Jo, you've recently started a new job as Team Leader of This Way Up. Tell us what about the work you're involved in.
This Way Up is a Christian charity that supports young people dealing with issues of loss, whether that be family breakdown, separation, loss of a parent due to them not being able to fulfil their parental role or any bereavement that a young person has experienced or is going through.
We work one to one with young people and in small groups either in schools or at The Branch, our office base.
What’s your role at the charity? What are your priorities at the moment?
My role is Team Leader. I have a great balance of face-to-face work with young people in schools, small groups and at The Branch, as well as managing, supporting and developing the team of fulltime, part time and volunteers who work for TWUP.
At the moment my priority has been to listen! Listen to those who have worked with the charity for some time, my boss and the trustees, to the young people, to the schools and to the needs of youth workers who may feel out of their depth dealing with some of the issues young people are wanting to discuss.
Increasing numbers of young people have to deal with family breakdown. How can youth workers discern when young people aren’t coping and need support? What are the things to watch out for?
For some young people, family separation could be a relief; if there have been tensions within the home for a long time, the relief of a calmer home life is helpful. However this isn’t often the case. Each young person reacts differently; there are those who show outward signs in terms of how they relate to others, perhaps by letting out their anger, fears and frustrations on their friends and family. Equally there are those who internalise those feelings and become withdrawn, those who don’t like to ‘bother’ anyone with their feelings and hurts.
As a youth worker it’s important to know what a young person is going home to after their session with you, who’s at home and something of what their home life looks like. Any changes in that, even those that the young person might gloss over, ought to be ‘mentally stored’ and shared at your debrief session as, at some point, a young person’s behaviour might change as a sign of struggling to cope with what’s going on at home.
And how can youth workers help?
Listen. Listen. Listen.
If we’re too busy preparing, running and delivering our programmes it is too easy to take your ears away from the young people you are doing it for. For many who experience loss or family breakdown, they want someone who they can cry with, get angry with, ask questions, share stories.
For others more specialised support might be needed; always have a list to hand of support services that you are happy to recommend to a young person .
This Way Up runs regular training for youth workers to run small groups called ‘Lost and Found’. This is an eight-week small group programme that enables young people to share their feelings and thoughts around the issues they have faced, it develops peer support and is used in schools and local communities very effectively. We’re running training courses in March, June and September – more details on the TWUP website.
Having been at FYT for four years I’d enjoyed a variety of roles around training others and developing specific areas of work. I’d increasingly been missing face-to-face youth work and had been considering a move when we experienced a significant loss as a family and a faith community. In seeking out support for the children and young people affected by this loss, I came across TWUP and felt really relieved someone had produced this brilliant material and was so professional.
About three months later I saw the Team Leader post advertised and realized my experience in recent months of loss, my youth work background and feeling the urge to move on had culminated in my desire to apply to TWUP.
What are your top tips for juggling work, parenting, church and life?
I’d love to give some amazing advice but some weeks I wonder too!!
Before my husband recently came out of church ministry I had been a ‘ministers wife’ for nine years. During that time I learnt HUGE amounts about boundary setting; we had two young children, lived next door to the church, in a ‘needy’ community and I worked part time. It was very hard going but, through many mistakes this is what I learned:
- To say ‘no’;
- stick to what you are good at ( like I’ll never be able to flower arrange but give me a bunch of teenagers any day!);
- politely ignore the phone and the front door once in a while so you can finish a jigsaw with your children;
- NEVER put on a brave face if you’re having a bad day – real community is about being real;
- don’t uphold your ‘role’ by becoming less of who you are;
- learn to be lazy once in a while and order a takeaway pizza for you all for tea (if the bank will let you!).
Looking back now, I realise there are so many times I couldn’t have done a lot of the work I’ve done if it hadn’t been for a supportive husband who was prepared to do the housework and cook sometimes.
You have a son and a daughter. What differences do you notice, and how are they similar?
We have a 10-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy – for the first two years I couldn’t believe the difference!
They really don’t have any similarities! Their personalities are the extremes of each other: introvert/extrovert, reflective/over active, creative/logical, empathetic/independent… Other than the fact they have the same parents they don’t have many personality traits in common at all! However, to watch them play together is truly awesome because between them they have imagination, reality, creativity, problem solving, emotion and thought processes! It’s brilliant!
As their parents it’s taken us quite a while to be able to adapt our parenting accordingly without seeming to be overly hard/soft on one or the other. In many ways it’s got harder as they have got older as they now recognise the differences in how they respond to us and vice versa. Balance is always key.
You can find out more about the work of This Way Up and get in touch with Jo via their website: www.twup.org.uk