Working With Young People: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned.

It’s been about 5 months since I started my journey as a Support Worker, but I really wanted to write about some of the things I’ve learned along the way, and how it has helped me become better at my job.

Mid-way through this year, I decided to change the trajectory of my life by switching into a career supporting young people who are under the Guardianship of the Minister (in State care). This is something I have always wanted to do, and I had the qualifications to do it – but never took the leap into the field – preferring stable, (boring) but reliable full-time employment instead.

Working with young people has always appealed to me, given my own background and experiences, which involved drugs, neglect, homelessness, transience and custody disputes between parents. But even though I have had those experiences in the past, each day is entirely different, and nothing can fully prepare you for the wide range of things you hear, experience and see while on shift.*

Assorted-color Alphabet

It’s been about 5 months since I started my journey as a Support Worker, but I really wanted to write about some of the things I’ve learned along the way, and how it has helped me become better at my job.

* Obviously, client confidentiality is of utmost importance when it comes to working with young people, so there will be no mention of names or specific locations etc. in this post.

Keep An Open Mind.


Top View Of Assorted Colored Stones in Wooden Containers

Sometimes people forget that young people in care are just like everyone else their age.

They have dreams, fears, failures and successes, just like you and me – all of which should be nurtured and celebrated.

One of the most valuable things I learned in my training was this:

Change the word attention to connection.

If a young person is exhibiting ‘attention seeking’ behaviours, try seeing those behaviours as ‘connection seeking’ instead.

Young people don’t always know how to express their feelings and fears, or ask for help and encouragement when they desperately need it – and sometimes this can seem like they’re being ‘attention seeking’ or being ‘naughty’ or ‘disruptive’.

Next time you notice a young person exhibiting some interesting behaviours, ask yourself: ‘is this young person seeking connection?’ rather than writing them off as being annoying or naughty, and chances are, you’ll get a better response.

Educate Your Friends & Family.


One of the saddest and most frustrating things I’ve encountered since becoming a Support Worker is the negative reaction of my peers when I tell them I work with young people in care.

There is an automatic stigma associated with these children, which sticks to them like glue, no matter how hard they try to get it off, and society’s attitude doesn’t help.

It is something worth highlighting, because these children are just that – children. People automatically stick their noses up, have an opinion or see these children as criminals before they consider giving them a chance to prove them wrong.

Young people end up in care for a variety of reasons, and it is never their fault. Some of them have parents who are unfit to care for them due to addiction, neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Neon Signage

Some are orphaned and have no other family. Some end up in foster care, but are given back when their behaviour deteriorates due to their trauma. Some have intellectual disabilities that their parents don’t want to deal with. Some are refugees. There are hundreds of reasons children end up in care.

Oftentimes, people look at children in care as lesser than other children. But for me, I look to these children for inspiration. Their resilience is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. These young people have suffered adversity and still try their very best, each day – whatever that may look like. And it’s worth remembering and acknowledging.

Expect The Unexpected.


Photography of Green and Red Fire Works Display

If you think you’ve seen everything, you haven’t.

Each shift I work is entirely different. One day I’ll be looking after a toddler, the next day I might be looking after a teenager, or a house full of siblings. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s to never go into a shift with any expectation about how it’s going to go.

I’ve had to clean walls covered in drawings. I’ve wiped poop from walls and hands. I’ve had to follow a kid around in a mini-van trying to convince them to get back in the car after they ran off. I’ve had to call the police, clean wet bed-sheets and listen to music that has so many swear words my brain ends up hurting.

But even more importantly, there are bright, shining, heart-warming moments that I never expected.

I got to be the person to take a child to their first day of school. I’ve had open and honest conversations with young people that have helped me grow as a person. I got taught how to make cold rolls (I always wanted to learn!), I’ve danced around the room with children and teenagers and high-fived toddlers when they realise they haven’t wet the bed.

I’ve seen milestones, birthdays, sad days and happy days, and I’ve seen firsthand just how wonderful, bright and resilient these young people can be.

Never assume you know it all. We truly know nothing. All we can do is expect the unexpected.

Don’t Underestimate Young People.


Silhouette Photo of Man Throw Paper Plane

Many people underestimate young people – even those not in care. But young people aren’t stupid. They’ll know if you’re talking about them – because it happens every day of their life.

They know when you’re being genuine – because they’ve had so many different carers before you.

Young people are in care for a variety of different reasons, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they can tell who has their best interests at heart and who doesn’t.

The young people that I work with also know all of the things they’re allowed and not allowed to do – and sometimes they use this to their advantage – especially if you’re new.

This isn’t something to worry about, generally – most of the things the young people try to get away with, we’ve all tried as a kid. They’ll try and push their bed-times, get extra dessert or negotiate their curfews – all normal kid-type things to do.

The bottom line is that children and young people, no matter who they are or where they live, will test limits and push boundaries. It’s completely normal and to be expected. This is all part of growing up and seeing who sticks around – even when we make mistake or play up.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes.


Putting yourself in the shoes of a vulnerable young person can sometimes be hard, especially if you were lucky enough to have had a relatively ‘normal’ or ‘safe’ upbringing.

I find that the best way for me to truly empathise with the young people I work with is to ask myself:

‘Given the circumstances, what would I have done at their age?’

Now this might be difficult if you don’t know the full story. In which case, ask yourself:

‘Do I know enough about this young person to be judging their behaviour?’

Either way, it is helpful to remember these questions when dealing with behaviour that might seem risky, aggressive or otherwise upsetting behaviour.

For example:

Person in Blue Jeans And White Sneakers Standing On Metal Railings

If you had been forced to live off of scraps for most of your life and didn’t know when your next meal would be, wouldn’t you, as a young person, hoard food or steal it where you could, so you felt safe and knew you wouldn’t starve?

If you had grown up in a house where drugs and alcohol were normalized, wouldn’t you, as a young person in a new living environment, have trouble understanding what is safe and what isn’t?

If you, as a young person, had been physically beaten or emotionally abused when you had arguments with your family, want to run away every time you have an argument with someone, so you don’t get hurt?

These may be confronting scenarios, but they are incredibly real.

There is almost always a reason behind why someone does something – even as we mature into adults. We need to be able to see some situations from the perspective of the young people in order to connect with them and find ways to help them.

For more content, see below:

5 Signs You’re in an Abusive Relationship; My Experience & What I Learned.

My story and the lessons I learned along the way.

 

NOTE:

Before I go any further, let me just say – it isn’t anyone’s place to judge another’s relationship, and that is not the intent of this article. This is simply a personal experience, and the things I found to be true for me.

 

 

MY STORY

The topic of a abuse within a relationship is often hard for a lot of people, which is one of the reasons I haven’t written about it until now. A lot of the time, the person that puts you through this type of thing has such a profound emotional hold over you, it’s hard to talk about your experiences, no matter how much time has passed.

For that reason, in this particular article, I’ll refer to that person as ‘He’.

For me, ‘He’ was the one. We had known each other for a couple of years, He was a social butterfly, He made me laugh and every time we hung out, it turned into some kind of fun adventure. People talk about the ‘Honeymoon Period’ of relationships – a brief period of time where everything seems perfect, you agree on everything and arguments are non-existent. This was the Honeymoon Period to beat any other – and I should have realised then that it was too good to be true.

I had suffered from Anxiety and Depression for a number of years before meeting him, and he helped me see the fun in life. He was smart and logical, but He had a spontaneous streak that was so much fun.

I truly believed we would get married, have children and live happily ever after. We had stupid nicknames for each other, we played pranks on each other, we stayed up late giggling and we took photos of each other snoring. We spent our weekends happily exploring the city and beaches and never fought about anything. Everything was fun and easy.

At that time in my life, I was a University Student, and he was a tradie/ labourer. It didn’t take long for us to move in together. He worked long hours and was the main breadwinner, and He was proud of that. I would spend my days studying, going to Uni, cleaning the house and making sure there was food on the table for Him when He finally trudged through the door.

Soon enough though, I could see He was starting to resent the fact that I didn’t have a job, although I was trying to work my way through Law School and look after things at home. I spent every penny of my Student Allowance on rent and things for the house, but it wasn’t enough. Before I knew it, I had picked up a couple of casual jobs working retail to try and even things out. I wanted to help. I loved Him. He could do no wrong in my eyes.

It wasn’t long after this that He came home and said He had been let go. At the time, I didn’t see it as too much of an issue – He was a robust and confident person, and I was sure He would pick up something new quite quickly.

I was wrong.

Ever since He was an apprentice, He had never not had a job, and His confidence plummeted. Something ‘snapped’ so to speak and He was never the same. Him being fired sent Him into a rapid depression, followed by paranoia and anxiety.

I tried everything in my power to help Him, but I was struggling too. I began taking my anti-depressants again, was stressed and taking on extra shifts at work to get us through to the next week. I eventually realised that I would have to drop out of University if I was going to help us get by. So I did. I deferred University to focus on looking after us. I loved him. I wanted to help.

I had heard about people developing paranoia, but His paranoia was something I had never experienced before, and I had no idea what I was meant to say or do to help Him. I tried everything. I listened to his rants without judgment, I offered my support, I told Him I believed Him when He said He was worried about people following him. I helped Him write job applications, introduced Him to new people, suggested He get professional help.

Nothing would calm him down.

He truly believed someone was ‘out to get Him’. Every conversation we had would go down the same path; ‘there’s someone following me’, ‘someone’s been in the house’, ‘they know too much’, ‘don’t talk about personal stuff over the phone’… it was overwhelming.

I came home one day and He was scanning the walls with a device that checks for ‘bugs’. He wouldn’t apply for jobs because he was convinced ‘they’ would sabotage him. He would constantly sat he was being followed in his car, or at the shops.

He started to become suspicious of me. I didn’t understand it, because I couldn’t see it. There was never anyone following us, nothing out of the ordinary happening in our lives besides His behaviour. I couldn’t find a way to help Him. All I knew was that I loved Him dearly and believed that He would snap out of it as quickly as it all started, if He just got another job and got back on track.

But it didn’t work that way.

Things went downhill. Rapidly. Nothing I would say would convince Him that there was no-one out to ‘get’ Him. I was so caught up with trying to help the person I loved, I failed to see I was becoming tangled in an abusive and toxic situation.

It was subtle at first, but by the end of our tumultuous relationship, the house was a war zone. Even now, years after, I experience the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Small things like someone grabbing my wrist, coming too close to my face, raising their hands or even the slightest raise in someone’s voice sets me off.

 

I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. And I wanted to list the types of warning signs I missed, but wished I hadn’t. It’s hard to recognise these things when you’re blinded by your situation. Because you don’t want to believe that the person you love is also the person destroying you.

Even if this helps one person recognise their situation for what it is, that would be enough for me. Keeping in mind that every relationship is unique along with the people in it, these are the 5 signs I look back on and wished I’d noticed:

 

 

 

NUMBER ONE:

Isolation.

I realised too late that I had distanced myself from many of my friends, probably at a time when I needed them the most. Once He became paranoid, He needed to keep me ‘safe’. He was scared someone was out to ‘get’ me too. He didn’t want me on Social Media, He was suspicious of visitors, new friends and even old friends.

I ended up cutting ties with a lot of people, all based on who ‘He’ thought was ‘safe’. Every person He met was a threat. He believed people who visited the house planted devices or stole things, and eventually it became easier to placate him by simply cutting people off.

 

 

NUMBER TWO:

Gas Lighting.

Whether it was intentional or not, He made me believe I was going crazy. He used my history of mental illness against me, telling me I was the crazy one. He would tell me that I was a psychopath, that I was the one with no heart and that I had no idea how much I put Him through.

When we fought, He’d tell me to ‘take another pill, crazy’, ‘go cut your wrists in the bath’ or ‘do the world a favour and kill yourself’. We had a small unit, so I would try and lock myself in the bathroom to get away from the taunts. When I did, He would yell that I was crazy and why would I lock the door on HimClearly was the suicidal one, and would kill myself in the bathroom. He’d break down the door to get to me, ripping the handle completely off, or making a hole in it – just so He could tell me to stop being an attention seeker.

If I tried to leave the house to get away from Him, He would stop me. He would stand in the door frame and tell me I was being dramatic. He’d tell me I had started the fight and that He hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d tell me I wasn’t leaving because I might hurt myself. He’d steal my keys, break my phone and threaten me. All the ‘help’ me.

He truly convinced me that I was the crazy one. That hiding in the bathroom to get away from Him meant I was the one with the issues. .

When I’d eventually open the door (or He’d break it down), He’d say things like: ‘I’m trying to help you’ or ‘I don’t want to have to break down the door again or call the police on you because I think you’re going to kill yourself in there’. He and I both knew that it was never my intention to hurt myself, but I began to believe that maybe I might. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I was suffering from my mental illness in such a way, I couldn’t see how crazy I really was.

 

 

NUMBER THREE:

Becoming Physical.

This is the stereotypical sign of being in an abusive relationship, but it wasn’t until the physical abuse became very violent that I realised it had started long ago.

It started with things like grabbing my wrists or arm to stop me leaving a room, or holding me on the ground or on the bed so I couldn’t use my phone. But it got worse.

Any time we had an argument and I tried to leave, phone a friend or go into another room to get away from all the verbal abuse and tension, things would go flying (me included). He would put things like my laptop outside in the middle of the road. He would take my dinner outside and tell me to eat out there ‘like the dog I was’. He would laugh when I cried and begged to be allowed to leave.

Arguments in the car were common, because He know I couldn’t escape. He wouldn’t get out when I asked Him to, and He wouldn’t let me pull over and get out either. I had no choice but to keep driving, while He screamed in my ear, spat in my face and kicked the interior of the car.

One day He was so out of His mind with rage, He ripped the radio clean out of my car, wires dangling, and threw it out the window of my car into traffic while I was driving.

I was constantly having to come up with stories to tell my family and friends about why my things were constantly damaged and broken. The radio had ‘malfunctioned’. My phones were always being ‘dropped’ or ‘run over’ or simply ‘stopped working and needed to be replaced’. Sets of glasses never lasted long, the holes in the doors were from ‘tripping’ and the bruises were brushed off as me being clumsy.

Make no mistake, all of these things are abusive and violent. But when you love someone, sometimes you don’t see them for what they truly are, and brush them off.

 

 

NUMBER FOUR:

Put Downs and Name Calling.

There’s a saying: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. But they do. Especially when you’re told everyday how awful you are. When you’re told you’re fat. Told you’re a psycho. Told you need to go to a psychiatric home. Told that no one will ever love you besides Him. Told that you deserved all the bad things that ever happened to you. That you deserve to be alone. Especially when you’re told all this by someone you love.

Eventually these things get to you. And once you start believing them, you gain a sense of hopelessness that doesn’t fade, even after you leave. You truly believe you are defected, damaged and no-good. It has taken years to be able to look in the mirror without hating my own reflection, and even now, I suffer the consequences of the verbal torment I was put through.

 

 

NUMBER FIVE:

Guilt and Blame.

This mightn’t seem as important as the other signs. But this is the thing that affected me more than anything else.

Every fight we had, no matter how violent, ended with Him saying things like: ‘I’m sorry, I love you’, ‘Please don’t leave me, you’re all I’ve got’ or hours of tears and promises to do better.

It was emotional torture. The man I once wanted a future with and who I loved so dearly, was hurting me in ways I never knew I could hurt. Of course I wanted to believe Him. Of course I wanted to brush off His behaviour as nothing more than a momentary lapse in judgment.

I remember the fights, and the anxiety crushing my chest. The tears, the fists and the threats. Then one day, His beloved Nan died. I knew this would make everything so much worse. If He was depressed, anxious and paranoid now, then this would surely tip Him over the edge completely. I wanted desperately to be there for Him. I wanted to comfort Him, to bring Him back to what He used to be, but I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was exhausted. I knew every fight we wold have from thereon out, every time he would hurt me, it wouldn’t be ‘His’ fault anymore. It would be because His Nan had died. Everything He did would be blamed away.

So I left.

Maybe deep down He was messed up and maybe He was sorry and perhaps He truly did need me. And I knew He must have been feeling very isolated and hurt too. But I realised much too late, that you can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.

I left Him after His Nan’s funeral. I would have left sooner, but again, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I loved Him. I felt like I needed to at least get Him through the funeral. I didn’t want to be ‘that’ person.

But who is ‘that’ person? I stayed so long. Put up with so much. For what?

 

WHAT NEXT?

Leaving Him was the most painful thing I have had to do in a long time. I’m not going to pretend that it was easy. I was so emotionally broken, I could feel my heart breaking with every breath I took.

Even after I left, I paid the rent in the unit we lived in for months until He moved out. I cleaned up all the mess He had left once he finally did leave. I never sent Him the bill.

I called Him every day after He moved out to make sure He was okay. He would cry on the phone and tell me He was so sorry. I would drive past His new house and bring Him food, because I knew He hadn’t eaten for days. I took Him to appointments, kept in touch, made sure He was okay and wasn’t going to hurt Himself.

Once I would get home, I would cry by myself on the kitchen floor for hours and hours, wondering how everything had gone so horribly wrong. I had given Him everything I had, and I had nothing left to give.

He begged me to give Him another chance.

But I couldn’t.

Because you can love someone so much, but at the end of the day, you have to love yourself more. And sometimes it takes a long time to realise that. When I look back on what I went through now, I wish I had seen the signs earlier. It took me so long to leave. Because I kept putting Him first, making excuses for Him, allowing His toxic behaviour to continue, because I was more worried about losing Him.

We do so much for the people we love.

But in the end, we are all human. I’ve come to terms with the fact that we are all on a journey. And you can’t save everyone on the journey to save yourself.

And that’s okay.

 

 

 

 

 

Malevolent.

A poem.

 

blood spills under my tongue

as i bite down on the side of my cheek

trying not to say the words

desperately wanting to spill from my mouth

that fill my lungs

and get caught in my throat on the way up.

 

my eyes water at the sight of you

and at the thought of you

and the things you put me through

but i don’t let the tears run down my cheeks

i learnt long ago

it does me no good.

 

and i watch your destructive path

desperate to keep out of harm’s way

while being aware that harm has a way

of finding me, regardless

but i pray

you don’t hurt them like you hurt me.

 

i only hope what they say is true

that you never hurt them

that they stayed blissfully ignorant

to the evil in their midst

and you stayed away from them

and off of them.

 

i sweat bullets at night

at the thought of you.

i fly off the handle

because of you.

and no amount of empathy

would make me sorry for you.

 

i’ve kept silent for the most part

even i’m not sure why.

maybe to save the rest of them,

because i’m sure even the thought of who you are

would weigh heavy on their souls

like it does mine.

 

i pray every day

they don’t see the real you

and i say every day

they should stay away from you

and i’ve learned to live with the pain

that i was given by you.

 

 

and they say love prevails

and i wonder if that’s true.

 

 

Lungs Filled With Cement.

A poem.

There are so many things that I want to say, and yet, most of the time, nothing comes from my mouth but a wry smile.

How am I meant to say the things I desperately want to, without revealing how incredibly broken I am?

I watch you all day, think about you, talk to you. And yet the things that I so desperately want to scream, are stuck inside my lungs, weighing me down like cement, instead of air.

I want you to look into my eyes and understand, so I don’t have to say the things I feel. I want you to hold my hand, until I don’t have a reason to let go. I want you to hold me together, because I feel like I’m falling apart.

I know you can see the flicker of what’s haunting me, behind my eyes. I know you can sense the things I don’t say.

Look closer. Believe me when I say I want to tell you. But understand me when I say I can’t.

Because my lungs are filled with cement.

And the more I gasp for air, the harder the cement sets. The heavier I feel. The harder it is to let the words escape.