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No. 1: Alix Shona Arnoux 

Volunteer with the Young Offenders Team (YOTS) | Leicester

"I wanted to address my fear of the unknown...

to play a part in fighting the system!"

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 trouble again.

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 memorable?

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!

How about any low points?

The 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.

Do you think there is any sort of pressure that comes with the job you do?

My 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.

What kind of skills do you use in everyday practice?

Listening 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 peoples' lives.

Do you think your work is about change? If so, what kind of change do you think you are involved in?

Any 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. 

If 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 others.
  • 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


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