, which means it is impossible for staff to see their own bias yet it shapes actions constantly. In this profession more than most we all need the opportunity to confront our limiting mindsets, our own blindspots. So much training focuses on the skills to do the job, but little is about the ‘being’ or the mindset to be effective and yet this has a huge capability to transform outcomes. This is especially important when working with young people who feel increasingly marginalised.
Therefore, we work with our staff to ensure they recognise their own ‘unconscious bias’. By understanding that we all have judgements and biases we can begin to see how those judgements can get in the way of effective relationships and interactions with clients. We can’t get rid of the ingrained beliefs but by raising awareness we create new choices when it comes to our actions: what we say and do. We listen too, and continually challenge ourselves to be present to what is actually being said by the young person we are working with. Too often we pay more attention to our judgements about what is being said or we are just waiting for the opportunity to give our great advice or solution – instead, we want to enable the young person to find their own way. There are times when simply being listened to by someone who is fully present, is enough to begin this process. We recognise that we have to challenge our own practise and attitudes and demonstrate some process of self-reflection for ourselves to maximise the potential of our young people. When we are willing to question our assumptions and the ingrained beliefs that sit behind them, we become open to discovering our limitations. It takes a willingness to be brutally honest with ourselves – but we believe that understanding this is the best method for enabling us to provide the most effective support for marginalised young people who can have very limited skills, employment prospects and could be totally excluded from society.
Our staff recognise the need to deliver activities and support which will enable a marginalised individual young person to become a valuable member of society in a fast paced world – our approach enables and empowers the young person to become ‘decision makers, not just decision takers’ themselves. To do this we get into conversations that go to the heart of who the young people are and the heart of where they want to be. We dig deep and support marginalised young people by talking and listening, asking them who they are? What do you really want from life? How can we help you get it? We are not afraid to ask the difficult questions and to challenge the attitudes of the young people too. Often they have bought into their own victimhood and need the opportunity to be back in the driving seat, they need a bar that is set high and then the rigorous support to reach it. When our own limiting beliefs get in the way: ‘I’m not making a difference,’ ‘they’ll never change’, ‘they won’t listen to me’, we then need our own support mechanisms (supervision, coaching, peer support, reflective practice) to enable us to move past these limitations. When we remind ourselves that our job is to drop the judgements and listen we can get back in the game of creating transformation where it matters most.
Mark Sargeant and Ellie Garraway