|What do youth workers
do? Well, there are so many different roles and responsibilities of those
involved in youth and community work, that SYWO wanted to meet some of
them. In the first of our profiles! series - we meet Alix
Arnoux, a student youth worker in Leicester, and volunteer with
Leicester Youth Offenders Team...
(SYWO) Can you give us an overview of what
you do in your work?
(Alix) I work with children and young
people (aged 10-17 years) who have broken the law twice and are at the
final warning stage (3 warnings = court proceedings etc). When I am
assigned a case, I will work with them for 1 hour a week for between 4-12
weeks each time. The actual work takes form as discussions, work sheets,
apology letters etc., and covers areas such as peer pressure, addictions,
self-esteem, relationships, victim awareness, implications/complications,
and education. By addressing these issues at final warning stage, the idea
is that there is a much lesser chance of the young person getting into
What do you think made you go into it?
I wanted to address my fear of the unknown
and young offender stereotypes. Also, I've always been fascinated by both
psychology and crime, and wanted to have more awareness of why young
people become criminals. I also think that the justice system is unjust,
and I wanted to play a part in fighting the system (wow!).
(Chuckle..) Can you tell us about a 'high
point' in this work? Say, for example, something that you would consider
With one young offender, I identified his
main problem as having extremely low self-esteem. He thought that he was
stupid and that he'd never get anywhere, that he didn't have the
potential. Eight weeks late, he had some college brochures and was
interested in one particular course. Although he wasn't 100% sure that
he'd apply, the simple fact that he was considering college as an option
meant that together we had managed to lift his morale. This was a "yyyeeeeesssssss"
moment in youth work!
about any low points?
reality checks: Knowing that this is so much you can do and that sometimes
it can all go wrong. I care too much about people and as a result, I feel
bad when my work isn't successful. An example was when one of my YOTS
cases re-offended after I'd worked with him. He will now go down a very
un-equal justice system and his future (as someone with a criminal record)
will be full of difficulties.
you think there is any sort of pressure that comes with the job you do?
God - where do I start?! There are particular pressures to do with feeling
guilty if the young person re-offends, thinking that "its your
fault", "you could've worked it differently". Also
rehabilitating offenders is a very fashionable Tony Blair phase at the
moment and I feel that everyone expects youth justice workers to work
miracles and to make difficult people change overnight.
kind of skills do you use in everyday practice?
skills are very important - if the young offender thinks you aren't
listening to them, then your work will not succeed. Being genuine and non-judgmental
is also extremely important. Mediation is used: On the one hand, we have
to appear to represent the young offender's needs while on the other hand,
make them understand that they have no right to break the law and affect
you think your work is about change? If so, what kind of change do you
think you are involved in?
youth work is about 'change' because we work to address and challenge
inequalities that affect people's lives. In the YOTS team, we change or at
least try to address problems and difficulties that have lead young people
to break the law. We try to stop these difficulties having a detrimental
affect on them. We attempt to make them follow a different path - one
which is away from crime. More importantly, we aim to give them the skills
to control their own lives.
you have three wishes for the young people/communities that you work
with/society in general - what do you think they would be?
- That stereotypes be
challenged and that people give others a fair chance before judging
them on appearance.
- That we chance our
education policies so that people have a better understanding of other
people and of issues. My hope is that in educating people, they will
be less ignorant and perhaps less likely to fear or not understand
- That we become
realistic about tackling all the .isms. Political correctness does
more damage than good. Racist people carry on being racist, it's just
now they are not allowed to use derogatory language.
There are students
undergoing training at the moment to become qualified youth and community
workers. What advice would you give them?
I'd tell them to keep
their feet on the ground. University fills your head with such optimism -
how we students will go and sort the world out and change lives for the
better. Oh how pretentious!! One person cannot change years of
inequality just like that. We can do our bits but obstructions will always
block us. We are told 'challenge oppression' at every given opportunity.
I'd like to see the lecturers challenge a 6ft Nazi type oppressor.
Alix took part in our
profiles exercise. If you'd like to have a go, find out how to, HERE.
Next month: Tom Wylie, Chief Executive of
the National Youth Agency